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.