It was around 8am on Friday, July 26th when Russ Wrangler and I began our journey to the Fright Night Film Fest in Louisville, Kentucky. This annual event (merged in with the Fandomfest Comic & Toy Expo) offers big names in the genre world…be it horror, sci-fi, or comic books.
2013 proved to be no exception with the convention boasting such notable guests as William Shatner, Gillian Anderson, Gene Simmons, and Stan Lee along with a slew of others farther down the celebrity food chain.
In addition to their standard VIP passes, Fright Night also offered special ones that revolved specifically around one of their top celebrity guests. These tickets carried all the perks of a standard VIP along with some additional amenities specific to them. For example, The Stan Lee VIP (which ended up being the most popular one) included a pass for his autograph, a photo with him, and preferred seating at his Q&A event.
The prices for these passes were about $275 (almost twice the price of a regular VIP ticket) but, if you planned on meeting them, were worth getting. Trust me, if you knew what these folks were charging for pictures and autographs (each at separate fees), you’d understand that you’re pretty much spending the same amount of money anyway…just not getting preferred seating and line placement.
Like most of the VIP ticket holders, Russ opted for the Stan Lee pass. It was a wise choice considering that Lee’s not only a living legend but, at the risk of sounding insensitive, not getting any younger either. I considered that pass myself but, as a huge fan of The X-Files, was more enticed by the Gillian Anderson one. In the end, however, I’d ditch Scully in favor of what was Fright Night’s equivalent of the Mercedes Benz…the Gene Simmons VIP.
At a whopping $500, it promised all the “bells and whistles” which not only included an autograph, photo with Simmons, and preferred seating at his Q&A…but the added bonus of a private one hour “Meet and Greet” with the iconic KISS rocker as well.
After driving nearly 5 hours we arrived at our destination. The hotel at Fright Night seems to change every year and the last time I went (in 2011) it was held at a place that looked like a ’70s throwback. I’m talking wood paneling, shag carpets, and a lime-green, hanging light shaped like a flower over the bed. Fortunately, their rates were also retro and, at a mere $60 a night, everyone seemed willing to call it “nostalgic” rather than out-dated. This year was an entirely different story…
Taking place at the beautiful Galt House in the heart of Louisville, the locale was not only classy but provided a gorgeous view of the Ohio River. The next two mornings I’d walk around the city and take in all of the great sights. This, coupled with the hotel paying homage to past Kentucky Derbies, made it one of the nicest convention spots I’d ever stayed at.
After checking in, we dropped off our stuff and searched for registration. The hotel was split into two buildings that were across the street from each other with an overpass (that was a lounge and coffee shop) connecting them on the third floor. We found the pick-up area for passes on the other side of the hotel and encountered what would be the first of many lines we’d be standing in this weekend.
Ironically, the line for general registration was rather small while the one to pick up VIP passes packed the room. This prompted a guy standing near us to say (in a thick Kentucky accent), “Well damn, they got so many of us VIP’s, its the regular folk who’ll be treated special.”
We finally got our passes with Russ’ featuring a Spider-man design while mine had the familiar markings of Gene Simmons. Incidentally, that Simmons pass would end up becoming one of many catalysts for sending the rocker over the edge but that’s a later story…
With our lanyards and ID bracelets (VIP’s were gold while the standard ones were green) in tow, we were informed that our “VIP bags” with T-shirts were located in the Kentucky Convention Center and pointed in its direction. We assumed it was part of the hotel but, after finally reaching it, discovered it was all the way down the block! I’m not kidding, it was like a maze requiring a hand-held GPS as we trudged through several buildings, different floors, and overpasses to get to our destination. The shirts featured a poster of the event but should have just read, “I walked half way through Louisville and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!”
Once there, we encountered a huge room with several regular registration booths along with one for VIP bag pick up (which I’m still don’t understand why wasn’t in the same location as the passes) highlighted by another long line. Once again it was the VIP folks who had to wait the longest as the crew members were literally putting the bags together right then and there as opposed to having it done in advance. One guy was folding the convention shirts with such slow precision Russ commented, “C’mon, man, this ain’t Macy’s!”
Along with the shirt was a bag of trinkets which included a cheap picture frame, magnet, button,pen, sticker, and a film cell (from one of the damn TWILIGHT movies no less), and a soda can cover. In other words…a bunch of CRAP! Honestly, I’ve received better swag visiting The Auto Show.
In addition to VIP passes geared for one specific celebrity, the website promised a free $30 autograph voucher to be used for anyone else which we never received and crew members looked at us like we had three heads whenever we’d bring up. That part of the website conveniently disappeared by the time of the convention, so the rest of the weekend we VIP folks kept reminding each other that it had been there as if trying to reassure each other that we hadn’t been hallucinating.
Actually, what should have included was an events program and schedule but that was an additional $10. Otherwise the poor signage, coupled with uninformed volunteers, made this event the blind leading the blind…in a football field. And God help you if you’d been an independent film-maker hoping to promote your work at this event (the “Film Fest” portion of the festivities). Those poor folks got completely lost in the shuffle and even after learning the layout (which took the whole weekend) I still have no idea where most of them were. On Saturday Russ would actively seek one out and, after he’d finally found them, noticed the screening had less of an audience than the folks playing Dungeons and Dragons down the hall.
Now armed with our passes and “goodies” (which took almost 2 hours) we walked back to our room to drop everything off and grab our shoulder bags. Trust me, if we’d known we’d be making a Lord of the Rings style journey back and forth we’d of brought them with us!
We returned to the main convention hall before discovering yet another revelation; if you decided to buy an autograph with one of the big names (which was NOT cheap), it didn’t include getting a picture with them. For that honor, you had to enter yet another huge line to pay for them separately, while handed a time ticket where to meet for the pictures (taken with their camera). Whether the convention or the celebrities dictating their insistence on photo ops, its the fans who get knocked in the pocket book. And for what?
Color me old school when it comes to celebrity pictures, but I like my shots with celebrities taken at their booth and with my own camera. I find these “photo ops” and their “professional” gray marbled backgrounds look an awful like family portraits which, when you add a celebrity, comes off as tacky. In fact, they not only look cheesy but are unintentionally funny. I can just imagine one of my kids rummaging through my photos and saying, “Gee, dad, I never knew Daryl Dixon was our Uncle!” Couldn’t they at least have supplied a back drop that pertained to each of their top celebrities like when Flashback Weekend had a boiler room for Robert Englund?
The line to buy your photo tickets was a discombobulated nightmare with no one knowing what the hell was going on. After standing stationary for 45 minutes, Russ got fed up and said he was going to journey back to our room and fix us a couple of highballs that we could drink in line. I hadn’t packed a squeeze bottle so Russ hands me a big open, orange plastic cup that couldn’t have made my boozing it up any more obvious. After he’d been gone 20 minutes the crew members suddenly figured out what they were supposed to be doing and things not only moved but did so quickly.
With me guaranteed a shot with Simmons and Russ one with Stan Lee, we both agreed that the only person we were willing to buy a photo op with was Gillian Anderson. Her photo fee was $60 but, thankfully, you could share that picture with a maximum of two other pals. Russ and I decided to split the difference and take a picture with her together (which was fine because I already had envisioned a shot that required both of us).
I should note that even if they hadn’t allowed more than one person, Russ and I would have spent the $60 anyway. You see, folks, that’s the real theme of this post. It really isn’t about knocking Fright Night and their business practices as it is about us dumb-ass fans going along with it. And, believe me, everyone (including me obviously) seemed to be doing just that. My main gripe with this event is one that applies to virtually ALL fan expos that become too large. Yes, they have the ability to bring in bigger names and provide rare opportunities to have encounters with someone you greatly admire. Unfortunately the trade off is that you’ll be treated less like a fan and more like a commodity. The encounters happen at such lightning speed (in order to accommodate the enormous number of people) you’ll almost feel like a loaf of bread going down a conveyor belt. That being said, I’m probably one of the few fanboys out there that would rather shoot himself in the foot than go to the San Diego Comic Con. Paying up the ass to spend an entire convention in line is just not appealing to me and something I’d already experienced at the first three STAR WARS Celebrations.
By the time he made it back, I had the photo ticket and was already holding Russ’ place in line for our picture with Gillian Anderson. At long last, I’d meet one of my favorite TV characters from the ’90s…Agent Dana Scully!
Coming up…Gillian Anderson sees Aliens!