Comic Nerds and Villain Costumes: Michael Mohan’s ‘Save the Date’ Finds an Audience at Comic-Con

‘Save the Date’ director Michael Mohan.

Michael Mohan

Michael Mohan is an independent filmmaker and the director of three Sundance Film Festival selections, including “One Too Many Mornings,” “Ex-Sex,” and the SFF ‘12 Competition film “Save the Date.” Below is an account of his experiences at last weekend’s Comic-Con event in San Diego.

On Friday evening at 9:30 p.m., I got word from our distributor as to what our release date was going to be for Save The Date. Suddenly, things felt a lot more real than ever. I finished up my freelance editing work for the night, and set my computer to render. I climbed up my bookshelf, onto my wife’s dresser, and hopped into bed. We have a tiny apartment and sleep in a lofted bed—my “office” is beneath it, which is where I’m typing this right now.

But that night I wasn’t able to sleep. Because the film is actually going to come out—it’s more tangible than ever. Not sleeping is a routine problem, my brain unable to stop spinning. “What theatre are we going to open at?” “I wonder what our poster is going to look like?” “I wonder what else is coming out that weekend?” (answer: Twilight Part 3: Part 2) “I wonder when the blu-ray might come out?” “Will I be able to do a directors commentary track for the blu-ray, and if so should I be informative or try to be funny?” “Will anyone even listen to the commentary track?” “Should I stage a mock argument like they did on The Limey commentary track?”

It’s totally dumb, but is indeed what kept me up. At some point I was tossing and turning so much and didn’t want to keep my wife up, so I moved “downstairs” to the “living room” (that’s what we call the area directly next to our bed) and tried to fall asleep on our couch. Maybe I got two hours of sleep before the alarm clock on my cell phone rang. It was 4:30 a.m., and I was going to drive down to San Diego that morning to speak on a panel for my film at Comic-Con.

Right now this probably makes no sense to you. Because Comic-Con is associated with movies like The Hobbit or Iron Man 3 or the Total Recall remake. What was a director of an indie comedy-drama with zero special effects doing going down there? I wondered this myself as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes at the gas station. As a weird reward for waking up so early, I bought myself a coffee. I should have made coffee at home and saved the money, but I actually like gas station coffee. It’s weird, I know.

I digress—to tell you the truth, I’m not sure how we were either invited or how we muscled our way into Comic-Con, but our film actually is rooted more in comics than a lot of people would know. Jeffrey Brown, one of the original writers of Save the Date is an incredible graphic novelist. I discovered his work randomly by walking into the Giant Robot store down the street from my old apartment. One of his books was sitting on a shelf. It caught my eye. I picked it up. And I instantly started relating to it. His characters are real people. And they dealt with things in the same awkward way that I deal with things. While this film isn’t a direct adaptation of any of his books—we worked extra hard to keep that spirit and voice intact.

Jeffrey has become a very close friend through this process. When we were at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, we’d walk a couple miles from the condo to Headquarters in order to try to get tickets. We had these great conversations—he told me all about his work process. The instant I’m able to divorce myself from having to work freelance jobs, my main aspiration is to lead a creative lifestyle like his.

He’s all about the work and just keeping it honest and focused. So the thing I was most looking forward to at Comic-Con was hanging out and being able to congratulate him in person for the fact his latest book hit number one on The New York Times. That came across really braggy—just know it’s one of those things where you’re just so fucking proud of your friend, who hasn’t changed his voice one bit in order to get such crazy serious recognition. It couldn’t be more inspiring.

Thanks to some anonymous comments on Reddit, I learned what to do and what not to do at Comic-Con. The most important piece of advice I learned is that if you park a few miles away at the Qualcomm Station, you can take a $5 shuttle into the city (versus $25 parking at the convention center). On the way down I learned that our panel was at the same time as another Sundance alum, this guy named Quentin Tarantino. I should have called him. Maybe we could have carpooled. I wonder if Quentin Tarantino likes gas station coffee too.

On the shuttle, I realized very quickly that Comic-Con is a Very Big Deal. I have to admit, I didn’t know what to expect. I sat next to a guy who was dressed in costume as a villain from a spinoff of The Last Airbender (“the animated show, NOT the movie” as he was quick to point out). The shuttle filled up—lots of bleary-eyed, but really happy people all piled in.

You know, there’s this real preconceived notion that comic nerds are these angry, sad people. It’s absolutely not true. When I joined the literal mob of people ambling our way towards the convention center, I quickly realized that everyone here is so stoked to be an active participant in pop culture. These are the people who camp out hours and hours to be the first person to catch a glimpse of some footage for a new movie. In an age when the internet makes me feel like the only reason people go to the movies is so they can have an opinion on it rather than actually going to be taken into an experience, I realize that the people who have gathered here still have been able to maintain the excitement that I used to associate with movie-going of the past.

In a way, the feeling was not all that different from riding the bus at Sundance. The pure place that this passion comes from is exactly the same. When it comes down to it, we’re all just excited about art. We’re all excited about voices. And in both cases, everyone is there to celebrate it. The only difference is that with one exception, the films at Comic-Con cost significantly more money.

After wandering around the convention center floor, packed with booths and booths of all things nerd, and seeing people wearing some really impressive costumes (my favorite was a little girl dressed as the Nyan Cat) I made my way up to the halls where the panels were going on. The panel prior to mine was being let in—a panel called “Faeries in the City.” I asked some of the people in the massive, massive line what this was, and apparently some of the biggest authors in the fantasy literature world were speaking. Amazing.

I met up with Jeffrey, our producers Michael and Jordan (who we sometimes refer to as “Michael Jordan”), and our dapper moderator Noel Murray of the Onion AV Club. I was nervous and excited. We hustled in to set up our AV needs. Alison Brie, Lizzy Caplan, and Martin Starr literally appeared out of nowhere to join us onstage. A giant audience was seated in front of us. I think that was the moment where I started waking up for real.

The panel was a total blur but went really great—what was especially nice was being able to feel that sense of excitement from other Jeffrey Brown fans. I hope this doesn’t sound cocky, but man, if I hadn’t made this movie, and was down at Comic-Con, and saw Jeffrey Brown with these actors on stage, I would be so stoked for this film to come out. We showed a clip from the film, and the response was instantly electric. Lizzy, Alison, and Martin were as charming as they always are. It was a good time.

When people asked what our release date was, I took a quick poll of the audience to see if there’d be a conflict: “How many fans of Twilight are there in this room?” Not a single person raised their hand. This is our audience.

The rest of the day was lazy. Martin, Jeffrey, Hrishikesh (our composer), and I checked out the Batmobiles. We tried to sneak a picture of Lou Ferrigno. We took it in. And then Hrishikesh and I made our way back to the shuttle. Hopped back in my car. And drove home. Later that night I did some more pay-the-bills freelance editing and set it to render overnight. I climbed up my bookshelf, onto the dresser, and into bed. The whirring of my hard drives lulled me to sleep for the first time in days. I felt reassured that despite the odds, people do still care, and today we took a very large step towards building our word of mouth.

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