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Empire Big Screen 2011 report

NEWS - MOVIE NEWS

Shadowlocked geeks out over three full days of film-related awesomeness...

Posters for John Carter, Brave, The Muppets, and Real Steel, at Empire Big Screen

Shadowlocked attended the first Empire Big Screen event at the O2 in London this weekend of the 12-14 August (the next stage in the life cycle of the Empire Movie Con held at the BFI in London for the last few years), and it was awesome. Over the next few days, we’ll be bringing you some of the many highlights from a three-day event packed, even overflowing, with geekiness. But for now, here’s a (relatively) brief overview.

There were many fascinating things going on over the course of the weekend, from panels devoted to the likes of Star Wars, The Muppets, and screenwriting (three of the awesomest things there are), to screenings of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cowboys and Aliens, and the pilot episode of Steven Spielberg's Terra Nova, among others. And on top of that, attendees were treated to the presence of cult director Terry Gilliam, Aardman Animation (the British studio behind Wallace and Gromit), the enthusiastic and engaging director Shawn Levy presenting exclusive Real Steel footage, movie pitching sessions, an exhibition featuring some cool, iconic movie props as well as creatively designed promo spaces for upcoming films, and more.

Fittingly for an Empire event, Darth Vader and some stormtroopers were present, striding about the O2 like it was the Death Star. To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, “That’s no Dome…” Though fortunately no X-Wing fighters attacked over the weekend.

The stormtroopers were hilarious, walking along the queues for screening and interacting with people, posing for photos and making wisecracks. They also arrested several presumed rebel spies, and then posed for photos, presumably on the rationale that it would help Imperial propaganda efforts. And then they tried to buy some ice cream. Not sure how they’d eat it in uniform, though…

Empire Big Screen 2011

However, behind this utopian façade lay a darker dystopian reality… (Okay, that’s just being exaggeratedly dramatic; but hey, it’s a much more compelling way of putting it. Which is why we’re all (presumably) fans of movies: they offer the opportunity to experience stories in a heightened, more dramatic way than everyday life.)

In any case, many people were complaining about poor organisation throughout the weekend. There was confusion over which tickets entitled people to which panel, and which tickets got priority over which others. Also, in the press room, things kept changing, so it was difficult to plan for the press conference you were interested in (though something like this inevitably depends on the filmmakers’ schedules, which can always change at short notice). However, it was a big event, with a lot of different things going on, so it probably wasn’t that bad considering. And like with film editing, people don’t tend to notice the things that work smoothly, just those that don’t.

People also complained that it was over-priced, which is arguably a valid point, since the prices were quite significant, going up to £160 for the weekend, depending on the specific ticket purchased. Of course, the event organisers have the right to charge whatever they want, and then it's up to individuals to decide if they think it's worth paying in exchange for what's on offer. However, it would be nice for as many people as possible to be able to geek over films in one concentrated burst like this, without it setting them back too much.

Also, there were three secret screenings held, one for each day, but there were nowhere near enough seats available to meet demand, so many people had to be turned away. For one of the screenings (which turned out to be Drive), after the Diamond ticket holders (who got priority) had been admitted, literally only two press got in, and the rest were turned away.

Without knowing what the film was going to be (though there were rumours and speculation flying around, and one director earlier in the day gave a strong hint about his film being shown), people didn’t know whether or not it was worth spending the necessary time queuing to try and get into the secret screening, which would also certainly mean missing another panel.

Although schedules were readily available, a few panels weren’t very well publicised, with Shadowlocked only hearing about them afterwards (like the Adult Swim panel), and pretty much everything clashed with something else, making it more or less inevitable to miss the start or end of some panels, something that’s extra-frustrating for Pokemon fans: "Gotta catch 'em all..."; but it's impossible to catch ‘em all…

This was unlike Empire Big Screen’s predecessor, Empire Movie Con, which essentially had one programme of events, situated in one big screen at the BFI, so everyone could go to everything. That is, at least judging from the first year, which this writer attended; the following two years were sold out almost instantly, hence one of the reasons for a much bigger, more ambitious event this year.

Though some films were screened multiple times, like Cowboys and Aliens which had a showing every day, Conan 3D which had two simultaneous showings in different screens, and Fright Night 3D which had three simultaneous showing in different screens. Also, while Real Steel director Shawn Levy was highly entertaining and presented some good exclusive clips, his panel on the Saturday night was essentially repeated as part of the Disney presentation on Sunday. Also, the questions he was asked in the press conference following Saturday’s panel overlapped somewhat with what he’d just said a few minutes earlier, which was probably difficult to avoid given that the questions would have been prepared in advance.

Nevertheless, Shawn Levy still ran with the questions, and there are no doubt far less interesting people to have to listen to more than once. And it gave a small insight into what it must be like for filmmakers on a press tour, going to several such events one after another, conducting several interviews or press conferences or panels in a row, and having to talk about similar things. It increases one’s respect for those who do that, and maintain a sense of enthusiasm and engagement with the fans, like Shawn Levy. As he said, he’s a fan of films, as were probably everyone there, and is lucky enough to get to make them for a living. And he seemd genuinely enthused about Real Steel, which he described as the “most gratifying experience of my career”.

However, despite these minor problems, the event was amazing overall, with plenty of brilliant panels and screenings to attend. Arguably the thing to complain about most was people complaining so much…

Check back for more of Shadowlocked’s coverage of the event.

See also:

London Comic Con MCM Expo May 2011 report

London Comic Con MCM Expo X-Men: First Class writers panel

Nintendo post-E3 event and game reviews


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