18 Aug 2013

A Basic Guide to Conventions

A convention is a kind of gathering where fans of a particular movie franchise, television show, etc. get the opportunity to meet some of the people responsible for making their fandom a reality (like actors, writers, behind the scenes people, etc). It's been around for decades, but has become more popular in more recent years. Seeing as conventions are one of my biggest passions (plus I've received a lot of questions about my pictures, how I met those people, etc), it just makes sense to try to convert as many of you to the idea as humanly possible. So with that in mind, I've written a guide for the uninitiated to help them understand this phenomenon and perhaps even help them get started themselves.

I personally started attending conventions back in 2004 and have to this day attended 20 (smaller, theme-based) conventions and 5 signing events (or larger, general events as I refer to them further down). For those interested, you can check my website for an overview of what events I've attended and who I've met, as well as checking out photos from the events and autographs I have collected

So, with that in mind, what is important to know?

It's not a hobby - it's a lifestyle
There are numerous reasons for this. First of all it's addictive. Unless you are dragged to one, kicking and screaming, you're going to find it's very hard to just go to one event and then never go again. Secondly it's a costly activity. Whether it's purchasing a full weekend ticket or paying a low entrance cover and then shelling out additional money on the individual features that appeals the most to you - and if you don't live locally, travel and accommodations will be extra.

Now, many would slag this off because of the price tag and call it riddiculously expencive, but then ask yourself this; how much money are people willing to shell out for a single concert with a band/solo artist they really want to see. If it's someone particularily known, you can bet the price tag for one single concert could easily rival the price tag of a convention ticket (and a concert lasts a couple of hours tops, while a convention lasts for days) - and people still travel, shell out on lodgings to go to those. And with concerts you have absolutely no guarantee you'll even get to meet that band/artist in person - in fact, you're almost guaranteed you won't - while a convention ticket (particularily a three-day entry ticket) will more or less include autographs and pretty much guarantee face to face encounters with the people you want to see. Just saying...

What could become the subject of a convention?
The golden rule is that things tend to either have mainstream popularity or a cult following. The higher the mainstream popularity and/or lower the cult following - the less the chances are it will become the subject of a convention. Mainstream fans simply aren't likely to pay up to attend a convention (and even if they are, they tend to have too high demands/expectations in terms of ticket price versus number of or popularity of actors announced), and actors with mainstream following tend to be too popular, not to mention costly for an event to be manageable to run/attend for organisers and fans alike.

Cult fans are more likely to attend for the theme itself and not so much the actors, because the theme alone excites them. This makes an event easier to get running from the start, and the number of tickets sold then dictates the number of and popularity of the guests themselves. It is completely doable to run a convention for a show/movie with a cult following and still manage to book main actors. It's all about balancing the numbers, and having a cast that are willing and affordable (meaning their asking fee balances out with the ticket prices and number of tickets sold - after things like venue hire, equipment rental and staff wages have been covered).

What kind of people attend conventions?
A lot of people, when they think about conventions, they think about the media (read: television show) portrayal of it. Most often convention storylines are done in such ways that it makes fun of the phenomenon as well as the fans. In reality, the type of people who attend conventions are as diverse as people are in the general population. Not everyone dress up in costumes, not everyone wear fandom paraphernalia (not that there's anything wrong with dressing up - I personally think it's awesome that people do that, but at the same time it's nice that there's no pressure to do the same if you don't want to or just don't have a good idea for who/what you'd want to be). What tends to signify convention attendees in general are that they tend to be more than averagely enthusiastic about the fandom(s) the convention in question covers (otherwise, why would they be there?), and generally are more open towards making friends with other attendees.

Are all conventions basically alike?
Well, not really. Different organizers operate in different ways, and size often depends on what area/country it takes place in. Aside from that, I prefer to divide conventions into two main categories:

Larger general events - These are mostly the type of events people have heard about. Most famous would be San Diego Comic Con, which is the world's biggest event. But there are others like Dragon Con, Collectormania, London Film & Comic Con, etc. What these have in common is that they showcase a lot of different fandoms, tend to pull 'bigger names' in terms of guests. They also attract a higher number of attendees due to low entry prices, as they have vendors paying to sell merchandise at the events, also they charge separately for autographs, photos, panel entry, etc. (and usually priced higher than at smaller, theme-based events). These events are also more fast-paced, there's less of a guarantee that you'll manage to get all the autographs, photos and/or panels you're interested in due to the sheer number of other attendees.

Smaller theme-based events - These events tend to be organized at smaller venues, like hotel conference centres and the like. They have a limited number of tickets, as well as a limited number of guests (depending on number of tickets sold) and tend to operate with themes, like one specific fandom or a couple of complementary fandoms. These events tend to sell weekend-tickets that includes entry to all aspects of the convention from panels to evening parties. Some tickets will also include autographs from the guests in the ticket price itself, others will include both autographs and photos with guests in the ticket price. The pace of these events tend to be slower, allowing more time for socializing between fans as well as giving attendees the opportunity to take part in more aspects of the convention.

What type of convention is better?
That all depends on what aspect of the convention you are more interested in, what type of experience you prefer. If you're an autograph-hunter, you stand a better chance to complete your collection by attending larger, more general events due to their larger number of guests and their tendency to also attract 'bigger' names (but if it's your first time, or a smaller event has a high number of people you haven't met before you could save money on autographs being included in the weekend ticket price). If you're a cosplayer, both type of events accommodate for that, but larger events do this at a much larger scale. If you're a collector of merchandise, this is also more of a larger- event type thing due to low entry price as well as a bigger guarantee that there will be vendors at the event (it's less cost-effective for them to book a table at smaller, more intimate events).

If it's the socializing aspect that appeals to you the most, then I would recommend the smaller, theme-based events, as the lower number of attendees and slower pace gives you more opportunity to connect with other fans. If you're more focused on a specific fandom, the smaller, theme-based events are also more likely to appeal to you. Also, smaller events allow for more interaction between fans and actors, whereas larger events tend to only allow you a brief moment with an actor (10-30 seconds depending on the pace) if you even get to meet them in person. If you're mostly interested in the panels, I would also recommend the smaller, theme-based events as entry to the panels are part of the ticket price, you're more or less guaranteed a seat at the panel and you have a better chance of getting to ask your questions.

How do I find out where and when the conventions are going to be held?
Well, right now I recommend doing a search on conventions in general, maybe search to see if there are any about your chosen fandom in particular (sadly I am only really familiar with UK-based organizers like Starfury and Showmasters). There's also a kickstarter-funded convention-database that's under development right now, which will be of immense help once launched.

I hope this guide will be of help to some people, and I hope to see you guys at some future event, someday.

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