I went to the Armageddon Pulp Culture Expo held at the Aotea Centre in Auckland New Zealand, October 21-23 2006. There was lots and lots of stuff on, but I was there mostly to see the stars from shows like Stargate SG1, Stargate Atlantis, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, and Firefly/Serenity.
The photograph and autograph sessions with the stars were something of a shambles. The core problem was that the queues for buying photographs, for having photographs taken, and for getting things signed were all in the same small space at about the same time. In addition there was little information available about what was happening where and when. So lots of people stood around in a confused muddle, no-one quite sure what was going on and where they were supposed to be, while other people pushed past the queues on their way to other events. But it was a good-natured muddle, the queue wranglers were friendly, and everyone got what they wanted in the end.
When having my photo taken with Rachel Luttrell, she asked me what my name was, and when I answered she said, "Joff? I've never heard that before. What a lovely name." So it's official. One hundred percent of all hot alien warrior chicks from the Pegasus Galaxy surveyed think that "Joff" is a lovely name.
Queuing to have their photos taken with Rachel Luttrell and Summer Glau were the same stunningly beautiful fangirl twins that I talked to briefly at the Wellington Armageddon. At the other end of the attractiveness continuum I had the misfortune several times over the three days to pass downwind of oafs whose knowledge of the hygiene arts were strictly theoretical.
I couldn't get over how tiny all the stars were. All the women and most of the men looked like they needed nothing so much as a good feed. How they found the energy to walk around - let alone to smile and be nice to strangers all day - I have no idea.
The Q&A sessions with the stars were all terrifc, with lots of interesting tid-bits coming out and lots of laughter and banter. Most of the stars apeared twice over the three days, sometimes solo and sometimes with co-stars. A common refrain was, "The actor is the last to know." Many of the stars were asked what was coming up on their shows, or how much of their character's future they knew from week-to-week on the shoots, and they invariably answered with some variant of, "You guys know more about that than me," or, "No-one tells the actors anything."
The only session that went badly was Mira Furlan's second session, which was a complete disaster through no fault of her own. (More information below.)
Summer Glau's sessions were probably the best attended and best received. The first one started with Bill (the expo organiser) acting as compere encouraging everyone who wanted a photo to come forward and get the shots out of the way at the beginning. So she was immediately mobbed by a good-natured crowd of camera-wielding fans.
She started off by thanking the fans, saying that the film was made possible largely by our support. She also said she liked the New Zealand fans, as we were all gentle and polite, and she was much more comfortable with the welcome she received here than the overwhelming audience reaction she was used to in the States. The crowd was actually quite boisterous for a Kiwi audience, so heaven knows what kind of thing she's used to.
She was asked about how uncomfortable the pose used for the Serenity publicity photo was. This led on to a story about the famous "splits on the ceiling" scene. Her stunt double just couldn't physically hold the position, so Summer herself had to do it for all the test shots and set up and whatnot. Not only did she have to stay up there during multiple takes, but it was too much difficulty to get her down, and so she had to hold the position in between takes while camera angles and so forth were being changed.
When asked what her favourite line was, she thought for a moment and then said, "I can kill you with my brain."
She told a good story about meeting Nathan Fillion (who plays the captain of the Serenity) for the first time. He was handing out cups of water to people when she arrived for some test screenings, and so at first she thought he was one of the set crew. Then a little later she bumped into him coming out of the audition room, and realised that he was an actor. "How did it go?" she asked. "Don't worry," he said, "I don't think we're going for the same part."
There is a great scene near the end of Serenity where River is standing still and strong, surrounded on all sides by Reavers. Someone asked Summer what she was thinking while shooting that scene. She replied, "The light is behind me - I wonder if my dress is see-through?"
When asked about how she first got involved with Joss Whedon, she talked about the audition she did for an episode of Angel. She was convinced that the audition was going badly, and that Joss was making fun of her. She was worried about her lack of experience. At the time she had no acting credits and only a few musical credits. Joss turned over her CV, looked at the section on previous experience and said, "Chorus of 'Paint Your Wagon'. So that's where you've been hiding."
Random Tee-shirt Wisdom: "Genius By Birth, Lazy By Choice"
Both the Stargate Atlantis panels with Rachel Luttrell and David Nykl went really well. The first minor surprise was that David was North American. I guess his convincing Czech accent and strange surname had made me think that he was, if not actually Czech, then at least something exotic.
Rachel told a great story about the problems of acting in one of the Puddle Jumpers (the name used for shuttles on the show). The first time they had to film a scene in which they were under attack the director yelled out "BOOM!" to indicate a near miss, and the actors threw themselves about the cabin in best Star Trek style. However they hadn't coordinated things, and each actor tossed him or herself in a different direction.
In the show, the crew members come from many different nations. They all wear similar jumpsuits, with national flag patches on the shoulders. Someone asked why there wasn't a Kiwi crew member. Rachel and David agreed that this was a deficiency in need of remedy, and asked for suggestions for a Kiwi actor who would be suitable for the proposed part. Some wag called out, "Me!" whereupon David had the guy get up on stage and subjected him to an on-the-spot Stargate Atlantis audition. The guy had to pretend to see something worrying on the long-range scanners, then turn to the audience and say, "Elizabeth, the Wraith are coming!" in his best Kiwi accent. The guy was game, did a good job, and got a good laugh.
There were a couple of young kids in the audience, and one of them asked the funniest question of the session: why is the alien on board the Daedalus always naked? "That's just the way it is: alien nudity sells," said David.
At one point Rachel was talking about how she had a few days off after Armageddon, and was looking forward to seeing some of the country. She asked for suggestions from the audience of places she could go. ("Should I visit Christown?"). Someone suggested Fox Glacier. She said, "Can I do that, fly down just for a couple of days?" Some wag shouted back, "You can do whatever you want Rachel - you're a movie star!"
David was asked about things he had done before Stargate Atlantis. He talked about his work on serious movies like Pterodactyl and Hell Mountain. ("Look for them in your 99 cent bargain bin.")
Random Tee-shirt Wisdom: "I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was going to blame you for it."
Mira Furlan's first session got off to a rocky start. Someone asked her if she ever got together with Bruce or Andreas or other cast members from Babylon 5, apparently without realizing that Andreas Katsulas had died recently. Mira was clearly deeply discomforted. She talked about the "Babylon 5 Curse," about how three cast members had died before their time, about how they were all dear friends of hers, and about how the rest of the cast joked morbidly about who would be next. She added that it was distressing for her to have to sign cast ensemble photos for fans featuring as they do her dead friends. I felt really sorry for the poor woman, and for the poor sap who asked the question.
Things lightened up a lot after that. At one stage she was discussing how uncomfortable facial prosthetics are (a common refrain from SF actors). It led to this exchange:
Mira: But you know who I feel really sorry for? You know that species... the ones that died out... what were they called?
Audience Member #1: The Markab.
Mira: That's right, the Markab. The prosthetics for them had no nostrils! I felt so sorry for the actors because they could hardly breathe!
Audience Member #2: Maybe that's why the species died out.
It was something of a surprise to hear that she considers herself much more well-known for her role in Lost than Babylon 5, as the former is huge world-wide and the latter only appeals to a niche audience.
Someone asked her how long she spends in makeup for Lost, and said, "Oh there's no makeup. Just dirt."
At one stage she was talking about the difficulties of acting against a blue screen. In one scene she asked the director to describe to her what she was supposed to be interacting with. He replied, "Oh, we don't know yet, we'll make something up in post-production."
Mira's second session was a complete disaster. Only about 100m from the main stage where the stars give their talks was a wrestling ring. In general the talks were not scheduled for the same time as fights, but Mira's talk was. She tried gamely to give the fans what they had come for, and she had some really interesting things to say about the dream of America she picked up in Yugoslavia from movies compared with the reality she found when she moved there, but she just couldn't compete with the dreadful thunderous cacophany coming from the bout. It was completely unworkable, and I felt it was a rotten, rotten thing to inflict on a guest.
To round off her trilogy of woes she also found New Zealand's climate a challenge. I think she must have expected a tropical paradise or something. On the first day she was wearing a blouse. On the second day she told us that she had had to buy a shawl to keep warm. And by the third day she was wearing a thick fleece jacket with the Silver Fern logo.
Things You Don't Hear Every Day: (over the public-address system) "The Medieval Shop is holding a sale: half price on all swords."
The Buffy panel featured Clare Kramer, Kevin Weiseman, and Tom Lenk.
Tom's character Andrew changes a lot in Buffy, and he was asked which bits of his character's story he liked best. He said that when the other guys got killed off so he could hog the camera was the best. When asked about how his family had reacted to his success he came up with the memorable line, "I have to explain to people how famous I am."
When talking about some events in upcoming episodes of Alias that we haven't seen in New Zealand, Kevin said, "They give me a nice send-off, there's torture involved."
Once again the conversation turned to the dreaded facial prosthetics. Kevin, talking about the appliance he had to wear as one of Glory's lumpy minions said that it was hot, "Like wearing a pie on your face all day."
Clare said that she loved playing Glory, and that the only thing she didn't like was her death, which she considered lame. It's interesting how things are perceived - personally I think Glory's death is a thing of genius.
Random Tee-shirt Wisdom: "Zombie: Eat Fresh"
I've not seen much of Stargate SG1, but I still found the sessions with Colin Cunningham and Tony Amendola very interesting.
Colin was asked about how extensive the set was, and he replied that it was amazing and huge, and that he felt like a kid in a candy store whenever he was on-set. He admitted to going in to work even when he wasn't needed, just so that he could do things like sit in the Captain's chair and push buttons.
Tony, who plays a 133 year-old man, told a story about his first day on the set. He was dreading his makeup call, fearing how long it would take to be made up. But in the end they decided he looked 133 without makeup, and his dread turned into insult!
Tony ended the session by singing a little ditty:
You aint nothin' but a Trekkie,
Cryin' all the time.
You aint nothin' but a Trekkie,
Cryin' all the time.
If you aint seen Stargate,
You aint no friend of mine.
The funniest comment of the session came from compere Bill right at the end. Seasons nine and ten of Stargate SG1 haven't shown in New Zealand yet, and Bill asked who in the audience had seen them. A hundred hands or so went up. Bill said, "I present to you the downloading public of New Zealand."
So once again Armageddon was just terrific, and I look forward to many more to come.