SAN DIEGO — More than 24 hours after arriving in town for Comic-Con International, movie producer Daniel Alter had an admission: He hadn’t actually been to the Con.
“The truth is that for industry people, there are so many great parties that you don’t have to go to the convention center anymore,” said Alter, chatting at an exclusive rooftop bar with a drink in his hand and a VIP pass around his neck.
Most know Comic-Con as the jampacked geekfest where 130,000 fans wait in long lines to see movie, TV, video game and comic book presentations at the San Diego Convention Center and listen as their favorite stars repeatedly say things like “Without you guys, the show would not exist,” as “The Walking Dead’s” Andrew Lincoln told the enthusiastic crowd during the panel for the hit AMC television series.
But for the multitudes of producers, agents, studio executives and stars who travel down from Los Angeles each year, it’s a very different experience. Most of their multiday trip is spent at parties and lounges organized by Warner Bros., Lionsgate, Playboy and the Creative Artists Agency where those on the invite lists wear Diesel jeans and dress shirts and there isn’t a fan dressed as the Joker or Wolverine in sight.
Call it Comic-Con for the 1%.
“I haven’t been to the convention floor in years. I only come here for the parties,” Danielle Reardon, a development executive at Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment, said at the Friday soiree thrown in a trendy club at the Hard Rock Hotel by CAA, Hollywood’s largest talent agency.
The primary reason Reardon and her Hollywood compatriots head to San Diego is networking. With so many of them bouncing among the same events over a few days, Comic-Con has become akin to the Sundance Film Festival as a place to make connections and talk deals.
“This is the densest concentration of entertainment industry professionals you can find outside of Beverly Hills,” said Jason Taylor, president of production at “Superman Returns” director Bryan Singer’s Bad Hat Harry Productions, whose digital series “H+" previewed at the Con. “I’m discussing business with people who it would take a long time to schedule a meeting with in L.A.”
Only a decade ago, Comic-Con was considered alien territory by most in Hollywood. But as superhero films such as “Spider-Man"and “X-Men” became big business, agents and producers headed down in search of new material they could adapt. By 2004, companies such as the United Talent Agency and William Morris Agency started organizing exclusive parties to fete their clients at night.
Over the years, the comic book and entertainment industries became so tightly intertwined that there’s now little hope of finding desirable material in San Diego that hasn’t already been snatched up by a studio or network. The primary work at the event, for those who have any to do, is publicity and marketing.
The Comic-Con party scene has grown as Hollywood professionals continue to flock to San Diego each year in search of new connections and open bars. This year, more than 20 exclusive parties took place over four days.
“There was a moment a few years ago where there was a balance between Hollywood networking and actually using Comic-Con for business opportunities,” said Charlie Chu, an editor at comic book publisher Oni Press who formerly worked at 20th Century Fox. “Now it’s a bunch of sponsored opportunities to party and talk shop.”
At the same time fans gathered for costume balls and “Star Wars"trivia contests, the Hollywood crew gathered in settings that resembled the Cannes Film Festival. Behind the convention center’s Hall H, where the biggest movie panels are held, Warner Bros. welcomed talent to a VIPs-only tent that featured a pool table, foot massages, a gift suite and luxury Porta Potties.
At the CAA party, there were divisions even among the entertainment industry pros, as the elite sat at tables marked “reserved.”
Outside a Thursday night party called “King of Con” thrown by Alter, hundreds crowded on the sidewalk while a bouncer carefully checked credentials.
“I’m not on the list, but I hope I can talk my way in,” said Brett Glatman, an assistant at the CW Network who was trading information on the best parties with Hollywood peers via a Facebook group.
Saturday night’s Entertainment Weekly bash and a"True Blood"/Playboy event also attracted throngs of aspiring guests hoping to talk their way inside to rub elbows with celebrities and industry players.
For those who were out and about during daytime hours, the hottest ticket was the Wired Cafe, a “day lounge” on a hotel balcony across the street from the Convention Center. The amenities enjoyed by “Twilight"star Kellan Lutz, director Guillermo del Toro and comedian Sarah Silverman, among others, included free underwear, Skype stations and"Game of Thrones"-themed drinks courtesy of HBO.
“We looked around and said there’s a huge need for celebrities and the Hollywood elite to have a place to chill during the day,” Wired publisher Howard Mittman explained just before getting his photo taken with “Clerks” director Kevin Smith. “This lounge is the ultimate representation of being a VIP at Comic-Con.”
But there remains a sliver of hope for Comic-Con’s 99%.
“If you seem interesting, funny and cool,” Mittman said with a laugh, “we sometimes pull a Studio 54 and let you in.”
Times staff writers Gina McIntyre and Nicole Sperling contributed to this report.