May 2017~ Heroes & Villains Fan Fest

Heroes & Villains Fan Fest is run by the same company that run the awesome Walker Stalker Cons that also take place at Olympia in February/March. I planned to go to this event from the day it was announced and it would also be the first event my brother would attend with me in 4 years, so I was hoping it was going to be good.

I knew how Fanfest ran their Walking Dead events, and yes, whilst they are pricey compared to events run by UK based companies, you have to take into account a variety of things. Such as the fact that they are a US based company so would be liable to pay some sort of business tax in the UK, they actually pay their staff (yes, they have some volunteers) whilst most UK event organisers run on volunteers alone (except for “management”), they bring a lot of their own equipment with them from the US and they cap numbers and still use two halls in Olympia. Personally, I’d rather pay more for a pleasant, organised experience rather than attend a cattle market, one such event was set to take place the exact same weekend!

Looking back at the guests they normally get for their US based events, it seemed to be a good mixture of people from DC and Marvel Superhero TV shows and Films plus guest from other popular shows thrown in for good measure.

The final line-up was announced over a series of months, with Stephen Amell from Arrow and Melissa Benoist from Supergirl headlining the event. My brother was interested in meeting both, whilst I wanted to meet Melissa, plus a few other of the other guests. 31 guests were announced in total. Unfortunately, 5 had to cancel for various reasons, including Melissa Benoist.

About 3 weeks before the event, someone introduced me to a new show. Designated Survivor. It stars Kiefer Sutherland (from 24) and also Italia Ricci who was attending the event as she had appeared in Supergirl as Siobhan Smythe/Silver Banshee. Now I don’t normally like political dramas but this was like The West Wing meets 24. I was hooked and polished off the whole series in about 5 days. I then made the choice to add Italia to my ‘to meet’ list and, as you will read, it was a good choice!

The week of the con arrived. An event occurred that could potentially cause problems. A terrorist set off a bomb at a music concert in Manchester, killing 22 (including children) and injuring many others. The UK threat level was increased to its highest level-critical. Would HVFF back down, or show these people that in the face of terror you never give in and let them win. Rather than cancel, HVFF beefed up security, and whilst it would mean things might be a bit slower, it would hopefully keep us all safe. It was the right thing to do. Show these people that no matter what, you can’t keep us down.

The day of the con arrived! I arrived with my brother at around 10.30am and he was finally able to meet my mate Fudge as she was there to satisfy her Stephen Amell addiction (which she did). I had a few photoshoots (as you will see below) and then my brother and I spent the day browsing the vendors, watching some panels, including the cosplay contest and meeting guests. My brother met Emily Bett Rickards from Arrow and Shantel VanSanten from The Flash. I think he preferred the latter! I spent some time chatting to Richard Brake who plays the Night King in Game of Thrones and was fascinated to hear how his costume and makeup (which takes 6 hours to put on) actually causes him to bleed when he wears it and, if not careful when using the toilet, he could lose an important body part!

We left at about 4pm after an awesome day.

At this point I would like to give a big shoutout to the HVFF disability team. My brother is disabled and uses a mobility scooter, and at the moment am unable to stand in one place for extended periods. The whole setup for disabled people was awesome. From line access to guest booths, to queuing for photo shoots and the quiet room. It was all awesome. I made sure on Sunday to take some cupcakes to the ladies (Steph & Anne) running the quiet room as they did an awesome job.

Day 2 came and I had a couple of photo ops left plus I wanted to watch the Captain America panel with Stanley Tucci (Dr Erskine) and Hayley Atwell (SSR Agent Peggy Carter). The panel was great! Both guests bounced off each other very well and the host did a good enough job not to be too intrusive and get in the way.

Apart from my final photo ops and autographs, my final task was to meet the awesome and very lovely Italia Ricci (and her husband Robbie Amell, who wanted my tee-shirt). I’d had some pins made in the style of a Presidential Election Campaign and had put her character from Designated Survivor (Emily Rhodes, White House Chief of Staff) on as you can see below.

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I also had a matching shirt made, which Italia first saw in the photo-op (see below) which she thought was awesome.

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Italia liked the pin and said she would have liked one for the director and for Kiefer Sutherland. Luckily I had more. I then had a quick chat, grabbed a selfie and off I went! Both Italia and Robbie are awesome and make a lovely couple. Plus, Italia loves pizza so HAS to be awesome!

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I had a final wander around the stalls, managed to avoided buying a very expensive Captain America shield and left at around 4pm.

Overall, it was an absolutely awesome weekend. I could not honestly find fault with anything. The organisation was spot on and there was so much space it was great! You could move around without problem.

My final guest list was:-

Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy/The Walking Dead)

Brandon Routh (Chuck/Legends of Tomorrow)

Sean Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Stanley Tucci (Captain America/The Hunger Games)

Richard Brake (Game of Thrones)

Maisie Richardson-Sellers (Legends of Tomorrow/Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

Italia Ricci (Designated Survivor/Supergirl)

I can’t wait until the 2018 event and I’m hoping that all of my brothers family are able to attend as well. The kids would look great dressed as Superheroes!

If you’d like to find out more, then head over to:- heroesfanfest.com

April 2017~ FCD Out of the Ashes 2.0

I honestly don’t know where to begin!

Video courtesy of Mr Vestek

Once again I was part of the team behind the organisation and running of the event. As one of the management team, my role was to be responsible for the dealers, talks and main rooms alongside one other manager (Fudge). I arrived at the venue at around 1pm on Friday and made my way to the venue (The International Centre, Telford) to help with setup. The bulk of the work was being done by TIC staff so it was down to us to set up our own areas. The dealers were in setting up their tables. The chairs and sound system were all set up in the talk area. This just left the main event room. The guest tables were ready thanks to Karen, the charity tables were almost ready which meant it just left the props and the Carrie Fisher memorial to do.

Kevin Chapman arrived with his Tardis and TOS Captain Kirk chair and began setting them up with the help from our guys. Phil Cocking was setting up his Battlestar Galactica rag-tag, fugitive fleet whilst Steven Cockings (no relation I think!) was setting up his Stargate props display. Our Cylon Raider was already in place so all we needed were the two TV police cars courtesy of Stephen and Mark. They would arrive just before the opening ceremony at around 6pm.

Adam had finished setting up the photo area upstairs, the Blue room (staff chill out area) and the Green room for the guests was also finished. Alison and her team were busy organising reception. I began work on putting together the Carrie Fisher memorial. Adam came to help and we got it finished at around 4.45pm.

We then headed back to our hotel to freshen up before the evening’s events.

The team made their way back to TIC ready for the opening ceremony. At about 7.30pm we began letting people in to collect their passes and take their seats. The ceremony began shortly after 8pm with our host, Neil leading the way. Our guests for the weekend were John Carrigan (Star Trek), Aron Eisenberg and JG Hertzler (Star Trek: Deep Space 9), Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager), Rainbow Sun Francks (Stargate: Atlantis), David Blue (Stargate Universe), Claudia Christian and Bruce Boxleitner (Babylon 5). Once the welcoming speeches were out of the way we all moved upstairs for the buffet, followed by the group guest photoshoots. The first day came to an end at around 11.30pm. Luckily, The Holiday Inn was only a two-minute walk away.

The next day began bright and early. After a good breakfast I arrived at the TIC at 8.15am. We made sure that everything was ready and, after a short team briefing by Wil, we opened the doors!

Over the course of the day we had guest talks (both single and groups), a quiz (I won!!), autograph signings and photo shoots with the guests plus a dealers room and variety of props to look at and play with. In the afternoon, Claudia held an auction with all the proceeds going to The C3 Foundation.

Doors closed at 6pm and after making sure that everything was ready for the next day we went back to our hotel to get ready for the evening.

Saturday night was party night and the theme was Icons! There were so many people who were dressed up as iconic characters, but I was too knackered and wanted to wear my Princess Leia shirt as a way of honouring Carrie Fisher. John Carrigan gave a short talk about mental health and then the party got going. It ended about 1am but I gave up at about 11.30pm. I wanted to be as fresh as possible for the next day.

Sunday was pretty much a repeat of Saturday although the talks were a bit different. Sundays are always quieter at cons but it was still nice and chilled. We had a charity auction at 4pm to raise money for our charities (MIND, Macmillan, Help for Heroes) but I left to go and begin breaking down the main room.

Once everything was done the event closed. There was only one final thing to do: The crew after party. Luckily this took place at our hotel so there wasn’t far to go. The team, guests and attendees with Phoenix Plus or Jeff passes were also there. Wil and David gave a ‘short’ (50 minutes!!) speech and then things got going. I spent some time chatting with Aron and his girlfriend Malissa, plus Bruce’s wife Verena who was lovely.

All in all it was an absolutely awesome weekend. The team worked their butt’s off and the guests were amazing. The attendees were equally as awesome and friendly with a great amount and variety of costumes on display. Our aim is to bring back the family-friendly cons of the past where you could chill out and relax with the guests and I think we can safely say we managed that!

I really hope Wil and David do another event in 2019 and hopefully I’m still a part of the team!

March 2017~ Walker Stalker Con London

This year’s event was announced shortly after last years event ended. I purchased a General Admission ticket and got another free which I gave to my mate Mags.

I have to say I had an absolute blast at Walker Stalker London 2017!

Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that they are a tad pricier than other big events, but when you consider they used the same space than one of the country’s biggest event organisers but they cap the number of attendees to around 8000 (as opposed to the 25,000 in one day at one of the summer events last year) I honestly don’t mind paying. I also think that being a US based company they will have higher costs and there may be additional taxes involved. (I don’t know for sure, I’m just speculating)

I met loads of amazing guests, including the lovely Alanna Masterson (Tara, who I have met a few times and she remembered me) who gave me a little birthday present (pictured below), Seth Gilliam (Fr Gabriel), Scott Wilson (Hershel), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan), Katelyn Nacon (Enid), Lennis James (Morgan) and Nestor Carbonell (Richard in LOST).

None of the guests were rushing and you got to have a good chat with them. I chatted with Seth about being a tourist in London and his upcoming Poland trip. Scott and I spoke about the short-lived show, Damien and how it deserved a longer run. I spoke with Nestor about the LOST finale and Richard’s story arc. Finally I spoke with Alanna about lots of things including my Tara T-Shirt I had made and our previous day’s photo-op.

I wanted a different pose with Jeffrey Dean Morgan for his photo-op. I figured that most people would go for the Lucille bat type pose. I came up with the idea of buying a poo emoji cushion and dressing it up as Negan. I labelled it Negan’s Shit. I drew a fair bit of attention during the event and JDM loved it during photoshoot.  He said “I love that cute pile of shit!”. Amazing!

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There were amazing cosplayers as usual and some great panels too. Panel highlights include Katelyn Nacon’s singing interlude. She has an awesome voice! The Tara/Rosita/Eugene/Abraham reunion was also very good.

The organisers used much more of Olympia this year compared to last year so there was lots of room to move around without wanting to kill each other and the queuing system for autographs and photoshoots was spot on.

I left early before I became totally skint!

Roll on next year! A huge thanks to James and everyone else at Walker Stalker Con…

 

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!

November 2016~ FCD Out Of The Ashes 1.5

After the success of 1.0, fans asked for an event nearer to Christmas. It didn’t have to have guests, it was just a way of getting everyone together for a party. It also happens that David, one of the bosses at FCD would be celebrating a big birthday around the same time so it was decided to combine the two and so Out Of The Ashes 1.5 The Monster’s Ball was born!

Two guests were invited. John Carrigan who had appeared at 1.0 and Rainbow Sun Francks from Stargate Atlantis. Both guests were amazing and took part in every aspect of the event, from the Friday night’s games, bingo and quizzes through to talks during the Saturday event and then finishing up by joining in the festivities of the Saturday party.

The Saturday event took place in The Langton Suite of The Hilton Leicester. The were a number of dealers stall and about 60ish people in attendance and Steven Cockings from Trekyards was also there with an amazing collection of screen used Stargate props. The were a number of talks by various people, including John and Rainbow. The event ended at around 4.30pm.

The theme for the Saturday party was Monsters (as Halloween had just past). There were around 70 people at the party and great fun was had by all. David and Wil did a live stream from the event announcing the guest lineup for 2.0 in March next year with more guests yet to be announced!

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October 2016~ Destination Star Trek Europe

So, Destination Star Trek Europe. Where do I begin? Please note that these thoughts and opinions are entirely my own and I represent no one else.

As a 28 year veteran of cons of various types I feel I need to get all my thoughts down on this matter so I am going to start at the very beginning…..

The event was initially announced by Showmasters on February 2nd, 2016 with these words

“Destination Star Trek returns in 2016 for a VERY special anniversary. Join us in Birmingham this October to celebrate 50 years of Star Trek, yes 50 years of seeking out new life and new civilisations and to keep boldly going where no one has gone before!
Set to be Europe’s biggest Star Trek celebration, Destination Star Trek Europe will offer fans the opportunity to meet the cast and crew, explore interactive exhibits, learn about Star Trek’s impact on science, space and technology, and enjoy parties fit for a golden anniversary“

In the months leading up to the announcement there had been lots of talk about a UK based 50th anniversary con. My initial thoughts on it were to avoid at all costs. But, I thought to myself, surely Showmasters can’t screw up this one as it’s a huge milestone. The initial guest list looked good with further promises of more to come.

I bought a ticket. The cheapest of the packages that would give me 3 day access, a couple of free talks, a goody bag and so on and I waited for the announcement of more guests and activities…..and I waited and waited.

Announcements were few and far between and SM were extremely bad at replying to messages on any of their social media platforms and I won’t even go into the unprofessional behaviour on their own forums by their staff and mods. Let’s just say that criticism isn’t allowed. Even guests were announcing their appearance at the event on Twitter before it was made “official” by SM.

Personally I was hoping that with it being the 50th anniversary, there would be lots of guests from the original series, both surviving main cast, background actors and guest stars. I even sent a list of suggestions via Twitter. Not a reply was received…

By August/September it seemed the guest list was complete. 30 guests in total with only 5 from TOS. People have argued that it should be a celebration of all that is Trek, and whilst I agree to a degree, there should have been more representation from the series that started it all.

I went ahead and booked my photoshoots. 9 in all which was a big change from the 20+ of the previous event. My hotel and train were sorted, all we needed was the final schedule and floorplan and we would be set.

For well-organised events, schedules and floorplans are normally released two to three weeks before the event but even with people begging for the schedule so they could plan their weekend, nothing was forthcoming. It was about a week before the event that the timetable was published. No floorplan though. We would have to wait until the day for that.

Once the timetable for photoshoots and talks had been published it was quite clear that there were some major errors. Overlapping times, guests missed off completely, that kind of thing. It was eventually fixed and I planned my weekend.

The day arrived and I set off for Birmingham. In previous years we were able to collect our passes from the venue early which would allow us to get in to the event quicker. Excel was setup up with multiple ticket booths to handle large queues. Upon arriving at the NEC and finding Hall 4 I was met with a huge line. This was at 12.40pm (the box office had been open since midday). The event opened at 2pm. My first photoshoot was at 3.30pm. I was a bit apprehensive as I had seen a friend who already had his pass and told me they only had 4 box office windows open. This was going to take a while…..

There were only a couple of SM staff on line duty. Eventually they started calling people by package which, if you had been in line a while, was very unfair. After queuing for a while they eventually called my package group (Lieutenant). This was around 2.15pm. We were moved into a separate line which I thought would make things easier. At about 3pm they suddenly let in all of the standard passes before us and we were left in the line. 3.15pm- an SM crewmember asked for anyone with an upcoming photoshoot to come forward. He only let in people who had a shoot within ten minutes. Mine was 15 so he refused, even though I said there is no way I am going to get to the box office in five minutes. He ignored me and walked away. I eventually got to the box office and got my pass at 3.45pm- three hours after joining the line and five minutes before my photoshoot ended. I made it to the shoot but I was already angry.

Looking around the place, apart from a big poster by the door and some banners overhead, there was no decoration. Nothing that screamed Star Trek 50th Anniversary Event.

I had a quick chat with mates before finding the floorplan and seeing how empty the place was. I managed to get all my autographs in one go which was one of the only good things about the weekend, but if you were not interested in autographs or photoshoots there was not a great deal more to do other than the talks (which there were none of on Friday). The advertised gaming zone was non-existent. The “Ferengi Bazaar” consisted of no more than ten dealers of varying quality and price (Filmwelt? WTF are your prices about? Rip-Off or what) and the fan zone only had about half-a-dozen clubs. The Klingon Zone had a few bits from previous years but otherwise it looked as though they had raided a car boot sale for décor and furnishings. The Borg regeneration chamber looked like it had been dumped and forgotten about and the Klingon Bridge was, to be honest, crap! The prop exhibition was a vastly reduced version of the past couple of years and doesn’t look like it has been taken care of. The art gallery was nice. The chill-out zone was a joke. No screening of episodes as in 2014, just a few bean bags around a large screen playing a ten-minute compilation clip on loop. In previous years we had authors, make-up artists, balloon artists and much more- this year, nothing!

I was suffering with a bad leg and as per usual at SM events, seating was sparse unless you sat by one of the stages or by the refreshment stands. I even spoke to a good few SM staff about my leg at different occasions and all were either rude or totally useless. Only one guy at Photo C was of any help. Queuing up for 3+hours had not helped and the line for the opening ceremony was equally as big. I decided to miss the opening ceremony as I did not want to make my leg worse. As it turns out it was 20 minutes late starting anyway…..I could not queue for that long again. I decided to go back to the hotel and rest my leg ready for Saturday.

I had a party ticket but decided not to bother. I heard mixed reviews about both parties but can’t really comment.

Saturday- This should have been the main day. I had a couple of photoshoots today. Wil Wheaton (whose autograph I got early on thanks to a friend) and then some bridge shoots. I also had a few talks to attend that came as part of my package. Did I get to see any of the talks? No! The photoshoots with Koenig/Takei on the original bridge and the Shatner on the original bridge were rearranged last minute. I complained and was told I had a choice talks or shoots. I’d paid for both so it was a total rip-off. Yet again it meant queuing for another couple of hours. I missed all my talks because shoots were rearranged with little or no communication.

When it came to my turn for the bridge shoot I noticed how bad this replica bridge was. It was later I learned for overhearing some crewmembers speak that SM had built and painted it. A crappy job. Anyway, we had about 7 seconds to get into place, have the photo and get out. I tripped going up and then again getting into the chair due to being rushed. I made the chair creak when I sat down because I tripped! I didn’t get time to pose and hated the photo. Tried to complain but yet again it fell on deaf ears. It also did not help that it was an open set and everyone was stood watching you……really off-putting! Same again with the Shatner shoot although it came out a bit better.

I eventually located the desk for collecting my goody bag. It had been moved. I told the guy I was a Lieutenant-level attendee and got really grumpy saying he would have to make up a bag for me. He did this by simply taking out an autograph from a Commander-level bag. The contents were rubbish. A trading card, a tiny badge, a cheap pen, a show guide and a crumpled up version of the poster. All in a branded drawstring bag.

On the whole, Saturday was spent in long queues and complaining to people who didn’t care. I managed to spend some time with friends on the USS Iceni stand and get some photos (see below) but that’s all. I refused to join another massive line for the world record contest. Another crappy Saturday at an SM event. I went back to my hotel feeling pissed off. Went to get some food in the restaurant and was going to meet some friends there but they had other plans. So I went to bed….

I woke up Sunday morning in a foul mood. I had had enough. Enough of being ripped off and enough of being treated like cattle so I decided to call it quits, miss the last day of the con and head home. I freely admit I was (and still am) really upset by the events of the weekend.

One of my friends said that it’s the fans of make the con. I have to disagree. We can do what we do as fans anywhere. A pub, hotel, park, wherever. We go to cons to meet up, yes but also to do other things that only a con can provide. Meet the guests, buy crap, have photos done etc. Yes, the fans help with the atmosphere and laughs but I don’t agree that the fans make the con.

It also doesn’t bode well when you hear guests apologising for the quality of the event. I overheard this a few times!

Overall the layout was poor, the guest list was poor (even though the guests I chatted with were amazing), the queuing was beyond poor, the activities on offer were poor leading to a sub-par event. I feel sorry for those newbies who, not knowing any better, thought the event was amazing.

It annoys me because SM have the potential to do great things. They get amazing guests and prop displays etc and the photoshoots normally work really well. They just need to consider some of the people who volunteer for them as they are quite unpleasant and think more about making it a better experience for the customer.

Photos follow….

July 2016~ London Film & Comic Con 2016

LFCC has not been great the past few years (see previous posts) and I was wary about attending but nevertheless volunteered to help on the USS Iceni stand to raise money for charity.

It seems Showmasters have finally listened! The layout this year was so much better than in previous years. They had actually hired the whole of the venue it seemed and whilst it took a while to get from A to B sometimes, it actually helped a lot.

I wasn’t really going to see celebs this year. Normally I see around 20. I had initially had 8 to see over a weekend but this quickly became 9 when the announced a young actress from a great new show called Stranger Things. I won’t go into what the show is about on here but I suggest you check it out for yourself. If you like the 1980s, ET, The Goonies, Stand By Me and Stephen King then this show is for you. All the kid actors were great but Millie Bobby Brown, who played Eleven stole the show. I’ve worked with kids for nearly 30 years and don’t normally get phased by them but her performance freaked me out. There has to be an award somewhere in her future and I really hope the show gets a second season. As for how she handled the convention itself well all I can say is that Millie did a better job at the event than some big, A-List celebs I could mention. She took time to interact and was doing awesome poses in the photoshoot. A lot of big names and regular con guests could learn a lot from her. I must meet the rest of the cast now. Hope they get invited!

There was some awesome cosplay on display as usual (pics below) and a really good exhibition of costumes from Suicide Squad.

Overall it was a great event. I ended up meeting Jack Gleeson (Joffrey in GoT), Fay Marsay (The Waif in GoT), Kae Alexander (Leaf in GoT),  Michael Emerson (Ben in LOST), Laurie Holden (Andrea in TWD), Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal and Galen Erso in Star Wars: Rogue One), Harold Perrineau (Michael in LOST), Millie of course and finally, the biggest let down of the weekend, Famke Jansen. I heard many conflicting reason as to why she seemed so grumpy but her photoshoot was a waste of money. As an actress surely you can act happy!

Anyway, photos below!