comic con

San Diego Comic-Con International’s Hall H is the stuff of geek legend. Every summer, nearly 7,000 fans pack this convention center hall for the promise of seeing their favorite filmmakers, actors and creators showing a sneak preview of some of the biggest and most anticipated films. For example, James Cameron showed up at the Hall in 2009 to give fans an unprecedented first look at Avatar.

But as technology has gotten smaller and harder to detect, piracy has become a huge problem for movie studios exhibiting at Comic-Con. You see, most of the footage they show at the event is super early and unfinished, not meant for the masses around the world — certainly not meant for blogs like ours to do frame-by-frame breakdowns of (note: we never publish pirated footage). And now 20th Century Fox is apparently not coming to Comic-Con 2016 because “the studio feels it cannot prevent the piracy of custom trailers and exclusive footage.” Hit the jump and I’ll explain why Fox skipping Comic-Con is not the right way of handling this issue.

DEADPOOL

This is not something that 20th Century Fox has announced officially. The news was reported by Hollywood industry website The Wrap, who learned the details from “an individual familiar with the decision.” A representative for Fox declined to comment for the story — which isn’t a confirmation, but it’s worth pointing out that studios are usually quick to deny something like this, especially if it’s not true. According to the report, the studio will still take part in smaller events for things like their DreamWorks Animation collaboration Trolls.

20th Century Fox had some huge troubles last year at Comic-Con, with early footage being leaked online from those in attendance. Many people would be quick to point out that the leak of early Deadpool footage was instrumental in creating buzz for that underdog R-rated comic book movie which went on to do insane business at the box office. But that wasn’t the only footage pirated from last year’s Comic-Con. Nearly all the footage from every big movie in Hall H ended up online in some capacity. Warner Bros. was forced to release a high-quality version of the Suicide Squad trailer online even though the film was still in production. That film also seems to have benefited from advance buzz inspired by the Comic-Con appearance and trailer leak (we’ll see later this summer).

I’ll be honest, it sucks that the fans at Comic-Con are making it so that movie studios feel they can’t showcase at the event. But I’m not sure there is a way around security — Comic-Con already has tons of suited security prowling the crowds looking for recording devices during footage. In today’s day and age there is just no stopping it. Other conventions like D23 Expo and Star Wars Celebration required fans to bag or check in their electronics and phones, but I’m not sure that’s a solution for Comic-Con. Much of the buzz that comes out of that event is from fans tweeting during the presentations. I can’t imagine how much of a nightmare it would be for press if there were a process for who could and couldn’t enter the hall with a laptop. Getting into Hall H has already become difficult enough. Last year we had to wait overnight just to secure seats.

Sadly, at the end of the day, studios cannot trust the audience at Comic-Con not to pirate their footage. But I don’t think that’s reason not to attend the event. Please note that I’m not saying that exhibiting at Comic Con is worth the exorbitant amount of money it costs to do so, thats a different argument. There are a lot of films that have credited Comic Con for helping to launch the buzz that led to their ultimate success, from Jon Favreau’s Iron Man to last year’s Deadpool. You could easily bring up a Tron Legacy or Scott Pilgrim and say that Comic Con buzz is not worth the investment. I’m not going to argue that Comic Con is worth the millions of marketing and publicity dollars.

A studio like Fox has promising films to promote, like Assassin’s Creed, Wolverine 3 and Maze Runner: The Death Cure. I’ve been attending Comic-Con for nearly a decade, and have observed a lot about what does or doesn’t make for a good presentation in Hall H. And yes, while early footage is something that fans love, its not the be-all, end-all of a Hall H presentation.

For me, some of the best moments in Hall H have been without footage. Who can forget Tom Hiddleston appearing in costume as Loki during Marvel’s presentation? The video above does not do justice to this moment — ask anyone who was in the room.

Or even the more heartfelt moments, like when Andrew Garfield showed up in a Spider-Man halloween costume in the crowd to read a letter about why the character is so important to him.

One of the best presentations I ever saw at Comic-Con showed no actual footage from the product they were promoting: Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse’s final Lost presentation before the final season was filled with fun moments from the cast. It almost felt like it was written by a real screenwriter, who knew just how to play with the audience’s emotions (probably because it was). Not only was the presentation fun and emotional, but it was rewarding. It was something special.

Star Wars concert

Star Wars: The Force Awakens showed up last year and blew the roof off of Hall H without showing exclusive early footage (they showed a behind-the-scenes piece which was available immediately online, and then held a surprise Star Wars concert by the water). Yes, that elaborate Star Wars concert was probably super costly, and not every studio or film could afford such a huge display, but that’s not the point. The point is that the number one way to win in Hall H is… fun surprises. Fans love fun surprises. It can be as little as an unplanned appearance, a cool interaction that was unexpected, an announcement of some sort, or yes, footage from a film that isn’t even finished shooting. But I think studios underestimate how much the element of surprise plays into the buzz from a Hall H presentation.

And no, a studio can’t come to San Diego empty-handed — they need to bring footage. But if Comic-Con is important to a studio, then they must plan for it. In the past, Marvel Studios has planned their production schedules around Hall H presentations, capturing special footage at the beginning of the shoot and paying visual effects companies to finish shots that they know they’ll need in July in San Diego. Is this practical? I don’t know, Marvel and Disney seem to be making good money doing things this way. But again, not my point.

My point is, in this day and age studios can’t trust audiences not to pirate their Comic-Con footage presentations. The answer isn’t to not go, but to bring footage that is more finished. Plan to debut the early trailer in San Diego on Saturday morning, and release it in high quality to the masses the next week. Does releasing Comic-Con footage to the masses the next week make the Hall H presentations less special? Probably a little. But if the presentation is good, full of fun and interesting surprises, and if the movie has the goods, the fans who waited overnight behind the convention center for a chance to be in the room will likely be happy.

You know when they won’t be happy? Or worse for studios, when those same people won’t care? When the studio and film doesn’t come to San Diego at all.

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