Expect the unexpected at MegaCon!

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I’m barely halfway through an action-packed four-day MegaCon in Orlando and I’ve had quite a few amazing moments already, both as a fan and as a “cub reporter”.
I’ve got over 50 GB of video so far, dozens and dozens of iPhone photos, a few impromptu Facebook live posts, New connections, new stories, and some new perspectives. In fact I even met Jesus! (Walking Dead actor, Tom Payne, that is.) I also got to talk to probably one of the nicest and hardest working convention regulars, Jeremy Bulloch. He was as warm, kind and friendly as I’ve always heard he is. SWR regulars can follow all these stories and more over the next few weeks as I write them. For now though here is a sample of what I’ve already enjoyed…

I’ve actually worked in the Orange county convention center building for the better part of 20 years doing what’s called event production for event contractors such as Freeman, Netplan, ASI displays, and others.
Event production is essentially the people who set up, maintain and tear down the sometimes elaborate booths that last a few days at best on the showroom floor. That can mean merely setting up a backdrop and a couple chairs in a 5′ X 10′ booth space or building a 50′ x 50′ two-story structure with elaborate lights, audio, video, and displays.
I had never been to (or worked on) MegaCon or any other sci-fi, superhero, cartoon, or comic book type convention before so I didn’t know what to expect. The only thing I had to compare it to would be the last several years of Disney’s Star Wars weekends. I’ve had premium annual passes to Disney since moving to Orlando and visit the parks, especially the seasonal events as often as I can.

However until we had kids old enough to know what Star Wars was, Star Wars Weekends was just one of many ‘no additional cost’ events that we tried to make it to at least once each year. By the time the kids were 2-4 (and we discovered Star Wars Clone Wars) we became weekly guests of the event and as of last year it was an annual tradition as rooted to our family as Halloween or Christmas. We actually even have a few boxes of “SWW decorations” for the living room that usually go up when we take down the Easter decorations.

So it goes without saying that I miss Star Wars weekends terribly. My family and I spent at least some time there each weekend for the last five or six years. If you’re familiar with Facebook “memories” (where Facebook brings up a post or “memory” from that date on a previous year) then you can only imagine how I’ve been mocked by my own social media feed since the middle of May.
Today’s “FB memory”..
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Tom Kane, voice of Yoda (and the narrator) in Star Wars Clone Wars. That was the year he told us he would become the voice of Walmart.
Every day is a bittersweet reminder of the fun we had there and that the event is no more.
-Actually I don’t believe that Star Wars weekends is gone permanently for a minute but more on that in the future article.
So I went into MegaCon subconsciously looking for a surrogate to my beloved Star Wars weekends. It has not been that however in it’s own way it has been so much more…

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What surprised me at first was that although signs of Star Wars were everywhere it was not exactly the dominant theme at the convention. In fact most of the longest lines in the celebrity autograph area were comic book artists completely unknown to me. And James Arnold Taylor himself (who was virtually unapproachable by SWW22015) had only a couple people in his autograph line at times. Jeremy Bulloch, as well was much easier to see. He always had a line but was always there and kept it rolling. As of Thursday at the start of the 4-day show he was standing in front of his booth meeting, greeting, taking photos and selling photos. As I sit at home and write this, I guarantee Mr Bulloch is standing right now, giving fans a moment to remember.
That brings me to the first big difference between SWW and any convention, the celebrity “meet & greets.” At Disney, guests would wait outside the park entrance each morning (or previous evening) and get in line for limited fast-passes with corresponding wristband. These would grant you a time to meet the celebrity that you chose. Because of the nature of how they were distributed you normally only got the opportunity to get one fast pass/wristband combo each day. That was actually a standing rule, one pass per person per day. However, It was almost and irrelevant rule, as by the time you got out of your first line and to the back of a second, there were normally no passes left.
Guests would then meet back outside along Echo Lake (except 2015) near one of the 10 x 10 tents corresponding to the appropriate celebrity.

Once a guest’s turn came up they were led under the tent and could talk to the celebrity, get something signed and/or get a post card size photo of the celebrity and you could take pictures or video. We have photos with most of the personalities that we met there. In fact one year Dee Baker and Ashley Eckstein actually agreed to do birthday greeting for our kids. Months later we played the videos on their respective birthdays Dee’s to our son, Ashley’s to our daughter.
At MegaCon and other conventions, however these memories often cost extra. I do t think that the difference is good or bad, just different. At Disney you pay $100 per head to get in and much more once there. Disney then, I assume, covers the cost of the celebrity appearance. I believe that the relationship with cons is more like that of many other convention vendors, they go with the dual purpose of getting their ‘brand’ recognized and to sell their product. In this case the product is normally talent but also includes physical product to sell like photographs or books.
The nature of this part of the convention business is no different than most other businesses in the US. The more in demand the products the harder it is to get in the more it will cost. (For the most part)
As something akin to independent vendors or contractors each celebrity guest has different prices and methods. Some, like William Shatner have a separate, photo op time and charge, others are happy to let you take a picture while you are buying an autographed picture. Some like Mr Bulloch stand on the show floor in front of their booth happily meeting, greeting and taking pictures with fans, regardless of purchase. In fact yesterday I was allowed to just say “hi” to James Arnold Taylor and tell him how much his very first “Talking to myself” show at Disney had effected me. But again, that’s a story for another day.
By the way, $25 JAT autographs (had I bought one) are one of the lowest at the Con. Most seemed to run $30-50 (Expect to bring $100 each though if you want to say hi to Stan Lee and have him sign something, more for a photo.)
And bring CASH! In fact, for any purchase at any convention, bring cash. Most vendors and booths are not set up to take credit cards and the OCCC ATMs charge $3
So those are differences that I can take. I think it’s much better to pick and choose the people that I want to see using free market method, rather than the “camp out at Disney’s entrance” method.
And the costumes have so much more variety and imagination than the sea of Jedi and princesses that were a familiar site at Disney. Costumes are still allowed at Disney but ONLY for the younglings.
Check out our Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for photo & video throughout the event and in the weeks to come!
The biggest surprise for me however has been how entertaining and informative the panels have been. Justin and I are having a hard time keeping up with them! We have a teaser of the full length video from Stan Lees show up on the SWR YouTube site and we will be following that up with one from William Shatner! His take on the new Star Trek movies and Star Wars (old & new) are contrary to the reporting and would surprise you!
As press we also got to be upfront for Jeremy Bulloch’s panel and will be bringing highlight of him as well.
Each night has a different after party. I’ll report on my solo mission to club 39 Thursday and this evening I will be bringing my lovely wife (born on May the 4th) to the EDM dance party at OCCC.
More excitement from Justin & I later today and all day tomorrow so stay tuned!
Keith Johnson
Star Wars Reporter

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