I had the pleasure Thursday night of attending the “Stargate Universe” launch party, which let you mingle with the actors and writers of the show in addition to seeing the full trailer for the first time. They’ve since made it available online here:
“Stargate” has always been like a series of one-night stands. They’re fun, look good, and you forget everything about them as soon as the next one comes along. They’re not the show you introduce your friends to, obsess over, or passionately bury yourself in. As such, “Stargate Universe” was a bit of a surprise. The trailer actually looked really good, going somewhere distinctly different from the previous two entries in the franchise, while maintaining the built up context of that universe.
The basis of the series is that a mismatched group of characters goes through a “Stargate” and accidentally ends up stranded on a ship from which they can’t get home. It seems to take on a much darker tone than the previous two series, although it’s difficult to say for sure without actually seeing an episode or two whether that’s just PR and trailer work.
So that’s the short version. The long (and self indulgent) version follows.
The launch party was held on a rooftop downtown about two blocks from Comic-con. I walked up Fifth street, which was blocked off for pedestrians for the duration of the Con. A platoon of roller girls dressed like the roller derby team in “Whip It!” skated up the street blowing up a cacophony with whistles. Ellen Page wasn’t actually among them, or I would have stowed her in my tote bag for safe keeping in the Pajiba vault. In the other direction, a horde of bikini-topped zombies from the Zombieland booth shambled in unison down the sidewalk. It could have been an epic Westside Story brawl, but alas the groups passed as ships in the night.
I was the first in line outside the bar, and a dozen or so others lined up in quick succession. A PR guy douched up to the front of the line and ordered the two guards to let in his buddy and his three girlfriends, who were busy pretending to have sex with the driver of the pedi-cab that they took up from the Con. They scurried up the elevator falling out of their dresses while us honest invitees had to wait until eight o’clock sharp when the word came down to let us unwashed souls in amongst the pretty people. I gave my name to the guard inside and caught a glimpse of the guest list. It was alphabetized and mine was the first name after Joss Whedon’s, although his was highlighted yellow. The next two people in line weren’t on the guest list and argued with the guard. The elevator came, the other guard shrugged, and I rode up the elevator alone.
Other than a couple dozen security and hotel staff, about 50 people milled around the roof, none of them the “talent” that was referred to throughout the night. Fake tans and tiny dresses hanging on fake tits were the uniform for the women there, and all the men wore matching fake tans, fitted-T’s or button-up shirts with rolled up sleeves and meticulously mussed $100 hair cuts. None of them wanted to talk to me in the least.
I went to the bar, asked for the darkest beer they had and got something amber that I could see through. There’s always a hotel staffer in charge of these things, the queen of shit, she’s responsible for all the irritating shitty details and struts around with a walkie talkie and a tight-lipped faux politeness. It’s almost always a woman, and she almost always is very short, very skinny, and pretty but not overly so. Something about the OCD inherent to the job must kick their metabolisms into psychotic overdrive. I avoided her because she’s always too busy to talk to people because she has to talk to her walkie talkie instead.
I wandered around a bit, make the rounds through the crowd, slowly filling out as invitees are allowed through the guest list and onto the elevator. One of the security guards told me that this is their first big event at the rooftop bar, and if it goes well they’re hoping for more. He also told me that the security has been instructed that they are not to stop anyone from doing anything at this party, and so if some of these women strip down and hop in the shallow pool backlit by a Stargate logo, so much the better. He clearly put a lot of thought into the possibilities of the scenario. I asked “If I’m the first one in the pool, you’ll throw me out, won’t you?” The guard grinned, said he had to make his rounds and walked away.
I ran into a distracted woman who is clearly one of the press and asked her whom she is with. She has never heard of Pajiba but she’s from IO9 and has her own photographer there. She spent ten minutes explaining to the photographer exactly what shots she wants. The photographer then spent most of the night sitting by himself eating appetizers. The woman, who clearly had something on the line but no actual authority, took all the pictures herself. I spotted a quartet of individuals who also look like press (they’re not that pretty and one of the guys is wearing a “Han Shot First” t-shirt). Turns out they’re all from Miramax. I made small talk for a few minutes before one of them announced that they needed to mingle. They excused themselves and then walked 20 feet away and talked amongst themselves again. I decided it was time to try the special glowing Stargate cocktail being distributed by waitresses filtering through the growing crowd.
After six frustrating drinks, it became abundantly clear that the drinks were so watered down that it would actually be legal to package them as bottled water. I adjourned to the restroom, took the only normal-sized urinal, and shortly another man entered and used the kiddie urinal to my left. He wasn’t shy, maybe they were giving him actual alcohol. He lamented that not only is his wife the star of the party, and his only responsibility is refilling her drink, but now he gets stuck with the kid’s urinal. “Look at the bright side.” I said. “You can claim you have to use it, because otherwise you scrape the urinal cake.” He laughed, introduced himself as Parker. He explained that his wife was in charge of production for “Stargate Universe.” I explained that I was a writer with Pajiba, and lamented that it did not appear anyone wanted to talk to me. Parker noted that it was strange since the entire point of this party was to butter up the press to the show, and invited me to speak to anyone he happened to be speaking to, because they probably would be people who mattered. He started to hold out a hand to shake and the apologized that “a gentleman wouldn’t offer an unwashed hand to shake.” I demurred and declared that “a truly dedicated journalist would shake it anyway.”
We left the men’s room and found that Kevin Sorbo (who is not in “Stargate Universe,” and therefore is an odd appearance) was the first “talent” to arrive. I found a seat while an older woman bearing a striking resemblance to Paula Dean talked to Kevin for ten minutes about Mobile, Alabama. At one point the DJ started up a brisk bass line and Kevin started white guy dancing. Two feet in front of my face, Kevin Sorbo gyrated his ass in tight jeans. Sadly, I am of the approximately half the population who would not truly appreciate the sight. I did learn that Kevin has four films in the pipeline for the next year, two for SyFy and two features. He had just flown in from southeast Asia from a shoot that involved wading through alligator infested waters at length and next was heading to Michigan for a different film. Another tidbit: he lost 25 pounds in the few months after “Hercules” was cancelled when he stopped working out for two hours every day. He also lamented that his show got canned, while its lesbian spin-off gathered a huge cult following (he wasn’t being derogatory if that’s how it sounds in print, just emphasizing the off-the-wallness of the spin off that outperformed the original). The Paula Dean look alike asked, “Xena was a lesbian?”
A bit later, a gorgeous redhead swooped in and started asking Kevin for advice on how to get into acting, and he did rather graciously offer some bits and pieces of advice and compliments until his handler swooped in and steered him off to talk to no one else. I took that moment to step in and ask the question I’d prepared for each of the actors I would speak to this evening. With no financial limitations of any kind, no problems with getting rights or permissions, what movie would you make and what role would you play? I figured, I didn’t have a fancy tape recorder like the other reporters, so I had to actually remember exactly what I was told. And what good would it be to ask about the show and hear the carefully memorized press releases? In any case, it sounded a bit more original than “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?”
Kevin thought for a few moments and said, “you know, what I really want to do is a romantic comedy, something light hearted.” I thanked him, shook his hand, wished him an excellent evening and moved on.
I approached a trio of middle aged men heatedly discussing the role of CGI and actors in the future. I thought that they might be writers since they clearly weren’t pretty people but weren’t carrying bags and tape recorders like the journalists. Two of the men insisted that while actors were important, perfect CGI meant that their appearance could be effectively “skinned” on. The third man, who looked a bit like Jeffrey Katzenberg, argued that while he might sound like an analog dinosaur, he felt that actors brought something indefinable that layered CGI always ruined. I interjected that perhaps the problem was that most directors who used too much CGI used it as a purely technical tool under their absolute control and thus stripped out any soul brought to the art by the CGI wizards. Perhaps the solution was to utilize the effects crew as artists just like the actors rather than as technicians. There was a long pause before the Jeffrey Katzenberg look alike pointedly shook the other two men’s hands and all three walked away in different directions.
I mingled a bit more, wandering through the crowd. Actors had begun to show up one by one from the extra special “talent” entrance, each descended upon in moments by journalists with miniature recorders foisted towards mouths that for the most part just said the same thing different ways. Great show, had a lot of fun, really excited.
I ran into a pair of normal people, Anna and Adam. Adam was a journalist from the UK just waiting for them to do the little presentation of the trailer so he could leave. Funny guy, he wasn’t there for a specific company, so he told everyone very Britishly that he just wrote for the entire UK, he was that important. Anna was a bubbly screenwriter who had done a bit of work on Stargate and had snuck into this event in order to wrangle a writing gig out of the new show. She was busy trying to fold a jacket around her bag so that she didn’t look so much like a journalist. She asked if I knew what Brad Wright and Robert Cooper (the executive producers) looked like since they were the top of the food chain, but I didn’t.
The presentation started then as two of the three guys who had been talking about CGI so animatedly (faux Jeffrey Katzenberg included), mounted a little platform, took the microphones, and introduced themselves as Brad and Rob. I explained to Adam and Anna my earlier conversation. “Good thing you’re not here looking for a writing gig.” Anna observed. “Of course the way these things work, you could end up running Miramax by the end of the night.”
I explained that previous conversation, and Adam said “you’re just not having a good night are you?”
“I got to watch Kevin Sorbo wiggle his ass, so I’ve always got that.” I said.
Brad and Rob talked for a couple of minutes. Great show, had a lot of fun, really excited. Then they ran the trailer and the shindig continued unabated.
I spotted Ming-Na Wen a bit later, an absolutely stunning woman in person, especially when she’s dressed in leopard print and high heels. She’s fairly tall, having about a half inch on me with her heels. A journalist was just finishing up with her. Great show, had a lot of fun, really excited. I introduced myself to Ming-Na (she had not heard of Pajiba, I’m afraid) and asked her my one mighty question.
She stalled a little, asked a couple of questions to try to limit the scope of the question, but I insisted, “is there any story, it can be Shakespearean, it can be something your cousin scribbled down on a bar napkin, that you just want to see as a film?” Something in that rephrasing made an answer click for her.
Ming-Na explained that while she was doing voiceover work for a project at Ellis Island she’d come across the story of Anna May Wong, who was one of the Asian-American pioneers of film in the twenties and thirties. She said Anna May Wong is one of the four statues (and the only Asian American actress) outside the Chinese theater in Hollywood. Ming-Na Wen didn’t have a script or anything so developed, but ever since she’d learned the story of Ms. Wong, she had wanted to play her in a film.
Another of the “Stargate Universe” actresses, Elyse Levesque, scurried up as quickly as heels and a very tight skirt allowed. Elyse was very tall, maybe six or seven inches more so than Ming-Na, and wearing a skin tight pink dress. She’s very pretty, and as hyper and excited to be there as a kid on Christmas. Ming-Na greeted her as “honey bunny” and Elyse said that she was leaving to go to bed because she was exhausted and their schedule had them getting up before five o’clock. The two actresses ran off to take pictures of each other on their cell phones against the edge of the roof, with the “Stargate Universe” logo projected in the background against the next building.
I turned around and almost ran into a journalist blathering at Robert Carlyle without pausing for breathes, blinks, or sentence breaks. Great show, had a lot of fun, really excited. Wait, isn’t that what the actors are supposed to be saying? “So we’ll write a great review of the show, and I am so excited to be working with you and covering the show for the next few seasons. I’m so looking forward to talking to you on conference calls.”
Conference calls? We’re doing something wrong Dustin, we’re supposed to have conference calls with people. Hey fan boy, nobody likes conference calls. And just because someone gave you a recorder and a spot on the guest list doesn’t give you license to hump the leg of an actor you like. Promising the dick-sucking reviews you’re going to give in advance? At least pretend to have some fucking integrity. The best part was that he still had his recorder going throughout his monologue. Carlyle looked like he was hoping his character died by the end of the second episode.
“Hi, Mr. Carlyle, my name’s Steven, I’m a journalist.” We shook hands.
“What can I do for you, Steven-the-journalist?” He asked.
“Well I work for a smaller site and we can’t afford tape recorders and conference calls, so I thought I’d just ask you one really good question instead.” I said.
He nodded, had a tight grin on his face, asked what the question was and I obliged. Carlyle’s face lit up and he began talking in a low voice, hardly audible over the background electronica, Scottish accent flavoring all of the vowels. “Benny Lynch.” He said. “Boxer. 110 pounds. First Scottish world champion of anything. But it didn’t count, because he didn’t beat an American.” Carlyle’s eyes glowed, he looked down at the floor, not at me. He talks about what an incredible fighter Lynch was, meets my eyes for a moment of pride as he says “my grandfather saw him fight once.” Lynch died when he was only 32, the cause listed as “malnutrition”. When you drink yourself to death, you die of starvation in measures. “At the end, he’d travel from town to town in Scotland. He’d charge six pence to let anyone fight him. Big fucking miners beating the shit out of Benny.” Carlyle talked about Lynch for a few minutes, then seemed to wake up and shifted to the particulars of the asked question. “I’ve got a script already, but I’m too old now to play Benny Lynch, I’d have to find someone for that.”
Carlyle looked me in the eye, a veritable playful twinkle in his. “So now, tell me a bit about yourself Steve-the-journalist. Tell me about who you write for.”
“We’re a small site.” I said. “Pajiba.” A blank look, but that means he was actually listening not just smiling and nodding. “Rhymes with vagina.” I tried.
“Now I’ll remember it.” He smiled. “Tell me about it.”
“Well, we write really long reviews, at least a thousand words each to really get into the movie or show.” I explained. “And we don’t normally get to do them in advance because we won’t promise good reviews. If “Stargate Universe” sucks, I’m going to write six pages explaining why it sucks.”
Carlyle took my hand and shook it. “That’s the way you’ve got to do it. Don’t stop doing that and you’ll make it.”
I thanked Carlyle and moved off in the crowd. I wandered around a while longer, but I’d talked to all of the apparent “talent” and most of the interesting looking other people.
I departed and found my train, had a mostly one-side conversation with a very drunk man with leathery skin and a large paper bag with an alphanumeric code written on the side in sharpie. He explained that he’d just been released from prison a few hours previously. I asked my new and terrifying friend what film he would make and star in. He thought for a moment and said “something with robots and tits” and started cackling.
Having met Michael Bay’s long lost brother, I left at my stop, and headed for bed.