There are just three days left to Dragon*Con, which means only five days left until the premiere of this year’s new Dragon*ConTV videos–except the first, which you can get a sneak peak at right now.
Last year I posted a few of my favorite Dragon*ConTV clips. This year I asked two of the DCTV staff, Brian Richardson and Stephen Granade, to tell GeekMom readers a little about the history (10 years!) of DCTV, how the videos get put together, and how the parodiers became the parodied.
First, tell us a little bit about the history of DCTV (keeping in mind that, sadly, many readers have never been to Dragon*Con). How did it get started, and what was the first year like?
Brian: Dragon*Con TV first came to life in 2002 when we had the idea to make a video. I was working as a volunteer for the technical operations (TechOps), and two other staffers (Patrick Freeman and Lucas Leverett) wanted to make an intro for the guys from MST3K, who were hosting the Masquerade. It was Thursday, the contest was on Sunday… and somehow we managed to put a good intro together.
The head of the convention was impressed. Then he asked the dreaded question: “What are you going to do next year?”
So 2003 was the first “real” year of Dragon*ConTV. We made some still images for fake sci-fi products and bogus TV shows to run before the Masquerade. We also made three videos, including the now infamous Stormtroopers Gone Wild (our longest-running video).
It turns out Stormtroopers Gone Wild set the formula for Dragon*ConTV, the blend of what happens when sci-fi and fantasy meet today’s pop culture. We’ve tuned the formula a bit over the years, but that mash-up culture still drives our comedy.
Stephen: We also replaced the still images with the bumpers in 2004. We, er, borrowed the idea from Adult Swim. The bumpers are white text on a black background over music and typically make a joke about geek culture (like why Doctor Who keeps getting younger with every regeneration) or about the convention (like how it really would be nice if people showered more often). It lets us do jokes that we otherwise couldn’t film for budgetary or time reasons and widens the kind of comedy we provide.
How did the bumpers start? Were you just big Adult Swim fans?
Brian: Yes, we are huge Adult Swim fans. Amy Qualls-McClure had the original idea for (as she put it) “cheap and easy content.” Stephen took over bumper creation years later and remains the bumper master.
What I love about the bumpers is how they have become “the voiceless voice” of Dragon*Con. It’s not any one person talking to the audience, it’s some nameless entity. This gives us a lot of comedic freedom, since “the voiceless voice” can say things that would seem cruel coming from a “real” person’s mouth. The bumper “voice” can be a voice of reason or ridicule.
Stephen: We can also vary that voice a lot, which again lets us do different kinds of jokes and comedy. We’ve got a small crew of actors, so people have gotten used to what we’re like when we’re on camera and what to expect from us. Like, on camera I’m usually Guy Who Dies or Guy Who Gets Comically Upset. But the bumpers don’t have that limitation. In one bumper the voice will be painfully earnest, while in another it’ll be more sardonic.
How many people work on DCTV now and in what roles?
Brian: We have a core team of about 20, but we’ll get a lot more than that who help out on weekend shoots or submit ideas on our message board.
Stephen: Yeah, the message board has let us draw a lot of ideas from people and actually plan ahead of time. We used to get together and say, “Okay, what ideas do we have? Can we film that today?” Now we get a pile of ideas and then we get together and say, “Okay, here are the ideas we already had. Can we film any of them today?”
So it’s totally different now.
Brian: I’m the executive producer along with director, video editor, writer, on-camera personality and catering (it’s a small crew). Patrick Freeman is still a key part of the crew, along with running his Sci-Fi Janitors project.
Stephen: I’m in charge of the bumpers and write about two-thirds of them. I also act in a lot of our videos because I have an acting background and thus no sense of shame. I’m one of our bald guys who dies a lot as a red-shirt. I also write and direct some things, though not nearly as many as Brian does. He’s crazy.
How many videos get submitted as opposed to created by your team? What percentage of the submissions do you show?
Brian: We get a few dozen submissions each year, and we’ll run several. Not all of them make the cut. Some just aren’t our brand of comedy. Surprisingly, some of them don’t meet our production standards (we’re all up in the HD now). What we get every year keeps getting better and better, sometimes way better than what we’re making (we try to recruit those people).
What are each of your favorite DCTV spots?
Brian: Oh, that’s a tough one. Stephen, you go first while I roll some dice.
Stephen: Right, make me pick. Can I choose which of my children is my favorite instead?
I always point to Stormtroopers Gone Wild because it’s so canonically Dragon*ConTV. But I have to give the nod to our Re: Your Brains music video. It was the first music video we tried, and it let us get Jonathan Coulton’s music more exposure before he became the nerd colossus that he is now. Plus it was just a lot of fun to make.
Brian: OK, I gotta choose something …
For bumpers, I love The Rainbow Connection. This is where Stephen ties the famous Muppet song to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. It’s such a popular bumper that we got yelled at after the latest Muppet movie came out because people couldn’t get Stephen’s interpretation out of their heads during a very moving part of the film (same thing happened to me). We’re issuing an apology bumper in 2012.
For the live-action bits … boy that’s hard. I’d say Jenga or Pon Farr because they ride that fine line between “Nobody would really make that,” and “Oh no, they actually made that!” But I’ll always have a soft spot for Stormtroopers Gone Wild (my first little video love).
And what are our chances of getting DCTV added to the DirecTV lineup soon so it’s there year-round? No? … How about a Boxee channel?
Brian: We have so many requests for becoming a real TV channel, much like everyone roots for Pinocchio to become a real boy. Unfortunately, we’re not the TV executive type. Also, Pinocchio lived in a bad neighborhood, so he didn’t go to the best school after becoming a real boy. The closest we’ll get to basic cable is our YouTube channel and podcast feed.
Last, if there’s anything else about The Great Wonder that is DCTV you’d like to tell everybody, shout it out!
Brian: There are so many wonderful things about the last 10 years of Dragon*ConTV, it’s hard to remember which ones are worthy of a mention on Wired. Having folks like Chris Gore from G4TV and the cast of The Guild tell me they were fans was pretty awesome.
It’s been a great creative outlet and a way to make some lasting friendships. We’ve built a community out of a crazy idea for a single video. We’ve unintentionally woven ourselves into the fabric of one of the world’s largest sci-fi conventions, which just shows how fan-driven Dragon*Con really is.
Stephen: Ditto what Brian said, especially about getting to make videos with people who’ve become some of my best friends. And I’ve had con-goers tell me how they’ll spend a good portion of Dragon*Con watching Dragon*ConTV bits in their room and how excited they are to see the new stuff. For anyone doing creative work, that’s a thrill to hear.
Oh, and it led to me being cosplayed, which is simultaneously in the “awesome!” and “weird” categories.
Brian: Ah, now I have one … remember how I said we’ve unintentionally become part of Dragon*Con? Dad’s Garage, an Atlanta theater company, recently did an original play called “Wrath of Con”. It’s a hilarious look at life at a sci-fi convention, and it bears more than a passing resemblance to Dragon*Con.
The play’s pre-show is a send-up of Dragon*ConTV. They made their own bumpers. We’ve been so well embraced by Dragon*Con that people have to make fun of us to make fun of Dragon*Con — and we’re the people that make fun of Dragon*Con at Dragon*Con. That’s just cool and weird all at the same time.
Stephen: Talk about nested levels of meta. It’s like con-Inception. Conception! … Wait, that’s already a word.