September 2017~ London Film Convention

These events have been taking place for 45 years now. Located in the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, it used to be a place where collectors and dealers of all kinds of film and TV memorabilia would gather to sell, exchange and browse a variety of merchandise. I first began attending in 1989 and made some very good friends at this event.

The organisers began inviting guest signers from the world of TV and film so meet fans, sign autographs etc. and this proved quite popular. Personally I think it was a good idea though not everyone agrees with me. Shortly afterwards, the ownership of the event changed hands and the new owner began making changes.

I hadn’t been to an event for about 18 months, but was drawn to this one because of some of the guests they had signing. The normal event hours are 10am to 5pm and it only used to cost a few quid to get in. For a couple of quid extra, you could buy an early bird ticket which allowed entry from 8am. I was shocked to find out that the current owner had increased the price to £20 for early bird. I was chatting to other people in the line to get in and they were equally disgusted, not only with the price but the current owner.

Whilst waiting in line outside, Anita Harris (of Carry On fame) came by and was chatting to fans and they were taking her picture- not with them, just her. The current owner came out, grabbed her by the arm and marched her inside, all the while telling her off saying “Don’t stand there letting them get free photos. The can pay for them”. Disgusting behaviour from this man.

Once I got inside I could not believe what I saw. Everything was packed in so tight it was uncomfortable. The two-part hall had dealers on one side with guests (and a few dealers) on the other. There wasn’t a great range of dealers as there were in the old days, and the quality of stuff being sold was shocking in some cases.

I did manage to catch up with my mate Mark and his dad Tony on his stall which was good. Guest wise I was happy to meet Wolf Kahler who appeared in many films, most notably Raiders of the Lost Ar and the more recent Wonder Woman. I also met the awesome Jack Klaff who was Red 4 in the original Star Wars and was also a Bond villain among other things. Finally, I got to meet Robert Watts who was Production Manager/Producer on 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Empire Strikes Back.

I have since heard that the event is changing ownership and I can’t wait. Hopefully it will get back to what it once was and that the current owner leaves…

August 2017~ Trek-On!

Trek-On! was a Sci-Fi one-day convention organised by the guys who produce the TrekMate Podcast. It took place on Saturday 19th August 2017 at The Rudolf Steiner School in King’s Landing Langley.

I. along with a few other people from FCD Events was asked to help crew the event. Initially there were 14 guests, mostly from Star Wars. The headline guest was Max Grodénchik who played Rom in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine who had come over especially for the event on his way home from the big Trek con in Las Vegas. After setting up the venue on the Friday night, most of the team met up with Max at a local carvery, which was a first for him and his family.

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The event had everything you need for a good con. It had a good amount of guests. Plenty of dealers plus other activities such as a Jedi Fight Academy run by Andrew Lawden, one of the guests, who was Liam Neeson’s fight stand-in in Star Wars Ep 1: The Phantom Menace, a table-top gaming area plus a console gaming area. There were also props on display from Back to the Future, courtesy of The Hill Valley Preservation Society. A screen accurate DeLorean was outside the venue and you were able to have your photo taken inside it. In Hall 2 (where the guests were situated) you were also able to have a professional photoshoot with the guests. A variety of talks by the guests had also been planned, hosted by the man of many voices, Mr Contalk himself, Neil Green!

When I crew cons for FCD, I am part of the management team and normally manage an area but with this event I had asked to do something simple like helping to look after a guest or two. This request was honoured, but due to a shortage of staff I ended up looking after quite a few!

The crew of the USS Merlin, a Region 20 Chapter of Starfleet International, the world’s biggest Star Trek fanclub were present, with RAdm Richard Sams in command. He was there to present Max Grodénchik with his member pack after he joined the USS Alba, a Scotland-based chapter.

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Although there was a lot on offer, sadly attendee turnout was low. From the point of view of the organisers, it was upsetting to say the least. It hasn’t put them off and they are going to try again in the future. But, from the point of view as a collector/fan it was good for me as I got to spend a lot of time with the guests, chatting about their time on various films.

The majority of guests were what are commonly known as ‘extras’. Personally, I hate that term as I think it totally devalues their role in film/tv. I prefer ‘Background Actor/Artist’. Most of these people are trained actors. Yes, they don’t speak on screen and if they do it has to be less than 13 words (in the UK at least) otherwise they get paid more and get a screen credit. Theirs is an important role. When talking to people about this topic, I always ask them to think of an important scene in a film and then imagine that scene with all the background actors removed. For example, look at the scene below. It’s the medal ceremony from the original Star Wars film. How boring would it look and how much less of an impact would it have if it was just Luke, Han and Chewie with Leia giving out the medals? It would look nowhere near as effective.

For some, this is their life’s work and they have worked on many famous films and TV shows and worked with many big celebrities. These folks have helped make some of the biggest films what they are today and to devalue their work would be an insult and a disservice to them.

We were lucky enough to have quite a few ‘extras’ at the event. I’ve been waiting to meet a good few of them over the past few years.

First there was Alan Tomkins. Alan has been Art Director on a number of blockbuster films, including The Empire Strikes Back, Batman Begins, numerous Bond films and war films such as ‘A Bridge Too Far’. I was eager to meet him for his work on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was interesting to hear his stories of working on the film including how Kubrick made his life hell by constantly wanting the pod bay of the Discovery-One re-dressed.

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The there was Alan Austen. Alan has done a number of films but his main role for me was as the Stormtrooper who put Han Solo in the carbon freeze in The Empire Strikes Back.

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Derek Lyons has been in a number of my favourite films and had multiple roles in each. He was a German soldier in two Indiana Jones films, has appeared in multiple Bond films and had three roles in Flash Gordon. It was great to hear stories from both him and Alan. I met Derek because of his 3 roles in the original Star Wars. He was a Rebel Honour Guard, a Rebel Pilot in the briefing room scene and finally Lt. Voren Na’al, medal bearer at the award ceremony.

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Like Derek and Alan, Nick Joseph has had a varied career, appearing in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and many episodes of the classic Doctor Who. Nick portrayed Major Arhul Hextrophon during the medal ceremony in the original Star Wars. Nick was a pleasure to speak to.

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Next was Tina Simmons. Tina has done lots of background work, most recently in Transformers: The Last Knight and Doctor Strange. Tina played a Rebel Technician during the briefing room scene in Return of the Jedi. I know someone else who was in that exact same scene and stood only meters from Tina. If only I could convince him to do cons too? Great talking to her as well!

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Harry Fielder was a pleasant surprise. Harry has had a near-40 year career as a background actor, appearing in hundreds of TV shows and films. His first being an episode of ‘The Saint’ with Roger Moore. Harry used to be very popular on the Star Wars con circuit, but due to ill health he hasn’t done an event for a while. Luckily, he lives a couple of miles from the venue so came down to sign. The man has so many stories, it’s amazing. I had no chance of hearing them all so I bought his book. Harry played Corporal Grenwick in the original Star Wars. He was in multiple scenes but is best known for helping Darth Vader with Princess Leia’s interrogation and being shot by Han Solo when they attacked the detention block. I’m glad I got to meet him!

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Finally, there was Sandeep Mohan. Sandeep has played many roles including being an MI-5 agent in Skyfall and a surgeon in Dr Strange. For me, he is best known as a Scarif Trooper in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and a First Order Stormtrooper in The Force Awakens. In TFA he appeared in two standout scenes: He was the trooper that manhandled Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) and the trooper that stopped his partner and made them back away when Kylo Ren was having his tantrum.

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It was a great pleasure talking to all these guests and I wish Wayne and Jude all success in the future with any events they put on. There is so much potential there.

 

 

March 2017~ 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm

If you have never been to The Prince Charles Cinema before I highly recommend it. Situated just off of Leicester Square, the cinema itself is happily stuck in time. When you visit you will be reminded of how cinemas used to be back in the 70s (if you can remember that far back, or further!). The PCC shows a variety of cult films and the tickets are quite reasonable. £10 annual membership (or £50 lifetime) gets you discounts on all films plus discounts at the kiosks and bar.

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Last night I had the pleasure of seeing one of my favourite films on the big screen and in 70mm. It was a first for me with this movie as it came out 4 years before I was born. I’ve only ever seen it on Betamax and then VHS and DVD.

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The Prince Charles Cinema showing 2001: A Space Odyssey back in 1968 when it was released.

The film is Stanley Kubrick’s space masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’m a huge fan, I’ve read all four books in the series and seen both 2001 and 2010:The Year We Make Contact numerous times. I was so glad to see the cinema offering a showing starting each night at 20:01.

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The film was amazing. The special effects had stood the test of time and the physical models looked amazing on screen. The soundtrack was as awesome as ever. The quality of the 70mm print was much better than I expected. Having seen some other 70mm films at the PCC I expected the print to be a bit grainy and possibly discoloured in places with obvious splice-lines etc, but nothing. If it had been restored then the restorer has done a fine job, otherwise it’s been very well looked after.

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It was also quite amusing to have an intermission during the movie. Something I’ve not experienced for a very long time.

So as I said, if you like cult films (or even Disney’s Frozen sing-a-long version) then The Prince Charles Cinema is a must!

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Follow this link to see what they are showing: The Prince Charles Cinema

November 2016~ MCM Birmingham Comic Con

It has been a couple of years since I attended an MCM event as I had a few issues with the last one, but they had two guests I had to meet. Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Gary was also in the pilot for Star Trek as Gary Mitchell.

I had my Godson’s sister, Safiyah with me as she has been wanting to attend a con for a while now. We set out early and arrived at the NEC about 20 minutes before opening time. When the doors opened, we got in quite quickly.

The event hall was well laid out. Lots of space to move around and a nice variety of dealers. There was also lots of Pokemon stuff which kept Safiyah happy!

The autograph lines were well organised and I managed to meet Gary and Keir early on. Both were lovely guys!

My main gripe last time was twofold. Firstly, the staff at MCM seemed to be very young and in some instances very immature. I was pleased to see that it seemed to have changed. Yes, there were still a lot of young, immature volunteers, but the big jobs fell down to more experienced people. Second was the photoshoots. Last time they ran very late (2+ hours) and getting the photo afterwards was a free for all. This time it ran much more smoothly. On time for one thing. Once you had your picture taken you simply walked out and went to one of the many photo printers to collect it!

Lots of good cosplay on display too. Will definitely attend again as will Safiyah.

The only thing that let us down was the terrible Midland Train service on the way back!