So, those of you who read my original ‘con’ post would probably have assumed I would never attend such a thing again. But you clearly don’t know the depths of masochism I’m willing to stoop to. In fairness, I didn’t know myself so today can serve as a learning experience for both of us. You see, I’ve been to some wretched nerdfests in my time. But today, I discovered a nerdfest that was not just cruel on the soul, not just cruel on the wallet, but also cruel on the body.
As you know, my shops are no more. Videosyncratic is dead. The reason I previously went to these nerdfests was to get signed photos from cult cinema icons dedicated to VS. It was a fun thing that the customers (and, if I’m honest, myself and the staff too) really dug. But before VS died, much like Spock at the end of Wrath of Khan, we imparted a little bit of ourselves into our Cowley Road Dr McCoy – our friends Atomic Burger. Of course, when I say we imparted a little bit of ourselves, what I mean is that poofy-haired poseur/resteraunteur Martin Bunce stole our fucking idea after I took him to his first nerdfest and they started getting and putting up signed photos too. I was furious with that 1980’s bastard for just nicking our gimmick but forgave him once VS went out of business (not least because he took a whole day/night off from Atomic and came and worked as a doorman for us on our last night. I feel a little bad for calling him poofy-haired now) it’s rather nice to see the tradition continue. As it is to see our famous lifesized Gremlin rehoused in their window.
Anyway, Martin’s business partner James wanted to get more signed piccies at todays event in Milton Keynes, so we went together. I hadn’t planned to get anything… well, maybe one thing, but we’ll get to that. I was essentially tagging along.
The Milton Keynes event is called Collectormania. Run by a company called Showmasters. I don’t like Showmasters. Over the years I’ve had a lot of experiences of them and I have to say, I think they’re fucking idiots. I’ve never understood why they choose to make their own events so horrible but I have to say that today they exceeded themselves. They have raised the bar on how wretched an event can be. I was actually impressed! Shall I catalogue their awfulness for you?
In no particular order:
– They announce guests months in advance then, once punters have booked transport/hotels, they cancel them. The cancellations usually start about 4 days before the event and a good percentage – I’d say maybe 15 – 20% of the significant guests will cancel in this period. This doesn’t happen with other event-runners. Maybe the odd guest cancels last minute for a good, unexpected reason, but with Showmasters, you can GUARANTEE that there will be a huge drop off. I assume they have them on very loose non-binding contracts but they go on to advertise huge names and only mention the cancellations at the last minute and only on their web-forum. This must be horribly disappointing for people unaware of the forum who have spent a lot of money to travel to this horrible place for no reason. Not just this, but it seems obvious they wait for the last minute to sneak out cancellations as often the guests have confirmed on their own websites their non-attendance weeks or months earlier. This is Showmasters’ standard practice. I think that makes them dicks.
– Their London Film and Comic Con is almost a human-rights infringement demonstration. One year I went and they had no chairs. There was nowhere for anybody to sit down. it was one of the hottest days of the year, too. There was no air conditioning. Well, it looked like there was, but it wasn’t on. I saw the bloke who played Chewbacca having what looked like a heat-exhaustion respiratory attack at that one.
– They are staffed almost entirely by young volunteers. As I understand it from the ones I’ve talked to at these events, they’re completely unpaid and worked really hard. It’s real dogsbody work and there is no excuse not to pay them other than you’re exploiting the goodwill and excitement of a bunch of teenagers. Just because they’re prepared to work for free, that doesn’t make it conscionable.
– They choose unsuitable venues. The London venue, at Earls Court, is too big. Sometimes insanely big. I booked a stall at one and found my stand alone in an entire corridor. Hidden from anything, fortunate to have people stumble randomly upon us. When I turned our promotional dvd volume up to catch people’s attention, one of the organisers came and scalded me as if I were a naughty schoolboy rather than a client who had paid a lot of money to be dumped somewhere untroubled by customers. Collectormania was originally held in a shopping centre. In the middle of a mall, during a busy weekend. Meaning not only were there a lot of nerds squashed into a small atrium but also the slack-jawed dull-eyed shoppers of Milton Keynes clogging up every available space with pushchairs and shopping bags. The shopping centre was almost comical in it’s inappropriateness but if that raised a giggle, their new venue raises a mighty guffaw….
I had read before heading off this morning that the new venue was the MK Dons’ stadium but had hilariously assumed that there was some kind of venue or covered area within the complex. No. It is an open-air, uncovered sports stadium. The guests were lined up at tables around the concourse. The concourse is the bit that circles the stadium that sits between the seats you walk down to and the seats you walk up to. It was completely open to the elements. I mean… that’s ridiculous. It was freezing cold! Despite the temperature being fairly cold in MK today anyway, the stadium creates it’s own little weather system, conjuring up icy blasts of wind that seem to be cooled further by bouncing around the stone concourse. It was freezing! They had their ‘celebrities’ just sat there in the outside. Some were swaddled in blankets, all were clutching hot drinks like a tramp at a soup kitchen. Brilliantly, Showmasters managed to introduce a hierarchy to the suffering. The most famous guests (Tom Baker, Linda Hamilton from Terminator, some schmo from Twilight) got tents! TENTS! Those crappy white gazebo looking things! They were still open to direct blasts of wind that whipped up across the playing fields but somewhat protected from the peripheral winds that circled the concourse. All of the other guests were just left to die of exposure. It was hysterical. In a really, unbelievably cruel way. They had reunited a whole bunch of the people who had played Stormtroopers in the first Star Wars films. These guys are in their seventies now. They were contacted to sit for four days outside whilst all but the most insane SW fans ran past them on their way to shelter from the weather in the toilets.
Also, because the entire event was laid out over what was essentially one long corridor, it managed to not feel like any kind of event. It was just a big round cold corridor with sad, confused, frozen z-listers sat staring over a football field with that glassy-eyed hangdog expression that can only say ‘how did my life bring me here?’ From starring in Hollywood blockbusters to sitting like a homeless person in Milton bloody Keynes.
Many of James’s autograph experiences were amusingly wretched too. Barry Bostwick, aged and bloated way beyond recognition, sat discussing agents ‘for these things’ with a strange little man as James patiently waited for him to be so good as sign the scrap of photo paper he was being paid £15 to do. Chewbacca (apparently recovered) was quick and perfunctorily polite, Tom Baker was keen to get through his queue with speed. James did have fun meeting Linda Hamilton and Kenny Baker, though.
The one guest I wanted to meet was Slavitza Jovan. I don’t expect you to recognise the name, I only learned it recently, but she played Gozer The Gozerian – the baddie at the end of Ghostbusters. It’s very rare I actually want a signed photo for myself but I figured a signed Gozer photo with the dedication ‘To Jon, Are you a GOD?” would be a fun thing to display next to my Ghostbusters dolls in the study. Of course, things rarely go to plan in the world of nerdfest celebrities. Upon paying my £15, and having her shakily write my name, she said ‘No, I will not talk of God. People ask me to write of God but I will not. You understand?’ I smiled and said ‘of course’ but, really, I didn’t understand. In the same way that I didn’t understand when I met Linda Blair and asked her to write ‘To everyone at Videosyncratic, your mothers suck cocks in hell” and she said no and stared at me like my asking her to write something which she had SAID VOCALLY in a BLOCKBUSTER MOVIE was completely unreasonable, despite the fact I was paying her a wadge of cash just to scrawl her name. So, I pretended to Gozer that I understood, then she signed her name. Then she crossed out her surname. Then she threw the photo away after telling her assistant ‘I throw this away, as I write my surname by accident!’ And she started again on a new photo. A little shakier ‘To Jon: Slavitza J.” It looks crap.
As per usual, I left the event grumpy, tired and hateful.
Who’s coming with me to the next?