Best known as the lovable pilot Hoban “Wash” Washburne on “Firefly” and “Serenity,” Alan Tudyk has been around a lot of comic and sci-fi conventions. Soon, with the help of $3.2 million raised through crowdfunding site Indiegogo, he’ll get to turn that wisdom into an original webseries debuting soon on Vimeo. Tudyk and fellow “Firefly” alum Nathan Fillion journey once more into the con scene Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego promoting “Con Man.” Joining them on stage were Seth Green, Casper Van Dien, Tricia Helfer, Michael Trucco, Nolan North, Mindy Sterling, Felicia Day, Wil Weaton, Alison Hairslip, makeup artist Barry Bishop, visual effects artist Billy Brooks, co-producer P.J. Haarsma and his daughter Sky. Chris Hardwick moderated the panel, which also debuted a new trailer.
Hardwick began by discussing “Con Man’s” origins, with Tudyk coming up with the idea “in Fillion’s kitchen.” He added that “this is the first webseries ever to take the stage at Hall H.”
Tudyk came onto the stage last, wearing a Wash-esque Hawaian shirt, to much fanfare. The seating arrangements, though, caused several minutes’ worth of problems, with Green and Hardwick rearranging bodies and name cards for fifteen people.
Fillion joked that Tudyk was “wearing the wrong costume,” leading Tudyk first to squirt ketchup on his shirt, then peel off one jumpsuit to reveal another pilot’s outfit – the costume of Cash Wayne from “Spectrum,” the fictional series his character Wray Nerely plays in “Con Man.”
The trailer debuted next, which Hardwick described as “fresh out of the oven” as the series just finished filming 20 hours ago. The clip began with an homage to a show that sounds a lot like “Firefly” and an actor whose life might appear to resemble Tudyk’s. “Everyone loves ‘Spectrum,'” the voiceover says of the cancelled series, before Tudyk’s character Wray Neerey laments that he hates it because it’s the best show he’s ever done.
“I started going to conventions right after ‘Firefly’ was cancelled in 2002,” Tudyk said, coming to it “from an outsider perspective.” “Slowly over time, it just started germinating,” he said of the webseries.
Tudyk joked “Con Man” was also “a backdoor way to get on a space show,” re-teaming with Fillion.
Hardwick noted Tudyk and company’s perspective would be necessarily different from more mainstream producers, who may have made fun of the scene. Tudyk said the crowdfunding aspect also “gave us the means to make it the way we knew it needed to be made.”
“I remember the day when Alan stole my idea,” Fillion joked, when prompted to talk about the show’s origins. “They say hard work never killed anyone. I say, why risk it?” He added that the first read-through was a lot of fun and things kept moving forward.
Trucco said that “everybody wants to be a part of this,” adding that Haarsma approached him about the role because “Alan is reluctant to ask his friends for favors.” But Trucco said he’d be “the bus boy” or any other role, because he saw the show as something that anybody would be happy to work on.
Green also “said I’d do whatever” to work on “Con Man.” Tudyk presented the webseries as, “I know nobody’s into crowdsourcing, but what if we crowdsourced a really cool project … and it was about cons.”
Tudyk said that, though he wrote the show, “there was a lot of riffing on set – Nolan North, I don’t think he has one line that I wrote.”
The freedom also allowed for a lot of flexibility. “That motorcycle you see with Milo Ventimiglia – that’s his, he showed up to work on it,” Tudyk said. “And there was ‘Can we put yogurt in the dumpster? Yeah, go ahead. And costuming was like, nnn, no, you can’t, we’ve only got one of those. Don’t worry, the director said it’s ok!”
The format of “Con Man” will be four half-hour episodes.
Hairslip said that when Tudyk called her, she “thought it was a butt dial.” “I picked up the phone and he says, ‘Alison! What are you doing Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday this week?'” Though she had been about to leave to shoot in New York, “I cancelled my flight.”
North joked that “I was their fourth choice” for the role. His character, Jerry Lansing, is the second-greatest motion capture artist. The character was originally called Nigel Thrice, but Jerry Lansing was a character North created for himself while doing voice work for the “Uncharted” game series. “In my on screen work I’m always the doctor or the lawyer or… I don’t get the part,” North said, “but this gives me a chance to be funny.”
Van Dien plays “The Bartender, four different times,” Tudyk explained. “They just asked my jaw to come on set,” Van Dien joked. Tudyk said that, “if we do more of these, you are someone important.” “Thank you,” Van Dien said, “finally I’m validated!”
Wil Wheaton’s character is “not large in this incarnation,” but could grow if the series continues. “He’s a smuggler,” Tudyk said.
Helfer said she was “pleased to not play somebody like myself,” and also that her character Louise was not “a robot in a red dress.” But “what is he trying to tell me that he thought of me when he was writing this role?”
“I will say that Alan got me to kiss in a way that I’ve never kissed before,” Helfer said.
Sterling said she might be “the only one on the panel who never knew who Alan Tudyk was.” “We had no history, I didn’t owe him anything,” she joked. After getting the script from her agent, “I read it and I loved it,” she said. Her character is trying to become Cash’s manager, but is a little too controlling, among other flaws. “She wears a different wig every episode.” After doing the show, she said, Sterling hopes to remain “a part of Alan’s life.”
Haarsma joked that the budget allowed for, instead of “four people in front of a backdrop” to represent a con, “cut to renting out the Long Beach Convention Center.” “And remember that cave that we were just going to have a comic panel? Yeah, I’m gonna need you to build that. For three lines.”
Felicia Day came next. “Alan sent me the script a year ago, actually, because my middle name is ‘Webseries,'” she said. “I had a feeling when I read it that he could blow up the world the way ‘Dr. Horrible’ did.” Day noted that, though they appeared in a “Dollhouse” episode together, they had not actually worked together. They met at a Shakespeare reading at Joss Whedon’s house. She said that “you form a family on a set and you form a family at a con, and this is bringing those two together.”
Wheaton said that Fillion had texted him to ask him to mention “Con Man” on Twitter. “My first thought was, you don’t need me Nathan – you got this.” “Forty five minutes later, when they blew through their fundraising goal, I asked if he still wanted him to help.” He joked that, as time went by, “more and more people are working on this thing, and I’m getting sadder and sadder,” continuing until there were bottles littering his apartment. And when he got the call, he said, “What is Chris Hardwick doing that he wasn’t available?”
“My agents fired me” for sitting out of pilot season to do “Con Man,” Tudyk said. “I said, I can do something in six months. They said, yeeeaaah, we’d be happy for you to do that with someone else.”
Tudyk said Skylar Haarsma “took my direction poorly” because of its complexity, so Fillion directed her scenes. “Remember ‘Use your imagiNathan.'”
When the floor opened to questions, the first fan wore a “Con Man” pilot costume, which impressed Tudyk. “How did you do that?” he said. “I stayed up til two in the morning sewing some stuff,” she said. After thanking Tudyk for creating the webseries, she asked about the most rewarding aspect of the process. Tudyk said that handing over his script to actors and watching it become “funny, funny, funny” in ways he hadn’t imagined. “That would bring me so much joy, a crazy amount of joy, which is something I hadn’t experienced before – not joy, but…” After her question and a photo, Tudyk gave her his Hawaiian shirt.
Tudyk said the hardest part was working with agents who work with actors outside of their circle of friends. “There is a sort of firewall,” Hardwick added, where agents might not even tell actors they’d been approached. “As a webseries, it was kind of a different thing, but a lot of the people we used were top notch,” Tudyk said, including crew from “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” and “Interstellar.” “It looks very well done. .. I hope we’re able to show people and educate people about what the web can be.”
Wheaton said the authenticity and energy of a web production comes through in the finished product, as well. “I came onto the set on the last of filming, a time when usually the crew are wiped,” but they were still going strong, he said. The air of collaboration and enthusiasm, he said, was distinct from “legacy media” projects that tend to be created “top down.”
Asked why Fillion was right for the character of Jack Moore, Tudyk said that’s just who made sense. “He was the one who went on to great success,” he said.
“Alan and I were dying to work together, we love working together,” Fillion said. “It was never under our control. Until now.”
“Part of it was written around the idea that he might be shooting ‘Castle,'” Tudyk said. “Nathan’s a leading man, I don’t have to tell you that.” To this, Fillion struck some suave poses.
Several members of the “Guild of Extras” came up to the mic toward the latter part of the panel to thank Tudyk for the experience. “You all know that when you’re having a shitty week, you put on ‘Firefly’ and life is good.”
Fillion revealed that “I auditioned for ‘Buffy’ – didn’t get it,” to which Hardwick joked that “he auditioned for Buffy,” the character. Fillion would have played Angel.
Asked about the most embarrassing thing they’ve done themselves for the things they are fans of, Fillion said he loves “Game of Thrones.” “A friend of mine has a wolf hybrid… that looks a lot like a wolf. And I did a photo shoot with it.”
The panel ended with Tudyk leading visual effects artist Billy Brooks and makeup artist Barry Bishop to the front of the stage. When Tudyk mentioned that the two were partners, what would come next was clear: Brooks proposed, and Bishop said yes. “We were born and raised in the deep south, and now we can go to our home states and get married,” Brookes said.
“Con Man” debuts September 30 on Vimeo and is available for preorder now.
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