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How to have fun at conventions
- and be a considerate fan ...
Before getting into all the nitty-gritty, you should know where this is coming from. I have been working as a guest ďhandlerĒ for a number of years at various conventions. I actually surprised myself when I calculated the years Ė itís been 7 years (some years with multiple conventions) as of 2005! Wow. I wonít get into whom Iíve worked with, but Iíve learned quite a bit from all the actors. Iíve written this to incorporate most actors you would encounter at a convention. I do truly believe that if you take the suggestions laid out here, it will make your experiences more enjoyable. From time to time I may edit this to add new insights.
07 June 2006
Actor, handler and hand
Before the convention
Planning Ė if you are meeting up with a fan group at the convention, it is so important to plan. Not only all the logistics of where to meet up, but also what you would like to happen as a group with the actor. It may not happen, but if you are organized before hand, thereís a much better chance. Once you all decide on what youíd like (and please be realistic!), pick a spokesperson who will approach the actor to present the groupís ďwish listĒ. Let this one person do the asking. Thereís nothing worse than multiple people from the same group coming up at different times asking the same questions Ė ďwhen can we get together?Ē, ďwill we be able to do this or that?Ē. You are putting the actor into quite a position Ė almost like youíre forcing an answer. If all the planning goes through one person, and everyone knows who this person is, there should be no problems relaying times and places if the reply is positive.
Gifts Ė if you feel you have to give the actor something, put some thought in the gift you are giving. If the actor is married and has children, make sure it is something they can take home. If your gift is racy, they more than likely will not want their spouse, let alone children, seeing it. Think about where the actor is traveling. If there is an international border crossing involved, check out the limitations. I know that there are specific dollar amounts for gifts, purchases, etc that can be brought into Canada from the USA. The same goes for alcohol. Itís based on length of stay. Check it out before purchasing. Keep it light and small. Itís much easier to pack into suitcases! In a group situation, you should let each other know that youíre going to be bringing a gift. Ten people all giving gifts start to fill up a suitcase and may go over limits! If giving food (like chocolate or other candies), make sure they are well wrapped. Individually wrapped is the best. Never give perishables. Put a note or card in with the gift to explain the thought behind it. You likely will not have the opportunity, nor should you even think about giving an explanation of the gift at the actorís table. By adding a note, the actor can read it leisurely while they investigate the gift. In most incidences, the handler will actually take the gift from you. Donít take offence! Itís partially a safety precaution. Itís also to keep a line moving or the table area clear so others can approach. If the actor wants to see it right away, they will take it from the handler. Donít spend a lot on a gift. Something thoughtful is much more appreciated than something expensive. The fact that you are there is what the actor appreciates most!
Cameras Ė make sure your camera is in working order. Bring extra batteries. You donít want to miss out if the opportunity comes up for a great shot with an actor.
Post it notes Ė buy some. Small ones will do. Great for putting your name on photos so the actor knows who they are personalizing the photo for. Also good so you donít forget those people who asked you to get autographs for them.
Which one to choose?
Camera, lights, action!
At the convention
Here comes a long section! Thereís so much to think about here but, hopefully, with all your preplanning, things should go smoothly. Thereís a lot of ďdonítsĒ here. Some may sound harsh. Iíve tried to explain why they are ďdonítsĒ. Hopefully that will help to understand.
I think I want to start this by explaining an actorís obligations at a convention. I think this will help make sense of some of the doníts as well as help to understand why some actors and handlers do what they do.
Most of the time when an actor is away from their home, spouse, family, it means that they are working. This holds true for conventions. The actors are working for the convention as well as for themselves. Conventions contract many of their actor guests, meaning the actors have obligations they have to fulfill during the convention as per their contract. Thereís Q&Aís, panels, autograph sessions, photo sessions, special appearances, interviews Ė the list goes on and on. Conventions are also great places for actors to network themselves, especially large conventions like DragonCon or Chiller. Even smaller conventions like Shore Leave are a networking opportunity. They get to meet so many other actors, have dinner or a drink with them. Thereís a saying, ďyou never know who your next director may be.Ē With so many actors also dabbling in directing, making contacts is very important. (Put two and two together.)
Okay, youíre in the lineup to get that autograph, hopefully say a few words and maybe get your photo taken. Hereís what to think about while in the lineup.
Energy level Ė bring your energy level up before you get to the table. You donít know how important that is. The actors have to keep such a high energy level through the whole convention. Itís very draining to them to have someone come up to their table who is full of negative energy. Do you think theyíd want someone like that to come back to their table!?
Buying photos - Think about what kind of photograph you want to get and have autographed. Do you want a photo of the actor in character and if so, which character. Or do you want a picture of them as themselves. Black and white, or color? Some actors give you quite a choice of photos to choose from. Narrow your parameters down beforehand and it will help speed things up at the table. Itís very frustrating to have someone stand there taking forever to decide on which picture they want. The actor cannot help you. And donít ask which one they like best! Iíve known some actors to pick the one that doesnít sell as well, or one they have a lot left of. Thatís not to say that other actors wonít show you their true favorite.
Buying an autograph Ė Already have an item you want autographed? Get it out and ready before getting to the table. Posters should be out of their tubes, pictures out of their protective sheet. Again, donít be offended if the handler takes it from you instead of you handing it to the actor. Itís all to speed up the process. I personally have a system of taking the item so I know who I have collected money from. I can also slide the item to the actor so they know they have another autograph to do.
Post it Note Ė Make sure you have these filled out and ready to attach to the photos you are buying or attached to the item you are having signed. Itís good to write one of these up even if you have a simple name. It makes things go much smoother for the actor to personalize.
A question for the actor Ė Be original! Interesting questions will get a better response than the ones that ask ďwhy did you get killed off on the showĒ or ďare they going to bring your character back in this seasonĒ. These are questions for directors and producers Ė not the actor. So many people ask the same questions over and over that the answers just become automatic. Also, donít ask an actor what it was like working with another actor. I can tell you right now that the answer will be something like ďhe/she was great to work withĒ. Actors will not give a negative reply to that question. And the answer will usually be pretty short Ė end of discussion type thing. If you think of a question that requires a lengthy response, save it for the Q&A Ė at the actorís table is an inappropriate place to ask detailed questions. Example: ďdo you have a behind the scene story you can tellĒ. The challenge is to come up with a question that is short that the actor will enjoy answering. Big DONíT - donít get personal! Do not ask them personal questions about their family, etc. This is their private life. Have some respect.
Taking a photo with the actor Ė When you get to the table check with the handler that the actor is okay with doing this. Some arenít. Some charge for a posed photo. If there is a photo session scheduled for the actor, do your photos then. Actually, if a photo session is planned, it may be part of the convention/actor agreement that no posed photos take place at the table. So, letís say itís okay to take a photo Ė do you have someone to take the photo, or is the handler taking it? Make sure you have your camera ready, turned on and flash ready for whoever is doing the photo.
Just something to give thought to Ė put yourself in the shoes of the person in line next to you or 5 people away from you. They may be just as anxious as you are to get up to the table.
Now youíre up at the table. Because youíve thought about the kind of picture you would like autographed, the choice should go relatively quickly. In a smoothly run autograph line, you should have one or two people still ahead of you at the table giving you time to pick the picture. Ask the handler any pricing question, the posed photos and any of the actorís scheduled events. They will have the answers. DONíT interrupt the conversation between the person in front of you and the actor. You would not like the precious little time you have with the actor interrupted Ė so donít do it to someone else. Even if you feel their conversation is taking too long. The handler will move that person along.
Itís your turn. The photograph you have chosen is in front of the actor. Now you have your minute or two (sometimes only seconds!) to speak to the actor. The ďhi, how are you, love your workĒ comments are great. Use your original, interesting question. DONíT start yakking about some episode or scene and going on and on Ė remember that person next to you in line or the one 5 people away. DONíT tell an actor your life history or anything personal about yourself Ė no matter how many times youíve seen them. Wait until they ask you. It may never happen but you never know. And DONíT be negative! Even if you feel crappy and they ask you how you are Ė tell them youíre great. DONíT be crude, or rude. Thatís just disgusting and usually makes an actor uncomfortable and wanting to get away from you. Now that posed photo. Make sure youíve given whoever is taking the picture your camera and itís ready. Realize that most handlers take numerous photos during a convention and do know how to use a camera. Most of the time you do not need to go into a lengthy explanation of how the camera works. Usually the actors will put their arm around you. DONíT clutch, grab or grope! Some actors do not like being hugged by people who arenít close friends. Let them pick the pose. DONíT ask for kisses. Thatís just way too personal. More than likely the actor will definitely want to keep their distance from you if you ask. Once the photo is taken, say thank-you, get your camera and move on. Only if the actor asks to see the photo before you leave would you show it to them (obviously speaking of digital cameras) Ė DONíT ask if they want to see it.
Try not to come up to the table in a whole group. Itís a little overwhelming to see a herd of people standing in front of you. Three and maybe even four should be the maximum if you have to come up in a group.
The whole thing about autograph sessions is to keep any line-up moving quickly. It is also important to keep an actorís table clear Ė meaning no hanging around for long periods of time or in a group. Others will hesitate on approaching the table to purchase an autograph if there is a group there. Most people do not like to interrupt. You need to remember that the selling of autographs is part of an actorís business. If you hang around, you will get told to move on by the handler or even convention security.
Another big DONíT Ė donít ever go behind, or even beside, the actorís table Ė unless of course you are invited by the actor or in some cases the handler. This is the actorís space. Trust me, they need it. Donít invade it.
Resting actor with fans?
The biggest thing to remember is that this is the actorís down time, a chance for them to be social with their fellow actors or just simply relax.
You are sitting at dinner or in the bar with friends and chance to see the actor you came to see. DONíT approach them. Leave them be. They could be waiting for someone, or already in a conversation with another actor. If they happen to look in your direction, sure, wave hi but keep your distance. Theyíll respect you for that. Not such a great idea to buy them drinks if youíre not with them. Itís a nice thought, but think what happens when 6 or 7 other people in the bar do the same thing. Thatís not very fair to the actor. DONíT run after them if you see them in a hotel lobby. DONíT go yelling their name or some remark to them.
If you get the opportunity to have a group gathering with the actor, be respectful. Donít rush to be the one to be closest to them. If the handler is joining them, they will usually sit beside them. Let this happen. There is usually a reason for it. Again, donít be upset by this. Respect the actorís space. Remember that this appearance by the actor for your group is a privilege Ė not something that they have to do. It can also be something they can walk away from if things get out of hand or the topic of conversation is not appropriate. DONíT get personal, crude or rude. DONíT dominate the conversation in a group. This puts pressure not only on the actor who knows others want to talk, but also on the group itself Ė which in turn causes negative energy. A suggestion to avoid this Ė have everyone write questions on a sheet of paper and when the guest arrives pass this paper around the group. Each person reads off one of the questions. It may or may not be theirs. This avoids duplicate questions being asked. Or just hand the paper to the actor and let them choose the questions they would like to answer. Or have the handler read them off. DONíT give gifts at this time. The actor may be going to meet other people after spending time with you and wonít be able to take them along. When saying good nights/byes, DONíT hold the actor up as they may be rushing off to go somewhere. DONíT go for hugs unless that actor is offering them. This is invading their space and it has to be their decision to offer a hug or not. If you do get a hug, DONíT start a conversation with the actor at this time. Itís time to go and there may be others that are waiting for their hug.
DONíT ask for special one on one time with the actor. If you do, the rest of the group will expect it and thereís just not enough time in a day for the actor to sit with each and every person. If you have something private to say, write it on a card and hand it to the actor at their table. They can read it when they have a few minutes.
Group photos Ė these need to be planned. They are a nightmare to organize. Again, check with the handler to see if there will be an opportunity in the schedule to fit one in. There may not be. Pick one person to organize this through. They can relay any times and/or places if the picture is going to happen. Personally, I feel the best time is at the end of an autograph session Ė as long as thereís nothing scheduled right after it. Better not to do it as they are rushing out the door. Donít want to make an actor late for any travel arrangements. Pick whose camera(s) are going to be used. Donít expect an actor to wait while a dozen or so cameras are organized and used. With the wonders of technology, a few pictures on one or two cameras can be shared with everyone. These photos can be printed up professionally as well. Everyone does not need the photo on his or her own camera. Plan beforehand how you are going to position the group. Actor should go in the center. Let the shorter people go to the front and the taller ones to the back or crouched in the front. Not everyone can be next to the actor. DONíT grope! Thatís rude. The photo will actually turn out better if hands are kept to your side. If the actor is being touched in a way they donít want to be (or at all) Ė end of group photos!
A few more thingsÖ..
DONíT ask an actor for their email address. Instead ask for their website. Thereís usually contact information there. If you email the contact information, donít expect an immediate reply or even a response. Actors are busy people, often away from their homes, family and friends for long periods of time. Their priority will not be responding to your email.
DONíT give your email address, phone number, etc unless you are asked for it. It will only lead to you being disappointed.
Many times people come up to the table requesting the actor to sign items for charity. If you are making this request, be sure to have an official letter from the charity, when the event is taking place and where. Donít be disappointed if the actor will not donate anything. Most will have their own charities that they support.
After all these doníts, there is a big DO. DO be respectful of the actor. This includes time, space and privacy to name a few. Actors are people. They just have really interesting jobs that have made them very visible to us. Everyone likes an actor who is approachable and accessible. The sad thing is that people cross over the line and step past the boundaries of the actor/fan relationship. This makes an actor rethink their accessibility. Itís important to remember that it is an actor/fan relationship. Nothing more.
After reading this I hope that you have achieved a new perspective. I will try to update and edit this over time as new experiences and questions arise. And please, ask questions. Itís the best learning skill that we have.
Thank you Anne for encouraging me to write this.
Thanks Julie - for taking the time to write this.