Thursday, August 6, 2015

Riske Business: The Do's and Don'ts of Attending Movie Conventions

by Adam Riske
Your guide to being a happy convention goer.

Do buy your tickets in advance. You’re going to spend a lot of money if you attend a movie convention. There are very few ways to do it on the cheap. It’s best to not think about money all the time and have fun (it’s like going on vacation in that way) and nothing puts a damper on the experience more than the admission fees to some of these conventions. Think about it. You’re all ready to go and you brought say $200 to go to the convention, then you get there and admission for the weekend is $100. That leaves you with $100 to go to this convention for three days. That means maybe one autograph, one DVD or poster, lunch and parking. It’s better to buy your tickets in advance because you get that expense out of the way ahead of time and can just focus on spending money on what you want to spend it on the day of the event.
Don’t purchase autographs unless… If there’s a celebrity attending the event that you love and have to meet (i.e. one of your favorite genre actors or actors from one of your favorite movies) then I say go for it and get their autograph. Otherwise skip it. I’m speaking from experience. The reason I say skip it is for many reasons: a) autograph prices have gone up exponentially in the past few years and the less people being price-gouged the better; b) most of the autographs are going to end up unframed and thrown under you bed or in your closet (use this as a barometer – “Will I frame this?” If yes, do it. If no, skip it), c) you’ll get a better experience seeing a celebrity at a panel and hearing them talk for 20 minutes then by meeting them and having nothing to say at their table (I’ve noticed I usually have nothing to say to a celebrity when I meet them no matter how much I like them or their movies); d) they might be a dick and ruin what you think of them before you meet them (cough Bruce Campbell cough) and e) it’s more fun to window shop and just walk past them a couple of times to see what they look like in person rather than spend $40 to stand in front of them and get them to write their name for two seconds on a picture or other piece of merchandise.

Do attend panels, screenings and other special events. There are so many fun things to do at a convention if you look past being there just to shop and get autographs. I strongly recommend attending panels because you get behind-the-scenes tidbits and trivia about your favorite movies that way (most celebrities go to conventions in candid mode and will tell stories that go beyond the usual PR nonsense) and they’re free. Screenings are another great way to spend your time even if it costs you a few bucks. It’s like a delightful capper to the event to go see a movie with an audience of like-minded individuals (horror fans or comic book fans). I saw an early screening of You’re Next this way and it’s one of my favorite movie-going experiences in recent years.
Don’t purchase photo ops. This has become an even bigger racket than autographs. It used to be that you could take a photo at a celebrity’s table with them for free if you purchased their autograph, and in some cases that’s still true. However, it is now more common for the celebrities to be linked up with some service that charges you for the privilege of being in a photo with the celebrity. Many of these photo ops cost more than the autographs themselves (i.e. $50 each or more) and they’re just not worth it. You’re preserving a memory of commerce, not a memory of genuine fan experience. So why bother?

Do get there early or go late. If you go early (e.g. on the Friday of the convention when they first open) there are fewer fans there and you can walk around with more ease than you can on Saturday, which is usually the busiest day for a convention. My other suggestion is to go in the last few hours on the last day of the convention (usually a Sunday) because this is the time where the vendors are most looking to make a deal and you can get some good prices on movie merchandise.
Don’t drink. Drinking at a convention can be fun, I guess, but it’s better to have your bearings for financial reasons. First off, wouldn’t you rather save your booze money for another DVD or T-shirt instead? Also, if you’re drunk you probably will ignore the budget you came to the event with and start spending too much money on things you only want in the moment and will regret later.

Do wear comfortable clothes. Many conventions happen in the summer so I recommend going in shorts (convention floors filled with people can be very hot) and gym shoes (you’re going to be doing a lot of walking so no flip flops or you’ll have the most tired feet of anyone at the show). Exceptions are if you go to the convention in costume, which, if that’s your thing, then go nuts. It’s most important that you’re having fun.

Don’t go with someone who has a different agenda as you. The worst is when you are at a convention with a friend, and through no fault of anyone, they have a different agenda as you. Sometimes conventions are better as lone-wolf experiences. For example, I was at a big comic/pop-culture convention once and my friend was there to shop and I was there to get autographs. The entire time we both wanted the other guy to go with them to do the other thing and as a result we had to eventually split up and meet later. Also, don’t go to a convention with someone who isn’t a fan of the genre the convention is celebrating. You will hate them and your life by sharing this experience. So, if your girlfriend/boyfriend doesn’t like horror then don’t take her/him to a horror convention because they will give you crap for having to be there and you will get into a fight with them because they are ruining your good time.
Do plan your time in advance. This one is all personal preference, but I like to plan my time in advance at a convention just like I do when I visit a theme park. What are your “can’t miss” items (people to see, events to visit) and make sure you experience those first. Once you have done those, you’ll be more relaxed and open to doing whatever. There’s nothing worse than missing that one panel you desperately wanted to go to because you didn’t plan your time ahead.

Don’t be ironic. What I mean is “go in the spirit of the convention.” If you are at a Comic Con, don’t be the guy who is above it all and is making fun of people in costume. If you’re at a horror convention, don’t make snide comments about the people with a million tattoos and piercings. These people are there to have fun just like you and this might be their one opportunity all year to be themselves. If you’re personally at said convention with these other “freaks,” then odds are you are a degree of “freak” yourself. Talk to them, have fun, don’t be a judgmental dick. Who knows? You might make a new friend.

Happy convention going everyone!

21 comments:

  1. This was great timing as I am going to my first Horror Convention (Monster Mania in MD) in October. I couldn't believe the pricing they have for autographs and photo op's - $130 for Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich?! Laughable.

    Sound advice, Riske. Except for "Don't drink" - ha!

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    1. $130? Really? That's insane. Do they still think it's 1997 and their careers are on fire?

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    2. That was exactly what I thought!

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    3. And it's my understanding that Neve wants $80 for an autograph. She's gonna be at Spooky Empire in Orlando this October, so I'll find out firsthand.

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    4. I've always felt that there is something so egotistical about charging a fan money for a signature. It's embarrassing and borderline insulting.

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    5. To a certain extent I can understand why they charge what they charge. For some of them, it's their only source of income, and what they get to appear is usually small after everyone else gets their cut. As for the more famous guests who are still working, I think they charge larger fees not just because of the small amount they end up taking home to appear, but also to combat the high rates some people charge to sell their autographs on EBay. Those people would have to charge at least double what they paid to get the autographs in the first place to make any money themselves, and who would pay that much for am autograph... except for the extremely obsessive?

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    6. There should be a thing where a celebrity charges say $20 for a personalized autograph and $40 for a regular one. That way you can weed out who's really going to keep the autograph and who is going to resell it.

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  2. Great write up! I've actually never been to a convention so this was informative.

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  3. Item "d" under "Don't purchase autographs" struck a chord with me. Reminds me of the Metric lyric (and general expression): "They were right when they said we should never meet our heroes."

    I've never been to a convention, and I'm super leery about going in the future because of what you said about being a fan of the genre. I love movies (like everyone here), but I'm not sure I love them enough to have to deal with both the commerce and the crowds (I hate people?).

    Which basically means that I'm the asshole.

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    1. I've gone to conventions on and off since I was 12 years old. Science Fiction conventions in the beginning -- basically Star Trek conventions. The conventions led to Sea Trek, basically weeklong conventions on a cruise line, with all the usual cruise activities on top of the convention events, controlled by the same corporation running those Star Trek cons. I got to meet Gene Roddenberry that way. Nobody I met was ever an as whole... well, I did have an altercation with Wil Wheaton... but that was my fault. (I was 12... and deserved getting yelled at.) It wasn't until I started going to Spooky Empire when I began to meet some real douchey people. I've been to three so far. The last two I went to, there was at least one guest who was just a disagreeable person to be around. One was a certain special effects makeup guy -- a true 80s legend. All I have to say is -- the rumors are true. Otherwise, everyone I've met has been a class act. (I did meet Quentin Tarantino but it wasn't at a convention. I ended up in a trivia contest against him in a segment on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Talk about surreal.)

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  4. This is why I like smaller local cons that have stars that are, for a lack of a better term, past their prime. I go to two in New Jersey (one is Monster Mania which was mentioned above), and you generally can meet most stars for under $50. Sid Haig was there, and for $20 you could meet him, get an auto and a photo. I got to meet Brad Dourif, George Wendt, and Ted DiBiase and their were all the same range. I admittedly did also go for Neve Campbell, for $55 for the photo (I skipped her auto). And I walked right up to most of them without a wait longer than a few minutes.

    If you go to the big comic cons, expect to spend hours in line, pay a couple hundred dollars to meet somebody who's famous right now. I'd rather meet somebody from a movie I grew up with.

    To this day, one of my greatest con experiences was meeting Lance Guest, the star of The Last Starfighter. I paid $20, and I felt like I could've hung out with him all day. Can't match that at a big con.

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    1. What you said about Lance Guest... I had a similar experience with William Forsythe and Courtney Gains. I did meet Nick Castle. That was cool. I'd love to meet Lance Guest someday.

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    2. Um, re Lance Guest, I believe you meant "...star of Jaws: The Revenge"? :P

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  5. Alone, sober, and broke...good advice.

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    1. Yeah I guess I did say that didn't I???

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  6. The crowds aren't bad at Spooky Empire. It's such a well managed con that it's never been an issue. Now, I've been to Tampa Bay Comic Con twice. Talk about a mismanaged nightmare of a convention.

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  7. I was just there a week ago at Tampa Bay Comic Con and granted I went on a Friday but I thought things were run pretty decently (not the best mind you but not the worst either). As for mismanaged though I would go with Orlando megacon as the worst. I went there this year and that was just a trainwreck of stuff although maybe it was just Saturday.
    To Adam's point yes definitely get your tickets ahead of time especially if your light on the cash, I finally did it this last time at Tampa Bay Comic Con and it was a big relief off my shoulders. Also other quick note if you were there and saw someone dressed as Mordecai from Regular Show then yeah you saw me.

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    1. I went to Tampa Bay Comic Con on Saturday with three friends. One friend cosplayed as Agent Carter and brought a gun for her ensemble. The gun was a BB gun, without BBs, without CO2. She went on the inspection line, which wasn't set up as a mandatory stop like it should have been. I doubt if they would have stopped her if she had bypassed the line. But they told her she couldn't bring it in, regardless of its lack of ammunition, and yet somebody ahead of her, with a very realistic looking rifle got through. On top of that, nobody was searching backpacks. Nobody. Her husband brought a backpack filled with drinks and sandwiches, tame, yes, but you'd think at such a crowded venue as that, he'd be searched. He wasn't. So if someone had come with weapons, no one would have been the wiser. Especially the lackluster security they had on duty.

      Compared to Spooky Empire, Tampa Bay Comic Con rules and regs were ridiculous. At Spooky, the celebrities had volunteers sitting with them handling the cash for the autographs. At Comic Con, the cash handlers were either at a table or a booth ahead of the celebrity's table, and they rationed out autographs to a particular limit for each day. That boggles my mind. It's the first time I've ever been privy to autographs ever "selling out." That's a bunch of horseshit. You'd never find that happening at Spooky. Ever.

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  8. Fun article, Adam - I will certainly follow your advice in the unlikely event I ever attend a convention! :( They're not much of a thing 'round here.

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  9. I think it's so weird to ask money from your fans for a photo or an autograph. Do they WANT to alienate people who might go see or buy their next film? Why not invest a day of pictures to get all over the internet and increase your goodwill? And just don't give out autographs if you don't want to see them traded up on the web. Save them for special occasions.

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  10. I get charging 20-30 for an autograph, and 40 for a pic (signing can't be fun, so I get this is getting paid for the time doing it). Or, if you're a total icon and have limited years left doing this (like Shatner or something) I get charging a bit more...but some folks just get greedy (or they allow their handling agency to be greedy).

    Neve Campbell was a prime example. I really wanted her auto and photo, but she was charging MORE than Shatner was. That's just crazy. Scully and MacGuyver are two other examples of folks who overcharged. As for meeting them in person, I've only met a couple of celebs that soured my impression of them afterwards. Most, are very nice and love their fans. As an aside, when you pay 30 for an autograph, you're also usually buying an 8x10 photo of them as the character you love, so you have to consider that too. (and yeah, we frame them all, our hallway is filled with such pics).

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