September 2017~ Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View

If you consider yourself to be a serious Star Wars fan, not just the films, but the EU and everything that goes along with it, then you should buy the new book ‘From a certain point of view- 40 stories celebrating 40 years of Star Wars’. I’ve only read 6 stories so far and I’ve cried, I’ve laughed and I’ve spat coffee over my keyboard…

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It consists of 40 short stories based on background characters in the original 1977 movie.

Some are hilarious and some are real tear-jerkers. For example: the first is a story called Raymus. Written by Gary Whitta (Rogue One writer) that bridges the short gap between the end of Rogue One and the first few minutes of A New Hope. All told from the point of view of Captain Raymus Antilles. Wil Wheaton has also written one called ‘Laina’. A moving story about Rebel Soldiers left behind on Yavin IV.

Check it out. I’ve yet to be disappointed by it!

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.

 

 

May 2017 ~ Disney Ways Of The Force Day

Disney Stores across the UK announced that the May Day Bank Holiday weekend would be Star Wars Weekend in the majority of their stores.

Most of their Star Wars products would be on sale at 50% off and there would be activities for kids in-store as well as members of the UK Garrison/501st Cosplayers present as well.

I took my niece and nephews to the Westfield London store and they had an amazing time (and spent a small fortune- my own fault!). They bought a number of Star Wars items, had fun with the Stormtroopers and took part in Jedi Training which involved learning the Jedi mind trick, how to use a Lightsaber and then helping to blow up the Death Star. At the end they were given a medal.

It was an awesome little event and I hope now that Disney own Star Wars, they do something similar every year!

March 2017~ An Audience With Gareth Edwards

BAFTA occasionally host “An audience with” type events. This month it was to be with Gareth Edwards, director of hit movies such as Godzilla (2014) and the latest blockbuster in the Star Wars universe, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This event was organised in conjunction with BAFTA Cymru and took place on St David’s day.

The evening began with a showreel of Gareth’s work, including some unused footage from Rogue One. Gareth then went on to talk about his work, his life in general and things that had influenced him. He then took questions from the audience.

I particularly enjoyed hearing about his work on Rogue One and how he filmed it in a very organic/fluid way. Indie hour also seemed an interesting concept where any idea, from any crewmember was considered and most likely shot.

Only one thing spoiled it for me. The day before, we received an email from BAFTA saying that Gareth would sign autographs for about 10 minutes afterwards. I took my Rogue One book just in case. There were a group of autograph hunters (more likely dealers) who shoved their way to the front and in many cases had 15-20 items each to get signed. It’s just very inconsiderate when you consider the fact that there were about 50 people wanting autographs and that he was only doing 10 minutes. Luckily, the man is a trooper and stayed long enough to sign for everyone.

Interestingly enough, lots of items signed by him appeared on a popular auction website the following day! Some starting at £50….

December 2016~ RIP Carrie Fisher

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The news of Carrie Fisher’s death has hurt a lot. The last time I was this upset about a celebrity was Leonard Nimoy.

Like Grandpa Leonard, Carrie played one of the most iconic characters in arguably the biggest sci-fi film franchise ever. Again, like Spock, Leia was one of my favourite characters.

I’ve always been drawn to two types of character. The odd/out-of-place/alien character (Spock) and strong female characters such as Leia (Uhura, Ripley, Sam Carter etc) and I think this is because I have always felt that good female characters have been, until recently few and far between.

Having spent a big part of my life surrounded by strong female characters (cue sarcastic comment from workmate) it seemed natural that I follow them with interest. Yes, they are on the whole also very good looking but it is deeper than that. The characters have been very well written and very well portrayed by the actresses that played them.

What makes it more real is when you meet these people in real life. You are able to engage with them on social media etc.

Occasionally you meet an actor or actress and you wish you hadn’t but on the whole it is a wonderful experience. It makes you love them and the characters even more.

If you were to take a time machine back 39 years and visit my bedroom in Whistler Tower in Chelsea you would find lots of Star Wars memorabilia (among other things like Trek etc.) but at that time my pride and joy was my Princess Leia poster (above). She was my first big idol/crush whatever you want to call it. This 5 year old was besotted (I’m sure my dad will verify!). I always wanted to meet her at some point.

I missed her a few times at conventions but finally got the chance, however brief, to do so. She was incredibly funny, quick-witted and genuinely warm with all her fans. There was nothing fake about her. Just like you see her on TV/Twitter she is open about who and what she is and there is no nonsense. She gave out freebie autographs to kids (which pissed off certain con-organisers to no end) and made sure everyone had a memory to take away with them and cherish.

It was great to see her again in The Force Awakens and I look forward to seeing her again as Leia in Episode VIII.

She will always be royalty to me ….both Hollywood and Star Wars.

My thoughts go out to her daughter Billie, her mum Debbie and all of her friends, family and fans around the world.

So long Princess. May the Force be with you….

Carrie Fisher

December 2016~ Rogue One Opening Night

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first anthology film to come out of Disney/Lucasfilm studios.

Set prior to the events of Episode IV, the film tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance stole the plans for the original Death Star. It’s basically what you see in the opening crawl of A New Hope.

I won’t give any spoilers. Suffice to say it is awesome and fits in well with established canon. It ends minutes before Episode IV begins and is pretty seemless!

I saw the film on opening night at Vue Westfield. Luckily enough, The Symphonic Brass Ensemble of London were there playing music from the films beginning with my personal favourite, The Star Wars Disco Mix. Click play on the video below….