The recipe for making the perfection convention is not set in stone. Sometimes things fall into place just the way they should, and sometimes they don’t. After attending nine conventions since 2004, I at least feel like I’ve seen it all. I have have attended what I view as 2 distinctly different styles of star-attended conventions: Creation Entertainment style, and Dragon*Con style. Then I experienced a hybrid of the 2 styles at CyphanCon.
Now first let me explain what I mean by “Creation style” and “Dragon*Con style.” I have the most experience with Creation. They are a company that puts on conventions for almost every sci-fi franchise you can think of, and a few you wouldn’t. *Cough*Twilight*Cough*. They bill themselves as being able to give fans the most imtimate experiece possible. They bring the stars out for one hour Q&A sessions, ussually one at a time, but sometimes they will put 2 on stage together. Seats are assigned unless you go for general admissions, which will have you seated all the way at the back of the room. You can get autographs and photo ops, but although Creation swears never to rush you through, they don’t give you much choice but to just keep moving. They bring a couple of guests to the meal events they have, usually a dessert party and a breakfast. If you’re going to have a memorable moment with the stars, this might be your best shot. Fans are seated at tables of about 7 people, leaving one chair open for the stars to use as they move from table to table. Their time is strictly monitored, and after 2 minutes the star is pressured to move on, ready or not.
Creation also has a very specific approach to the media that may be seen as rather anti-fan. No audio or video recording is allowed. Pictures can be taken, but sometimes the lighting is not conducive to the point where fans have had to ask for changes. Creation films all the Q&A sessions, projecting their feed of the star on to a big screen at the back of the stage, the better for the fans at the back of the room to see with. However, the likelihood that you will ever see more than a few minutes of this footage streaming on their website is slim. Once upon a time they did sell convention videos, and knowing that, I think it made more sense to fans that no video recording was allowed. Yet this has not been the case for several years, so it is not unusual to spot someone being chastised by Creation staff for filming.
Dragon*Con is pretty much opposite to Creation in every way you can think of. It is not run by a company looking to make money, but rather by fans. The varity of shows represented is very wide, but they also host authors, music groups, and artists. Stars are grouped together for panels, either by show, by franchise, or by their roles on the show. Your ticket gets you in to Everything, and seating is on a first-come first-seated basis, so the sooner you get in line, the better your shot at front row. You can buy autographs and photo ops at Dragon*Con too, but instead of waiting in one line forever to get your autographs, you can go to the Walk of Fame and get your items signed during a set time period. In the Walk of Fame, stars sit at tables and fans can go talk to whomever they want, for as long as they want, or at least until someone else comes for their turn!
At Dragon*Con, all media goes. Video cameras are all over the place, and the panels are televised throughout the hosting hotels on a closed circuit TV channels for those who don’t make it into the panels. There’s a media relations team that works to set up outstanding reporters with press passes for special access and interviews. When video footage reaches the web it’s a win for Dragon*Con!
CyphanCon is a brand new fan run convention that made its debut this summer, and it was the best of both worlds. I had never thought that was possible, but Cyphan pulled it off with a bang! It had the small convention intimacy that I expect from Creation, while taking the handcuffs off of both the fans and the stars.
Cyphan was small, smaller than the first Chicago Creation convention in 2004. Q&A sessions were all held in a small room. At a glance I would guess there were only 100 chairs, and they surrounded the stage on three sides, but they were never all occupied. There was sound equipment and the guests were given a microphone, but outside of making it easier for my camera to pick up the star’s voice, it really wasn’t needed. The chairs were set only a couple feet from the stage. Usually lines will form to ask questions, and you can consider yourself very lucky if you actually get to ask your question. Not at CyphanCon! The stars took questions classroom style, and I actually got to ask Jewel Staite not one but two questions!
The autograph line was the most relaxed line I have ever been in. The young woman who got an autograph from Jewel Staite before me was telling Jewel about her now signed item . . . a toaster! Don’t ask why because I don’t know! It was something to do with Battlestar Galactica and cylons . . . The point is, she was able to stand there and actually talk with Jewel for a minute, and ultimately that is what fans want.
Even the demenor of the attendees reminded me more of Dragon*Con than a Creation convention. At a Creation con, people wear costumes on the day of the costume contest. At Dragon*Con there are people in costume all over the place and you never know what you’ll see! The CyphanCon fans were awesome like that. I saw costumes pretty consistently. Some I could figure out. Others . . . your guess is probably better than mine! These folks were friendly and excited. How friendly? There was a wedding going on in one of the neighboring ballrooms around 6:00 that evening, the same time as the Browncoat Bash. The bride and groom were apparently StarWars fans, and when they found out there was a sci-fi convention next door they decided to incorporate it! Stormtroopers escorted the bride down the aisle! How cool is that?!
I have to be honest, I’m pretty sure I was the only fan at CyphanCon with a video camera and a tripod, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes next year as CyphanCon grows, and grow it will, especially if fans are not tied down by legal documentation preventing audio and video recording. It’s apparent to me that Dragon*Con is as huge as it is because fans are allowed to use whatever means they can to show the world how awesome it is. Search for “DragonCon” on YouTube and if you don’t find something I’ll eat my computer! CyphanCon has the potential to become that popular.
I have just two criticism for CyphanCon. Firstly, while the Westin hotel in Wheeling had the ideal facilities for this convention, it had far from ideal parking, especially since there was that wedding going on in one of the ballrooms. Witness if you will, my convention casualty. My tail light broke when I failed to fully maneuver around an illegally parked camper (reflected ominously in my window!). The camper was far from the only vehicle without a parking spot. Virtually every possible illegal space was taken as well! I was lucky enough to catch someone leaving or I would have been without any parking at all. If CyphanCon grows next year and remains at the Westin, I hope they reserve ALL the ballrooms and ALL the parking on that side of the building, or things could get very sticky!
Secondly, the Browncoat Bash was a wonderful party, but yet it didn’t really work. Being accustomed to Creation parties as I am, when I saw round tables with chairs I assumed that everyone would be asked to take seats and the guest – or guests as it turned out – would come from table to table talking with people, and hopefully at their own pace since we had two hours. Instead, the guests came in after the party had been underway for about 45 minutes, their arrival was not announced so if I had not seen two of the three come in with my own eyes I wouldn’t have known they were there, and they were quickly surrounded by people who never actually took a seat. This would have been fine if the format had been a little more clearly defined at the start of the party, and if the guests, knowing that, could have attempted to circulate as much as possible. Instead I fear they were mobbed, in the gentlest sense of the term, and there were some fans in the room who might never have gotten their moment with the stars. If my friend and I had not been spotted by Julie Caitlin Brown and nearly dragged over to join the group surrounding Jewel Staite, I don’t know if we would ever have gotten to really talk to her.
The Bash had seemed reasonably priced at $75 dollars when Jewel Staite was the only one attending. Having Nicki Clyne and Julie Caitlin Brown join us as well was a real treat. The party was open bar – which was great even though I don’t drink because I could get unlimited Sprites! – and everyone seemed to enjoy it immensly. The only thing that was really missing was some food beyond bowls of pretzel bites and Chex Mix, especially since we opted out of getting dinner after the tail light incident because we realized that if we left our parking spot we might not find another. Don’t you just love vicious circles?
All and all, CyphanCon was one of the very best convention experiences I have ever had. I’ve never felt that free to interact with guest stars, or to collect media to give the convention the coverage it deserves. The fans were top knotch and their enthusiasm was infectious. I am totally looking forward to next year!
Want to see more? Check out the pictures in our CyphanCon 2010 album!