Top ten tips for making the most of your first (and every) horror convention experience
As con season starts to wind down and take a brief slumber, it will be back before you know it. I thought it would be a good time to cover topics that will help make your convention experience an enjoyable affair instead of a living nightmare, regardless if you’re a newbie or seasoned vet. Consider this your Convention Bible… something you can always go back and check when in doubt.
1. ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN
This is probably the best one to start with, as most people go into a con blindly and end up having an awful time at the event. Do you meet celebrity guests first or do you go to the vendors and try to find the coolest stuff before it sells out? Luckily, you have months (sometimes a year) to figure out what your plan of attack will be.
My number one recommendation: If the con offers a pre-show or VIP passes as an option, take one of them. You’ll be granted early access into the vendor area. 9 out of 10 times you can get most of the celebrity autographs you need, thus freeing you up to continue shopping or perhaps taking in a movie screening or Q&A. Pre-show is a little more expensive than the regular weekend pass, but it might be worth it. VIP is even pricier, though it does offer some perks the other passes don’t have.
If you opt for a regular weekend or one day pass, be sure to plan your route accordingly — and prepare to stand in longer lines. One of the best pieces of advice I can give anyone is to get your autographs on that first night (usually Friday) so you can partake in the various activities that most cons offer, including shopping in the vendor area.
2. CASH RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME
Wu-Tang Clan said it best in their classic and iconic track C.R.E.A.M., and the same holds true at conventions. About 99.9% of the celebrity guests will only take cash for the price of the autograph(s). There are a select few (the .1%) that will take plastic as a means of payment. The vendors however are a different story. Most will take credit or debit cards to close a sale. However, if you have cash, there may be a chance to negotiate a better deal if purchasing multiple items from their table. This is especially true on the last day, as they are looking take back as little inventory as possible.
Cash is king at any con, and the best thing to to is make sure you have enough on you for the weekend. Be forewarned! The ATM at the hotel or venue is a universal machine and is not associated with your bank, so you will pay fees. However, that’s the least of your problems as the ATM also has lines longer than the show’s headliner. Worse…it always runs out of money at the worst possible time.
This goes back to step 1…plan ahead, and you’ll be fine. If you think you have enough money, take out an additional $150 just to be sure. But make sure to leave some emergency funds just in case.
3. HYGIENE IS YOUR BEST FRIEND
It gets hot at the shows, even in the winter. You wait in line forever, and sometimes you’re cramped in close quarters. The last thing you want is to have Billy Stankbreath raining down his ungodly foulness from his mouth on you. Or worse, you find yourself next to the dude or lady who thought it was a great idea to skip a shower that day (which is probably Saturday, because that’s the busiest day).
Shower, wear clean clothes, brush your teeth. This should be second nature by now, but unfortunately people need to be told time and time again. No one wants to smell ass, foot and cornchips in an already uncomfortable situation. Bottom line…Wash Your Ass! It may sound crude, but its a necessary evil. I waited for over an hour and a half to meet Jason Patric in the middle of August (during a heatwave), and the air conditioning went on the fritz. The room was the most wretched smelling thing I’ve experienced (and I’m from New Jersey) in my life. So please, make sure to KO the BO.
4. RESPECT THE VENDORS
Its no big secret that the vendors are the true lifeline of any convention. Yes, we the convention going public make or break these shows. However, if it wasn’t for the vendors spending hundreds of dollars on a table or multiple tables, then half of the celebrity guest list that you’re driving 2-3 hours to see wouldn’t be there at all.
If you think ticket sales fund the whole convention, you’re sadly mistaken. It’s the vendors that make the show possible, and you should show them love by purchasing as many goods as possible from their tables. Whether they have t-shirts, toys, bath bombs, homemade crafts, art prints, pumpkins, etc, they bust their asses to bring goods that they know you will love.
As stated before, a good portion of the vendors will take credit/debit cards, so you have no excuse not purchasing items from them. Remember, the more you buy, the more likely the vendors come back — and in turn help the show get more high profile celebrity guests. It’s the circle of life, and we can help out by helping out the vendors.
5. DON’T FLIP AND DON’T BE TOO EAGER
If its one thing that’s annoying to other fans and celebrity guests, it’s when someone has a huge Tupperware container full of toys and other items. To answer the question now, yes the guest is being paid per item. However, they’re not fools. They know those items are going on eBay as soon as they are done signing them. In the same vein, it’s also time consuming and makes for longer lines, thus causing a bad experience for everyone involved.
On the flip side, if you’re an eager fan that legitimately wants Robert Englund to sign all your Freddy memorabilia, I would do so with caution — and highly recommend getting some stuff personalized as a sign of good faith. A good portion of these guests do a lot of consecutive cons, so if you miss an item, or perhaps grab something at the show you would love to get signed, don’t sweat it. You will have another chance to meet that person.
6. PROPER CELEBRITY ETIQUETTE
This one is a bit tough as each celebrity has a different personality. Most are extremely fan friendly (Felissa Rose, TWD’s Josh McDermitt, Matthew Lillard are some prime examples), and they will absolutely make it one of the most memorable experiences of your life. The key with this is how well you can control your fanboy/fangirl impulses. The last 2 things you want to do is kiss their ass or be an asshole to them, as it will leave the wrong impression. They key is to be cool, be yourself and enjoy the moment you are having with the celebrity.
Remember you are choosing which celebs you are meeting, and while that might sound snide, it’s a true statement. You are paying for an autograph, but how your interaction goes once you paid is entirely in your hands. I promise that they will remember you the next time you see them or vice versa. One key thing I can tell you is to bring something unique to get signed, they will take pictures of it, and they will definitely remember you for that alone.
7. EAT, DRINK, BE SCARY
The food and beverage at the hotel/venue is expensive, point blank. That being said, there is no law that says you can’t bring outside food and water to the show. Bringing a case of water and snacks is one the best things you can do (going back again to Step 1). In fact, you can even have open alcohol containers at most shows (as long as it’s not glass).
Now the parking issue can be a bitch, and it may hinder your decision to travel outside to eat, somewhat forcing you to dine at the hotel restaurant. If you are a guest at the hotel and they offer valet parking, you are golden. If you are not a guest there or there is no valet parking, you are playing a risky game if you leave and try to come back to the show. Do this at your own discretion, as you are not guaranteed a parking spot.
IF you are staying at a hotel that does not offer valet parking, here is the best way to handle this. You should still bring water, soda, and snacks to keep in the room and bring on the con floor. Friday should be your day to go eat outside the venue. Parking will be easier to get later on Friday evening. Saturday should be spent inside the venue the entire day. You will not find parking, and you do have the option of eating at the hotel restaurant or even ordering out from local restaurants for delivery.
Now you could be slick and go Thursday night to the hotel — and end up at the bar with quite a few of the celebrity guests hanging out. As tempting as it is, leave them alone, unless you know them personally. They are unwinding from a long day of traveling and are preparing for a long weekend of meeting people, doing Q&As, and also shopping the vendor areas. You’ll have ample time to meet them during convention hours.
8. TAKE CARE OF YOUR TOOTSIES
Comfortable shoes are an absolute must at any convention! Most of the time you will be walking or standing in long lines, and the last thing you want is sore feet, or worse, blisters. Summer shows are a trap for ladies feet as the hot weather brings out the flip flops and other open toed footwear…avoid this like the plague. Sneakers or flats are the best option to wear at a con. Your feet will be comfortable, and you’ll be able to withstand the constant abuse you will put on them throughout the weekend. Always take a break by sitting in the lobby or catching a film screening — or even checking out a Q&A — anything that involves sitting for a while to rest your feet.
9. LEARN HOW TO Q&A
You know the old expression, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question?” It’s not entirely true. In fact, you don’t want to be the one to ask a really stupid question, or worse, repeat a question at a Q&A. Here’s why…the Q&A panels are recorded, and the next thing you know, not only is Steve Dash roasting you in front of the crowd, but you live on in infamy thanks to YouTube and other social media outlets.
I’m going to go on record now and say that the celebs have heard damn near every question you can think of when it comes to the movie(s) that made them famous. I’ve seen it first hand with a certain Scream Queen I mentioned earlier. Bottom line is, there is nothing you can ask these people they haven’t already answered 50 million times. Ask them original questions. It may sound hard, but its so much easier when think about it.
Ask them about a memorable fan experience or what they have coming up next…or even ask them about their personal favorite films. Literally anything other than their past films. It’ll make for a better connection, and you’ll be remembered for asking a great question.
10. COSPLAY DONE RIGHT
Dressing up in costume is not relegated to Halloween anymore. In fact, it’s a tradition that has become a staple of every convention. Costume Play (COSPLAY) makes for a fun time, and it is something every fan can do. My good friend Mike McManis shows up at most of the big East Coast cons dressed up as either Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, The Punisher, Doctor Strange, or Pennywise (Tim Curry) to name a select few. He always has a crowd of people ready to take a picture with him, and he enjoys doing it because it puts a smile on your face.
Now on the flip side, my good friend Lou Avilleria has gone on to create an original character named Father Evil, a dark priest, that is just as badass in person as it reads here. Father Evil has been to many cons as well, and people love the character. Both are great examples of cosplay done correctly. They took their time to make sure they look authentic, and their personas shine thru while they play the character.
The point is, cosplay when done right, can be truly special and make for a greater time at the show. If you are planning on doing cosplay, make sure you adhere to the con’s rules about what they do and don’t allow. Each show is different, and you can find that information on their respective websites.
THE FINAL CHAPTER: MANAGING END OF CONVENTION DEPRESSION
For a lot of first timers, the last day of a con can be a bit brutal. When Sunday hits, the realization that the (to quote Timothy Balme in DEAD ALIVE) party’s over is a tough pill to swallow. You just spent the past 48 hours kicking it with celebrities from your favorite movies and TV shows, you more than likely were drinking and having a bit too much fun, and you bought a bunch of cool stuff from the various vendors. However come Monday morning, you have to go right back to work or school, and nothing makes that a reality more than Sunday…the last day of the con.
Here’s a few things that can help ease the blow a bit. First, if you can take that Monday off from work or school, do it. You won’t realize it until you get home (or actually on the ride home), but your body is exhausted from the entire weekend. By taking a personal day that Monday, you can actually give yourself a full day of rest to recoup.
Now, before it’s time to go, there are 3 things you should do before leaving the venue:
1. The first is to pack on Saturday night. Leave your clothes out for the next day, but have everything else packed and ready to go. In fact, if you can, start loading the car up that night so it’s easier to leave on Sunday. Most (if not all) hotels have an 11 am check out time, and they are not interested in the fact that you were up all night partying with Kane Hodder at the bar till the break of dawn, discussing the mechanics of how he played Jason (this is why the Q&A exists). You will be charged another day if you are not out in a timely manner, so remember that.
2. Speaking of the hotel, it brings us to the next item…booking the room for the next show. The hotels book faster than ever now for cons. While there are plenty of overflow hotels (hotels in the surrounding area to accommodate when the host hotel is booked up), it’s easier to stay at the actual hotel hosting the event. One thing you should do is book your room for the next show either on that Saturday during the event or when you check out on Sunday. Chances are the room block is already in place, and it guarantees that you will be guest there for next time. You won’t be charged to hold the room in fact, and you’ll even be able to cancel up until the day before the event without penalty.
One final thing about the hotel, please don’t be the asshole that fucks it up for everyone else and trashes a room or doesn’t follow the simple rules the hotel provides. To be fair, horror fans are a rabid and rowdy bunch, and the hotel is super lenient with a lot of the shit they let us get with during the weekend. Don’t be the one to ruin the fun for all of us. You will also be held legally and financially responsible for any damages you incur.
3. Finally, once the car is packed, you’ve checked out and you’ve booked the room for the next show, the last thing you should do is take one final lap around the con. This helps to exchange contact information with the new friends you made during the weekend, to maybe make that final vendor purchase or perhaps get that autograph you were hesitant about getting during the weekend. Whatever the case may be, it’s a good way to wrap up the weekend and make a lasting mental image of what’s in store for the next show — when you can make new memories and start the process again in a few months (or year).
Hopefully this helps make the convention scene a little less scary. It’s a celebration of all the genres we love…pop culture, fantasy, sci-fi, and of course horror. The experiences you gain at a show will last a lifetime, as they are stories that you can tell 10 years from now and they will still seem just as fresh as the day it happened. Friendships are formed, and there truly is a convention family of people who get together to for a weekend to just let loose and have fun.
If any of you are attending an upcoming convention soon or you want to talk about a previous experience at a past event, let us know what show it was and how your experience was in the comments below.
For more information about the various conventions please visit their individual website at the links below: