Let me preface this by saying that I had no intention on writing about FandomFest this year. For those unaware, FandomFest is a convention in Louisville, Kentucky which grew out of Fright Night Film Fest, a horror show. I attended for the first time in 2011 and returned again in 2012. I'll talk about those experiences and then I want to share some of the general thoughts on the show which have been expressed to me by guests. I have nothing to gain by writing this, but I feel as a representative of geek culture in Kentucky, it is the right thing for me to do. I will not be upset if I lose followers over this blog post. People I know have been affected by this show, so I feel that it is my duty to get the word out.
I will share my experiences with this convention first:
When I attended in 2011, I had a relatively good time for my first popular culture convention. The show was much smaller than it appears to be this year, though I believe that the attendance was a bit overwhelming for the venue. According to convention organizers, Fern Valley Hotel and Conference Center dropped the ball. The air conditioners broke down due to overuse, the ATMs were constantly running out of money, and food services could hardly keep up with the demand. It was the first, and last, time that the convention was held at that venue. I was told that a switch to the Galt House meant a much more controlled atmosphere, that the venue was not only a perfect location for the convention, but that it would most likely be expanding to another venue if the growth continued. I really have no complaints about the convention in 2011 other than the heat. They separated the authors (which I later found out was called the Literary Track) from the rest of the show, which I think was a big mistake. However, this is something that would continue into the next year. (Edit: In going back through my email to research for this post, I see that I sent an email to the convention detailing about my blog in order to possibly receive a press pass. I didn't receive a reply. There was no mention of press on their site that year that I recall.)
I had given FandomFest some pretty good press considering I'm a local blogger. I also talked up the show through my connection to Word of the Nerd Online. In the months leading up to the show in 2012, I hosted a banner for the convention on the right side bar of the Kentucky Geek Girl home page, under partnerships. I assumed that I had forged a partnership with the convention due to being granted a media pass and having two staff members reach out to me for my support. To avoid claims of defamation of character, I will not be using any names other than Ken and Myra Daniels in this post. However, I want to discuss how I was treated by staff in the days leading up to the show. One gentleman was incredibly nice. I had a really great interview with him and he had been nothing but cordial. We'd talked about me participating in a blogging panel in the LT, but that never materialized. However, he did connect me with the Gaming Track director after I talked to him about my interests.
That's where things get hinky. The Gaming Track director was superficially very nice. He really appreciated what I was doing to promote the show, he was amiable when the podcast we were going to have him as a guest on was delayed, and promised a great gaming experience. However, that's as far as things went. I attended the convention from Friday until Sunday and I have to say that I regret going. I was able to check into my hotel no problem, unloaded my stuff in my room, and made my way to check in. I ended up having to stand in a general admission line for my media badge. Wait, what? Red flag #1. When I got to the window, I explained that I was given a media badge and that it should be under Natasha Collier or Kentucky Geek Girl. She went to the back to check. Seeing nothing, obviously, the woman came back to the window and said incredulously, "Now, just who are you with?" "My blog's name is Kentucky Geek Girl," I said. Apparently because there was no pass for me, she had to grab a blank lanyard and give it to me and write something down? I'm still confused as to why that happened considering I had not only emailed my two contacts about it and all systems were go, but I also emailed Ken Daniels himself on the advice of one of my contacts.
Let's just say that my lanyard stating that I had a press pass didn't mean jack. I though that I would receive some sort of press kit with panel information, interview opportunities, a letter of thanks from convention organizers. No, absolutely nothing. It wasn't until the third day of the show that I learned that there was a media room. I think I, wrongly, assumed that I would be treated with a bit more respect, as I would expect them to treat all of their attendees. I asked numerous volunteers for help finding panels, Q&As, with little success. I was told once, "It's on the wall, it's not hard to see." There were not adequate programs available when I checked in either. I wandered around aimlessly until I found my friend Bardic Kitty who was an exhibitor at the show.
That's another thing, the vendor halls were terribly arranged. I don't blame the vendors and exhibitors at all, but I do believe that many of the horror/Fright Night focused guests were given more preferential treatment. In fact, I do know of someone who bragged that she was able to talk to multiple stars who walked by her table as it was placed directly outside of the main vendor hall. This person also informed me that she was positioned there because Ken Daniels owed her a favor, possibly from writing multiple pieces about the show for Examiner.com and giving them good press even though she had complaints about the show from the previous year. I found out about this after the fact, by the way. I was also told that I could make myself welcome in the volunteer room where I could get refreshment and something to eat, but was not told where to go.
As it turns out, I had just set my expectations for the show much too high. When I expressed my disappointment, I was told that I should have come to find one of my contacts if I was having trouble. I didn't want anyone to hold my hand and lead me through the show, I just wanted to be treated like a respected member of the press. I spent a week collecting my thoughts on the show and finally sent emails to all of my contacts, including Ken Daniels.
This was the response:
The amount of work to put on a convention this size is enormous. We appreciate your support of the festival. We have lot's of writers from around the world who blog about our show and [REDACTED] wanted to highlight the Kentucky ones as well. As the director of this event the task is to please as many people as we can. That is an impossibility. Having been to shows as large as Comic-con and hearing the complaints that many people have about the show as well as Dragon-con and other shows. It's impossible to please everyone. I grew up in the traditional media route and love the blogosphere. We received over 300 requests from podcasters and bloggers this year alone. The convention took off this year and far exceeded the staff that we had. My apologies for the staff that didn't direct you into the right area. We have remedy over 75% of the problems that we had this year. The other 25% are being worked on in the next several months. One is the media area. We want to give the media the best access to the celebs as possible. Some of the celebs agent's refuse others are very gracious. Business dictates that we have to work with the larger podcasters/bloggers first then the others. From now on please direct your media requests to media director in the subject line when you want to gain access. We really do appreciate your support and would love to have you report again for next year. The press passes/media badges will be handled differently next year. Thank you for your information in regards to the two different shows. We attend 28 different shows every year including Chicago, New York, Dallas, Comic-con. We have the only show of it's type that started out as horror and still retains horror and is branching into pop/sci-fi etc. Horror will decrease to only 33% next year due to horror fading as a draw. The Walking Dead and Bruce Campbell are POP CULTURE. Thank you again Natasha for your support and we are working on those kinks for next year. So for the future please email us and the media director for your press credentials.
We look forward to creating one of the biggest and best fan events in the region.
To fast forward, I was approached by Ken Daniels to become a member of the FandomFest team. At first I was a bit honored, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew that he simply wanted to pacify me. Being on staff coordinating media would mean that I was strictly working for their show. In effect, it would place a gag order on me from reporting not only on any convention, but also sharing my true thoughts about FandomFest. After meeting with Daniels personally, I opted to say "No thank you." In a lunch meeting in December 2012, he informed me of the plans for the 2013 show, but not before making some disparaging remarks.
First, he criticized Lexington Comic & Toy Convention, where I have been an exhibitor for two years. He said that LCTC was narrow in scope and that FandomFest would blow that show out of the water. Secondly, he made terrible remarks about one of his own staff members, one of my contacts. Of the gentleman, who is an author, he said and I am paraphrasing, "You have to finally realize when something isn't working out and find a new line of work." The entire experience with him was off-putting. (Speaking of off-putting, having one of my contacts, who was a male roughly twice my age, constantly call me "Hon" and "sweetie" and address me as "lady" was creepy and weird. Also having him invade my personal space to try and give me hugs on multiple occasions was terrible.) But the icing on the cake came at Lexington Comic & Toy Convention 2013 when I experienced Ken Daniels for the last time. He came up to my table, the FandomFest table was very close, and make disparaging comments about LCTC again. I tried to shut him down on multiple points and told him to let me know when plans for the media room had been arranged. We made our pleasantries and I saw him walk over to the Beaucoup Pop table.
And this is where I (finally) decided to sever all ties with FandomFest as an organization and the people involved. I heard Ken Daniels talking to my friends with BCP and he told them that he'd like them to come to the show. When they said that they would have to check schedules, he said, again paraphrasing, "Well, it doesn't really matter if you show up anyway, because we've got the king of podcasting coming. You may have heard of him, he's a big guy with a beard." Now, of course, we know that he was referring to Kevin Smith, but the way he completely belittled a fine group of podcasters right in front of them was the absolute last straw for me. As soon as I got back to my hotel room I removed the FandomFest image from the website and wiped clean any visible link between Kentucky Geek Girl and FandomFest. And that's where I left it, until this weekend.
As I said previously, I had no intention of writing about FandomFest this year. Other than the occasional inside joke with friends, I didn't even speak about the convention. It wasn't until Thursday when I saw that John Barrowman had been stranded at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport that it really was back on my radar again.
Others emailed me their thoughts on the show:
I emailed ff a week ago asking for deets on the contest. (Prizes categories rules etc) no response. When we arrived on fri no one knew about details. Sat we asked at the info desk to a "you might ask the anime people down the hall"
We were then told we had to come back for "pre judging before 4" in one room and then go across the street to the ballroom after for the show.bWhen we came in for the PJ we were promptly sent over without a prejudge. We were "put into classes" and given a horryibly obvious half hearted judging. We were also told there would be cash prizes and a $250 bonus for fan favorite. After the hotel came in and told the organizers that they thought the event has been cancelled, all interns were rushed through the line and the contest started. The judges choices were obviously based on bias towards things they liked and not quality. The two best costumes: war machine and frankenberry did not win a best of with war machine getting a certificate and only one person getting a glass plaque. NO cash awards were given and the fan favorite : frankenberry - didn't win the prize....a seemingly staged marriage proposal won..... I had an obscure character that no one knew off hand..and there were several more there that were obscure that the didn't bother to announce...they just assumed everyone would know who you were..
Two wasted hours I could have spent promoting cosplay and taking pics with fans. Horribly organized and promoted, and obviously bias - leaving we overheard the judges say they knew who they were picking when they walked in.
Major issues from this year. 1. getting passes. There was no staff direction with the lines. So we ended up standing in the wrong line for 15 minutes and then by following someones word of mouth left that line and found the right one. Then waited another 45-60 mins to get our pre-paid tickets. Issue 2. Once we got our tickets we weren't given a map and the one on the website was of little help. But we found our way to the KICC vendors hall. Turns out it was up 2 escalator floors, down a long hallway and on the complete otherside of the KICC then you get your tickets. No signs to help anyone get anywhere, just a bunch of trial and error. Issue 3. Last minute cancelations of celebrities weren't found out until we were there looking for the person. Like Saul Rubinik from Warehouse 13. We weren't informed of his cancellation at all prior to attending. issue 4. Cancellation of panels and rearranging of panels. Colin Baker who played The Doctor from Doctor Who was "forgotten" as he noted on twitter and they cancelled his panel. They cancelled the Warehouse 13 panel. They rearranged the Adrian Paul panel and the ONLY way anyone found this out was a small sign on the door of the panel room and then by word of mouth. No twitter or facebook post. No announcement over the intercom. No nothing. Issue 5 was untrained staff that had no clue what was going on or what they were supposed to be doing. Lines were being cut and people who were waiting for hours ended up getting pushed further and further back in line. Issue 6, VIP passes meant nothing and were a complete waste of money. It took you sometimes hours to GET your badge and then once you got it either security or line jumpers screwed you out of your proper place in line.
Absolutely NO staff were helpful. Cancelling the Body Art Show due to the room being double booked? WHAT CON DOES THAT?!
This con was more like people attending a con for the first time. Speaking from the organizers point of view: All there plans changed once it started. "this, this and this is gonna happen" you get there and then "Well, this is cancelled so we can do this. We dont really need to go to this Q&A so it can be cancelled." etc etc.
I REALLY hope something changes with the management and organizers of this convention. Hire some outside help to help you put it together. MAKE SOME EFFORT TO PROVIDE A PLEASENT EXPERIENCE FOR THE PEOPLE WHO ARE PAYING 100's of dollars and travelling 100's of miles to attend.
In my PERSONAL opinion. I think that the management team DO NOT CARE. Once they get your money, they could care less about what kind of time you have. And if you are a celebrity guest. If you don't make them "top shelf" money. They "forget" about you, just like they did with Colin Baker. The man came all the way to England to be at that convention only to be treated like dirt by the staff. (all based on his twitter feed and talking to him personally)
This has happened every year since 2011 and people complain and complain and then they forget and the same debacle happens again the next year. People need to remember, let your voices be heard, be louder then the staff of fandomfest and FORCE them to make changes.
Do you really think that these celebrities would really want to come back next year after seeing how bad this event was ran. It makes all the conventions in Kentucky look bad.
- John Brooks
I purchased the $275 Stan Lee VIP Package & didn't receive half of the stuff promised. This was the worst con I have ever been to. The promoters have not responded to my emails or phone messages. I purchased the VIP Package for $275 to avoid the long lines and have a "unique experience" with Stan Lee. All of this money was a waste as people that had spent considerably less money for the bare bones VIP package. I had to wait in long lines, was unable to find any assistance and didn't receive half of the things promised to me as they advertised. I felt bad for the vendors and the celebrities as it was beyond their control. Although I was able to get an autograph & photo from Stan Lee, I never got to attend the meet & greet because it was a limited ticketed event. No one showed up to the exclusive VIP party. I missed out on several events because the Fire Marshall closed the con down Saturday afternoon. Even after all of this, I was one of the lucky ones. Other people that had traveled several hours to Fandom Fest & prepaid like I did were turned away at the door. It was mass chaos all three days. I just feel really ripped off and get pissed off knowing that the Daniels will probably get away with this.
- Michael Wiseman
Obviously, social media has played a big role in getting the word out about FandomFest and the shady practice of Ken Daniels; now, a Facebook group has been created. The purpose of "Fandomfest Louisville 2013 was a fiasco!" is to compile everyone's thoughts and experiences of the show in order to help get them to news outlets and other media. There is also a lengthy thread on Reddit titled "Fandom Fest complaints." Both are outlets for individuals to express their concerns with the show. Many of cited the problems that had been vocalized on Twitter: lines, signage, and communication problems just to name a few. There is a rally to contact sponsors of the show as well, so that they know the kind of convention that they are actually sponsoring. Even volunteers have expressed their frustration with the show. Brian Stearman was a security volunteer who stated that "we (volunteers) were just as frustrated with the lack of communication/organization/information as the paying fans were. I had been looking forward to this weekend for quite some time, and any pretense of fun vanished as soon as the KIC doors opened Saturday morning and it all went pear-shaped."
Beyond the fans who paid hundreds of dollars in convention and hotel fees to attend the show, the vendors suffered as well. Nicole Marker sells Celtic and Fantasy jewelry under the name Sylvan Creations and said that there no reason that vendors should have been treated as horribly as they were.
First off, I had no way of getting a hold of the vending room organizers leading up to the show. I had several questions where I could not find an e-mail to ask them. Just using the mass e-mail that they used to get me ever changing information yielded no response. From the time I got there to the time that I left I never talk to anyone who was not in a volunteer complicity. If there was a vendor service station I had no clue as to where it was. (I do a lot of shows, it's usually easy to find the people in charge of the vendor hall as they has a table set up somewhere.)On both Reddit and Facebook, individuals agreed that vendors were treated with a lack of respect. While celebrities are the draw for conventions like this, vendors and exhibitors pay table fees (and in FandomFest's case, exorbitant amounts) up front in order for the show to go on. Some have already sent Paypal invoices and are demanding their table fees back. Actor John Barrowman even demanded that fans ask for their money back, minors who were unable to wait until after dark for their parents to come pick them up from the show.
Having 5 separate vendor rooms is crazy. I was in the big convention hall where the autographs were held, but others were placed in small rooms spread out throughout the convention. I have read many posts from people who either could not find the vendor hall or had no time to shop because they were waiting in lines for registration, photo ops and autographs.
There was no organization of vendors. As a jeweler I don't mind competition and expect to have several other jewelry vendors at a show with me. What I don't expect is to be placed right next to them. There were three of us all placed together. I also saw this with other people who sold similar items. There were two leather mask people right next to each other, three leather mask people total in my hall alone. I feel that they were just looking to collect vendor fees as had no interest in preserving the quality of the vendor show. There are good reasons to limit the amount of vendors, and have someone coordinating who is there to sell what. I can't imagine that they are going to get a lot of the vendors to come back to their show.
There is 0 reason at a show that large that I should feel like I wasted my weekend. We ended up doing poorly because of how the show was run and I happily signed the vendors petition that went around on Saturday and Sunday. While I understand that the celebrities are the main attraction, the vendor hall should also be up there as an attraction and people were not given time to be able to shop at the great group of vendors that were there. We were too spread out, the vendor spaces were over sold and there was 0 organization or communication which made what should have been a great show a mediocre one for me and a disaster for some.
Though many were able to see their idols this weekend, Norman Reedus was a huge draw for the show for example, many were left with feeling that their travel expense, both in time and in money, was all for naught. Many convention-goers have expressed that they will not return next year. I would only return if the convention was run by someone else and was marketed in a different fashion.
Furthermore, Ken Daniels likes to inflate his numbers. Last year he claimed that there was upwards of 40,000 at the Galt House for the show, this year he said 70,000. Those who attend both Dragon*Con and Gen Con know those numbers are an embellishment. He has also reported that they had no way to gauge how many people would be in attendance. Well, if they took pre-sales for passes, then that should have been a pretty concrete way to gauge attendance, in my opinion. He's used that excuse for the past three years and, to be honest, it's getting old.
But the thing that disturbs me about this situation is not just that they may have swindled thousands of dollars from unsuspecting fans, it's that they are sending mixed signals to even the press who have reported on this year's convention. Both Ken and Myra Daniels have been interviewed by WAVE and WDRB regarding the issues, including the fact that the Fire Marshall made them shut down the show for a half hour on Saturday. The convention still exists as Fright Night Film Fest and has for almost a decade, it's FandomFest that is relatively new. Adding the new component without dropping the old confuses guests and alienates their fans. The lack of communication just adds insult to injury. Though they have a volunteer staff of dozens, it seems that Ken and Myra Daniels are still trying to run it as if it is only their show. The fact that he doesn't have someone take care of their social media, the fact that everything has his voice, really hurts the integrity of the how, in my opinion.
I honestly hate that anyone had to experience a miserable time at FandomFest. Whether you are a guest, vendor, exhibitor, or celebrity, this show is not a reflection of The Bluegrass State. We have a very strong geek community here in Kentucky and I am proud to be a part of it. And as we've seen by the recent actions of the organizers of Geektopia Comic Con, when the geek community of Kentucky bands together, we will get things taken care of. I'm also so sad for the vendors who drove hundreds of miles only to have their customer base all but eliminated due to them being in lines all day. If you have any issues with the convention, let your voice be heard. I do not want to see this happen to anyone else.
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