The people who are running Phoenix Comicon are serious. Very serious. They are extremely serious in putting together events for fans to come together and have a memorable experience. As with all things it is a work in progress, and by their own admission, they look at things that worked in the past and things that didn’t work, all in an attempt to create and even better experience the next time around.
Last year was Phoenix Comicon’s first attempt at creating something known as the “Fan Fest.” It could be viewed as a mini Comicon to some, but in the end it’s a gathering of fans where they can come together, enjoy their cosplay, partake in outdoor events, and do so in the relatively nice weather that is part of the Phoenix winter (as opposed to the blistering hot Phoenix summer when the regular Comicon takes place). Now last year’s Fan Fest had only three months preparation resulting in a very barebones event with very little marketing to promote it. As a result there were not many people who attended the event, which was further marred by rain. However this year was different. The convention runners learned what worked and what didn’t, plus they had much more time to organize and plan for this event. What was finally delivered was something both grand that the big conventions are able to offer, and yet at the same time, something intimate like the smaller conventions are known for. Here are some of our experiences at this year’s Fan Fest.
Day 1 on Friday had the least amount of attendees, which is not entirely surprising given that this was the first Friday after Thanksgiving weekend. However that did not impact on the quality of the event. Upon entering the University Of Phoenix Football Stadium (the home for the NFL team Arizona Cardinals) we were immediately impressed at the level of organization in the way event memberships were handled. Many desks were set up for the different type membership being purchased and it was all managed with enormous efficiency. Upon entering the stadium itself the entire field became the dealer’s room, with a variety of vendors and artists to satiate any fan of any particular genre. From artists to writers, to even booths set up by professional merchandisers, there was plenty for anyone to enjoy.
Phoenix Comicon also had a merchandise table where plenty of event “swag” was available for purchasing, as well as some outstanding photo ops (not to be confused with the photo ops with the celebrity guests) that the event organizers were making available for the fans in attendance. Much of the merchandise can be seen in our story from the Phoenix Comicon Media Days Open House.
Just off the field was the “media room” used by the Arizona Cardinals football team, and this had been converted into the main panel room where the guests for Fan Fest would come in and speak to those assembled, and up first for us was Morgan Sheppard. A true veteran of both the big and small screen, Mr. Sheppard had plenty of humorous stories to share with the audience about projects he worked on, the rejections he has received from numerous auditions, as well as his relationship with his actor son Mark. All the while during his panel, he had a manner about him that let the audience know that he just wasn’t reciting material or sharing stories. He spoke to the audience in the room, and throughout all of that his humor was ever present. Afterwards we walked up to his autograph table (where luckily no one was in line) and chatted with him a few minutes more. He was absolutely gracious, laughing, and a pure joy to be around.
Why do I mention all of this? It’s because Phoenix Comicon reached out to him and brought him in as a guest. They could have reached out to any number of celebrities (and they had quite a few including Dirk Benedict, Kevin Sorbo, Sean Maher and Karen Gillan), but they were able to bring in this magnificent gentleman, who has been attached to the role of Kris Kringle on more than one occasion. Given that bit of trivia, it could be said that he brought smiles to all of the faces of those who were in attendance, both young and old.
That afternoon saw another first for the Fan Fest, as they held the first of two special movie screenings, that being I Am Alone starring Gareth David-Lloyd (if you wish to know my feelings regarding this movie, please check out my review). The room was filled with a very engaging audience that clearly enjoyed the movie based on the reactions during the film and the applause when it was finished, and was followed by a very interesting Q & A Panel that featured the movie’s writer and director, Robert Palmer, co-writer, editor and executive producer Michael Weiss, and film star Gareth David-Lloyd!!! This was a joy as the audience proved, yet once again, that we are not a bunch of mindless fanboys and fangirls drooling without having anything intelligent to say. The questions brought up were thoughtful regarding the manner in which the movie was made, what were some of the inspirations that helped to create the story, as well as how was Gareth able to create such a fully realized character for this movie.
Day 2 on Saturday started off with a bang as we went to the Renaissance Hotel next to the football stadium and had a sit down interview with Robert Palmer and Michael Weiss! It is here that we must give enormous thanks to Patricia Chica who has been the publicist for this movie. When we released the story that Fan Fest was going to have a screening of I Am Alone we were immediately contacted by Patricia who thanked us for publicizing the screening, as well as making available both Palmer and Weiss for this interview.
[If you wish to learn more about Patricia Chica her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org, her website is PatriciaChica.com and her tagline is “Director/Producer/Editor of award-winning films and freelancer for Television productions. Genres: Psychological drama, Thriller, Horror, Fantasy, Comedy, Arthouse, and everything edgy in between.”]
What we had that morning was not an interview. This was a conversation, and a fun one at that! To make this work we broke down our home studio equipment and hauled it up to the hotel and set it back up in the hotel patio. The weather was beautiful and the conversation was highly entertaining! After the interview and equipment breakdown we went back to the Fan Fest where we were able to sit in on Gareth David-Lloyd’s Torchwood panel. Now we have seen John Barrowman appear in Phoenix Comicon twice now, so to hear stories from Gareth clearly made for a very refreshing change of pace! Again, the Comicon audience showed how sophisticated they were by asking questions that actually caused him to pause and think where he would respond with “that’s a good question!” Phoenix Comicon clearly raised the bar by bringing in a guest of such quality in the form of Gareth David-Lloyd.
That afternoon then presented us with an opportunity to interview one of the Fan Fest media guests. The events surrounding it were something of a surprise to us, but made for a magical interview (I will not say who it is, but if you want to find out just listen to the corresponding episode to this article.). Afterwards we just chatted with a few other people (including a few seconds with Sean Maher who is a truly wonderful individual) and we made one last pass through the dealer’s room.
It is here that the true magic of this event is revealed. It’s not solely in the panelists that the event runners brought in. It’s also not totally in the variety and quality of vendors. It’s in those who are attending Fan Fest. It’s the fans. Years ago I referred to a similar event as a “geek pride.” My thoughts on that remain the same. Fans of all sorts are all gathered together to celebrate who and what they are, and they do so in and endless variety of ways. The cosplay alone was a joy to watch, from fans that are wearing the humblest of costumes, to those who have spent years and countless amounts of money as they constantly fine-tune their costume. And yet, all are equal in this family of geek fandom. One personal high moment was watching one of the most brilliant reenactments from Monty Python and the Holy Grail by just a couple of fans. There were literally people applauding them as they made their way through the entire facility.
Outside of the stadium were even more enjoyable events to watch. A stage had been set up for the costume contest, and while there may have only been one winner of the entire event, the crowd made sure to let each participant know, through very enthusiastic applause, that his or her costumed effort was greatly appreciated!
One new event, undoubtedly due to the excitement of the upcoming movie Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, and the ever growing popularity of this movie’s newest little star, BB-8, was an obstacle course which had been set up where fans were to try to negotiate their BB-8 remote controlled droids through an obstacle course. This was something new that the organizers of Fan Fest were very excited about, and there were a number of people who were clearly enjoying themselves as they tackled this challenge.
The success or failure of an event like this rides on two elements. First, the organizers need to create something that they feel is best suited for a specific demographic, and second, the reception of those who are in attendance of said event. After spending two full days at Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest it is without a doubt that this event was an enormous success. The organizers made excellent use of their preparation time in putting together a practically perfect Fan Fest. From media guests, to the vendors, to cosplayers, and to those simply in attendance, this was something truly special that we here at TG2 Studios will look back at with very good memories. If this Fan Fest were any kind of indication, I would have to say that the future for all things Phoenix Comicon looks very bright, and the Two Gay Geeks are unquestionably very excited for all of the future Phoenix Comicons and Fan Fests!