Making History at Supernatural’s VanCon
I’ve spent the week happily immersed in VanCon photos and reports and vids, like most of the Supernatural fandom, musing about why VanCon feels so special. Of course every occasion that fans have to get together is special, because we don’t often get to be with our SPN Family face to face. VanCon gives me lots of other fans to squee about Show with, to share my anticipation for S10, and to hash out what we did and didn’t like about S9 (and the eight seasons before that too). And then VanCon does other cons one better by giving me not only the actors but some of Supernatural’s writers and crew – which makes it pretty much the enactment of the reciprocal relationship we’ve written about in all our books. My week in Vancouver was all about those relationships – fans and fans, fans and actors, actors and actors, with some crew members and writers to round out the reciprocity. Relationships are what make we humans happiest, so I guess it’s not surprising that I’m still smiling.
VanCon coincided with the beginning of filming Supernatural’s 200th episode, which seemed entirely fitting. We contributed to some 200th episode gifts for the cast and crew, along with many other fans. Another group of fans arranged for a banner to be flown over the set congratulating the cast and crew on reaching such an important milestone.
The occasion made me think. When we first started researching Supernatural back in 2007, the Show was on the verge of cancellation at the end of every season, with fans rallying with postcard campaigns and network pleas and then crossing our fingers until the renewal was announced and we could finally breathe again. Nobody – not even the fandom – would have believed that we’d see 10 seasons and 200 episodes. But here we are, and going stronger than ever!
The historic 200th episode filming also made me look back over my own history with the Show and the fandom, which we’ve now published three books about. It struck me that so many of the themes in Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, Fandom at the Crossroads, and Fan Phenomena Supernatural were present at this con.
We missed out on the official location tour this year that we’ve done many times in the past, but fans are nothing if not resourceful. The impressively organized and extremely knowledgeable Mary (aka bardicvoice) took a bunch of us on a “fan van” tour of past shooting locations. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the chapter in Fangasm where we nearly got ourselves arrested at midnight trying desperately to find an iconic fence by the river where Dean told Sam…. look, it was an important fence! You know the one! This time no law enforcement was needed, though we did draw some puzzled looks from passersby as we ooohed and aahhed over the place where some guy named Dean died for real on a Wednesday in Mystery Spot. I have a feeling our smiling and excited expressions didn’t exactly match the content of the tragedy that Mary was telling us happened there. We probably looked like a group of improbable serial killers on some sort of creepy tour. Oh well.
We saw dozens of other filming locations, re-enacted a few iconic scenes, and stopped for lunch in a restaurant where the Winchesters have also eaten (of course).
The Britannia Shipyard was one of my favorite locations, since Born Under a Bad Sign, the episode that pulled me into Supernatural, was filmed there, along with several other episodes.
VanCon also had some moments which embody what fandom and the SPNFamily are all about. Matt Cohen and Gil McKinney decided to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge at the con, with fans dousing the actors with ice water and Chris Schmelke, Creation’s amazing photographer, filming it.
Several of the chapters in Fan Phenomena Supernatural, are all about fandom as a force for good – Misha Collins wrote a chapter about Random Acts, and fan writer Mary Dominiak and acafan Mary Frances Casper wrote about the SPN Family changing the world. So it seemed fitting that Matt and Gil would include the fans in their challenge.
The challenge also required Matt to take his shirt off. As you do. Nobody complained.
Another theme of Fan Phenomena Supernatural is the power of social media, and how much Supernatural has been on the forefront for both fans and the creative side. Not only has the Supernatural fandom grown up online, but the Show has broken the fourth wall to interact with its fans onscreen as well as on social media. So how fitting was it that Jensen Ackles finally joined Twitter in the middle of a convention, with thousands of fans gathered around to witness it? He always promised that if he did it, he’d do it publicly. This was pretty public!
And how adorable was it, watching Jared share his vast Twitter experience with his best friend, shepherding him through the process with a comforting hand on his shoulder and bursting into affectionate laughter when Jensen was as mystified as any of us were our first time trying to tweet. (“No Jensen, that’s an @, you need a hashtag…”) Luckily most of us didn’t have thousands of people watching and filming us when we started out tweeting.
We got to watch the boys make history – and to be in Jensen’s first tweeted photo too! Taken by Jared – of course.
One of the great things about conventions is that the guests clearly have as much fun as the fans. Sure, they get paid to be there, and it’s a job – but it’s one they all seem to love. (For more insight into an actor’s take on conventions, Richard Speight Jr. has an insightful chapter in Fan Phenomena Supernatural about his experience).
Richard is one of the reasons Supernatural cons are so much fun. Having him as the emcee throughout the con ensures that the level of excitement never dies down, and his good instincts about how to ease a favorite performer offstage after a panel without sending the audience into paroxysms of grief are unerring. It was Richard’s understanding of the role of boundaries in fan/actor interactions and how to bring them down as far as is feasible that turned SPN con karaoke into something that doesn’t happen at any other convention. VanCon karaoke was no exception, as many of the guests took to the stage and joined fans to sing (and dance, thank you Tahmoh…) and celebrate the Show that brings us all together.
Karaoke was missing an integral component this year (but only because Matt Cohen was filming, which is one of the few acceptable reasons to miss karaoke) – but he took the time to record a message from set so we would all know how much he wished he could be there – is it just me, or is Matt not looking too … alive… here?
The “new guys” – Adam Rose, Dan Payne and Chad Rook — seemed thrilled to be at their first Supernatural convention, and rose to the challenge to give a great panel. All three hit it off and had the audience laughing. Adam amused fans by saying that Dean was “my gay thing — we were each other’s gay thing.” Adam’s tweet the next day when Jensen joined the twitter madness:
@realadamrose: It’s official. My gay thing is on twitter.
And he did a number at karaoke too!
The guys took a selfie to memorialize the moment. Are we having them back, Creation?
As always at VanCon, we were treated to behind the scenes details from some of the crew too. We caught up with SPN director of photography Serge Ladouceur, who also wrote a chapter for Fan Phenomena Supernatural about how he gives the Show its distinctive look, Jason Fischer from the production office, and VFX wizard Adam Williams (though we somehow missed Ryan Curtis this year). Writer Adam Glass, locations manager Russ Hamilton, director/AD Kevin Parks and producer Jim Michaels did a panel, and stuck around after to sign autographs and greet fans. Jill Parks and SPN canine mascot Kuma also joined in.
It was great seeing all of them again – and every single person insisted that we would love the 200th episode, that it’s “for the fans.” I love that the Show wants to make it clear that the 200th episode milestone would never have been reached if it weren’t for the fandom’s passion and enthusiasm and tireless button pushing on endless online polls. I love that they know it would have been all over years ago if it weren’t for fans’ determination, and that they’re grateful. I love that they have all thanked everyone who writes books and articles and blogs about the Show, and that they get on twitter and thank the talented fandom photographers who capture their convention appearances in such beautiful detail. Nobody will ever convince me that this cast and crew isn’t the best ever.
I haven’t lost sight of the fact that Show’s depiction of Becky the fangirl went from Kripke’s affectionate ribbing to something in s7 that I refuse to consider part of canon – but the 200th episode will be something new and different, a fresh slate from which to acknowledge the fans, so I’m excited. I’m counting on you, Robbie Thompson!
The rest of the cast also had as much fun as the fans at Vancon. Seriously, my face ached from smiling too much after most of the panels. It was like a Rocky Horror moment…
Misha in particular was in a fabulously naughty mood, which is my favorite flavor of Misha. He’s got this smile that’s all boyish innocence, but…
Gotta say, I’d be happy to have Misha in this mood at every con. I love the cast’s comfort with each other, and the way they tease each other like a bunch of siblings – and seem to enjoy every minute of it.
The other thing that has revitalized Creation SPN cons is the addition of the Elastic Waste Band, aka Louden Swain, as the house band. While they don’t stay onstage like they do at Vegas Con, having the band introduce each guest gave us some priceless moments, especially when they came up with an impromptu song just for the moment.
We also got lots of my favorite Louden Swain songs, and way more singing and dancing than we would have otherwise, both at the Saturday night ‘cabaret’ and in between appearances onstage, when guests would sometimes jump in to share the mic with Rob Benedict – we even got Mark Sheppard on drums!
We write a lot about the reciprocal relationship between fans and actors in our books, and we love the appreciation both sides show each other. At VanCon, I was struck by the appreciation and genuine affection that the actors hold for each other, as well as for the fans, which was repeatedly evident onstage.
The love this cast has for each other goes beyond the hey, it’s fun to work with you sentiment. They often talk about how they have become family, just as the fans have become family. Fans are there for each other; so are the cast. It was his fellow actors who got Rob help in time when he suffered a stroke at TorCon last year. They travel the world together to go to conventions, they support each other’s projects, they know each other’s families.
So it wasn’t surprising when Jared’s son Thomas was so excited to see his “Uncle Jensen” onstage — but it was sufficiently adorable that the entire audience pretty much melted.
And of course, cons are also all about the Pretty. And there was a lot of Pretty. Let’s face it, this cast have some of the BEST smiles…
And Osric and Gil decided to do pushups. Why? I have no clue. It’s become an Osric and Gil tradition. I really don’t mind.
All too soon, the con was over, with the guests doing the traditional signing-of-the-banners which are too big to fit in most houses, unless you happen to live in a castle.
Earlier in the week, we had the pleasure of meeting Jason, Jared’s stand-in, who is every bit as tall as Jared. He joked that having a first name that starts with J is a requirement for working on the Show (Jensen’s stand in is also a Jason, so they call him Jay). Every cast and crew member we’ve ever met or interviewed for our books says the same thing about Supernatural — it’s a great bunch of people and they feel lucky to work on the Show. We got to watch the Impala roar up and down the road a few times, which was a surprisingly emotional experience. Every time I watched her headlights come closer or her taillights disappearing up the dark road, every time I heard that familiar rumble, I got a lump in my throat. I never thought I could feel so much for a car — but then, she’s so much more than a car, isn’t she?
Emotions run high at conventions, and that’s okay. Passion is a good thing. During the Jared and Jensen panel, a fan apologized for breaking down during the photo ops, overcome by the excitement of meeting the boys in person. Jared responded that she had nothing to apologize for.
Jared: “We’re all family here – you don’t need to apologize. This is the place where we all come to be ourselves.”
That’s the message of Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls. Jared has said that reading the book helped him ‘get it’. I personally think he would have gotten it anyway, but I love him for saying that. It’s abundantly clear, when he says that onstage, that he means it. SPN Family, it’s more than just a hashtag.
Jensen’s second tweet ever summed up his own view of the reciprocal relationship:
@JensenAckles: “Great time today. Best fans ever.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Stay tuned for cast interviews from VanCon!
To read more about Supernatural and from the Show’s
thoughtful cast and crew and fans, check out ‘Fangasm’,
‘Fan Phenomena Supernatural’ and ‘Fandom at the
Crossroads’ at the links at the top of the page