My Conan Adventure: Part Three
The invitation to the Conan the Barbarian world premiere included with it an invite to the “after party” and was for me and a “plus one.” The second I got the invite I RSVPed and made hotel reservation. I talked to Jay at Gencon and found out what the dress code was. I had that covered—I do clean up nice when needed. I had to decide if I would fly or drive; and the answer to that would depend on the whole plus one thing.
The plus one dilemma combined a number of problems. The first is one of simple logistics: it required someone to be in Los Angeles for the event. Since I wasn’t currently dating anyone (for reasons outlined in this essay), the obvious and easy choice vanished. My very first choice ran into a logistical problem: she had to be in New York while the event was in LA. My next choice also had a logistical problem: she was in London.
I write movie scripts with Brian Pulido; and he’s spent a lot of time in Hollywood dealing with studios. I figured he could come along and might make some contacts at the party. Plus he likes fantasy movies and we could work on the trip, so it would all be good. Unfortunately Brian had a schedule he couldn’t clear. This whole plus one thing was getting more difficult.
So I did what most folks do in these situations: I reached out to a friend. Jamie Chambers knows folks in Hollywood, so I put my dilemma in his capable hands. Jamie, who is a gentleman and needed to be handed my problem the way most of us need to be handed live explosives, said he’d handle it. I think he actually enjoyed torturing me with cryptic messages like “I have some promising leads,” and “Your date will be AWESOME.”
Jamie delivered, and in spades.
Enter Milynn Sarley, actress, writer, producer, who is drop-dead gorgeous; knows her way around movies, comics and SF, and can toss words like metatarsal into a sentence properly without batting one of those lovely eyelashes. More about Milynn in a bit. Suffice it to say, in this day and age of Google I learned as much about her after a couple keystrokes as I would have had we grown up in the same small New England town and the mavens had deigned it proper that we should meet.
The day of the premiere I arrive at the airport early and troop off to security. I get to the head of the line and after my ID is checked, another TSA agent pulls me aside for “additional screening.” In this case I got my hands swabbed to check for explosives residue. I came up clean and got sent through a shorter line for metal detection. I breezed through there, got myself dressed again, then wandered off and got my boots shined. (It’s Hollywood, scuffed boots won’t do.)
The flight over to LA wasn’t bad and the shuttle to the Ritz-Carlton got me there quickly and semi-accidentally. The driver didn’t actually know where it was, but ran across it while looking for some other place to dump me. But it was all good and I checked in.
Two things marked the Ritz-Carlton as special (three counting the price…). First, I got asked if I had a “preference for a morning paper while I visited.” I admit I stared rather stupidly at the woman as she asked. I just don’t think of newspapers any more since I have apps for that. The idea that they’d have a selection and would try and suit me, well, that went back to an age of elegance.
The second thing was that you had to use a keycard to access the guest floors. Sure, I’ve seen that before, for some floors, on the club levels and such, but this was for all the guest floors. Of which there were only two, all the way at the top of the building. And the elevators were fast.
I get to my room. It looked like one of those model rooms set up for publicity shots. I still lust in my heart after the bathroom. I could have lived there. It has running water and a place to sit down, after all. And one of those big fluffy bathrobes of terrycloth so thick it can double as kevlar. And even if it couldn’t stop a bullet, dying in one of those robes would still be an easy way to go. The room even had stationery and this complicated espresso machine and a flatscreen TV so big that if the movie theatre had had equipment problems, everyone could have just come back to the room and watched Conan on it.
The room reeked of elegance. I put my stuff away and timidly sat on the couch. I was pretty sure that if I wrinkled the bed, then turned my back, when I finally looked at it again, invisible house elves would have straightened it out. I knew I was only going to stay for a night, but really just wanted to move in forever.
As time ticked down to the movie premiere, I got dressed up and met Milynn in the Ritz’s lobby. The woman really is breathtakingly gorgeous and has a wonderful smile. I could not have found a more entertaining companion. We headed over to the hotel next door, got drinks and something to nibble on. We took that opportunity to become acquainted. I confessed that I had no clue as to what to expect with the whole movie premiere thing and I was counting on her to be my native guide—a role she graciously accepted.
From there we headed over to the theatre. Serendipity intervened and we ran into Jordan and Dawn Weisman and Pete Fenlon and his wife Olivia Johnston. I’d seen Pete the week before at Gencon; and just missed Jordan and Dawn on a couple of occasions at the convention. I’d found four of the six people I knew at the event. We ventured off in search of the Will Call area so we could get our tickets.
So this is how these things set up. The Ritz was right across the street from the theatre and by noon trucks were out setting up the piping and drape, as well as the carpeting, for the stars at the premiere. By two PM (during a quick stroll around the place) I spotted autograph-seekers with boxes of photos. As we approached the theatre at 7:30, lights were up, crowds were behind barriers, and cameras were flashing away at the carpeted area. It was like watching automatic weapons-fire in a silent movie. The folks on the carpet were under siege.
It was a great place to be watching people—and watching people who were watching people. Heads craned, folks were trying to figure out if they knew someone; or if they should know someone. The movie stars were the obvious centers of attention and, sure, I felt a little giddy seeing folks I’d only seen on TV or in the movies—like Ron Perleman. And then there are the other folks, the ones who clearly are in “the business,” whom everyone knows or wants to know. Watching all that byplay was fun and, yes, I was mentally taking notes.
So one thing Milynn taught me is that these premieres always go off late. We get into the theatre, get some water, and are urged to get into our seats. The clock ticks. Milynn and I were able to comprehensively discuss and deconstruct the most recent geek-philic films, and even have time to rate movie candy in order of preference. (Raisinets, she reasoned, had to be on the top because you could pretend they were good for you. That’s her writer aspect—writers can rationalize anything.)
As she predicted, the movie which was to start at 8 actually starts at 8:30. The stars and producers and key contributors are introduced. Those named stand up, get cheered and wave, and that aspect of things was just a lot of playful fun. The movie—which they showed in REAL 3D—was the first I’d seen in 3D. I slipped on my glasses, lights dimmed, and the movie begins.
This is where the movie magic commences. The soundtrack and voice-over, the inclusions of the special effects, really kicked it a level above what I’d seen as a rough cut. Some scenes had been moved around, edited, expanded or clipped as needed. They did not shy from bloodshed, but also didn’t feel the need to be splashing folks in the front rows with bloody special effects.
There was one point where what they can do in post-production really came home to me. In the rough cut and script, Conan and his allies raid a slave caravan. Great scene, and I wrote it pretty much as is in the novel—adding a few bits here and there to flesh it out. It takes place on this dusty coast road, with Conan attacking downhill, ready to drive the slavers into the sea. There was nothing but water from beach to horizon.
In post production, that expanse of ocean became a tiny bay. A CGI peninsula with a settlement appears across from the road. What had been an ambush of a caravan became a raid on a slaver encampment!
For a two hour movie, it moves pretty quickly and is packed with great action scenes. One of the most difficult things in doing the novel was trying to translate those into prose. It was really tough, and the choreography went past my ability to describe it at times. I was very happy that the film’s editors took great pains to eliminate continuity errors from the script and even the rough cut. While there might still be some things in there for blooper reels, the final film version tightened up on that stuff very nicely.
Here’s where I ought to insert a review of the movie, but I won’t. I won’t because I can’t view it objectively. I saw a rough cut. I read versions of the script. I had the Dark Horse Comic script, and I wrote the novel. I’m most intimately involved in the novel, and the prose form is one in which I can inject a lot more stuff. I’m sure I was seeing a different film because I had memories that were keying off things I’d written, or scenes that had not made the final cut.
What I will say is this—I don’t think fantasy film fans will be disappointed with Conan the Barbarian. This is a smarter, sharper Conan than from the earlier films. Jason Momoa definitely looks the part. It’s a great cast of actors and they really respected the script and the genre. No one strolled through the film, eyes rolling. It’s got action, adventure, romance, a fair amount of creepiness and weirdness which make it into a solid fantasy film. Compared to some other recent films, when I left the theatre after Conan, I wanted to see more, not see if I could get my money back.
And, mind you, I was not under the influence of popcorn when I saw the movie—an influence that always works to the film’s advantage in my case.
So, the film ends and we leave the theatre. We’re heading to the after party, and even before we leave the theatre, the Hollywood fun and games begin.
This series of posts about my Conan experience stems directly from my involvement with writing the novelization of the new movie. You can snag the book for your Kindle or as a physical copy just by clicking those links. The novelization expands on the movie, including original material, cut scenes and a lot of scenes shot from Marique’s point of view.
If you like that, you might also want to try
Once A Hero, which is generally considered to be my single best stand-alone novel. It’s a fantasy that tells the story of Neal, a hero slain doing battle in a genocidal war to destroy the Reithrese. To save humanity, he abandons everything, including the chance to spend the rest of his days with the love of his life. And then, five centuries later, he’s pulled back from the grave to undo something he did and, quite possibly, unleash a horror greater than any he’d known. It’s full of action, adventure, romance, twists, turns and philosophical themes dealing with genocide and prejudice. Though I wrote it a long time ago, I was hitting on all cylinders when I wrote it. If it is the only book of mine that will survive the ravages of age, I’ll be quite happy. It’s available for the Kindle, and for sale directly off my website for any epub compliant ereaders.