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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

IN-FLIGHT MOVIES: When a Monster Calls


Honestly, it takes a lot for me to sit back and go "Sweet Jesus, that was one hell of a movie." In the good way, I mean. (Well, in a bad way, too -- the Netflix Death Note was really something.) When I'm in a mood to be entertained, I'm easily impressed; I don't demand perfection, depth, wokeness, or mind games. I just want to watch something a bit fun.

A Monster Calls had been on my list for quite some time, having evaded me in cinemas. It's written by Patrick Ness (Whovians will know him as the man behind Class) and features an impressively seasoned cast, including Liam Neeson as the aforementioned Monster. I wasn't sure what to expect. I only knew that, from what little I'd seen, it would likely be a surprisingly intimate movie, despite the presence of a literal giant destructive tree monster.

What I wasn't expecting -- frankly, what I never expect -- was a movie about the language of stories, and how we as humans are story-driven beings. Which is one of the things that resonates most with me in this life.


The Simple Story



Conor is a bullied boy. His mother is terminally ill. He may have to live with his grandmother, who doesn't understand him. His dad's off in California. And he's constantly having terrible nightmares about his mother dying. Everything is awful.

Then, at 12:07, a monstrous tree-beast comes to Conor. Why? To announce four future visits. During each of the first three, the monster will tell him a story. And on the fourth visit, Conor will tell his.

Conor's life goes on, for better or for worse, as he rages and grieves through his family's movements during his mother's hospitalization. The monster makes his visits and tells his stories. Then, as promised, Conor tells his.

That's the movie. Well, it's not the whole movie. We see more of Conor's father. Understand why Conor's a bit upset. Find out more about his relationship with his mother and his grandmother. And, of course, the monster tells his stories.

What struck me most is that the monster could have been extracted from the story and left behind the story of a mourning child attempting to grow up. It was that honest, that grounded. Without the special effects, it could have happened just up the road from any of us. But there would have been so much missing.


The Nature of Stories



We are, as I've said in other projects, creatures of stories. We have stories in our DNA. Despite the presence of imagery peculiar to cultures or families or geography, there are still stories that resonate across the world in times and places where that should be impossible. Every culture's catalog of origin stories can be cross-checked against each other at several key places. Certain folktales and fairy tales turn up in alternate forms in countries that were, at the time, unconnected.

We tell stories for a reason: to understand. Creation myths came about because people wanted to know where we came from and why things were as they were. Detaching ourselves from a hunt for any scientific validity, we can still find common threads in the most ancient stories of the world. Some choose to believe that that's because things happened quite literally as they were written down -- but a fairer explanation would be that the human animal is born with these hopes and fears, just as we're born with arms and legs.

Fairy tales and folktales existed to deal with the human condition. It's why so many stories full of death, deception, and other "adult" matter are directed at children. Whether the tellers intended it or not, they were voicing very uniquely human fears. What if I'm a failure as an adult? How does one find acceptance among others? What do I do when I lose someone? These threads run through all our longest-standing stories.

We're doing it again in modern times, too. Creepypasta, the folklore of the Internet, presents a new storytelling style -- first-person memories of loss, fear, or discovery -- that delve into very liminal and terrifying spaces. But all the ones that last have very similar themes: a loved one slowly changing due to a new obsession, and becoming an inhuman creature as our backs are turned. Unwittingly committing or taking part in heinous crimes because of deception or illness. Seeing something greater and more terrible beyond our everyday life and being powerless to fight it.

The mindset of a generation -- regardless of culture -- can be traced in the stories they produce.

This is a very, very long way of introducing the importance of Liam Neeson's monster in this film, and just how much he truly exists invisibly in our world.


A Healing Tree

In the case of A Monster Calls, we are presented with very specific stories, tailored to a very specific person. They have the nature of fairy tales, but play out more as subverted cautionary tales. The heroes and villains of the Monster's stories seem quite obvious at first glance, but listening through to his coda reveals that our read of his story wasn't quite right at all. More information is offered, expanding on the underlying truth of the otherwise simple story we've just witnessed.

The stories aren't pleasant, and Conor makes no secret of that. Who wants to hear the story of a brave prince who avenged the death of his lover by killing an evil witch, then find out that the prince was the "true" villain of the piece? It isn't until the third story, told in the midst of a public breakdown spurred on by bullies (a popular scene in previews), that Conor simply listens and accepts, allowing himself to related fully to the deuteragonist of the story rather than assign "good" and "bad" titles.

Ness doesn't shy from being very straightforward with the Monster's symbolism: he is a yew tree, a tree traditionally associated with healing. And in the true fashion of someone in need of healing, Conor immediately orders to Monster to fix something else. He, like anyone in a horrid situation, wants the simple fix: undo the thing that is bad so that we don't have to feel pain in the first place.

As the Monster reminds us, "bad" labels aren't so easy to slap on.


Healing Ourselves


If we are quite fortunate, we will never have to live through Conor's trauma. Many of us have, or have lived through something similar. Perhaps something "worse," based on where goalposts are. And in the current climate, Everything Is Terrible and Everyone Is Afraid.

I don't want to give away the ending because it's extremely affecting to see it for oneself -- and the lesson sticks that much harder. But in brief... the healing tree's uncomfortable lesson is that it is a rare situation where you can assign one hero to remove one villain and fix everything. Heroes masquerade as villains. Villains are mistaken for heroes. And both live equally inside our own heads, where we desperately try to fight off the thoughts and feelings we're ashamed of.

It's an easy lesson to get very, very wrong. It's awkwardly simple to turn it into a behest to never take people to task for their wrongdoings because Everyone Goes Through Stuff. Those are the misinterpretations that lead to the horrible after-school specials that say "be nice to bullies, they punch you because they hurt too."

It's impressive to see a writer get this very difficult lesson right: the idea of the good and the bad coexisting in all of us, sometimes visibly, and the need to own up to our capacity for both in order to understand ourselves. Too, the capacity for both to exist simultaneously in others. Bad people can do good things and vice-versa. People can fight against bad and still be bad themselves. And good, decent people can find themselves saddled with terrible thoughts they don't want to admit to, or they attempt to push away rather than address and work through.


If you can watch A Monster Calls, please do at your earliest convenience. It's a beautiful film, surprisingly quiet for a movie with major special effects in it, and has stunning artwork for the story scenes. And if you're a lover of stories -- and what stories mean in our lives -- you'll want to see this very much.

Monday, September 18, 2017

CON LIFE: What to Do When You Meet Your Fave


Oh my sweet holy hecking Jesus. They're here. Your absolute fave is going to be at an event that you can actually get to. Oh my God. Seriously, there is no way you can explain to your friends or your family or even yourself how big a deal this is for you. You've loved their work for years and now you have a chance to SEE THEM IN PERSON.

OH. MY. GOD.

Before anyone accuses me of blasting fans, let me just say I've been This Person a minimum of three times. I forgot how to understand English when Robin Williams hugged me. My brain nearly exploded when Masaaki Endoh held my hand. And please, if we ever get Peter Capaldi to (Re)Gen, never remind him how much my hand was shaking when I met him. Even if you're "not affected by fame" or you know how to hold your own in front of people of all calibers, there's probably that one person who turns your world all pink a la Yandere Simulator if you're in close range.

Hopefully without the blood.
And now they're going to be at an event you're going to, and all you want to do is meet them without making an absolute fool of yourself. You don't want to be That Fan that says the same old thing, you don't want to cry in front of them, you want them to understand that you're there on their level and just how much you appreciate seeing them.

So, you know. As someone who's met big names, as someone who now works with big names, and as someone who apparently people now get nervous about meeting (????? okay???), some thoughts and tips.


A Special Note for Anxiety Sufferers

I am one of you. And I understand that even answering the phone or picking up a Starbucks mobile order often takes an extra ten minutes of planning just to say "Hello" or "Thank you." This situation is double extra hard for us, because not only is this a moment of nervous excitement, that nervous excitement is probably an anxiety trigger on top of that.

So if anything I say in the following sections conflicts with your usual coping methods for social anxiety, go to your coping method first, my advice second. For example, if I say something like "Don't sit planning what you're going to say in advance," that isn't the same as me saying "Don't take your usual time to gear yourself up to say hello without panicking."

All my advice is specific to the situation and should be taken as such. Do what you have to in order to function normally, then add in what I have to say once you are prepped for a social situation. I don't want any of you guys going too HAM and me accidentally putting you in a situation I'd never want you in.


THE AUTOGRAPH LINE



So straight up, autograph lines can feel super awkward, and that's unfortunately just the nature of the beast. Something about standing in line, having a person stuck behind a table signing a thing for you, and then moving on with very little time to speak or make eye contact can feel a bit like a production line. And depending on the con you're at, that may be how it has to go. Massive cons with people lined up out the door have to run autographs through quickly. I once gauged a major guest's signing time per person at a con that shall remain nameless, and it was clockwork: five seconds up, 30 seconds talking and signing, five seconds out.

That's a reason that, for a long time, I never did autograph lines: I felt weirdly as though I was imposing on a captive audience, and that my fave might quietly resent me as Yet Another Autograph. The answer to that is: if they think of their fans that way, there's probably somewhere they should be other than a con where they can still be paid for work hours.

But if you're bolder than me and ready to take to the line, some things to note:

You aren't resented. All my panic above is for nothing, I've learned in my convention work. Honestly, if you're polite and friendly, you aren't going to be resented just for standing in the line. Seriously. That's part of their job here, and provided the con doesn't overload their schedule, it can be a part they like. I've chatted with guests directly after their signings who are super excited to tell me about the people they met at their table, what they were like, what they talked about, etc. So honestly, you're the opposite of resented -- they love seeing you guys.

Keep it short if it's busy. As I said above, many lines run like clockwork. Because they've gotta. It can kind of make you feel like Another Faceless Fan, but again, nature of the beast. If you've got something to say (which I'll address later on), make sure it's quick and simple. If you're last in line and they've got time, or if it's a casual atmosphere and there's not really a line going and they seem un-busy and look like they'd like to chat, you're fine. Just, you know, keep an eye on what they're up to, if staff needs them, or if anyone's slipped up behind you quietly.

If they look tired, it's not you. Well, probably not. If you've just spent ten minutes critiquing their performance in a one-shot role from 30 years ago, that's on you. But travel is tiring, signings are tiring (because public face-time is tiring), and it's really not you. It's not a sign they don't want to be there. It's humanity kicking in.


PHOTO OPS

Photo ops are genuinely one of the best things to come out of the con scene. It makes for awesome pics, it discourages candid photos that might break or threaten a contract, and a lot of guests are quite silly in photos. That said:

You are not a big nerd for cosplaying in the photos. I know, you feel like That Guy. But it's fine. Honest. Like legit, think how happy you'd be if you played a character and you saw people who loved that character so much that they dressed up as them. You don't have to, obviously, but you're not some sort of horrible shame-beast if you do. There's a big difference between photo op cosplay and, like, working staff and cosplaying as the person while bringing them food or something.

Again, keep it short if it's busy. This is kind of a sucky one because there's not a table in between you, so it feels a lot freer. There's still a line behind you, though. And if you're the last one in line here... that's a little more complicated because photo ops have set times and there may be another about to start up. If you have a thing to say, make it quick, and keep the line moving.

Remember the guest's comfort level. Some guests will happily do goofy stuff for photos. But as a rule, do not touch the guest unless they touch you first. That includes arms around, hand-holding, hugging, ass-grabbing, biting oh my god please do not bite guests. Many guests prefer to keep some space between themselves and the fans, and that's not your fault. Respect it, wait for them to set boundaries, and then go from there. (Of course, respect your comfort level, too. If you don't like being hugged, they'll understand; if they don't, that's a problem.)


AT THE BAR



Any skilled con-goer knows that the place to meet guests "properly" is at the bar. (It's also a place to meet staff, let's not lie.) There's a reason bars are so full during cons, and hence a reason bartenders love conventions. But there are still a few things -- probably more -- to bear in mind here.

Read the mood. When you see a guest, it's pretty easy to tell whether they're here to hang with fans, with friends, or alone. If you see a circle gathered and the guest is obviously "holding court," guess what. Slide in, hang at the back, and enjoy story time. But if the guest is at a private table with a handful of people and body language is pretty obviously private (everyone's turned inward, free chairs have been stolen for other tables, etc.), that is a "private" party. Bars are public spaces, yes, but you still wouldn't walk up on a total stranger if they were obviously there to be alone.

Talking with other attendees doesn't mean talking with all attendees. This was a rough one for me to learn because, well, I had to grow up enough to know that celebs are people too. Sometimes you'll see a guest sitting and talking quietly with what looks to be your typical attendee, like you. But that doesn't mean they're open for chats. Sometimes, old friends or coworkers will grab a day pass to a con so they can see their buddy, or they'll meet up at the bar after hours. Chat between a famous and non-famous person doesn't mean open hour.

Don't "trap" guests. Always leave them an easy path out. I've seen groups of people literally surround guests in such a way that, should they want to leave, they couldn't without making a big announcement that they were done for the night. Give them the courtesy you'd give anyone and give them a means of exit should they want to mill around, see a friend, or just need a break.

You can buy them a drink, but be understanding if they say no. One good way to get to know guests is to offer to buy them a drink. If they say yes, congrats! If they say no, be understanding and move on. They might not want another drink. They might prefer not to have money spent on them. Or they may be ensuring privacy.


AS A STAFFER

Hey, you're working staff for the con! Awesome! Now you'll get to be close to the guests!

Nope. Do not apply to staff as a way to get close to guests. One, it won't work unless you're senior staff with lots of experience or if you're guest relations with a lot of experience. Even as one of the top three people in my organization, there have been events where I haven't even seen a guest I knew we had. Staff is there to work.

And two? IT'S CREEPY. It's REALLY REALLY CREEPY. LIKE SUPER CREEPY AND ALSO A SECURITY RISK. People who apply to staff as a way to get near their faves tend to be found out either while their application is being read or when we have guest dissatisfaction/a breach of security.

DO NOT APPLY TO STAFF AS A WAY TO GET CLOSE TO THE GUESTS.


OVERALL

Okay, so that's all good. But what about the actual meeting? What about when you just randomly run into them as they're roaming the con? What about the face-to-face of it all? That's the hard part. I can't tell you what to say or how to say it, but I can give some pointers.

You can bring gifts, but no homemade food. This is just a technical point. Gifts are great, but if it's food, make sure it is visibly factory sealed. Many guests will accept homemade food, but then are forced to throw it away. That's not a comment on you; other people ruined it for the rest of the class. It's a safety concern. So if you want to bring them a food gift, consider a local snack that can be purchased and delivered still wrapped.

Don't rehearse something. (Anxiety sufferers, see my early point before taking this completely to heart.) You don't have to have the perfect quote, the perfect witticism, the thing they've absolutely never heard before from any other fan ever. That's not your responsibility. You'll stress yourself out and then when you get there it'll likely come out wrong.

It's okay to say the "typical" stuff. I'm not sure where this idea came about that saying you enjoy someone's work a lot is undesirable. You know how happy I am when someone says they like my work? Hot damn. Like, that never changes. Creatives can hear 999 compliments and one diss and feel like they've been insulted 1,000 times. (It's dumb. I know. I'm not a fan either but I do the same thing.) Telling someone which of their movies you like (yes, even if it's The Popular One), thanking them for making something you enjoyed, etc. is fine. And believe it or not, you'll make them happy.

You've got nothing to prove. Okay. You've got a fave who's in globally-known films, but before that they did indie stuff. Despite what hardcore fans will tell you, it's not unattractive or embarrassing to like someone's popular work. Like, if you really love their indie films for real? Say so. Seriously. But I've met people who think that by dredging up and commenting on a lesser-known work to a big actor, they're creating a "bond" above and beyond other fans. That's not how it works. Just be honest. And speaking of which...

This isn't your opportunity to make this person realize how much you have in common so they'll be your best friend and come to your birthday party. And if I said I never fantasized that a random chance meeting with a celeb I liked would accidentally turn into a friendship, I would be a Big Fat Liar. Now, guests do get to know and remember regular congoers. It happens. Friendships are made. Usually via kindness and honesty, not via Saying The Perfect Thing. The fans that actors tell me about are the ones who drop by to say hi every con, who are themselves, who aren't treating the autograph table like a dating sim where you have to say the right thing to win the friend. (Those people get remembered sometimes, too -- just not in the best ways.)

Trite as it is, be yourself. You're meeting a person whose work you like. There is the cult of personality surrounding them, but at the end of the day, it's a person who worked hard and for whom you're showing appreciation. Don't put on for them. Don't try to turn yourself for those 30 seconds into the sort of person you think they'll respond to. Just. Be yourself. Thank them. Be honest. Be real. By doing that, you'll be a rarity already.

Friday, September 15, 2017

CON LIFE: Why We Didn't Bring Your Favorite Actor to the Con


Once my next birthday hits, I will officially have been working cons for more than half my life. Conventions -- guesting, staffing, attending, observing -- have been a big part of my life and, later, my career. And in my work with Onezumi Events and other event planning groups, I've been privileged to learn about how and why things go the way I do.

While every convention is as different to each other as the next, there is always one piece of feedback that never, ever changes: wondering why we "won't" have a big-name guest.

My problem is this. Years working in event planning, hosting, etc. makes me just automatically flinch at the question because I know why. I know every potential reason why someone may not be on the guest list this year. And I have to remind myself that this is not a knee-jerk thing for everyone. In many ways, going to a themed event and not seeing the person you consider the poster child for the thing can feel like a waste or a betrayal.

So, you know. In my usual way, I want to pull back the curtain a bit and tell you -- not scold, God knows, but tell you -- why your fave wasn't here this year.


A Few Points Before We Begin

This is gonna sound stupid and kind of patronizing, but it's something you have to hold in your mind to understand any of this.

Guests are people, too.

While some really do make all their big money anymore doing guest appearances, many -- most, in fact -- are still working. Whether that's acting, appearances other than cons, or cutting and running to make a jazz album because honestly that's actually all they've wanted to do with their lives and now they can afford to.

This explanation can't function unless you can acknowledge and understand that guests of all calibers, small to big, webcomic artist to action star, are human beings with needs and wants outside of seeing fans.

Guests can love their fans and need other things, just like you can love your friends but have a late shift or want to sleep in.

Good? Forward.


How Does a Con Sign a Guest?



I've talked about this elsewhere, but a speedy run-down for those who may have missed it.

Most guests have an agent, and some even have a specific convention agent or agency. (Many of the regulars you see on the con circuit actually work with an agency whose sole job is getting them spots at cons.) Negotiations have to go back and forth, and be signed and countersigned, with the con, the guest, and the agent.

Incidentally, this is the main reason why cons often take a long time to announce "signed" guests -- we're waiting on the counter-signature and if something goes belly-up and we've already announced the guest, we've just lied to you and now everyone's upset.

Anyway. Guests are paid up-front or via guarantee. Big cons or cons with backers can do up-front payment. "Guarantee" means the guest will leave the con with what they asked for, be it via sales or payment from the con. If their guarantee is $5,000 and they make $6,000 via photos and autographs, they take home $6,000. If they make $4,000, they take that and the con pays the difference.

Working actors, or actors with families/friends/immune systems, may have to cancel for reasons that can't be changed. Work, for example. A sick child. Those sorts of things. That's where cancellations tend to come from.

So with all that under our belt.

You came to our con, but we didn't have Your Guest and that upsets you. I get it. Truly. Why? How about we bring them next year? That's easy, right? Just, you know, ask them.

Now we can get into what issues might prevent a guest from coming:


Money

I know, that's a lousy reason, huh? Actors love their fans. We understand there's money involved, but isn't there a way you could get them to come for cheaper or free for the sake of the fans?

The problem is, convention time and travel counts as "work hours" for them. Even though it's not a comment on their love of the fans and the fandom and the community, what's a vacation for you really is a job for them. That can be hard to admit because the instinct is to somehow take that as an insult. But it's not. It's just a fact.

Smaller cons can't necessarily get guests who are six figures a weekend, much less six figures a day. We'd love to. But conventions make very clear decisions on venues, size, ticket price, and the like, which often require less-than-fun choices about guest caliber.

How You Can Fix That: Go to smaller cons! Buy their merch, support them, talk them up. Just because they can't afford a guest this year doesn't mean they never can, and if you support smaller venues, they'll have the bandwidth to reach out to bigger people.


Gamble



Signing guests on a guarantee is a bit like gambling. You have to ask yourself, "Will this person's name bring in enough people to make their guarantee or bolster us enough that we don't go into debt paying off the guarantee?" You have to decide if certain guests together will be a bigger draw. Will adding this very expensive guest to your existing lineup draw enough members of a separate demographic to be worth it?

Obviously, some guests aren't a gamble. But many that are asked for, especially by hardcore fans who know a lot about the characters, do become calculated risks. This is independent of them as human beings (and considering the gamble sucks because sometimes we want to bring someone we love but we just know it won't work without a certain set of other guests around them).

How You Can Fix That: It would be misleading of me to say "gather up enough people to convince the con it's worth it," because that's still iffy. And just asking fifty times becomes a bit of a broken record. However, if you really want a guest and can demonstrate their popularity at other events (with numbers, not with eyeballs), that might be a thing to consider.


Blackout

Here's another fun piece of con business. You know how you see that a guest is coming to a super-big event three hours away and there's a smaller event closer to you the following week? Your first thought is "Oh, because they're at BiggoCon, they can hop a train to SmalloCon!"

The thing is? This is exactly the reason they can't.

Many cons have what's called "blackouts" -- agreements that, if a guest appears at their event in a certain region (the mid-Atlantic, say), the guest can't also appear at another similar event in the same region for a couple months before and after. This is to protect their business and make their guest acquisition, you know, means something.

For the most part, it's a good thing for business -- though it does mean some big cons who want to snipe the life out of small cons will park next to them and drain the guest pool.

How You Can Fix That: Sadly, you can't. It's a contractual obligation, and it's something that actively prevents appearances. On a long-term scale, supporting your local venue so they have more pull for big guests and get past the blackout window first is a help -- but in the short term, it is what it is.


Real Life



Fun story: we almost had a huge Doctor Who guest at a con one year. We were so close. Then she got back to her agent and said her best friend was getting married that weekend, and all bets were off.

This is a big one to remember. Guests have jobs. They have friends. Sometimes an "I can't" is just that: they can't. There's a job. A previous commitment. A family issue. Things that they themselves are already committed to that they have no ability (or desire) to get out of.

How You Can Fix That: Be understanding and move on.


They Don't Want To

Some guests don't want to do cons. Ever. Sometimes they just don't feel like it because they don't dig it. Sometimes they've had a bad experience at one con and they swear off cons (or cons in a specific country/region or of a specific type) forever. Some do not like the business end of it and just refuse.

Which guests are those? I'm not telling you. Honestly, because I as a fan and as a con staffer don't want those people's personal choices to be taken as dislike of the fans. These people love the fans. They really do. It's just the event scene they don't like. Kind of like how if all your friends were getting together but they were going to a hipster tapas bar and dear God you hate hipster tapas bars so you might just stay home.

And for guests who've had bad experiences, I feel even less inclined to elaborate. If someone had a bad time and has made a decision based on that, that's their decision. And for all the people saying "But maybe if they came to this one they'd like cons again," I get you. I feel it too. I've also watched it happen. But again, their choice. If I could get you to come over and watch all 49 episodes of GaoGaiGar maybe you'd watch more giant robot anime with me, but offering someone the chance doesn't obligate them to take it.

How You Can Fix That: In existing cases, you can't. But in potential future cases? Be kind. Be polite. Treat guests how they'd want to be treated. Do your part as an attendee to make the event comfortable and fun for them, so that we don't lost more amazing potential guests to bad experiences.


It's Possible, But Not Pleasant

We once had the opportunity to get a huge-name guest on a day trip... but that day trip would have wiped them out in the middle of them rehearsing for a play. We offered several potential options to make it less stressful, but none of them was feasible.

In the end, we said no thank you. Physically bringing them to the event for a certain set of hours, paying them their due, etc. was completely possible. But they'd have missed a full night's sleep (if not more) in the middle of a very important gig, and while they were willing to do it, we weren't willing to do it to them.

Yeah, we were kicking ourselves up and down the hallway. But we knew the guest in question would be happier in the long run. Plus, we were potentially avoiding a Bad Experience (see above) that might have made them hesitant to come to our event -- or others -- ever again. We, of course, extended an invite for a future year when things would work out better.

How You Can Fix That: You can't fix it, but it's a good moment for thought. Are you still okay with meeting your fave even if the circumstances are unpleasant and exhausting for them? Is your desire to see them at an event also inclusive of their comfort and well-being? Good event runners consider the guests' comfort to be indispensable. As, hopefully, do fans.


... Other Reasons



This is the one I least wanted to talk about, but fortunately it refers to the smallest slice of the pie.

Guys? Guests are human beings. And not all human beings are nice. That's the sucky truth.

Fortunately, as I said, this is a really slim number. But once in a while you'll run across an individual that you discover you just can't have at your event for a variety of reasons. Maybe they're known for breaking contract. Maybe they're regularly offensive in front of children or attendees in general. Maybe they're just really unpleasant to work with.

I list this only because it's fair to note. Not because I have a certain person in mind. I've been extremely fortunate to never have worked with a guest who was anything but awesome. I think the majority of event planners are equally lucky. But it's a truth, and it's a thing that has prevented some guests from getting many convention jobs.

How You Can Fix That: It's... it can't be. It's life. That person made their choice. Which is pretty sad, but it is what it is.


The short, potentially obvious version of all this is what I said before: guests are people, too, and thus their lives and their livelihoods are subject to the same things ours are. If someone in your close friend group doesn't make it out to a gathering at the beach house for a weekend, it's never because of maliciousness or forgetfulness, is it? There's always a reason, and the reason almost always has to do with respecting that friend's wishes. They have a work shift they can't get out of, or a prior engagement with family. They can't afford the trip and you can't spot them at the moment. Maybe they really don't like the beach, or maybe the only way they could make it would involve an expenditure of time and energy that would make the trip not worth it. But none of those occasions is an issue of forgetting them or not wanting them.

Now, this isn't me saying don't ask for guests if the con in question has a suggestion form. If there's a form where you can suggest guests or panels or what have you, put in your vote. That helps with the "Gamble" portion of the issue -- and many times it's been attendee suggestion that has gotten us to rethink the level of gamble we're dealing with.

If all goes well, maybe you'll get to meet your fave!

And what to do when that happens will be the topic of Monday's entry.


Are you a Doctor Who fan? Check out (Re)Generation Who, the mid-Atlantic's premiere Doctor Who event! Our fourth event takes place this coming March, and we'll have visits from Peter Davison, Michelle Gomez, Pearl Mackie, and more to be announced. We're an event built specifically to help fans of smaller-sized events have big-event-style fun!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

POTTERVERSE: A Fast Look Back


The very first PotterVerse! What a weekend (well, more like a week for me). What a weirdness. What a frankly awesome time.

Any first-year con is going to have bumps, even from a veteran company. Our bumps? We had literally no idea how popular many of our events and panels would be. Sparsely-attended educational workshops from other cons were packed to the back walls. This did cause a few problems for crowd flow -- but at least now we know.

As social media and an interviewer, there was no way I could see the whole event. I can only speak to what I made it to... which was largely what I worked.


We Are PotterVerse

This year I did something a bit different -- I "interviewed" Oni and James for the con's opening panel! Rather than opening ceremonies, we take a side panel room and chat with early arrivals about what Onezumi Events does, how the con works, and what to expect.


Interview with Chris Rankin


Chris was my first interview of the weekend, and he's one I actually asked very specifically to go onstage with. In recent years, he's become a production assistant, working on shows like Atlantis and Downton Abbey. We did talk about his time on the Potter films a bit, of course, and turn it over to audience questions, but chatting about his behind-the-scenes work was extremely fun.

Chris is so chill and so friendly. Plus he's a Blue Man Group fan, which is always A+ in my book.


Wizards' Council Tea Party

Usually I am not nearly posh enough to make it into our VIP tea party, but this year I chatted with the attendees about what they're enjoying so far and their own experiences in the fandom. It was breathtaking -- largely because a fire alarm went off in the middle! Fortunately, it was just an issue in the parking garage and we all recovered from the interruption.

Our catering staff is insanely good, and it was great to get to try some of the tasty scones firsthand this go' round!


Interview with Afshan Azad


Afshan is lovely and hilarious, an actress-turned-presenter who was a Harry Potter fan long before she found herself in the films. The audience turnout for her was impressive (of course), and chatting with her about joining the cast midway through the franchise made for some entertaining chat.

And yeah, no, she did not like her Yule Ball dress. At all.


World-Building Panel

I joined writer friend John Peel, collaborator Ginger Hoesly, and editor Christina M. Frey about the art of world-building and writing. It was a great, full panel -- which was so heartening in our first year integrating Intervention tracks into fan cons!


Self-Publishing



Ginger and I teamed up again to teach attendees how to self-publish without going through third-party publishers. We had a packed house, full of fans-to-be (thanks to everyone who downloaded our first book at the con!), and got to chat about the world of Owl's Flower as well as our own experiences as new publishers.

Our limited-edition collab art for the con (seen above) flew off the tables, too!


I Can't Believe It's Not Potter

Dave and Monica of Tangent Artists invited me to join them for a panel show in the style of Big Fat Quiz of the Year, full of trivia about knockoff Harry Potter books from around the world. It's some of the most fun I've had at a con event, and I pray if they ever do anything like it again they ask me along.


Managlitch City Interactive

Once again, we climbed aboard the Voidknife for a live recording of the show-within-a-show Captain Shadow. Oni Hartstein returned as the Captain, with myself as her companion Billie and audience members (including Ginger) as Voidknife crew and the members of a magical alien race. The episode will be available to hear later this month to listen to on the Managlitch website!


Yule Ball

DJ Kangal dropped beats and Antipode danced for the crowd. But first, I gave a quick waltz lesson to the gathering crowd. It was only a few minutes, but it was so fun. And everyone's outfits looked amazing!


School Is in Session

... yes, I went and asked for the all-cast interview. Natalia Tena had to be on her way, but I was reunited with Chris and Afshan, joined by Devon Murray and Sean Biggerstaff. The four of them led the way, honestly. My job was just keeping things rolling and having the best seat in the house for their reminiscences. The audience had fabulous questions and, again, made my job easy.


How Did We Do?

Attendees gather to give feedback. As I said before, there were a LOT of things to account for -- a whole different fandom, a whole different set of interests, and perhaps underestimating what we do well. Looking forward to distilling and using what we heard!



An amazing, big, crazy, fun, and exhausting weekend. By the time you read this, I might be awake again.

Next con is Nekocon. I think. I'll check on that.

Monday, September 4, 2017

IN-FLIGHT MOVIES: Short Films for Sleepy Times

On the final push back home to Virginia, I was a bit woozy. I couldn't really keep my eyes open for any sort of two-hour deal -- plus they were only really offering hinky DirecTV options rather than a nice list of movies.

However.

I never get to take in short films outside of what my friends make. And there was a running cycle of three of them, since United and Tribeca sort of have each other's backs or what have you. So I gave the trio a go with what awake energy I still had left.


Litterbugs



To this film's credit, it's the one that caught my eye and made me stop flipping back to South Park reruns. A UK-based childhood story with classic sensibilities but a distinctly modern setting, it centers on Alice, a young inventor taken publicly embarrassed by a trio of plugged-in Popular Girls.

At her side -- whether she likes it or not -- is Stanley, an eyepatched boy determined to make her a member of his superhero team, the AweSome Squad (abbreviated A.S.S.). Stanley's power, derived from a mysterious white M&M he keeps on his person, doesn't help him defend Alice against the girls... but Alice has something up her sleeve in the person of the short film's title critters.


Litterbugs - Trailer from TREEHOUSE DIGITAL on Vimeo.

The film is utterly adorable and, for a bullied girl like myself, a very sweet story of friendship and the power of creativity in the face of adversity. Seeing the sheer number of awards and recognitions it's swept up makes me extremely happy.

Check out the official Litterbugs website for more info.


Youth


I enjoy the fact that, in 2017, it's possible to have "quiet science fiction." I like seeing more and more that, as we edge closer to the formerly impossible, we're seeing more and more a return to the "human vs. technology" aspects of pure sci-fi. Which is not to say I don't love aliens and time travel and weird monsters. Of course I do. But seeing science fiction in its purest form, used for its purest purpose, is entertaining.

Youth sets itself in an indefinitely-distant future, slightly Apple'd out but still recognizable, in which being old has become obsolete. A degree of immortality has been achieved by, well, effectively "regenerating" via an involved and expensive medical procedure. Our central couple has worked and saved all their lives to get their procedures done together, and as the film opens, the wife has had hers.

And the husband finds, shortly after, that he cannot. He's waited too long, and the procedure could prove pointless, deadly, or both. Now he exists in a world of eternal youth, robbed of both the extra time he assumed he had and the pleasure of growing old together with the woman he loves.


Youth is an introspective and interesting piece, but it has to be approached properly. Come at it as a plot piece, and you will leave dissatisfied. Come at it as a character study of one man in a world of young people, and its true message will hit home for you much sooner. My mistake was watching it the first way in a jet-lagged haze, and left feeling abandoned when the credits rolled. But centering on the individual rather than the message makes for a satisfying piece.

Check out the official Youth website for more info.


Mildred & the Dying Parlor


God. Parents are, like, the literal worst. Especially when they run a business out of their house and want you to meet their clients. Especially when their clients are old people and the business is a dying parlor.

Told from the POV of a jaded young woman named Mildred, the film outlines the work of her parents "dying parlor" -- a place where people come when they're on death's door to have a nice last meal, be entertained, and have company. And likely drop off in the middle of one of those activities.

Mildred largely has no time for these shenanigans. But one evening, a customer comes in who has requested her presence specifically.


I don't want to say too much about this one because there's a subtle little twist at the end that I absolutely loved. But I will say that, of the three, this was my favorite. There are some wild surprise performances from Steven Buscemi and Jane Krakowski as Mildred's parents, and there's a sort of Wes Anderson vibe to the whole thing. If you can find your way to a copy, absolutely give it a look.


And after that, I sort of fell asleep for a few hours. But this doesn't even begin to cover my westward viewing.

Friday, September 1, 2017

IN-FLIGHT MOVIES: I mean, "Miss Peregrine" really wasn't all that bad.


It took me a long time to realize that I like Tim Burton and The Tim Burton Aesthetic as two very different animals: both equally, but also generally separate. There are a few places where the two work together extremely nicely -- his stop-motion works, for example -- but in recent years I feel like I can only have one or the other at a time. I can do Big Fish. I can do someone going for a Burton Style without actually being him. But the director and his aesthetic together begins to feel like that one extra drink at the bar you didn't really want, but stayed for because you don't want to be the first to leave.

I'm not sure if that's a result of my Goth Phase turning more into a Quiet Goth Tendency, or if Burton's been going a bit too hell-for-crushed-velvet lately. Either way, I find I can't quite Sweeney Todd they way I used to.

So I'm not sure why I picked up on Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, especially after being warned against it. I think it might have been the promise of borderline morbidity. Maybe the fact that the aesthetic was less Burton Goth and more Faded Photograph. Maybe the wartime stuff. Either way... it wasn't bad. It really wasn't.


Fair Warning

I've not read the books. I also intend to read the books because the combination of prose and vernacular photography sounds right up my street. My opinion of the film may change after reading the books, and I'm prepared for that to happen. Saying I like the move at this point in proceedings is coming from the POV of someone uninitiated in the books and is in no way me telling anyone else how to feel.

I know this seems like an odd thing to work into a personal blog post, but I've had cases of people coming at me over personal opinions, especially if I'm not as "into" the background of the thing as they are. Stuff like that's apparently pretty hardcore.

Suffice to say if you're a fan of the books and you think the movie was a travesty, no need to step to me. I'll find out for myself soon enough.



Groggy Viewing

As with the majority of the things I'm going to be talking about over the next few posts, I watched these while traveling to/from Crunchyroll Expo. This was on the second leg of my journey there, somewhere around Insomnia o'Clock, which may have been the perfect time to watch it because at that point my brain accepts pretty much anything thrown at it as completely possible.

For the uninitiated: our hero is Jake, a young man whose grandfather Abe told him stories of an idyllic children's home overseen by one Miss Peregrine. The residents all had strange quirks, or Peculiarities. Abe's stories are largely disbelieved by the rest of the family -- and one night it no longer really matters. He's found near dead, his eyes missing, with just enough life in him to clue Jake toward the location of Miss Peregrine's.

Jake eventually finds his way there -- first to the burnt-out shell of the mansion, then (after being led through a cave) into the lively, active version of the home. Miss Peregrine maintains the home in a time loop around September 3, 1943, moments before a bomb drops on the house. Every day is the same, with the Peculiar residents remaining eternally young.

Telling too much more would give away the story. But, as with any story about gifted individuals, there are good ones, bad ones, and people who don't like any of them.



What Works?

It's strange to say this feels "less Burton-y," but it does. The costume designs of Colleen Atwood are there, yes. The Holmesian Miss Peregrine is the closest to That Style that we see. But overall, it seems the aesthetic is bending not to the director, but to the source. Something about the entire feel of it harkens back to the look of vernacular photography in general. More than anything, it reminded me of the found footage YouTube channel simply called Jack Torrance -- mentioned here not as the innovator, but as a ready example.

Funnily enough, it's the world outside Miss Peregrine's loop that tends more toward the sepia. And yet, even with the brighter color palette in her microcosm, it's suggestive of the era. And I think that, despite it being typical Burton fodder, is what saves things from a visual standpoint. Had he gone full Monochrome Stripe, we would be having a very different conversation.



But then...

One thing I enjoyed very much about Miss Peregrine was its ability to take things slow. Even the danger seemed somehow "paced." At least, for the most part.

Once the action moved to the second loop -- placed in the 21st century -- things felt needlessly rushed. Almost Home Alone at moments. Perhaps this was intentional, a way to create a tonal difference between Miss Peregrine's world and ours, even within the world of the Peculiars. But the sudden antics were alienating to a degree.

Well, except the skeletons. That was rad.

Any "off-model" feelings I got can, as I'm sure many will be happy to tell me, be explained away by things omitted or changed from the original book. I believe it. Those moments didn't make the film unwatchable but they were a little off-putting.

Or maybe I was just tired. Who knows.


Whatever the mood, it managed to sidestep my Burton burnout. And it's made me want to read the books. Perhaps that reading will lower my opinion of the film. No idea. For now, I found it enjoyable on a dark night stuck in a metal tube thousands of feet in the air.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

BOOKS: No pressure, I'm writing a Time War book.


Things seem to be happening extremely quickly in my life. One minute I'm editing subtitles to make ends meet, the next I'm being flown out to California to interview people who have been in the anime industry for as long as I've been alive. And then there's this whole thing of... like... I'm co-writing a Time War book.

No pressure, right?

Declan May of Seasons of War recruited me and the amazing Paul Driscoll to work together on a novella: Seasons of War: Gallifrey. The story would focus on four Gallifreyans -- a Time Lord, a soldier, a senator, and a conscientious dissenter -- all of whom are friends, and all of whose positions and relationships are forever altered by the Time War.

We were given a lot of leeway, and via several Skype sessions with Paul we ended up coming up with our characters and storyline. Now it's just a matter of making the magic happen. Or letting the characters have run of the place. Whichever mood they're in that day.


Seasons of War started out as a single-volume charity anthology raising money for Cauldwell Children: an organization that provides wheelchairs and other necessities to underprivileged families with disabled children. The line continues with the Cauldwell tie, of course -- but now it's branching out into novels, novellas, and anthologies beyond the original.

I'm flattered and privileged to be working with both Declan and Paul on such an amazing project for such a good cause.

Oh, and my sharp-eyed readers may notice something familiar about our cover. If you think you've spotted the hand of Ginger Hoesly in it, you're right. She's done an amazing job of creating a cover that reflects both the mood and various themes of the story. And from what I hear, this isn't even its final form. I'm looking forward to seeing how it evolves.

Want a copy? You can preorder now!

In the UK
Outside the UK

We also have tentative plans to host a book launch at (Re)Generation Who 4, including more information on the series and charity as a whole. So if you're in the mid-Atlantic area of the US and want to be up close and personal when it launches... you might want to be there.

Thanks again -- and as always -- for all your support. I really hope we make something amazing for you.