Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Chasing Firefly: Confessions of a Rabid Fan-Girl

Growing up in Los Angeles takes some of the novelty out of being a "fan." Maybe it's because you can't trip over your shoelace without falling into six people who work in the industry. Maybe it's because "star" sightings aren't that rare. Maybe it's because I know what Hollywood really looks like. Whatever the reason, some of the sheen is off the stars for me. This is not to say that I don't enjoy TV, movies, music, etc. I love all those things, but with a sense of reality (real reality not that TV stuff.) I was just never a fanatic-- fascinated by something so much that I stalked it with rabid inappropriate interest. All that changed nearly over-night when I spent a year as a crazy rabid fan-girl.

In the early part of the 2000's I was an avid enjoyer of the works of Joss Whedon. The highlights of my "must view" week were "Buffy" and "Angel." Most other TV just happened, but those were my "can't miss" programs. It was announced that a third program, Firefly, would be part of the new Fall season in 2002 and while I wasn't sure what it was about, I was willing to watch based on the creator's reputation. However, life had other plans and my ineptitude at programming a VCR timer, and my spouses unreliable memory caused me to see the first few episodes sporadically. (Thank goodness for the invention of the DVR!) This did not stop me from being hooked by the amazing writing. The show was smart, funny, scary and interesting.

One night a few weeks into regular viewing, after a particularly awesome episode, I announced, "This show is so good you know they're going to cancel it." I'm not bitter, it just seems that's always the fate of smart, interesting television. Out of curiosity I was compelled toward the internet to see what the buzz was for my new all-time favorite TV show. At this time I had enough tech savvy to clean the spam out of my unused email account every couple weeks, and to help my kids research stuff for school on the internet. Otherwise I was not computer friendly and I had not typed in over ten years. A cursory search led me to the "Official" Firefly website at Fox where I discovered my intuition was once again correct and the show was in danger of being chucked. I also discovered the official message boards, where a mass movement was being conducted to Save Firefly.

I'd like to take a moment here to point out I have never been a Sci-Fi person. My friends had parents who were Trekkies, I think I recall costumes being worn. I had seen Star Wars at seven, and while duly impressed, I wasn't overwhelmed with passion for it. My brother forced me to watch one too many Dr. Who episodes instead of Saturday morning Bugs Bunny as a kid and I was fairly dispassionate toward the Science Fiction genre ever since. I always objected to the fact that merely because Firefly took place in the future, and on a space ship, it qualified as a Sci-Fi show. For me this pigeon-holed its audience and was a less than all-encompassing definition. On the other hand, Science Fiction fans are the most motivated and inter-connected group around. Were they ever to agree on the issues and form a third political party, I believe we would have a Klingon speaking President with little opposition. This particular fan group was overwhelmingly organized and motivated. And I was swept up into the fervor.

More than just a passion for a TV show I loved, I discovered a community I loved. As an elementary school librarian my work was fairly isolating. While I was the mother of four kids between the ages of eight and thirteen, most of my friends were just starting their families. They were in "Mommy and Me" classes, I was driving the family taxi. My "me" time was spend in the grocery store. My social life primarily revolved around my family's activities. Suddenly I was around people with a similar interest. After the kids were in bed, my nights were spent online. I learned to type much faster. I made some amazing friendships. I was actively involved on a daily basis in their lives and they were in mine. We joked, talked politics and life, toasted the good times in a virtual saloon, supported each other in tough times, all the while mailing postcards (and the unfortunately misguided box of blue gloves) to the executives at Fox. A beautiful full page ad was purchased in Variety, entirely designed and funded by Browncoats, (fans of Firefly) promoting our wonderful show and it's cast and crew. This was an organized and inspired group. Money that was raised for the cause, in excess of the need, was donated to charity, and as such we became an unofficial charitable organization, raising funds, or other items during times of crisis for completely unrelated concerns. Unfortunately the decision was made and the show was officially canceled, to the heartbreaking disappointment of everyone involved.

But the Browncoats remained. The fandom continued. We still met there at the official site and discussed the show, campaigned for a DVD set, (which we got!) organized the donation of those DVDs to the libraries of US soldiers off at war, and to our local libraries, inducting new fans to a show which would never get another episode. Everyday new people showed up online, having discovered the show and looking for solace when they realized it was already gone. Most wanted to know what could be done; had there been an effort mounted to rescue it. Sometimes their enthusiasm was appreciated and sometimes it was painful, but the group continued to be proactive and vocal and eventually it helped lead to our one big concession--a feature film. And this is where my rabid fan-girl craze really took flight.

Members of the cast including Adam Baldwin and Nathan Fillion, Chris Buchanan of Mutant Enemy Productions, and even Whedon himself (with a lot of help) were active on that message board. News of the film was leaked to us almost a year before it was green-lit. It was an exciting time, knowing that we would finally get more of our little show. It quickly became known as "The Big Damn Movie" (based on a line of dialogue from the show) although it was eventually given an official title "Serenity." The fans at the website joked about crashing the set and being extras in the movie. Then the most amazing thing happened-- we were given the green-light to be extras! In May 2004, Chris Buchanan leaked the information of the casting company involved in selecting the extras and gave permission for us to submit, although no guarantees. We subsequently learned he had actually contacted the casting director and requested she accommodate as many of the fans as possible. Seriously how cool is that!?

Costume Department (Saxon)
Not knowing that the word had gone out to "hire" us, and lacking much in the way of confidence, I waited an entire week before finally submitting myself. After the first two fans were actually accepted I over-nighted a letter expressing my interest and a photo of my oldest daughter, my husband, and myself. Almost a month later I received the phone call that I was in The Big Damn Movie! Not only that, I was expected to be at a costume fitting the following day. I was so excited. I asked about my daughter and husband and was told my daughter, a minor, was too young, but that hubby could come along. I was as giddy as a school-girl at the costume fitting. While trying to act like a "normal" adult I made stealthy efforts to touch clothing that was to be worn by my favorite characters. I eavesdropped on conversations to see if I could pick up any super-secret plot points (I actually did glean one.) And I checked out the super-secret wall of cast photos, trying to figure out the plot of the movie based on these little tidbits. By the time I was done being fitted I was sure I would be escorted off the set of the movie for being such an idiot.

The Nine
Acid Dorothy and Post-Apocalyptic Ewok
A total of eleven fans lived locally enough (although two came all the way from Utah!) and were able to be available for extra work. It was a month later when my day of filming arrived. I had to be on-set for hair and make-up by 5:30am which ended any thoughts I had of pursuing a future career in entertainment. I am not a morning person. We arrived on the lot and wandered aimlessly trying to find where we belonged. I was grateful to have my hubby with me because not only do I not like new things and places, but he was experienced in the industry and had the confidence to wander instead of stand there and cry (which was my instinct.) Eventually we found where we belonged and got checked in. After getting made-up and into full costume and wig I looked like Dorothy gone wrong. Rather than heading off to OZ she has moved to China, dropped acid, swallowed the Fat Elvis, and was wearing the "cone of silence" on her head. I couldn't hear a thing between my echo-chamber of a hat and density of the wig. I had to lift my hair up when people talked to me. Still better than my poor hubby who looked like a post-apocalyptic Ewok in a heavy black jumpsuit, black boots, gloves and a furry hoodie. Together we joined the rest of the extras in the "corral" and began looking for our fellow Firefly fans. There were nine of us set to participate in that day's shoot. The other two had already filmed their scenes previously. This was my first time meeting any of these people in person. We eventually found each other and made a nice little group of weirdos. We definitely didn't fit in with the people who did this for a living.

The Corral
The Trailers (Saxon)
While cameras were technically forbidden we were able to discretely snap some pics of each other before security asked us to stop. My hubby was able to translate all the stuff the assistant director was telling us in movie lingo, so I knew I had a couple minutes to make a run to the bathroom (I don't know why peeing figures so often into my blogs) Of course the quarters were tight and my "cone of silence" got wedged between the stall door and the wall, trapping me. So embarrassing! I finally managed to wrestle my way free. Upon returning to the corral I walked passed Adam Baldwin, who I spoke with frequently online, but couldn't quite say "Hi" to in person. This was my first celebrity shell-shock.

I've had more than my fair share of literal run-ins with celebrities (and one almost run-over,) but the last autograph I sought was when I was seven (suffice to say Tennille without The Captain was still a class act.) For the most part I'm not in awe of them. They are just people. They do a job, some better than others. Some may be prettier or more talented than the Average Joe but I recognize the uselessness of their signature on paper and would rather just let them do whatever they were doing, unbothered by me. But in this case it was nothing so simple or noble. I was just completely intimidated. I didn't want to be intrusive, and I didn't want to get booted off the set before I even got to see it. However, once I tracked down my friend "Saxon" (another fan/mom,) we attempted to approach him together and tell him who we were. Unfortunately we were caught trying to escape and sent back to the corral where they issued us props and took us to the set.

Nathan & Jewel at lunch
Futuristic Flea Market
Saxon and I managed to get separated from the group (because that's how I roll) and wandered around the set until we finally found the rest of the extras. We spend the rest of the morning filming. I unfortunately chose a location where my back was to all the action, so I didn't get to see much for those hours. I also couldn't hear the director through my headgear so I was often confused as to what we are doing and when we were actually filming as opposed to just standing around. My "job" was to look like a shopper in a futuristic flea-market. My hubby was a vendor in a booth near me. I shopped my heart out, picking at mechanical equipment, pomegranates, and something we eventually surmised was smelly eel. The future was a strange place to shop. When we broke for lunch the cast came and ate in the same place with us. I respectfully and excitedly snapped a blurry pic from under the table of Nathan Fillion and Jewel Staite eating their lunch. I was now officially a rabid fan-girl.

Summer Glau: The Wonderful
Future Money
Emboldened by our first failure to make contact, I finally gather my courage and approach one of the cast, Summer Glau. I think I picked her because she was the youngest and newest to Hollywood and …well, basically the weakest member of the herd. I politely introduced myself and the group as fans and briefly explained our presence and how we got there. She was so kind and came over to the table to say Hi and take some pictures before we all had to go back to work. I spent a total of 12 hours in my pointy, gold, granny shoes and my feet were killing me but it was worth it. The finished piece totals less than a second of screen time. At least I didn't end up on the editing room floor. I can point us out if you pause the DVD! The highlight of the day came when it was all over though. We had become a little known by the staff and they gave us a private tour of Serenity, the famed space-ship the movie was named after. More than a tour though, they left us alone to wander and unofficially take photos. Naturally my camera battery died, but Saxon mailed me copies of her pics. Gina Torres drove by in her car as we were leaving. I was on cloud nine. I also "accidentally" acquired a little souvenir-- a futuristic piece of currency that was inside my prop purse.
Me on Serenity
Me in Serenity's Kitchen
Arts & Crafts in Hollyweird
One would think being an extra in the movie would be the end of my tale, but in fact, it's more the early-middle. Once I had become a rabid fan-girl there was no stopping me. And there were plenty of opportunities because I had the distinct pleasure of being one of the locals. In December of 2004 an industry piece announced that expected among the celebs at the red-carpet premiere of a different film were the cast members of Serenity. My friend Saxon, who lived out of town but was a bit more rabid than I, joined me on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, across the street from Grauman's Chinese Theater, along with our rabid-fan kids. The kids made posters to promote Serenity and we screamed and cheered and sang as our lesser known cast walked the carpet and did interviews. We also handed out fliers promoting the movie. Guerilla marketing had begun. We created quite a commotion. After the film began we took the kids into Hooters to grab a bite. Then we tried to sneak closer to the theater, once the red-carpet was rolled away, in hopes of catching our celebs on the way out. While security was good, we were better! And I got some great shots of the kids with the cast.
Nathan and my son

Alan and the girls.
About a week later, on my way out of a movie, I was handed a flier to see a screening of a new movie for marketing purposes. While they don't give the title, from the description it was obvious what movie it was. I would get the chance to go see a secret-screening, early-preview of Serenity. I called and got on the list, then I started calling the locals. We were super careful not to leak this information publicly, because we wanted to ensure our attendance, but early on the morning of the screening the news leaked on another website and the screening company was flooded with calls. Our "first come first serve" status was in grave jeopardy. I arrived at the theater around 3pm for a 7pm screening. We were about third in line. I spent the evening, the first of many, camped out on the sidewalk, like a rabid fan-girl. I met some more people from the internet. Made some more friends, even had a discussion with a teenager behind me who had just finished a part in a yet released movie. (I saw the movie a few years later and racked my brain trying to recall how I knew the kid.) In the end, the first ever super-secret screening of the unfinished cut of Serenity was packed with fans, some even sharing seats, all pretending to be uninformed random movie goers.

"Random" audience member
The experience was incredible-- exhilarating and over too soon. Afterward I sat in stunned shock and awe as a paper was passed around asking us to formulate conscious thought about what we saw. For the first, and possibly last time, I was speechless. My daughter and a couple of her friends got to be a part of the question answer time that followed. The hardest part was knowing what happened in the movie (and a lot happened) and not being able to tell a soul what we knew. Tough but we knew it was important to the fans to let everyone have a chance to experience it the way we did. If you're not sure the grassy knoll could have been a conspiracy with so many people staying silent about what they knew, I tell you it's possible!

Rabid Fan & Alan
A few months later a Browncoat Happy Hour get together was arranged. Adam Baldwin and Alan Tudyk were the special guests. I went to be with my friends, but the celebs didn't hurt and I got what I think is my only pic with any of them. We spilled some drinks, licked some shirts, (don't ask) made a hysterical scene, and had a good time together.

That summer word leaked of another pre-screening of the film. The studio was simultaneously showing the film in about 15 cities nationwide and a member of the cast was set to show up at many of them. This one was not local, it was almost 100 miles away, but at this point I didn't care. I was crazy now. We packed the whole family in the car because the younger kids were pissed that they had been left out of the early adventures. We drove for what seemed like forever (four hours) in 100 degree weather. After arriving at the theater and sending my family to stand in the growing line (300 plus people) I went to the box office to claim my pre-purchased tickets, only to discover, my credit card, required for ticket pick up, was gone. I was less concerned about what had happened to my card than I was about not getting in to see the movie. I hysterically searched my purse. Three total strangers, also fans, searched my purse. I called Fandango and my bank in an attempt to get the numbers. No luck. Finally the theater manager decided to escort my family into the theater anyway, if I would promise to call her in the morning with my credit card number. What a great lady. I'm sure the brimming tears had nothing to do with her decision.

A few press people showed up and the kids were interviewed on camera in their homemade fan-shirts and hyped up on snacks shared by all the Firefly fans. Our celebrity host for the evening was Joss Whedon himself. And it happened to be his birthday, so a giant poster was signed by everyone and a rousing round of Happy Birthday was sung upon his arrival. My oldest managed to get a hug. After the screening (still not finished but with some effects and credits now) those of us who were extras were interviewed by a film crew for a documentary.

Autographed Movie Poster
That August we were invited to come to Universal and participate in the filming of a promotional video. My two oldest and I along with some friends went to be interviewed. We had a great time and I somehow indicated, on film, that I was willing to give birth to Joss Whedon's children. (Yes I have a copy of it.) It was something I had joked about saying, but once it was out of my mouth I felt like such an idiot! I was a rabid fan-girl but maybe THAT was the line. Still it's uncomfortable to talk directly into a camera lens with all those hot, bright lights on you and a mic-pack stuffed down your already too-tight pants. Again, I rethought my career in entertainment. While we were waiting for the shuttle bus driver to take us back to the waiting area we saw a giant movie poster for Serenity. My oldest hopped off the shuttle, after much coaxing, and asked if she could have it. The guy told her no, but that she'd be top on the list if they decided to let it go. Yeah right. But at least she tried. We waited around the corral and eventually we're released. Once again, I needed to pee, so my group was held up waiting for me. I had actually hoped that if we were last to leave she could ask for the poster again, but it was gone when we got back to the shuttle. However, on our trip down the hill the shuttle had to stop for the staff members crossing the street-- one of them was the guy carrying the poster. While we waited my daughter told the shuttle driver the story about trying to get the poster. The driver threw open the door and told her to go ask again. The whole bus cheered as she leapt off and chased the guy across the parking lot and cheered more as she ran back with the poster. This is the same girl who talked a Universal Executive into sending her an Official Limited Edition Fruity Oaty Bar T-shirt!

Fruit Oaty Bar Girl
Red Carpet Premiere
Red Carpet Premiere
I attended a total of 13 screenings of the film, including the press screening, all before it was officially released, but the most important was the red-carpet premiere which all the extras were invited to in September of 2005. Even more importantly we attended the After-party! As an outsider to the Hollywood world, let me just say, Wow. Let's skip right by what an amazing event this was, and go straight to how cool the cast, crew and creators were for making all this stuff available to us nobodies! Seriously cool guys. Class acts every one. Adam Baldwin had seen the kids on his way in and invited them to find him for autographs after the screening. My oldest had brought the movie poster with her and discreetly managed to get it signed by all but one cast member (Gina Torres, if you ever read this she would love to complete the set!) My oldest son, 13 at the time, waiting patiently to say hello to Jewel Staite found himself happily sandwiched between her and Christina Hendricks. He was happy when I left him. Being phobic of crowds I just sat on the sidelines and watched it all, I never even made it to the chocolate fountain! I did manage to find Chris Buchanan and thank him for involving us in so many events. And my friend Rosie, making sure I met someone from the cast, drug me over to meet Morena Baccarin, who was incredibly tiny compared to her size on big screen. I thought I could break her if I shook her hand too hard. My kids got teased by Nathan Fillion and one got a hug. I was jealous.

My Baby & Adam
My Big Girl & Adam
That same weekend we attended a "Fanfest" at Universal with a Q & A, autograph line and some displays of film props etc. A few more photo ops happened there. I only have one child who never got a pic with any of the cast. Maybe one day. I wrapped the whole weekend up by attending my first ever midnight release of a film. Ron Glass was there seeing something else, unaware there was a midnight screening of Serenity and Quentin Tarantino was there, but I don't know what he saw.

Chris B, Adam, & Summer @ FanFest
Inara Costume
Walk the line
Once the film was released life went back to normal. I never made it beyond rabid fan-girl, because I could never afford to go to Comic-con, however I do own my first, and only, action figures and a complete mint condition set of the original printing of the Serenity comic book series (all covers.) I have made Firefly related Costumes for Halloween.  I even walked the picket line during the Hollywood Writer's Strike on Mutant Enemy Day.  But outside those items I have some incredibly fun memories with my family. I was able to share my bizarre rabid fan-girl period with them, and they got some really neat photos, videos and souvenirs to prove it. I still visit the website occasionally, mostly to discuss politics. Most of the Browncoats have moved on. But what I realized when I was reviewing the events to write this blog is that I started writing again because of Firefly. I had lost myself before Firefly happened. I had faded into the background of my own life. My Firefly years brought new people into my life. It brought me a forum where I freely expressed my opinions and ideas and talked about something other than my family. And each time I went to one of these events I wrote an elaborate report of the experience for those who could not be there. I essentially was blogging before I even knew what a blog was. I was writing, for others to read and I didn't even realize it. 
Since I found Serenity
 I will always have fond memories of the friends I made, the support they gave me through some tough times, and kind words of encouragement they offered me about my writing. It was suggested frequently that I should write more, and more publicly. It took awhile, but I have done that, and Firefly, it's amazing community of fans and professionals, is where it all began. Thanks for giving me something to say at a point in my life where I felt like I was disappearing. I will always be a rabid fan-girl with you. Keep Flyin'


D. Pat said...

Thank you so much for writing this, DG. You've brought back beautiful memories of a special, exciting time. I'm just one of many who lived these events vicariously through your board postings. I can't begin to thank you enough for that.

HLGEM said...

It was a wild ride and those of us on the East Coast were jealous (although I did manage to make it to a screening as well). And through it all I've made so many good friends who have seen each other through good times and bad. FAns get a bad rep as one-dimentional geek bys who live intheir parents basement. BUt I met so many really interesting people who had all sorts of facinating interests and who could discuss (and would) discuss subjects like politics and religion and who generally could be terrifically funny. I'd have missed out on som much if I hadn't chosen to be a fan girl for Firefly.

Funny, Firefly got you back into writing and gave me the courage to try art. Have I told you some of my art is going on permanent display at Longwood University?

Nice job on the entry and thanks for the memories.

Erin Knell said...

NO! You did not tell me. How exciting. I hope you can send me some photo links.

post apocolyptic ewok said...

Another great job

Killer Kadoogan said...

Nice blog! What a ride it was...

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