Wil Wheaton Interview, Part 1: The world’s favorite geek discusses his new Syfy series, why he loves small conventions, and how being a nerd became cool.
If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, you’ll know I was excited to fangirl levels last week when I had the opportunity to chat with Wil Wheaton. I mean, that’s a big deal! And chat we did, so much so that I’m having to break this interview up into two parts. The guy has a lot of important stuff to say and I’ll admit that I hung on every word. He’s a great guy who loves being a part of the geek community, but who also has some very good advice on how to deal with… well… life, in general.
First up, unless you’re living under a rock, you know that Wheaton has a brand new show on the Syfy Network. It’s sort of a Talk Soup for geeks and premiered last week. The network actually contacted Wheaton about potentially doing a series that basically poked fun at paranormal reality shows. Wheaton’s response? “That sounds kind of funny,” he said, “Because those shows are really ridiculous.” But once he sat down and started developing the show, the focus changed. “We should do scripted paranormal reality.”
Of course, things progressed from there. Someone eventually suggested covering all of genre fiction. “We started writing that, and eventually, about a year later, we ended up with what is now The Wil Wheaton Project,” Wheaton said, noting that the entire developmental process was fun. “We were making each other laugh and the show was getting more and more funny and I think you’ll see the result of that development process.”
Wheaton loves the idea of having a series that’s very timely and praises Syfy for the amount of creative control they’ve handed him so that he can stay true to the community of geeks he represents. “I think networks are used to having extremely tight control over what they share with their audience and are used to being able to dictate the terms of the conversation,” he said. “I told everyone at the network [Syfy] that’s not the way I can do this. I have wonderful relationships with the community and there’s a big difference between audience and community. And I love being part of a community. And I’m going to engage the community as much as I can. I’m going to talk about the creative process of the show. I’m going to tear back the curtain every chance I get. I’m going to share as much as I can about how this whole thing comes together.”
At first, Wheaton said, Syfy was uncomfortable with that, but Wheaton was perfectly fine with that, in fact saying he was “delighted” to go outside the network’s comfort zone. He said, “To their credit, Syfy has been considerably supportive and really allow me to carry information about my show with my name and my stupid face on it to the community that we want for the show.” He mentioned how he’s already used his blog to reach out to fans and ask them questions for things that will later be featured on The Wil Wheaton Project.
Wheaton also discussed the state of comic conventions in the country, including the most popular and largest, San Diego Comic Con. “San Diego Comic Con has been moving more and more toward being sort of an entertainment industry trade show,” Wheaton said. “And it’s a huge part of our culture in that people make big announcements there so it becomes something to really watch. Because there’s a really lot of great information that comes out of it. A lot of things I used to get out of Comic Con when I was younger was going… well, it was really about comic books. A lot of that I’m now really getting out of smaller, more fan-oriented less business-oriented conventions, like Emerald City and Wondercon.”
However, when pressed, Wheaton admitted that although he makes plans every year not to go to San Diego Comic Con, he ends up attending anyway. This year, he plans on working it for The Wil Wheaton Project, capturing some of the “spectacle” that it’s become. He does admit to also enjoying the cosplay and meeting other fans, though. Who doesn’t?
However, Wheaton spoke about his love for smaller conventions. “I think it’s really important and pretty effortless to support smaller cons,” he said. “Because smaller cons support us. Large cons support investors and they support the industry, but smaller cons support fandom. Just like I think it’s really important to support your local comic book shop, I think it’s important to support smaller cons. Because if we want to have a place that we can go regionally, all over the country, that is about us, that’s about fandom, we have to support those things because if we don’t, then big corporate things come in and push out the smaller things that are about us. And suddenly we find ourselves living in a town where we have no stores to go to except WalMart. And I don’t want that world to happen.”
As we all know, geek culture has finally gone mainstream. Yes, it’s true, nerds rule the world. Wheaton spoke about the progression from how we became outcasts to becoming the cool kids. He said, “Those of us who grew up as geeks decided that we had enough, and that we weren’t going to be ashamed of the things that we love, and there were creators like Peter Jackson and Joss Whedon, who were making things that came out of the type of speculative fiction that we all grew up loving. When that speculative fiction was exposed to a wider audience, I think that wider audience realized that they liked it, too.” Wheaton mentioned that this began to break the stereotypes.
Wheaton also mentioned that it didn’t hurt that those of us who love science fiction, fantasy, gaming, etc., began to ascend to positions in the world where we made the decisions about entertainment. “We just started showing the world the things we love,” he said. “While that was happening, computers and technology, like smartphones and tablets, became bigger parts of everyone’s lives, and those of us that spent the last 30 years understanding that landscape, we became sort of guides, and we became really useful for people who didn’t know how to install toolbars in their browsers.”
At this point, Wheaton said, this is when the world figured out that being a nerd is really just being passionate about what you love. “It’s about the way you love a thing,” he said. “So someone who is a nerd for Formula 1 racing or someone who is a nerd for baseball or football realizes that they love their sport the same way I love Dungeons & Dragons or the same way that I love video games. I think we realize that we actually have more in common than not.”