This year, I attended Dragon Con for the first time. If you’re not familiar with Dragon Con, it is a science fiction convention based in Atlanta, Georgia where actors, musicians, authors, directors, and artists in general gather to meet their fans. Having never been to such a convention, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I did, however, watch a few videos I found online, so I knew approximately how the panels were going to work. Upon arriving in Atlanta for the first time, I was immediately impressed with the overall landscape – not flat like the area I reside. Even while driving on the highway, it is possible to imagine that you’re actually in the middle of a forest. This is made possible mainly by the trees, which are massive enough to hide the majority of nearby buildings. It was also a pleasant reminder of the time I spent living in Florida, when I was much younger.
After settling in, I met up with my sister, and together we headed to Dragon Con. To be sure we were heading the right way to claim our pre-ordered badges, she asked a group of people where to go. We were told to go to the Sheraton, and as we were walking away, I realized one of the individuals in the group was none other than Sam Trammell, who plays Sam Merlotte in True Blood. So sure of this association, my spontaneous response was “Hey, it’s Sam Merlotte!”. Soon after which I shook his hand, as we exchanged simple greetings. I was pleased to see that it was that easy to encounter such a celebrity, simply walking to a hotel. I could have said something better, for example, I could have used his real name… but the reality was, I couldn’t recall it at that moment. Also, I did not try to take more of his time, as I knew he was heading to the True Blood panel.
Continuing on our way to the Sheraton, we spoke with a girl who was heading the same direction. She asked us which type of registration we were going for: preorder, or on-site registration. Upon hearing we preordered, she laughed and wished us the best of luck, explaining that she had to wait 4 hours in line to get her preordered badge, just the night before. Though somewhat skeptical, we approached the Sheraton, fearing the possibility. Unfortunately, the girl was correct, and we discovered that the line spanned many blocks outdoors. After about 15 mins of waiting, I decided to approach a member of their security. He confirmed that the wait was in fact approximately 3-4 hours for pre-order, but here’s the crazy part – he said the on-site registration line only had 30 mins wait. He mentioned that we could buy a day pass just for the first day, which would cost 35$ per ticket. We could then return to get our actual pre-order when the line was shorter. Not wanting to wait a possible 4 hours outside, we decided to spend an extra 35$ each. Sure enough, the on-site registration line was much quicker – especially if you paid cash, which we were able to do. Of course, this all meant we were paying money beyond our initial pre-order, which was already good for all four days of the Con. I found this strange: we ordered and paid ahead of time, and yet, our wait times are excessive compared to last minute buyers. This was a valuable learning experience – next Dragon Con, we were definitely not going to pre-order our tickets. Counter-intuitive, but necessary to avoid a big flaw in the whole event.
As we started to explore the affiliated hotels, it became clear that Dragon Con attendees loved to wear costumes. Everywhere we went, we saw people dressed up as their favorite character from movies, tv shows, etc. Many of these are impressive in quality – making for some great photo opportunities. In between attending panels, we made sure to use our camera to take an abundance of photos. In fact, I acquired so many photos that I will be writing a blog post where I name the top costumes, from my point of view.
Beyond taking photos, we spent a lot of time attending panels which featured actors we knew. Our focus was Battlestar Galactica, as we had both seen the series to completion. Therefore, after the first Battlestar panel, I decided to stay near the staff exit, hoping to bump into the speakers: Edward James Olmos, Aaron Douglas, Richard Hatch, and Mark Sheppard. After a few minutes, my strategy paid off. Most of the actors left through those doors, accompanied by their aides… but it really felt like a paparazzi-type scenario. Fans were taking photos, but the actors were continuing on their way. When Richard Hatch exited the room, I told him I was a big fan of his work, and shook his hand. He thanked me and continued on his way, with fans and camera flashes following him. Not sure where they would go, we followed behind them, but eventually decided to stop. I preferred that, as I was starting to feel like we were members of the paparazzi. After all, these are people just like us – the only difference is that their jobs gave them a good amount of public visibility.
We then discovered that a good portion of the celebrities attending would be available for autographs and photos in a place called the “Walk of Fame”. Having already met Sam Trammell in such an organic fashion, I was looking forward to meeting others in the same fashion. When we arrived there, I noticed that the celebrities were actually charging people to pose for photos. The Walk of Fame room had a strict no picture policy, with exceptions if you paid for a photo with a specific celebrity. Similarly, if you wanted an autograph, you’d have to pay for that too. The prices varied per celebrity, some charging as high as 50$ per photo – Edward James Olmos was one of these. I had hoped to get a photo with the famous Admiral Adama, but once I saw the price, I was immediately repulsed. I scouted the room further, and realized that some celebrities actually charged as low as 10$. This, to me, was more reasonable; however, I still could not allow myself to pay for a photo, or autograph. To me, I felt like the Con would serve as a great way for the artists to promote their work, and at the same time, they have the bonus of meeting some of their fans in person. I was proved wrong, as it seemed like there was a commercial aspect: the more famous the celebrity, the more they charged for their services.
I eventually discovered that Richard Hatch, who played Lee Adama in the original Battlestar Galactica, was not charging for people to take photos with him. When I realized this, I immediately began to respect him much more. Interesting thing is, when I originally arrived at the Con, I mainly knew him for his work on the re-imagined series of Battlestar Galactica. I had seen him in the classic Battlestar, but primarily knew him as Tom Zarek, the terrorist-turned-politician that seemed to be more evil than good. Because of this, he wasn’t at the top of the list of the actors I wanted to meet. Somehow, watching him portray the character Tom Zarek left me with a negative association. So anyway, after I saw him in two panels and then spoke to him at the Walk of fame, I thought of him highly. I also eventually came to question why Richard Hatch wasn’t charging for photos, and why the others were. On Day 3, we decided to ask around – and here’s the response we were given. The celebrities set their own prices, and Dragon Con does not actually enforce a minimum. All money earned is therefore directly awarded to the artist. That, to me, meant to me that Richard Hatch was an exceptionally cool guy. Yes, the actors likely have to pay their way to Dragon Con – so I wouldn’t mind paying 10$ per photo, maybe 20$. Anything higher than that, and I get the feeling they just want some extra money. Evidently, Richard Hatch was granting his fans the opportunity to spend their money elsewhere, and for that, I must commend him. For all the others: considering the salaries they are paid, I don’t quite understand why they need to charge at conventions.
All in all, Dragon Con 2010 was a good experience, one that I will revisit every year. This first visit served as a form of reconnaissance – it allowed me to better determine what to expect. Next time, my approach will be better – less time spent waiting in lines, more time spent taking photos of great costumes, and attending interesting panels.