On Saturday, March 16, the Toledo Art Museum in Toledo, Ohio held a lecture with a well known Hollywood film and TV producer very near and dear to our hearts as well as and theirs. Someone they proudly call a hometown hero. I’m talking about none other than Eric Kripke. Yes, that guy, the creator and mastermind behind that little show that has defied all odds, “Supernatural.”
When Mr. Kripke promoted the event on Twitter, it instantly generated a lot of interest and excitement from midwestern fans, including two Winchester Family Business staff members, Alice Jester and Emberlast, who just happened to live within driving distance. After driving from two completely opposite directions to be there, Emberlast and Alice had such a fantastic time at “A Conversation With Eric Kripke” that they have written up this report to share.
I was excited to see that Eric Kripke was going to be giving a talk at the Toledo Museum of Art, less than two hours from my home, so I decided to go. With over a thousand people saying they were interested on the event posted on facebook, I decided to call the museum ahead of time and ask if there would be enough seating. They assured me there would be, but I might want to arrive early. I got there about an hour before it started, and there was a long line down a hallway of the museum leading to the Peristyle Amphitheater. An employee told me that they’d originally going to have it in another room but realized they needed more space so they moved the event to their largest area.
It was fun seeing all the people wearing Supernatural t-shirts, including Scoobynatural and Singer Salvage and several Always Keep Fighting. I didn’t see anyone in extreme cosplay, though there were some flannel shirts and leather jackets.
Once the doors opened, it took a while for us all to file in, but I was relieved to see that there were plenty of seats. The first couple rows were roped off, but I was able to get a seat in the middle about seven or eight rows back which was completely satisfactory to me. The theater is circular, surrounded by columns resembling a Greek temple.
I regretted not registering when the event began by museum personnel giving away goodies including a signed transcript of the pilot episode. Several of the prizes had to be offered to alternates because people who registered on the site were not present. These were some generous items to be donated including the pilot script, like a signed “Supernatural” Series DVD set, a signed script for “House With a Clock in its Walls” and a signed poster and DVD for the same movie.
The interview was conducted by Haley Taylor with WGTE Public Radio, who is known for interviewing people from Toledo on her show. She was proud to mention Kripke’s local roots, acknowledging his family and friends that were seated in the front row. Kripke is a proud alum of Sylvania Southview High School (his “Go Cougars!” proving it), which got many cheers from the crowd. Haley asked Kripke if he could go back to his high school and ask his teachers if they knew he would go off to Hollywood and make it big, what would they say? “My teacher’s right there,” he said pointing to the front row. He asked his teacher that question. “No way,” was the answer.
Eric Kripke said that he wanted to be a film writer since he was very young. He’d seen ET when he was about nine years old and thought, “I want to do that, whatever that was to make an audience do that.” He became a huge fan of Spielberg (even joined his fan club) and started making a ton of home movies – all comedies. The tapes still exist! USC was his first choice. “I was a weird little dude.” He kept saying he was going to go to USC film school because that was the only film school name that made its way back to Toledo in the 80’s. He found a short story in Twilight Zone Magazine that he wanted to make into his senior thesis movie when he went to the USC film school. “I was like a freight train.” Sure enough, he did make that movie his senior year. It became his film Truly Committed which won at the SlamDance Film Festival. Did he feel like he made it at that point? No, not at all. “There were twelve of us sleeping on the floor in one hotel room, and I mostly remember being drunk.”
He graduated USC in 1996 and was unemployed for a bit, taking odd jobs when he could, living on ramen noodles. He would enter Truly Committed in film festivals wherever he could and win money, up to $5000 which he used, not to live on, but to make his next film. He wrote terrible scripts, making mistakes, learning how to write. When asked if he looks back on those years with fondness, “The level of terror during those years was not awesome. Yes, knowing what I know now, it was great. At the time, I was like, oh crap, this might crash and burn badly.” He did get some jobs, some knock-off comedy scripts for forgettable films, and made his comedy The Battle of the Sexes. Looking back now, he can see those experiences as steps on the road that in hindsight were perfect.
During this time, what he called an “existential crisis,” he wrote a horror movie to blow off steam. Every victim was named for studio executives! A friend later gave that script, Boogeyman, to Sam Raimi who produced it. At the same time, Warner Bros. asked him to write the script for a “Tarzan” TV show in 2003. He had no affinity for “Tarzan,” he didn’t even like “Tarzan,” but in the room he was all about “Tarzan!” “It’s not great,” he admitted. He got the job and wrote the pilot. “Suddenly, it got picked up for series, which was the craziest thing of all, because I had no idea what I was doing.” He recalled a quote from Guillermo Del Toro to describe how he felt about “Tarzan.” “A film career is like watching a car crash in slow motion.” There were eight episodes: “It sucks; it’s so bad!” He admitted he screwed up in every way possible. He was not sad when the president of Warner Brothers called him and said they had to cancel the show. Warner Brothers admired his work ethic if not the work itself. When it was canceled, they asked him, “What do YOU want to do?” He had a pitch, a version of “Supernatural.” (The audience cheered at this.)
Originally “Supernatural” was a movie idea. He was interested in urban legends, things like Gibbs Road Bridge near Toledo. He said he’d told this story a lot so he’d keep it short: his idea was for a reporter researching urban legends, but then Night Stalker came out which made his idea seem more like a rip off. Then the movie Urban Legends came out. After giving this pitch that he had for so long, the executives said “Mmmmmmm. Pass.” “What don’t you like?” Kripke asked them. They didn’t like the reporter part. Kripke had just recently scribbled in the margin of his pitch the words "Route 66,” so he offered that to the studio execs: two guys in a muscle car driving in and out of stories across America hunting ghosts and monsters. “And they’re brothers,” he threw in at the last minute. The execs liked that! They wanted to hear more, but Kripke hadn’t fleshed out any of those ideas! “All my notes are at home,” he explained, and asked if they could meet next week. He went home and feverishly wrote a new pitch, one that he’s recently posted to Twitter in honor of the 300th episode.
Aaaand more never before seen #SPN docs, cause how often does #SPN300 come along? The original pitches for the first 5 eps. (Including @serathegamble's first ep & also BUGS lol). You can see how the stories & ep order changed. It's a twisty turny process. #SPNFamily @cw_spn pic.twitter.com/2ztvJ4rFhP— Eric Kripke (@therealKripke) February 7, 2019
At this point, he showed some brief clips of the show highlighting areas that were influenced by his Toledo background. The song “Carry On, My Wayward Son” was the background music. Clips included a reference to Breckenridge, the name of the street where he grew up, and a scene from “The Real Ghostbusters” where a character demurs when the Winchesters ask her to act by saying, “I work at Hooters in Toledo.”
He then proceeded to talk about the importance of the music in “Supernatural.” He himself, thanks to his brother and sister, was in love with classic rock and listened to FM 104 in Toledo. He was strongly opinionated about the soundtrack for SPN, partly in reaction to the WB’s tendency to rely on hip current pop music that made his ears bleed. “Chock full of Death Cab for Cutie.” He had written in one of his scripts: “Cue music – you can take your anemic alternative pop and shove it up your ass.” He had his sound guys listen to FM 104 to get an idea of the sound track he wanted. The WB originally said no, so Kripke threatened to quit, one of the two times he threatened to quit in season one and meant it. The execs were thrown by how passionate he was about having the sound be classic rock, but they weren’t from the Midwest. They didn’t understand the long drives, muscle cars, Foreigner, Bad Company, AC/DC, that’s a mood. “The people on the coasts don’t get it.”
The other time he threatened to quit was the first time a flashback of Sam and Dean as children was going to be shown. The WB was going to throw it out, and he said, “Then I quit.” They kept it in. The secret to threatening to quit, he said, was to mean it. “You can’t bluff!”
The interviewer asked if it was hard to pass off the show after five seasons as showrunner. Kripke said yes and no. He said it was like his child that he had great affection for and what it grown into with the fans and all the good that it’s done. Despite that love, though, he admitted that after 104 episodes, he was a burnt out. He didn’t know what was going to be in episode 105, which was a first. So he went out to drink with Sera Gamble and told her he didn’t think he could keep doing it, that it would get stale if he stayed. He asked her to pick up the torch. “It’s very much exactly like a child growing up and moving away. When they first move away, you’re pissed the whole time. ‘I’ve got notes.’ Then you realize your kid doesn’t really need you to do that.” He’s felt that subsequent writers should tell their own story.
He went on to discuss “Revolution” and “Timeless,” which both lasted two seasons. The former show was really hard and created a midlife crisis for him. He was putting in 17 hours days, 7 days a week, and he took a year off afterward because he was so burnt out. It was painful. From a personal health perspective, he wasn’t bummed out it was cancelled. He is proud of the result, but it was one of those shows that was hard to make. “Timeless” on the other hand was fun and a positive show. There was a shared work load with Shawn Ryan. He enjoyed being able to tell historical stories of women, people of color, and other minorities and sexual orientation. “History is really inclusive; it belongs to everybody.” To do that in a positive way was really gratifying. The fans were so wonderful and it was humbling. He’s so grateful. “You’ve all made a paper-mache,” and the audience laughed. “It’s a good feeling when people like it!” He feels bad when people accusingly ask him why did he canceled “Timeless.” That wasn’t his call. He told us that when a show you like is canceled, don’t go online and give shit to the showrunner. Send it to the studio!
Next he discussed The House with a Clock in its Walls. He fell in love with the book when he first read it from the Whiteford Elementary School library – “Go, Eagles!” he interjected – and he proceeded to read everything else the author, John Bellairs, had written. Bellairs was also from the Midwest – Marshall, MI. Kripke wrote the only fan letter he ever wrote to Bellairs who wrote him back. Kripke said you can draw a straight line from “Supernatural” back to that book. Creepy things happening in the Midwest and the way to get through it is with the love of your family. The rights to the book were going to become available, and Kripke showed the estate his fan letter to demonstrate his life-long commitment to this story, and they chose him to make the movie. He had hoped it would be a nostalgic exercise: “Meet my inner child.” So much of what was in the book does not work as a movie. He was afraid he was going to be the “douchebag” that ruined the movie. It was so stressful. It was a high-wire act and he agonized over every choice, but in the end he is really proud of it. It was a labor of love.
Last, he talked about his latest project, “The Boys,” coming to Amazon Prime this summer. It’s the first hard R script he’s done. He felt schizophrenic to be writing for “The Boys” at the same time as he was working on the much more innocent House with a Clock in its Walls. It is based on a comic book by the guy who did Preacher. The idea is that superheroes exist, but they’re douches, having a friendly public image but being much darker in private, manipulating politics and using their power for personal gain. He quoted Seth Rogan saying, “What if Iron Man was really Robert Downey Jr.?” The Boys are a ragtag group of blue color guys (and a girl) whose job it is to keep the superheroes in check by any means they can including dirty tricks. He showed us a clip which looked compelling and intriguing.
Kripke thinks it’s time to show a darker and grittier idea of superheroes. He’s a fan of Marvel; DC stuff sucks out loud. “Aquaman SUCKED,” he declared, then asked the audience to cheer if they liked it. Enough people cheered to make him exclaim, “No way!” When he watched that movie, he said, “Well, I’m trying too hard!”
The superhero myth is so big it’s time to puncture it. Imagine Aquaman feeling lesser-than because he can only solve water-adjacent crimes or the Flash taking roids (the Lance Armstrong of superheroes) when someone faster than he comes along. And Superman? If you have ultimate power and think you’re a god above other human beings, that’s the definition of a sociopath. He added that his sense of humor is pretty filthy, and this new show reflected his humor more than anything he’s done before. “Some people might not like it,” he admitted. “I haven’t been this excited in a long time. It’s very personal to me.”
Then they opened up for questions from the audience, a line on both aisles. Several people got up right away. The first question was from Karla, the founder of SPNSurvivors, a nonprofit, who remarked that SPN appeals to people who feel broken. It serves as an escape. She then asked if Kripke was aware of the charitable impact of “Supernatural.” He said he was very aware and very incredibly proud. He said how remarkable the fandom is as well as Jared and Jensen and Misha. He is most proud of the community that has grown out of SPN which is “way better than anything I did with that show.”
Her observation -- that SPN appeals to people who feel broken and it serves as an escape for them -- rang true to me. I started watching SPN at the advice of my oldest daughter who was a fan in the winter after my husband of over twenty years left me. I was devastated, and it helped distract me to watch this amazing show of desperate courage facing darkest evil. The concept of family was painful though, as my own was ripped apart, and not by death, but by the one who'd pledged himself to me choosing to walk away. Cute little sayings like "Family is everything!" or "Family Is Always There for You" on plaques at Target were like arrows to my heart. But here were the Winchesters, by the end of season one reduced to just two brothers, who chose to stick with each other and support each other no matter the obstacles. So, since I felt deeply damaged and I was first distracted and then enthralled by the story of the Winchesters, I was intrigued that this woman found that many people found solace in the show in a similar way.
The next question asked if he was there during the filming of “The French Mistake” and did they tell him he was going to be portrayed in the episode and would be killed? Kripke: “I was there. It was my idea to shoot myself.” He was still around in season 6; he actually wanted to play himself, but Bob Singer said, “You’re way too terrible of an actor.” Some of the crew were in it, and if they couldn’t be, because they were filming, their names were used.
Another question was when the series ends, would Kripke be involved. He said that’s tough. He wants to be, but there are rules and laws and he’s with Sony now and “Supernatural” is produced by Warner Brothers. However, if there’s a way to do it, he wants to.
The next person said she was from Toledo and no longer lives here and it was nice to see someone not get stuck here. (There was the slightest ripple of annoyance from the audience at this.) She wanted to know where you find the confidence to keep going? Kripke answered that he’s not particularly confident. He believed it was 100% training yourself through a lot of heartbreak to have GRIT. You take a deep breath, recognize that what you experienced really hurt, and then decide “guess I’ll get up and get ready to get knocked down again.” He repeated the axiom that the people who make it are the ones who get knocked down 200 times but get up 201.
Another question was how he would have brought back John Winchester. He replied that how it was done on the show was exactly how he’d do it!
In response to the editor for Nerds and Beyond, given the massive success of “Supernatural,” how does that affect how he does new shows? What has he learned from that experience when creating something new? “I wish I was smart enough to learn something.” He said SPN is a strange, unbelievable unicorn and he had no idea it would go fifteen years. You have no idea when you’re making something if it’s going to catch on and succeed. “Show me a confident writer I’ll show you a bad one.” He’s not going into “The Boys” with some lesson that will make the show awesome. You hope, put all your love into something, but you never know.
His advice for unpublished screenwriters trying to break into the business? There are a lot of agencies in New York and LA that look at unsolicited material. It’s a good way to start. He wrote twelve that got rejected before selling the thirteenth. Just never give up. Write one, get it out into the world, and then write the next one.
There were more people waiting to ask questions when the time ran out, but Kripke was going to be available to sign autographs. There was a very long line so I decided to slip out and enjoy the art in the museum.
Kripke was personable, talkative, and very comfortable in front of the audience. He came across as intelligent, friendly, and competent. I’m so glad that I was able to hear him. I regret that I didn’t tell anyone at Winchester Family Business that I was going because afterwards, I found out that Alice Jester was here too. I would have loved to meet her.
I experienced a lot of the same things as Emberlast when getting there. I knew from experience to get there an hour early and when I did, the line was all the way out to the lobby. Considering the long hallway you have to take to get to the Periscope Theater from the lobby, that was quite a bit. I noticed all the SPN shirts and there were a few Clockblockers there too. Several were locals just excited to welcome their hometown hero who has made it big in Hollywood.
(What a gorgeous theater!)
For those that don’t know midwestern geography, Toledo in Northwestern Ohio, right on the Michigan border, on the west side on Lake Erie. Several of the license plates in the parking lot were from Michigan which wasn’t much of a surprise since Detroit is just an hour away. The young woman I sat next to was a college student in Michigan not far from the Ohio border. She’s studying theater and film and started watching “Supernatural” with her mother when she was 7! Needless to say, Kripke is a huge influence and inspiration for her and her future career. I can't think of a better role model.
It’s kind of strange that Emberlast said she had a seat in the middle about seven or eight rows back, because I did too! Who knows, she could have been sitting in front or in back of me and I wouldn’t have known it. We came from two opposite directions, her a couple hours from the north, me a couple hours from the south, in a chance meeting that was never to be. Neither one of us knew the other would be attending the event!
For the record, I did register for the drawing, but I didn’t win. I was surprised how many people did register yet when they had their name called they weren’t there. I guess the rule “must be present to win” wasn’t very clear. I only hope that the lady that won the signed “Supernatural” pilot script (turns out there were two people with the same name when he called it out so they had to figure out who the true winner was) left with some very good security! That was definitely the hot ticket item.
I’ve been fortunate to have interviewed Eric Kripke several times. I’ve interviewed him not only for “Supernatural” but “Revolution” as well. He’s always given me the best, most upbeat interviews. This panel was no different. He’s always so passionate about his projects and it’s so good to see that after all this time in the business, he’s still as energetic and excited when speaking about his projects today as he was when I first met him. “The Boys” was no exception, and now I’m interested to watch.
When the event ended, the hubby and I were thrown back that there was an autograph session! Kripke was allowing pictures too. In all my years, I have never gotten an autograph from Eric Kripke, nor a photo of us together (those are no-no’s in the press room and can get you banned). Needless to say, I didn’t bring anything for him to sign. I know exactly what I would have brought, my copy of the “Supernatural” 100th Episode edition of Variety. I got to write an article in that special section, one in which I actually interviewed Eric Kripke about “The Real Ghostbusters” and his whole concept of breaking the fourth wall that “Supernatural” had become famous for. Jared, Jensen, and Rob Benedict have signed it, but not Kripke! In rifling through my purse, all I had paper wise was my mother’s grocery list. It was clean on the back!
The hubby and I were slow to get in line and were one of the last ones. The line wove all the way through the theater from one side to another. The entire time the hubby thought that Eric would have to leave before we got our turn, but about 1 hour and 45 minutes later we got up there and Eric was still signing, talking to fans, and posing for pictures, not showing any sign of fatigue. He recognized me when I got up there, but it was a thrill to introduce him to my husband. You see, Mr. Jester has been with me from the beginning since I started this whole journey back in 2007. He helped me build the initial website and he continues to be our network admin. He has upgraded so many servers for the WFB through the years and helped us through countless outages and hacking attacks. He has NEVER been with me to a “Supernatural” event. The cons were always too pricey for both of us and he comes to Comic Con with me every year, but sits outside because I can never get him a ticket. So, for me to introduce him to the great one, Eric Kripke, this guy we have both grown to worship, that was kind of a big deal for me. I think he was blown away too.
I asked Mr. Kripke if he remembered our Variety interview. He did! “Yes, you did a great job on that.” Aww, shucks. I told him that I stupidly forgot to bring the article for him to sign, but if he can sign the back of my mother’s grocery list, I’ll tack it onto the article with the other signatures. That got a laugh from him and the staff member taking the photos. For me, that piece of paper will always represent a funny little story, better than any average autograph. He obliged and we parted with a “see you at Comic Con.” So yes, another unique item to add to my long list of “Supernatural” memorabilia.
The hubby and I were blown away by this whole event. I have been to countless Creation cons where I have paid a substantial amount of money (and they keep getting more expensive) only to be shuttled through autograph lines quickly without getting more than a “hello” from the celebrity guest. At Comic Con it’s always a circus and chances of having a real conversation, let alone securing an autograph outside of the “slim to none chance” lotteries are practically nil. To drive two hours on a nice day, attend a free lecture given in a gorgeous facility, and then get to have a little meet and greet with that person afterward, now matter how many people are in line, it’s just something you don’t see in this part of the country, ever. I’m not sure how often it comes up elsewhere either. All too many times when that opportunity arises around here, it’s a Comic con where you have to pay up.
Thank you to the Toledo Art Museum for putting on this amazing lecture series and Eric Kripke for graciously taking time out of his homecoming with family to show such appreciation for the fans. For information of this lecture and other events at the Toledo Art Museum, you can go to their website. Oh, and look for “The Boys,” premiering on Amazon Prime in July.
(All photos and videos were taken by Alice Jester of the Winchester Family Business. They may not be used without permission).