This weekend at WonderCon in San Francisco, Cowboys & Aliens director and co-writer/producer Roberto Orci hosted a panel to discuss their upcoming genre bender and treat audiences to nine minutes of footage from the film — including a WonderCon exclusive sneak peak of the aliens. You can see our coverage of the event HERE.
We were able to participate in select press roundtable interviews with both Orci and Favreau immediately following the panel, and have provided a transcription of our conversation with Favreau below — keep an eye out for our coverage of the Orci interview as well.
Jon Favreau: This [WonderCon] reminds me of what it was like at ComicCon, when I first started going to ComicCon.
Q: When was that?
The first time I was there was for “Zathura.” Roughly ten years ago, if not ten. It was different when I went with “Iron Man,” when we first announced, we were handing out a poster – we weren’t even in Hall H, we were in a smaller room. From watching a lot of these, you sort of realize what the people here want. It’s different from the mainstream. They really want to understand what they’re looking at. They want to hear the people speak, they want to hear insight that they’re not going to hear anyplace else, and see things that they are not going to see anyplace else. That’s why they go out of their way to come here. So, to speak to this audience…It’s a little more inside baseball, your usually dealing with a large room, though this room isn’t as large as Hall H, you can actually have a little bit more of a conversation with them [here], and that was fun, but you still get that crazy energy when you show them fun footage.
Q: How do you decide what to bring, and have you found that in coming to ComicCon you kind of have a gained an audience already? That people are primed? And is that an accurate gauge?
Oh it is accurate. Yeah, I’ve bombed here before, I know what it’s like. I’ve underwhelmed them with footage from “Zathura,” I’ve underwhelmed them with just showing a poster image the first time I was there for “Iron Man,” and that’s when I realized that you have to understand your audience. I think for this one what’s fun is, a lot of people spend a lot of their energy last week at CinemaCon and a lot of people gear up for ComicCon, so this one, you see there is not the presence of all the studios or all the films here, and that’s when I think it’s fun to over-deliver. You always want to over-deliver, you always want to do more than people are expecting in any given circumstance. This year ComicCon is going to be a week before we come out, so we’ve got to do something big and different, that nobody has done before. If we’re gonna go, we better do something exciting.
Q: Can aliens come through and wipe out all the Twilight fans that are going to be camped out in front of Hall H?
Right, ComicCon has gone beyond genre. I guess “Twilight” is genre, but it’s sort of the tween genre fans, and like any other movement the very thing that makes it popular is the thing that overwhelms it. And when you go to ComicCon it’s become this huge global event, and it’s been something that’s given me…really if I were to point to one thing that’s contributed to my career and the opportunities that I’ve gotten, it’s been the audiences at ComicCon. You know this [WonderCon] is a sister event to that, it’s run by the same people, so they both have two different personalities. It just timed out well for us to show stuff here, and I think that opportunity was taken also by “Green Lantern” – they stepped in. Others are holding off and waiting to premier their new footage for the trailers coming out in the summer, and they’re getting into they’re mainstream marketing campaigns, and once the dialogue begins with the mainstream audience a lot of studios start to prioritize their mainstream marketing campaign. For us, this was a really fun opportunity to show some new stuff, and to show a lot of stuff, I like to show more than other people do.
Q: You talked about holding back the look of the aliens and aspects of the final act in the promotional materials for the film, was that a difficult negotiation with the marketing team?
Well it’s still a conversation that’s going on, and a marketing campaign more and more runs like a political campaign, where there is constant polling, and constant focus groups, these people are looking at, taking the temperature of the audience, all the time. The days of a bold visionary having a gut feeling and going with their gut regardless of what feedback they’re getting – those days are over I think. That being said, you can take the research and you can make a statement, and you can pitch a vision much like you would for a movie, for a marketing campaign, and I think there are enough visionary people involved with this film that there is an understanding that there is a personality that the marketing campaign can take on as well as the film itself. The story is if you show two pieces to an audience, and one shows the entire move and the other one holds things back, they will say that they like the one that they see everything in better, but if you look at what they actually spend their money on, they tend to be more intrigued by something that holds a sense of mystery, where you feel like you are getting to experience something new and not just fulfilling a check list of the trailer that you saw when you go to see the movie. For this film I want to make sure that if the audience goes to see it that there is going to be a lot of surprises in it that they haven’t seen in the marketing materials.
Q: Can you talk about juggling having a movie that’s entirety is encapsulated in the title and at the same time, making sure that the movie is not encapsulated in the title.
You know the title was the original thing that drew me to it, I heard about it from [Mark] Fergus and [Hawk] Ostby when they were first hired to write it. I heard about it on “Iron Man 2″ from Downey as he was considering being involved with it. So, it was always a title where I thought, the best version of this movie could be awesome. What they were doing with it was intriguing to me. And to be honest with you after “Zathura” and having a title that people couldn’t even pronounce and never bid in from a marketing standpoint, I’ve grown to appreciate something that’s memorable. So the beginning of the campaign for “Cowboys & Aliens” was saying ‘here it is;’ and the teaser shows it, and the Cowboy sees the aliens and what the hell is gonna happen? I like the people involved with it, I like the people in it, what’s this gonna be? They will either cheer, be confused or not understand what it is, but you’ve made an impression. You’ve created a box in people’s minds called “Cowboys & Aliens” and now what we’re doing is we’re filling that box with what it is.
Some people hear the title and they expect that it’s going to be a spoof, some people hear the title and they hear what’s been said about it and they think it takes itself too seriously – when you get to show nine minutes of it you get to see, it’s movie stars who are dancing as fast as they can. They’re facing circumstances but they don’t know what it is. But the fun comes out of the mash-up, it comes out of the situation. It doesn’t come from people making jokes that are dismissive of the stakes of the movie. And the movie has to be badass and it has to be fun, and if you can get those two things together – and we have the right cast to do it – and the right people behind the screen to do it, then I think we’ve come up with something really original and unique. In a summer that’s filled with sequels and superhero movies, this might be a breath of fresh air. A nice, 2D original concept at the end of a very exciting summer of films.