But I've also got to confess that I had a pretty cool time myself at the gala premiere of True Blood on Thursday night, and I can't really think what experience I'd possibly trade for that very very special evening.
Now, for those of you who don't know, True Blood is the new HBO series based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris. It is created by Alan Ball, the award-winning creator of Six Feet Under and screenwriter for American Beauty. It has the biggest-ever marketing campaign for HBO, and it is a big thing.
Getting invited to the premiere is no sure thing. The first draft of a film agreement will rarely contain anything about the author being invited to the premiere, not even when it's one of the things in the deal memo. You've got to be sure to ask, you've got to be sure it covers the author and a guest, you try and ask for the author's agent to have a guaranteed invite, and if you're lucky the film company will go along with that, or maybe agree to give the author three guests so you can hope the author will be kind to you. Sometimes the best you'll get is the author invite. In this case, it was the author, the agent, and a guest for each. And happily HBO has been treating Charlaine very nicely, and agreed it would be nice for her entire family to attend, so I didn't have to cede my or my guest's ticket so some of her children could go. I decided to invite Jeff Gelb, a long-time client of mine who lives in the LA area and has edited and co-edited some 20 horror anthologies including the current Dark Delicacies series with his friend Del Howison.
The premiere was at the Cinerama Dome, and this was a thrill all by itself. I've long yearned to see a movie there or at the Chinese, and now I was going to get to do it! It was exciting to turn on to Sunset Blvd. and see the red carpet in front of the theatre, the photographers already lined up, the True Blood signs on the marquees, the backdrops in place.
Not all invitations are created equal. I was a "gold" guest, with an assigned row in the theatre and an invitation to the after-party. Others maybe not the party, or the unassigned seats in the far back sides of the theatre. I had told Charlaine ahead of the premiere that she would be walking in the red carpet while I was entering the theatre thru the exit door, and this was pretty much correct. I badly wanted to soak in the atmosphere outside, but you couldn't stand here if you weren't walking the red carpet, and nobody could stand there, and maybe you could stand in that other place if you were doing jumping jacks and not blocking the lane for the fire marshall. I did as much as I could outside with the pushing and pulling from the security, watching as Charlaine was posed with Alan Ball and with various cast members and moved from spot to spot on the carpet so all of the photographers had a clean straight-on shot and sometimes standing still for an interview. Then I gave up and walked in to the auditorium, where Charlaine's family was watching thru the glass at the front entrance from directly behind where it was hard to see very much but at least you could stand, at least until it got to be near to the alleged 7:30 starting point when they started to try to shoo people away from the lobby so that the red carpet crowd wouldn't have to suffer the likes of me when they were ready to come in.
HBO was paying for the soda and the popcorn, so the lobby concession stand was closed off and tables set up in front where piles of popcorn and soda were being attended to by the theatre staff. This meant that (a) the drinks were watery since they were sitting in piles and (b) the popcorn was stale.
There's a blue starry motif to the lobby, understated and attractive, and the theatre is a real dome, with the entrances curving off to the sides, with a sloped floor leading to the aisle across the middle and stairs leading up to the entrances from the back of the theatre. Whenever I've walked by the Dome I've always been amazed at how small it looks from the outside, but it's plenty big inside with a really really huge curved screen (like but bigger and more curved than that for the Uptown in Washington DC), a modestly sloped front seating area in front of the aisle, and then a stadium-style rear section. The projection booth sticks out a few rows from the back, and if I could have chosen a seat I would have taken one a few rows from the rear directly beneath the booth where I could look up and see the light starting its journey. But that wasn't a choice. The Harris party of 7 had seats in row GG at the front. The aisle seats were reserved for the major talent, so Charlaine's marked seat was there, and that meant her husband would be next to her, and then the kids, and though I felt kind of guilty having the prime center seats for Jeff and I there was really nothing to be done for that.
As was to be expected, the premiere actually started at 8:00ish instead of the 7:30 on the invites. These sorts of things always have speeches, so two people from HBO spoke and gave their thanks, and then Alan Ball got his turn. Alan has been a gem toward Charlaine over the entire course of the show's development, even finding time during Emmy Day two years ago to have lunch with Charlaine when she was in town for WorldCon in Anaheim. He saved his most lavish thanks to Charlaine, as the one person without whom any of us would have been there, to the very end, and gave Charlaine a gracious pat on the shoulder as he returned to his seat, which I thought to be quite a generous gesture.
And then at long last the show began, the first two episodes projected onto the big curved screen of the Cinerama Dome, and every little cricket chirp on the soundtrack sounding so gorgeous and so beautifully placed courtesy of the Dome's excellent sound system. If only I had fresh popcorn to snack on, instead of deciding to abandon the popcorn ship a short way through.
The after party was on the roof of the Cinerama Dome parking structure. We emerged from the elevators to a red-carpeted oasis, a Merlotte's sign on the far end, the perimeter filled with tables offering southern style food like gumbo and chicken, alternating with dessert tables filled with little red velvet cupcakes and pecan pies and full-sized brownies and ice cream and toppings, and then bars offering various true blood inspired cocktails, some of them in special Tru Blood glass mugs. A dj and a small dance floor were on the middle of the west parapet. The major talent had reserved tables in the center with waiters to tend to their needs, not that anyone actually sits for very long. The views were wonderful. To the southeast, the lights of downtown. To the southwest, Beverly Hills and Century City, to the west and northwest, Hollywood. To the north, klieg lights that must have been for somebody else. A full panorama of the entire LA basin, with the hills in back. The walls of the portable toilet area in the corner were bedecked with production blueprints.
Of course it was nice to partake of the goodies and admire the view, but the nicest part was really to basque in Charlaine's reflected glory, to watch her and her kids having pictures taken with Anna Paquin, or to enjoy the endless series of admirers from the production, from the set dressers to the composer to the PAs, coming up to thank her and express their admiration and their gratitude, and to see the enjoyment written all over. I was also happy to finally get to meet Charlaine's eldest son, the last in her immediate family I had the pleasure of meeting.
The legend has it that Alan Ball happened upon DEAD UNTIL DARK while killing time before a dentist appointment and browsing the shelves of a Barnes & Noble. I asked him which, and to my disappointment he could say only it was somewhere in the Valley, and along Ventura Blvd. Which I guess would make it the Barnes & Noble in Encino, though I guess if I were to know that for sure I'd have to try and triangulate against the location of his dentist. But for right now, I will hereby declare Barnes & Noble #2583 in Encino CA to be a JABberwocky Literary Agency Historic Preservation Site.
And I will hope to get a copy of the one picture with me in it, of Charlaine and I at the party, and maybe asw I sort through some of the other links I'll set up to some of the other red carpet pictures and such.
Charlaine had a morning flight on Friday, and she and her family left around midnight. I headed back to my hotel a few minutes later, with a lot of memories to cherish, maybe even a little more so than getting to see Elizabeth Moon take home the Nebula Award for The Speed of Dark, and I'm not sure what could top this except for maybe being at the Hollywood premiere of a movie based on The Speed of Dark. It's the difference between being recognized within the sf/fantasy community and within the world at large. As a long-time sf fan there's nothing that means more to me than seeing my authors receive the full-on respect of their peers in the Nebula balloting or of my fellow fans with the Hugos, and especially for a book like The Speed of Dark whom I love dearly. But I've been with Charlaine through many years in the midlist wilderness, and HBO gave her a helluva debutante ball on Thursday night.
And what about the show?
I'm a fan.
It's not perfect. I think the only perfect shows in my life have been the first 3 seasons of Soap, the run of Party of Five, and Friday Night Lights. With True Blood, the episodes are a little under an hour in length, and I was maybe ready for them to end 5 minutes sooner than they actually did. It is possible this is because my TV clock is weaned on broadcast TV where the shows are more like 45 minutes, and my clock needs to reset itself for cable. The first two episodes end with cliffhangers, which has a certain charm but which I think may be beneath the dignity of this particular show. And I am now totally spoiled; how can I go from watching the first 2 episodes in the Cinerama Dome to watching episode #3 on September 21 on my 30"?
But those small things aside, this is good TV.
Alan and his chosen cast are quite true to the essence of Charlaine's books. Anna Paquin is excellent. She gives us a Sookie Stackhouse who is very very strong but not quite as strong as she thinks she is or may need to be, and a Sookie who has totally integrated into her life while totally wishing to rid herself of her gift of reading minds. As excellent as Anna Paquin is, I found myself wanting to look at Ryan Kwanten's Jason, Sookie's brother, every single second he's on the screen. I heard Charlaine tell someone that Jason was exactly like the character she'd written only doing things she'd never actually seen him do in the course of her own writing, and I think that's it. A lovable cad, so smoldering you know you'll get burnt if you get too close and yet so charming you can't resist getting as close as you possibly can. Acting isn't always about acting; the choice of t-shirts for Jason is a good example of how the people behind the scenes support what shows in front of the cameras. Lois Smith is another winner as Sookie's grandmother, and Sam Trammell's Sam is another spot-on portrayal, though he (like many of the characters) is a bit younger in the TV show than what you'd gather from the books. Nelsan Ellis and Rutina Wesley are of note in the supporting cast. The arc of the first season will follow along with the basic story of Charlaine's own DEAD UNTIL DARK.
The reviews I've seen have been all over the map, from 3 1/2 stars in USA Today to much more lukewarm in the LA Times and NY Times, and I haven't even read thru the entire stack that my assistant pulled while I was away for the week. With no critical consensus, it will be interesting to see how the public at large reacts. I do think some of the negative reviews have been reviewing a political agenda in the show that I just don't see at all. Other than a line or two here or there, there's no overwhelming metaphorical content. I'm seeing Charlaine's books nicely tailored to the small screen, and I'm not seeing a Message.