Arts & Culture

Ron Weasley Made Me Sad

Fan conventions are supposed to empower subcultures. But paying $260 for a photo deadened my nerd soul

• 1,742 words

Photograph by Jonathan KayJonathan Kay

Fans of the TV show Entourage will remember the second-season episode in which Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) heads to San Diego’s Comic-Con International, dressed in prop-wardrobe Viking costume. Drama, we learn, had appeared in a (fictional) show called Viking Quest, starring as the warrior Tarvold. On the fan-convention circuit, Drama explained, he could rake in big money by signing autographs, and set conventioneers’ hearts aflutter with Tarvold’s signature cry of “Victory!” On Entourage, this seemed funny. In real life, I recently learned, it’s sad.

On Sunday, I took two of my daughters to the 2015 instalment of Fan Expo Canada, billed as “the largest Comics, Sci-fi, Horror, Anime, and Gaming event in Canada.” More than 100,000 fans show up annually for the four-day exhibition, which now sprawls over both buildings of the massive Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Under one roof, I was able to meet a life-size My Little Pony, compete in a Catan tournament, playtest emerging console video games, commission custom panels from famous cartoonists, pose with life-size Futurama characters, buy a fully functional 3D-chess set, and generally revel in all the various subcultures that the rest of society stigmatizes as dorky and juvenile. My girls and I have been to Fan Expo Canada three years in a row, and we always have a good time.

But my daughters are getting older. This year, for the first time, they were after more than just a Harry Potter wand and a Gryffindor T-shirt: They wanted to meet the real-life Harry Potter movie stars appearing at Fan Expo. Expecting to encounter nothing more than a real-life version of Drama’s Viking Quest subplot, I acquiesced, and we wandered over to celebrity row.

I was shockingly naive about how this process works. Before Sunday’s celebrity adventure, I’d assumed that one could mingle about and snap pictures with fan-con celebs for free, taking out your wallet only when you wanted a signed photo.

In fact, the best way to describe Fan Expo’s celebrity protocol is as a sort of Chicago Mercantile Exchange for human beings. Instead of live cattle, lean hogs, skimmed milk powder, cash-settled butter, and softwood pulp, this big board (displayed above) lists prices for Billy Dee Williams, Gillian Anderson, Danny Trejo, Neve Campbell, Norman Reedus, Skeet Ulrich, Zach Galligan, and fifty other stars and quasi-stars. The precision of the numbers suggests a fine-tuned demand-driven adjustment process that any commodities trader would recognize. Williams (Lando Calrissian from Star Wars, but you knew that) was listed at $57. Anderson (X-Files): $91. Danny Trejo (Machete): $74. Neve Campbell (Scream): $97. Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead): $130. Skeet Ulrich (Jericho): $68. Zach Galligan (Gremlins): $63. Just my luck: Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley, Harry Potter’s red-haired sidekick) was listed at $142—highest on the board. I wanted to bail out. But having made the mistake of getting dragged this far, turning back wasn’t going to be a good-dad move.

And it got worse. Fan Expo also sells “Team Ups”: Photo-ops that allow big spenders to pose with multiple cast members from the same show or movie. In the case of Potter fans, $260 gets you the “Weasley family”—featuring not only Grint, but the two actors who play his fictional twin brothers Fred (James Phelps) and George (Oliver Phelps). The twins alone could be had for a mere $102, but my daughters convinced me that the family plan offered “the best value.” A second print: another $10. Digital copy: That was extra, too. With frames and tax, I was in for well over $300.

For that money, you’d expect VIP treatment. But no: Even after prepaying in full, we were just three bobbing heads amidst a giant herd of fandom—all of us waiting for our celeb’s name to be shouted out, so we could be sluiced down the appropriate gangplank for suckers. “Gillian Anderson!” a staffer bellowed into a bullhorn. Parts of the crowd screamed, tittered, and surged toward the photo rooms. Then came “Hannibal!” and “Reedus!” and “Weasley Twins”—then, finally, after we’d been standing around for half an hour, “Weasley family!” It shocked me how aggressively I surged forward with my daughters and the rest of the Potter fanatics. After what I’d paid, I was not going to miss this close-up. I’ve boarded flights to Florida that were cheaper.

Five-and-a-half seconds. That is how long, per capita, the process takes. As the line marches forward, one staffer tells you to get your photo face on (the girls behind me spent five minutes nervously debating whether to do smiling or serious), then the next one gently grabs a hold of you and embeds you deftly into the Weasleys, who stand there smiling and unmoving like wax statues. “One, two . . . good!” shouts the photographer, the “good” being the code-syllable for both “photo taken” and “bodies out, bodies in.” If someone’s eyes are closed, the photographer takes another shot, which requires an extra second. But by my count, these pros were moving at least ten groups in and out every minute. Fifteen minutes of that, at $260 per shot. Do the math. One born every minute.

As a dad, you always want your gifts to be met with squeals of delight and appreciation. But I can’t say I was disappointed to hear my nine-year-old mutter, in a somewhat stunned tone as we were being hustled out: “Really? That’s it? ” She’d assumed—and I did, too, I suppose—that we’d have a moment there with the Weasleys, a meeting of eyes, a shaking of hands, a smile . . . maybe they’d ask us what our favourite movie was, and pretend to care when we answered. But all of that would have added precious seconds to this dehumanizing assembly-line process.

Even small children, it turns out, are smart enough to know that the whole thing is a fantastic rip-off. I’m forty-six, with a good job: I can afford to waste money now and then. But almost everyone else around me was half my age or younger. Most of the money being spent here, I’d wager, had been earned at minimum wage.

The concept behind Fan Expo and other omnibus fan conventions is unusual. Most mass-attendance events are uni-tribal in nature. When you’re going to the bathroom at a baseball game, and you hear the stadium crowd’s muffled cheer through the concrete wall, you have a pretty good idea what’s happened—a run scored for the home team, or a spectacular defensive play, depending on which half of the inning you picked for a bathroom break. Zip up and get out there, maybe you’ll see the replay on the big screen.

But fan cons aren’t like that. When you hear a cheer from some distant corner of the convention floor, you have no idea what’s happened. Maybe someone won a competition in a video game you’ve never played. Or a star from a long-gone medieval cult movie has made an appearance. Or a winner’s been announced in the Adventure Time costume contest. No one from outside the affected sub-cult raises an eyebrow. It’s one big pastiche of festishists, and what turns my crank almost certainly won’t turn yours. From my perspective as a lifelong nerd, that’s the very best thing about these events: free to be you and me, no matter how uncool and weird either one of us may be.

The reason I felt sad and hollow after meeting the Weasleys wasn’t that I’d spent a lot of money. It was that in the space of just five-and-a-half seconds, that entire free-to-be-you-and-me conceit got turned on its head. When it comes down to the big money, it’s actually not okay to be unpopular or odd: It’s all there in black and white on the human mercantile exchange, like the middle-school social hierarchy that Greg Heffley meticulously tracks in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Drop below $50, and they don’t even put you on the big board. (You’re on notice, Lando.)

It doesn’t matter if you’re a princess or a space warrior or a talking pony: You have a price on your forehead, and what that price measures is fame. Celebrity worship is the lowest common denominator of popular culture. And if you can’t escape it at Fan Expo, a supposed celebration of subcultures, what hope do the world’s geeks really have?

“Fleeced,” “Rip-off,” “Sucker”—I’ve used some strong language here. But in fact, Fan Expo and the Weasleys were scrupulously honest. They promised me a photo for a printed price. And that’s exactly what they delivered. And it’s a great shot: Everyone’s beaming. We look like fast friends. Perfect for generating social media likes and green-envy emoticons.

I feel sorry for Grint and co., to be honest. For all the money they made at Fan Expo, it really is a profoundly undignified way to make a living. The process requires them to mimic, in as close a fashion as possible, a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out of a real human being. I have no particular insight into the minds of celebrities, but I find it hard to believe that the dehumanizing nature of these interactions does not, in time, metastasize into a contempt for the participants, themselves included.

“People don’t realize how emotionally exhausting it is,” one Fan Expo veteran told me. “I’m just a comic-book artist, not on the level of Harry Potter celebrities. But even in my case, some of these people come up to my booth and they’re shaking because they’re so nervous. I might only say a few words to them, but I have to be really careful with every gesture—because I know they will remember this interaction for years. You do ten hours of that, and it drains you. After the show, I just cannot speak to another human being. I go up to my hotel room and stare at the wall for an hour.”

After hearing that, I looked down at that Weasley family photo I bought—happy smiles as sweet as chocolate frogs. But what did the Weasleys do when the photographer said “one, two . . . good” for the final time on Sunday? If $260 bought me a straight answer to that question, I’d gladly pay it.

Jonathan Kay (@jonkay) is the editor-in-chief of The Walrus.

  • def

    Utterly disturbing. I rented a table at the first Fan Expo some time in the 90s, and it was disturbing then, treating 20 something comic artists as super human, but what it’s evolved into is simply ugly. Glad to see some coverage of the event beyond photos of smiling adults playing dress up.

  • Don Sparrow

    This article betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how conventions work. The cons generally pay the celebrities a flat appearance fee, then the convention tries to make that money back by charging for autographs and photos. The stars themselves don’t get the money from photo ops, at least not directly. So while it’s definitely a racket, it’s not the Grints whose pockets are being lined.

    And the cattle call nature of the photos is a necessary evil. As rushed as your family felt, I bet you’d be complaining even more if the line took hours and hours to get through, because each photo came with long interactions.

    Also, at most shows, you do have a chance to meet and interact with the stars for free, in the autograph line. There is no cost just to say hello and shake hands, but autographs come with a cost. So if all your family wanted was to meet their heroes, without mementos, you needn’t have shelled out the $260.

    Lastly, the interaction depends on the celebrity. I’ve had great luck with all the photo ops I’ve gotten, with actors who insisted on learning my name and shaking hands, and the like. So I’m sorry your experience was such a negative one, but I feel like this article ignored the fact that all these things you endured were voluntary, and you received something in return for your money. If there weren’t people like you willing to pay for these experiences, they wouldn’t be able to charge so much.

    • Patrick Shaffer

      that’s partially true. Conventions get are charged X for Y guest but will charge W to be there IF so many autographs and photo ops are sold. IF the amount of photos and autographs are not met the con has to make up the difference. Some of these guests are really chill, some are there for the bread and some are their because well their are fans too. I’ve been to a for profit con in Boise that only lasted one year because they overspent and undersold, small fan cons where it was all good and big fan cons where there’s a lot of waiting to see people and panels.

    • Jason A. Quest

      I don’t think the article betrays any misunderstanding. He says he gets it. He’s just very disappointed by it.

      • Don Sparrow

        He seems to think the performers are getting the money for the photo ops. They’re not, at least not directly.

        • Cpt_Justice

          Even if they were, media celebrities know better than anyone how fleeting their fame is, & have to make a living while they can.

        • JeffSmith

          They are getting money for the photo ops. They don’t dictate exactly how much will be charged, but they’re being paid to be there, and part of their contract states that they will do photo ops.

    • Deus deCorvos

      Actually, as someone who has worked directly with conventions and photo op companies, I can tell you that your understanding is perhaps not entirely accurate . A lot of large cons (most, really) hire a third party for photo ops. That company gets a cut, the convention gets a cut, and the celebrity definitely gets the majority of the fee.

      This money is usually separate from, and on top of, appearance fees. And celebrities DO actually get the money directly from the photo ops. In fact, at some cons, I’ve seen celebrities handed two envelopes of cash – once at the beginning of the weekend from pre-sales – and again at then end. In that type of arrangement, the celebs get their full cut in cash, at the show, and the con and photo company get their cuts in a mix of cash and credit card sales afterward.

      The photo op fee is agreed upon between the con and the celebrity’s management – with the celeb usually having the final say – but the appearance fee is entirely separate and part of the convention’s budget.

      A few celebs only do photo ops. Some celebrities prefer to do autograph lines (or their celeb status may not warrant an op), and some do both. Sometimes, when they do autograph lines, the celeb will require a contract with a ‘guarantee.’ For instance, a fairly major celeb might have a $25,000 guarantee, where they are paid cash only, directly by patrons, for autographs and photos. If the celeb fails to make $25,000 or more, the convention is on the hook for the balance. Sometimes the celeb will waive their appearance fee with this type of arrangement, or they might charge a reduced appearance fee.

      Finally, the fact that the author voluntarily paid $300 for a photo op doesn’t in any way negate his experience or invalidate his assessment.

      Convention veterans are savvy to how photo ops work. They still grumble about out-of-control prices, but they know it’s pretty much based on what the market will bear. Some commenters have accused the author of being naive for not knowing the difference between a photo op and an autograph table, however the author was an admitted novice, and I don’t think his expectations were at all unreasonable. If it were my first convention, I’m not sure that it would occur to me that the $300 I was paying was for the “convenience” of moving through a fast line and that the trade-off would be a less personal experience.

      • Don Sparrow

        Thanks for the info. That’s a fair point, but I guess you can count me in the camp that finds the author’s grumbling a bit naive, especially since he’s, by his own admission, a regular attender.

        • Deus deCorvos

          He’s a “regular attender,” in that he’s taken his young kids to the same show for the last few years. I’m not sure that makes him a convention regular.

          He makes it pretty clear this was his first photo op. And as someone who has observed tens of thousands of people herded through the lines, I can tell you he’s not the first to be taken aback by the whole thing.

          You have to remember that the photo op scene he’s describing is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s only really exploded (in both popularity and prices) in the last three years or so.

          From the viewpoint of more casual fans, who maybe go to one show a year with their kids for a T-shirt and some Legos, the photo op experience is pretty jarring (and kind of depressing.)

          That’s what he’s really describing here, and I’m sure a lot of people can relate.

    • Arlene VonderPorten Jacobs

      Each con is different and contracts are different. The convention I run does not get the money from the celebrity photo ops — the celebrities do.

  • Jessie

    I think it’s worth noting also that this was Rupert Grint’s first ever fan convention. So this is not how he makes his living. His co-stars, Tom Felton and James and Oliver Phelps, who are old hands at conventions, said that he was very nervous about it and asked a lot of questions about what it would be like. He is known to be shy and gets nervous in front of large crowds, so it’s very possible that he was simply overwhelmed by the experience. Other reports from the convention have people who met him describing him as very sweet, so it may be that your family simply caught him at a bad time.

    • Tee

      They were all EXTREMELY sweet, shaking hands, asking questions about how the day was, answering our questions. I had a great convo with James and Oliver. This was at the autograph tables however, so maybe next year Fan Expo can figure out how to not treat peeps like cattle based on volume.

  • Mr. Dark

    This also portrays a deep misunderstanding of what cons offer.

    You paid for a photo op. Almost every star at a convention also offers photos at their tables, usually for the price of an autograph, sometimes for free. You even get that moment, that meet and greet, that chat.

    Thing is, you pay with time. The lines get massive. You can wait and wait for hours and still miss your chance, as you’re beholden to their schedule. If it’s time to go to a panel or lunch, off they go and there you stand after 2 hours, five people away from getting your moment.

    You paid to avoid that. You paid to skip the line and get a professional quality photo. In short: you bought the wrong thing. You wanted a meet and greet, and a photo. You wait in line at the table for that. If you want a pro photo with no line, you pay for a photo op.

    Caveat emptor, and honestly, nobody’s to blame for your ignorance when spending that much money. Almost every con has a help desk staffed with people to explain this kind of question.

    • Mark Walters

      You’re almost right, except these days at shows like this the big name celebs are no longer doing table photos. In this instance the pro photo op was the only way to get a photo with them.

      • Deus deCorvos

        This is exactly correct. More often, really popular celebs will skip a table in favor of photo ops because for them, it’s a model of efficiency – an hour or two in one big photo session, vs five or six hours at a table for maybe only half the money.

  • Steve Summers

    Most of the comments here just seem to be making lots of excuses for conventions and the celebrities who appear at them. It’s both the choice of the con organizers and the guests as to what money is involved, and if either of them had a problem with it, they wouldn’t take part in the event or set it up this way.

    This “geek” culture nowadays has gotten super commercialized in the last 10 years when companies and organizations learned just how easy it was to sell 5 seconds of contact with someone who the media has built up to be a celebrity to your average person. Now it’s become a free-for-all with conventions like this happening all over North America many times a year, with the same ridiculous policies and prices, but like another commenter said, all you usually see as media coverage from these events are people posting their photos with celebrities on Facebook or media outlets posting tons of nice and complacent photos of cosplayers and con-goers to make it look like everything is super nice and welcoming, when the reality is a bit different most of the time.

    Great article, and I wish more people would think deeply enough about things like this and write more about these experiences and what’s really behind them.

    • Mark Walters

      People want to meet their favorite stars, and with that comes a price. Do you think these celebs would spend time away from work and their families to stand around and meet fans all day for free? Their time is money. And as for the costs, it’s just supply and demand, no different than any other type of consumerism. Bottom line is you’re talking about optional opportunities. You can still go to most conventions and have a great time walking around, dressing up, attending panels, and hanging with like-minded people… and it costs you nothing past the admission cost. Meeting celebs and whatnot, that’s a fee you decide whether or not you want to pay.

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  • Al Daugherty

    Jamie Lee Curtis appeared at Horror Hound, 2012 in Indianapolis for her one and only horror convention. See was amazing and gracious to all her fans (see “The Night She Came Home” documentary on the latest Halloween blu ray). She signed (with personalization and movie quotes, chatted, and took photos with fans over 12 hours a day for 3 days. She donated all the money (nearly $200,000) to Children’s Hospital L.A. She even made a donation to the Indianapolis Children’s Hospital before she left town. She paid for her own airline ticket, hotel, and did not accept an appearance fee. Even the Indianapolis Police Department donated their time for her security detail. I was happy to pay $80 per autograph and photo op and $200 for the VIP pass. Only the grim reaper himself could have prevented me from attending this once in a lifetime event. America’s Scream Queen is one class act and getting to appear with her on the documentary signing my items (also filmed at no charge by her sister and brother-in-law) is priceless.

    • Deus deCorvos

      That was a great show, and Jamie Lee Curtis was absolutely amazing.

      • Al Daugherty

        The best time ever at a horror con. Glad you got to experience it too. My favorite all-around show is Spooky Empire in Orlando. It’s very well produced and I never miss it. The VIP Party is killer. Most of the guests show up, there’s an open bar and cool prizes. It’s actually on Halloween this year!

  • Robin Poirier

    Obviously a lot of folks here have never been to a Worldcon or Westercon or other proper con. Were pros and fen mingle together comfortably. Where your membership fee covers all events you participate in at the con. You won’t build relationships at these frenzied excuses for cons.

    These Fan Expos, SDCC’s and similar ilk are no holds bared money making machines. The nicke and dime you. Pay to get in, pay for this, pay for that… oh… and the lines… my feet get sore at the thought.

  • David

    Why “fans” expect working actors/performers to spend their own money and time to travel to across the country — or to foreign countries, in this case — to spend an entire weekend meeting and greet them for free is beyond me.

    • Mark Walters

      Someone gets it. I’ll never understand what some of these people expect. All you have to do is put yourself in their position. This is work for them, not pleasure. Let’s say you pour tar for a living. If someone asked you to fly across the country (or in some cases across the world) and pour tar all weekend long, you’d want to be paid for it, right?

      • tomwest

        Not the same – their job is acting; what they are doing at these conventions is meeting people.

        • xanthk

          Meeting people, yes. While hosting panels, wearing out their arms signing things, posing for the myriad photos that are the point of those photo shoots. It’s just “meeting people” for the people going to meet -them- But for them, there’s as much or more work involved as there is just enjoying meeting that many.

        • Mark Walters

          Time is money. You honestly think they’d want to go to these conventions and spend days away from their families and work for FREE? It’s work for them, plain and simple. So yeah, it’s the same.

  • John Tackett

    @Don Sparrow – Ever been to DragonCon? Most of the media guest are not paid to appear but instead make their money selling pictures and autographs. Those that the con does pay for usually get only a hotel room and airfare. Again, they make their money selling pictures and autographs. Yes many of them do schedule “photo ops” with a profession photographer and it can be as describes in the article, but other times they are at their table selling the pic and autographs. In other words, the photo op money is split between the guest and the photographer/company who the media guest has contracted with The con gets none of it. But DragonCon is not a Fan Expo, but rather a convention for fans.

    The “photo ops” provide an opportunity for the fans to have that up close and personal picture as opposed to buying a picture from a movie and getting it autographed. While I am not a fan of the “Photo Ops” I realize that there is a need as well as a market for them. I prefer to instead bring unusual items and get them autographed. At this years DragonCon I brought a 2001:Space Oddessy program book and got it signed by the 2 stars of the movie. I have had the media guest sign movie scripts or pictures from their lesser known works. Those to me make the best memories..

    • Don Sparrow

      Hi John,

      I have not been to DragonCon, so I don’t know the variation on the usual theme, I only know how the Calgary Expo (and its sister shows, Edmonton, Saskatoon,etc) and FanExpo shows typically go. That’s interesting info though. But my point remains–this is a weird article, expressing shock at something even the most casual observer of convention culture might have noticed years and year ago.

      • John Tackett

        Agree – I recall the days of Comic Con when you could actually meet the guests and get autographs for free. I recall the “shock” when I started seeing the photo ops appear at cons.

        • Mike White

          Do you still go?

          • John Tackett

            Not any more. Have not been to Comic Con in 6 years.

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  • Cpt_Justice

    Hey, these people have to make a living. I don’t blame them in the slightest.

  • Mike White

    There’s always the choice of *not* getting a photo. I don’t understand why getting photos and autographs are such a big deal. Do you really need that keepsake so badly? Is it for you or is it for your friends to see you with your favorite celeb or to prove that you met them? It’s not like you had a conversation with them or were anything more than just another paying customer. Save your money and save yourself some grief.

    • NixEclips

      talking with Reggie Bannister at a Fango convention about the meaning of Phantasm is one of my favorite con moments. No autograph or pic to share. Just a good memory. Also, talking with Nicholas Worth about Darkman and Swamp Thing. He autographed his headshot for free, after the talk. Not sure if that was normal, but he was a sweet guy.

      • Ricky Coogin

        I would have asked Worth about playing the guy Clint Eastwood beats up in jail in Heartbreak Ridge and a transvestite in Armed and Dangerous.

        • NixEclips

          Very good suggestions. Sadly, he has left us and I was just happy to meet Pauly who “never made the pickup”. Love your pic and name. Are you our man in Santa Flan?

  • John C

    Really appreciate the article. I haven’t had the exact same experience, but after attending a few fan conventions I’ve been completely turned off. I wouldn’t place blame on the guests, the organizers, the photographers or anyone in particular – meeting celebs is in-demand and they offer a service which is provided, as the article points out. But like Jonathan, I just find the whole process deeply depressing and somewhat dehumanizing. One of my earliest meet ‘n greets, before I was aware of charging for autographs and pictures (I’d asked people for these things on the street and generally received a warm and positive response), was David Carradine. I walked up to the table with a dvd for him to sign. He had his arms folded and eyes set on the floor, apparently sleeping. His handler charged me $20, nudged Carradine awake, the Great Star scribbled an illegible smudge that can only be seen as a mark devaluing the dvd, and gave it back to the handler before returning to his blissful slumber. More recently, I went to a horror con with a friend; upon hearing that Rip Torn was set up at a table I went to catch a glimpse of the legendary actor. The poor guy looked absolutely ashen, gray, confused even. He hid under a hat and, like Carradine, looked at no one. It was an experience that clearly made everyone involved absolutely miserable. While I appreciate famous folks taking the time to meet and maybe even acknowledge fans, it really has become more like a fast food drive-in as described above. Which, again, is fine – if it’s worth it to you to pay $300 to stand next to a famous person for 10 seconds and have your picture taken, by all means go at it. Just don’t try to pretend it was anything but a business transaction.

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  • Brian Crocker

    Try hitting up some of the smaller conventions. Shameless plug time – I volunteer on the Gaming board for Hal-Con, the Halifax non-profit convention, and after all the stories I hear from people going to big for-profit conventions, I am really proud of the work we do at Hal-Con. There’s merits and disadvantages to both – smaller cons can’t afford the massive names in the industry but our guests are often very cool indeed, and in the smaller cons, they tend to be a touch more approachable, you get a bit more time with them. One of my best experiences was meeting John Rhys-Davies (Gimli in LOTR and Sallah in Raiders and the other Indy movies) and what a genuinely warm and approachable guy he was. He got down on his knees in the middle of the con and started playing with the daughter of a friend of mine who was also a volunteer, and there’s a great picture of her reaching up and giving him a big kiss on his mouth. It made her year to see her daughter playing with JRD.
    Come out our way and give our con a try, and see if it’s more your style.
    The big cons are awesome, and I hope to hit a few some day, but my experiences make me feel the smaller cons might not get the big names, but if you want a more fan-driven and focused experience, some of these are where it’s at.

  • Grey_Starr

    There is a HUGE difference between the cons for cash and the fan run not for profits! The sad part is – the fan cons are staying pretty small – because people want to see the BIG Stars – and the little cons can’t afford them.

    At Ad Astra, all the autographs are included… The guests are in panels where you can completely interact with them. But being more a literary con of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror… people just don’t think it’s a con for them. To be honest – it’s now my favorite. If anyone used to like the atmosphere and fun of Toronto Trek (Polaris), you would really enjoy your time at Ad Astra.

    • Kaylee6

      There’s a small local con I go to. If I bring my own items, I can get them signed for free at the guest’s table. Or I can purchase something the guest is selling (picture, DVD, CD, book, etc.) and then have it autographed. I’m not sure what deal they have worked out with their guests. But as it’s small, you can’t beat the level of interaction.

  • Zod

    Bah. This is Canadian money. The whole thing cost him $40US.


  • Marc Quill

    A great article that really brings forth a fascinating philosophical (yes) and ethical quandary about the nature of these conventions and photo ops.

  • Kurt James

    A few years ago, I went to an autograph signing with Danny Tamberelli (Little Pete from Pete & Pete). I paid my $20 and waited in line with everyone to get an autograph. When I got up there and presented my boxed DVD set for signing, he stared at me deadpan and took out his marker. He then proceeded to draw swastikas over the faces of every supporting cast member excluding himself. When I complained that he had ruined my boxed set, he produced a knife and asked me if I wanted to “get crazy”. I declined and he called me a pussy and then leered suggestively at my wife.

  • Trejkaz

    This is why I prefer 2D.

  • LarryBundyJr

    Ironic as I remember the press hounding Ray Park (the guy who played Darth Maul) for having the audacity to charge $5 for an autograph and a photo (“financially blackmailing fans” as they put it) partially ruining his career in the late ’90s… now they’re all doing it and no one bats an eyelid.

  • Lisa

    I’m sorry your one and only photo op experience didn’t go as you’d like – especially for your daughters. Just standing beside their “idol” is enough for some – they couldn’t speak if they’d wanted to. But actors are human beings too – sometimes you need to speak first. Some of them don’t have great people skills believe it or not. I’ve been to many, many cons of all kinds and I’ve had great experiences and not so great experiences. But I’ve also had actors stop me, take me by both hands and look directly into my eyes as we’ve spoken. It’s also amazing what you can say on the fly – if I really want to say something, I start talking before I even get to the actor, pause for the photo and keep talking on the way out – I get my say and it keeps everyone happy. Your real opportunity to talk to a celeb is usually while getting an autograph – that’s just how it works. I’ve also volunteered for many cons. I’ve sat with celebs for hours while they signed and you wouldn’t believe some of the things people say to them. But, having worked with them, I can tell you that most of them are very aware of what they mean to their fans and they are humbled by it. Do they earn the exorbitant prices some of them demand? Maybe, maybe not. Some of that is on you for keeping up your end of the conversation and some of it is on you for paying the price they asked. Like anything in life, the experience is often what you make it…

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  • Renee Oakes

    I would like to thank you for writing this. My daughter had the same experience, with the twins from Harry Potter (James and Oliver Phelps) and was in tears after the experience. Not even enough time to say hello, hear their voices, or shake their hands. Stand here, snap, move on. For a first year college student, who saved for months (we are middle class folks, no real budget for things such as this for her), it cost her a bundle to travel to Toronto, buy the tickets for Expo, and then pay for this photo op. It was a lesson hard learned for us – and frankly – it sucks. I will continue to keep expressing my disgust at this practice, and hopefully this changes the way they blatantly use these young kids to soak them for the almighty dollar.

  • Magie Tagie

    I amsick and tired of people complaining about the costs of things at
    conventions! News flash conventions are not a necessity, its not
    schooling, or medical care! Those are bloody expensive and shouldn’t be!
    Going to a con is a luxury! If you can’t afford to go DON’T! If you can
    afford to but don’t want to spend the money then DON’T KNOW one is forcing

    I was at this con, in fact I go to Fan Expo every year. Its pricey, PERIOD.
    There are however factors most people complaining don’t take into account.
    First this was Rupert Grint FIRST convention ever! He has never done this
    and he was a replacement for another Harry Porter guest. The convention
    wanted to not disappoint fans, so they got him to agree to come.

    Second, because this was his first con, fan went nuts. The lines were
    ridiculous LONG! And that is with his autograph prices being $125 and his
    photo ops being $147. Can you image the lines if they were cheaper?

    You would have felt a lot worse if you took your girls there only to find
    he had an all-day wait to see/meet Rupert and may still not get to the end
    of the line AND I HAVE SEEN THIS HAPPEN.

    If his prices were $74 like others who do cons all the time, the line
    would have been 8 – 10 hours long! Photo Ops would have been sold out long
    before he got there.

    There has to be some kind of way to control the demand, and other then
    doing it by first come first service, which mean only a few people get to
    see him each day or lottery then its increase the price, so that you only
    had people who really want it.

    That is just the way it is. Its also a supply and demand things. And that
    is just capitalism, if people don’t like it, there are few country that
    don’t have it. Cuba and China come to mind…Though I recommend moving to Cuba
    because the weather is better!

  • NormalNess

    This was perfectly my experience when I went to my first mass convention a few weeks ago. I had previously only been to very small and very specific conventions where you could interact with guests in a fairly ‘normal’ manner while getting signatures. Sure, there were levels of tickets (those who paid more got more interaction and got to sit up the front, that kind of thing) and once I paid more and got more out of it. But it never felt to be at the detriment to other convention goers.
    My expectation for the mass convention was more in line with my previous experiences. Sure, I knew it was bigger and covered lots of genres, but I figured it would be a larger version of similar. It wasn’t. The cattle call style of a large convention shocked me a fair bit, to be honest. Yes, like
    you, I got what I had paid for. A photo. I was with the actor a few seconds. Technically speaking, I perfectly received the transaction I paid for. But it was just that. A transaction.

    I’m still processing. I don’t know if I will go back to conventions after this experience though. It didn’t seem valuable.

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  • Nathan Forester

    I’ve heard all kinds of internet horror stories about how people have been to conventions and they claim to have met Tom Savini and they think he’s a jerk in person, when in actuality he’s just human like the rest of us and is actually a very nice guy.