For the past three years, Zachary Levi has masterminded Nerd HQ, an epic gathering for fans and celebrities to play games, buy merchandise, recharge their literal and metaphorical batteries and engage in "Conversations for a Cause" during Comic-Con weekend.
This year, Levi has expanded the event from a warehouse to Petco Park, the home baseball stadium of San Diego's Padres, and the bigger venue comes with more opportunities for geek goodness over the course of the weekend. Below, Levi discusses the new additions to Nerd HQ and plans for future locations, as well as his dreams for a "Chuck" movie. Nerd HQ takes place from July 18-21 and you can buy Conversation for a Cause tickets benefiting Operation Smile here.
The bigger venue at Petco Park:
"Basically, I was trying to figure how I could lose my sanity as fast as possible and I thought I would [choose] a baseball stadium. [Laughs.] The most important thing about Nerd HQ for me has always been our Conversations for a Cause, just how special they are and offering that kind of intimacy and interaction between fans and celebrities and how that comes together and culminates for a greater good in the charitable aspect and making money for Operation Smile. And so, as you triage and prioritize your venues for what you need: We need space for the panels. The venue we had last year was great for that and then they turned the warehouse space that we were using into another club, so then we were out of venue and the only place left in San Diego that had space that we would need was Petco. So we procured it. We were like, ‘You know what? I think this could work,’ and we are basically transforming a section of the baseball stadium seating ... we’re boxing it in and we’re building this artificial hall, this artificial room for [the Conversations].
And then the whole concourse is vacant, so we’re just building all the same stuff that we’ve done in the last couple of years with video games, technology, and fun installations and activations and parties every single night. The HQ has always been a clubhouse. It’s a place for celebrities and fans alike to go out and unwind and have a drink and recharge their phones or other doodads and other technologies. Take a little bit of a breather from the amazing chaotic mess that can be downtown San Diego during that time. It’s just nonstop amazingness. It’s our first year there, but I feel really confident about it."
The Conversation for a Cause panelists:
"Joss Whedon is coming back and Nathan Fillion is coming back. We got a really good TV lineup with "Orphan Black" and "Doctor Who" and "Sherlock," and "Psych" is coming back. I tried to get some other shows that have evaded us in the past, but it's tough -- everyone's so slammed when they're down there, especially when you're trying to get a whole cast ... Hopefully as the years go on ... and we felt it more this year than any year, studios and networks are taking notice to the point where they’re starting to reach out to us and are interested in activating with us.
And we’re having Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion both help me host this season because the last couple of years, I’ve lost my voice. Because I’ve got to go straight back to New York and go back into previews for my Broadway show ["First Date"], so I can’t afford to lose my voice this year –- that would be very bad. So I went to Nathan and Alan and said, ‘Hey, I can’t afford to lose my voice -- how would you like to be my voice for a couple of days?’ and they were so awesome and on board and they just have fun. "
A new addition to the roster:
"Another fun new thing we’re doing this year is -- because we have this advantage of a baseball stadium, I really wanted to do a concert, but we just couldn’t get all the pieces together in time. But in lieu of that, we’re doing a screening and we’re going to do a movie in the park and let people come and picnic and watch "Serenity" on Saturday night in the middle of Petco Park. So that’ll be a lot of fun and yeah, a lot of it is the same old awesomeness that has been there each year and I think the people have responded to, and we’re really excited to keep bringing it."
Plans to take Nerd HQ to other cities:
"We are definitely talking about very seriously doing a Nerd HQ at New York Comic Con. That would be the next stop on Nerd HQ tour. Conversations for a Cause are the real big thing for us and the big draw. It’s very important for me that wherever we do Nerd HQ, we’re able to have celebrities that fans are really excited about seeing, and are feeling like they’re getting a really special gift, and the celebrities feel like they’re able to give a special gift and you’re able to sell out those panels and the people who couldn’t make it can live stream and watch it at home like always.
We’ve been very blessed in that San Diego Comic Con, all the stars are there. I mean stars literally aligned, and so we do benefit greatly from the gathering that happens in San Diego. Other conventions don’t necessarily get that same roster and so, in order to get the caliber of talent that people would really be pining after, you have to fly them in and put them up and work their schedules out and that’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of money that we would then not get to put towards the charity, and if we could get it sponsored, if that could all be worked out in sponsorship dollars, then I’m all for it. But until we can figure out exactly how to do that, San Diego seems to be the easiest and most logical place to do what we do. New York right after that. New York is great because there are a lot of celebrities that just live there. So they’re not necessarily going to New York Comic Con, but we could reach out to them and say, ‘Hey, we’ll send a car. We want you to come and do a conversation for us.’ It’s not necessarily a San Diego Comic Con panel as much as it’s an opportunity for people to really get a more intimate experience with a cast. It’s a really intimate, off the cuff discussion where good stuff is talked about that you maybe would not get from a typically moderated panel."
Plans to produce more original web content and a potential "Chuck" movie:
"We’ve been partnering with different companies and trying to suss out exactly what content we would do to with the Nerd Machine, but even separate from the Nerd Machine, I have much bigger world domination plans. One of those would involve a "Chuck" movie but, as I explained to some fans recently, that’s not going to be for a couple of years. I mean one of the biggest issues is that the show is actually still airing internationally, in other countries. It might be in Season 4 in Japan, for example. So if we were to go make a movie, we just basically spoil the rest of the series for these countries, so I wouldn’t want to do that.
But I definitely would like to do that at some point ... I don’t know about Kickstarter but ... I have some ideas of new entertainment portals that I would like to create, whereby people will pre-buy things .... but you’re just pre-selling the actual content. You’re not pre-selling a lot of extra add-ons. Maybe it’s because I’m a Libra and I’m all about justice and fairness; I just really believe in making something that’s affordable and fair for everybody and if you can make a movie that’s 20 bucks, and for 20 bucks, you get the movie, plus you get a limited edition collector’s thing ... Basically kind of like what video games do now. As a gamer, if I go pre-buy the new “Call of Duty,” I’ll pay a little bit of a premium. I’ll pay like 10 bucks more or 15 to 20 bucks more, but I get this cool exclusive thing that only those that pre-buy get. And if I don’t, then they’re not not going to make the video game. The video game is still going to come out. It’s not depending on pre-sales for its creation -- you just incentivize those who might go on that journey of faith with you in the beginning.
So that’s the world that I would like to create and that’s the kind of content and that’s how I would like to activate buyers and viewers and fans and make them a part of the process. Because at the end of the day, I really believe them to be the real producers. We have creative producers that are part of telling stories and creating stories, but the ones that put it into existence are the ones who buy the ticket. And the more people recognize that and appreciate that -- and I try to do that as an actor, I really believe that you have a responsibility to your fan base and you’re only as good as the people who care about what you do. I think it’s important to recognize that and to give back to them when you can and continue to foster communication and respect. As a kid, I loved being an entertainer for that reason. It’s a very special relationship that you have with someone.
They’re paying you for a service that is actually not really a necessity. When we hit the apocalypse, it’s the roving bards and comedians that are going to be starving to death. Nobody’s going to be bartering for a little entertainment. They’re going be like, "We need food and water. What do you have?" So I think it’s a very special thing to be able to be an artist and an entertainer and to appreciate your sponsors in that regard, and I think that because of technology, we’re in a place now where you really can cut out a lot of the middlemen and you can produce, you can distribute and you can market directly to them, without the need of a giant machine that you used to need ... I think we’re really heading into a brave new world and I want to be at the forefront of the conversation and making it happen."
Buy Conversation for a Cause tickets here.
What are you most looking forward to at Nerd HQ?
"Battlestar Galactica" 35th Anniversary Panel
<strong>Thursday, July 18, 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. PT, Room 6BCF</strong> Celebrate the enduring legacy of "BSG" with star Richard Hatch, director Michael Nankin, consultant Dr. Kevin Grazier, producer/writer Michael Angeli, writer/producer Kevin Murphy, Michael Taylor, producer Paul Leonard, and surprise "Battlestar" guests, who will look back on the three series and look towards the franchise's future.
"Comedy Legends Of TV Land" Panel
<strong>Thursday, July 18, 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. PT, Indigo Ballroom at the Hilton Bayfront</strong> Gathering Roseanne Barr, William Shatner, Donald Faison and Wayne Knight together for one panel is certain to cause fireworks, and TV Land promises that the Q&A will be a dynamic conversation about the importance of comedy in television, the resurgence of sitcoms and a look at the actors’ careers -- past, present and future.
<strong>Thursday, June 18, 2:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. PT, Ballroom 20</strong> After a confounding Season 2 cliffhanger, we're relying on co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, and producer Sue Vertue, to shed some light on what's next for Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) in the critically-acclaimed series. Whether they <em>will</em> or not is a mystery that only Holmes can solve.
"The Sidekick" Screening & Panel
<strong> Thursday, July 18, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. PT, Indigo Ballroom</strong> The world premiere screening of Rob Benedict's superhero short features a veritable who's who of your favorite small-screen stars. Written by and starring Benedict, "The Sidekick" tells the offbeat story of career "sidekick" Max McCabe. When Max begins to lose his youthful zip and is unceremoniously fired by his superhero boss, he finds himself cast adrift in a world that seems to have no use for an aging professional buddy. The panel will also feature stars Lizzy Caplan, Martin Starr, Josh Meyers, Richard Speight Jr., Jordan Peele and Jason Ritter, along with director Michael J. Weithorn and cinematographer Steve Lubensky.
"The X-Files" 20th Anniversary Panel
<strong>Thursday, July 18, 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. PT, Ballroom 20</strong> The truth is still out there, and we can discover it together thanks to TV Guide's epic reunion panel, which will bring together stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, plus series creator Chris Carter and writers/producers David Amann, Vince Gilligan, Howard Gordon, Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan, John Shiban and Jim Wong for a discussion of the hit series' past and potential future.
<strong>Thursday, July 18, 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. PT, Hall H</strong> After eight seasons, it's time to say goodbye to America's favorite serial killer with the Showtime series' final panel. Stars Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, and James Remar will appear alongside executive producers John Goldwyn, Sara Colleton, Scott Buck, and Manny Coto, with rumored surprise guests who are "too big to mention."
"Veronica Mars" Panel
<strong>Friday, July 19, 11:15 a.m. to 12 p.m. PT, Hall H</strong> Hot off the set of their Kickstarter-funded reunion movie, stars Kristen Bell, Francis Capra, Enrico Colantoni, Percy Daggs III, Jason Dohring, Ryan Hansen, Chris Lowell, Tina Majorino and Krysten Ritter will appear along with producer and director Rob Thomas, and they're apparently bringing exclusive footage from the new movie to tease us with. It's a must-see for all you marshmallows.
<strong>Friday, July 19, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. PT, Room 6BCF</strong> The resilient CW series about a kick-ass super spy and her allies has been renewed for a six-episode final season, so this panel will serve as a fond farewell to the little action show that could. Stars Maggie Q, Shane West, Lyndsy Fonseca , Aaron Stanford, Melinda Clarke, Devon Sawa, and Noah Bean join executive producer Craig Silverstein to send the series off in style.
"The Walking Dead" Panel
<strong>Friday, July 19, 1:35 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. PT, Hall H</strong> Get your fill of <em>braaaaains</em> -- or zombie intel -- in this panel celebrating AMC's juggernaut hit, with stars Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, David Morrissey, Scott Wilson, and Chad Coleman in attendance, along with new showrunner Scott Gimple, executive producers Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, Dave Alpert and special effects makeup supervisor/executive producer Greg Nicotero. Where do our heroes go from here?
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Panel
<strong>Friday, July 19, 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. PT, Ballroom 20</strong> Geek God Joss Whedon and Marvel's head of television Jeph Loeb -- along with "surprise guests" -- will reveal top-secret information about ABC's hotly anticipated new genre show. And with a panel length of an hour and 15 minutes, we're guessing that Marvel fans are going to be treated to something pretty special ...
"Game Of Thrones" Panel
<strong>Friday, July 19, 2:50 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. PT, Hall H</strong> After the shocking events of the Red Wedding, "GoT" has plenty of surprises left in store, which is why cast members John Bradley, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Fairley, Kit Harington, Rose Leslie and Richard Madden will be on hand to tease what fans can expect from Season 4 and share their memories of filming Season 3. Executive producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, and author George R. R. Martin will also be in attendance.
"Orphan Black" Panel
<strong>Friday, July 19, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. PT, Room 7AB</strong> This smart, slick sci-fi thriller from BBC America has won the hearts of genre fans everywhere, thanks to a stellar lead performance (or should we say <em>performances</em>) from Tatiana Maslany playing multiple clones trying to unravel the mysteries of where they came from and why they were born. Stars Maslany, Jordan Gavaris and Dylan Bruce join creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett to discuss what's to come in Season 2 of the mind-bending drama.
"Once Upon A Time/In Wonderland" Screening & Panels
<strong>Saturday, July 20, 10:15 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. PT, Ballroom 20</strong> First up, venture down the rabbit hole with "OUAT" spinoff "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland," with a screening of the new ABC show, followed by a Q&A featuring executive producers Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis plus surprise guests. Then, at 11, "Once Upon a Time" takes us to Neverland with stars Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Robert Carlyle, Josh Dallas, Emilie de Ravin, Colin O'Donoghue, and Michael Raymond James.
"How I Met Your Mother" Panel
<strong>Saturday, July 20, 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. PT, Indigo Ballroom</strong> The CBS comedy makes its Comic-Con debut in celebration of its ninth and final season, in which we'll finally get to know the show's titular matriarch. Stars Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris, and Alyson Hannigan will be on hand along with executive producers Carter Bays, Craig Thomas, and Pamela Fryman.
"The Awesomes" Screening & Panel
<strong>Saturday, July 20, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. PT, Indigo Ballroom</strong> A new adult animated comedy from Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker, this Hulu series tells the story of the greatest superhero team in history, The Awesomes, and what happens after all the most powerful members leave. Meyers will be joined by co-stars and "Saturday Night Live" cohorts Kenan Thompson, Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan, fellow cast-member Josh Meyers and head writer Judd Winick for a special screening and Q&A.
<strong>Saturday, July 20, 5:15 p.m. to 6 p.m. PT, Ballroom 20</strong> After an earth-shattering finale, vigilante Oliver Queen will still be reeling from the losses sustained last season, which means there's plenty of room for our emerald archer to evolve in Season 2. Star Stephen Amell will be in attendance along with co-stars Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards and Colton Haynes, as well as executive producers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg, to tease what's in store for the inhabitants of Starling City this fall.
<strong>Sunday, July 21, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. PT, Hall H</strong> The demon hunting Winchester brothers are about to embark on a ninth season this fall, and that brings stars Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Misha Collins and Mark Sheppard back to Hall H, along with executive producers Jeremy Carver and Robert Singer. How will the fallen angels handle their newfound banishment from heaven? Will King of Hell Crowley feel remorse having almost been turned back into a human? Will Sam recover from the awful effects of last season's trials? We're hoping the panel will give us some clues.
"Breaking Bad" Panel
<strong>Sunday, July 21, 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 a.m., Hall H</strong> The final eight episodes of AMC's critically acclaimed series begin airing in August, so join stars Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, R. J. Mitte, and Bob Odenkirk, along with creator Vince Gilligan, in saying farewell to one of the finest dramas in TV history -- and get a sneak peek of what's ahead.
"Doctor Who" 50th Anniversary Panel
<strong>Sunday, July 21, 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. PT, Hall H</strong> Celebrate 50 years of "Who" with departing Doctor Matt Smith and co-star Jenna Coleman, executive producer Steven Moffat, "An Adventure in Space and Time" star David Bradley, and writer/executive producer Mark Gatiss. Will we find out the identity of the next Doctor? Probably not, but we'll likely get a peek at "An Adventure in Space and Time" which tells the story of the genesis of "Doctor Who," with Bradley starring as the first ever Doctor, William Hartnell.
<strong>Sunday, July 21, 1:50 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. PT, Hall H</strong> The cult NBC series makes its triumphant return to Comic-Con -- as does creator Dan Harmon, who has been reinstated for the show's fifth season. Harmon and cast-members Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Jim Rash, and Ken Jeong will attend along with executive producer Chris McKenna, and whether Harmon says something controversial or not, it's guaranteed to be a riotous panel.