Wednesday, November 01, 2006

San Francisco--the junket.

I know why they sometimes have these things. Advertising. The fawning press is supposed to ask some softball questions for the evening newscast, or get some background from a producer or something for a feature in a magazine or newspaper. You get everyone in the same place and it's actually pretty easy for all involved.

Now once can see why they do this for a film that's coming out. Even if the buzz is terriffic, the studios still need publicty in order for that all important first weekend. It's a major expense, but a neccessary one. Sometimes, during major film festivals, the survivors of some old films are trotted out for the press. Why just a couple of months ago, they had press confrences for El Topo and Reds, films with great reputations and which few had seen in many years. That's understandable, too. But what I couldn't understand is why they would have a full-fledges junket for a Cars.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about the one they had last June, they should have had the one just before the film came out, no. I'm talking about having another one four months later for the DVD. Now, I've saw the film when it first came out TWICE, once for the regular press screening and the IMAX version, and I gave the thing a good review. Maybe that's why they invited me, I don't know, but going out there, on THEIR dime, and getting to see the innards of this magical factory, is something no one in their right mind would pass up.

That's what made this trip so dissapointing. We didn't actually see all that much. This was only what was advertised, nothing more. Damn!

I don't really want to seem ungrateful, I mean the food was wonderful and the Hotel Monaco has soft beds and a wonderful free wine tasting program. San Francisco is a wonderful city, and had I not had to get back when I did, I would have had an extremely enjoyable day hanging out on Market street, or Polk. But that was not why I was there, I was there to see Pixar, and if I saw nothing else, that would be just dandy.

The lot of us got together at a quarter of seven in the lobby, and got on a pair of minibuses where we headed out over the Bay Bridge and into Marin County, Passing Berkeley and into the town of Emoryville, which is sort of in Oakland, and where all the factories are. The scenery was very much like it was on the other side of America, with the beginnings of autumn changing the trees from green to orange and gold. It was all very California.

Sooner than expected, there we were. They let us out of the vans and we walked into the building. the Pixar building is a two story structure with a huge interior "courtyard" surrounded by two wings which are connected on the second floor by a bridge. The schedule went something like this:

The morning round tables
The Afternoon screenings.
A tour of the campus.
Back to the Hotel.

Breakfast was really good. Various versions of scrambled eggs and cheese omelttes, and really good coffee and fruit. Then we had to sign in. I'm sorry. The sign-in was lame. Usually when you sign in for one of these things, you just sign your name on a register, grab some press materials and go on. That's lame too, but in the usual beaurocratic way. Nobody minds that.

This time, we had to go through a pseudo-DMV type thing, where we had to recognise some of the characters and do a quiz, followed by a demo of the video game (that part would have been fine, but I suck at that sort of thing). This was too cute by half. If there were little children there, that would be one thing, but you had a few dozen adults going through this none-too-pleased. Then we had some more food and wandered around the vast area that was the first floor for a bit before lining up and heading past the "unauthorized personell forbidden" signs and up the stairs for three round tables with a couple of the storyboarders and some technitions, who told us about how much work it is to do lighting in an all CGI film and how to make color packets for the techies doing the rendering. That was fine, then we went downstairs again where a couple of people showed us how wonderful all the extras were.

Now extras are important to a DVD. Nobody likes "vanilla," and no one did vanilla more annoyingly than Disney did back in the day [The original Roger Rabbit had a list of them where actually weren't on the disc]. Pixar knows this and they're justly proud of what they did on some of their earlier efforts. They gave us a brief tour of what's on there, and the whole presentation was mostly boring. Menus are like that. However, I want a plasma TV more than ever. God that was beautiful.

Then came lunch, and this was where the problems started. No. The food was terriffic, the buffet was to perfection and I enjoyed every morsel. The problem was stonewalling. I sat down and there he was. John Lassiter, sitting catty corner from me. He was very plesant, and I decided, since I was there, to find out what exactly was going on with the studio. Bang! He and his main flunkey are very good at stonewalling. They had just come out with a new short, called Lifted, and they had a few signs for it on the wall. I asked about it and they seemed very exited, although they wouldn't say anything specific. I asked about Ratatouille, which is the next project and the project after that, "W.A.L.-E". Stonewall. I persisted. "Do you see any posters for Meet the Robinsons do you?" he snarled at me. I was there to do journalism, right? But what was I supposed to do? I couldn't do what I wanted, after all it was on their dime and in their house.

This was a squandered opportunity on Pixar's part. If you're going to spend THOUSANDS of dollars to bring people THOUSANDS of miles, it would be really cool to dazzel them. Show them a tease here and there. Some character designs for Ratatouille, or Lifted, for example.
We've got something special for YOU! Not special like a tee shirt (which I'm wearing, by the way), something that you can tell your readers in confidence.

the afternoon sessions were rather boring. they showed us the specially made cartoon for the DVD, Mater and the Ghost Light, and that wasn't particularly good. The character of Mater in the feature was silly and colorful, but he was actually one of the more intellegent characters. Here he's just a moronic child. The punchline was cute but the build up wasn't.

But you can't say "This sucks" on their turf. The questions were for the most part polite and perfunctery. Lassiter made his official appearence and talked about how how he was inspired by a road trip he took with his family after Toy Story 2 was finished. Very sweet. Of course the original concept had nothing to do with the finished film except for the fact that all of the characters were automotive. I was still a bit ticked off.

Then we took the tour. We actually saw quite a bit of the preliminary art from Cars, and some from Finding Nemo. But we didn't see anyone working. That was all hidden. We did go outside and see the vollyball court.

We went back to the hotel and drank more free wine before having dinner on Disney's dime. It helped me sleep in the flight back.

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