Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Dragon*Con Resources List

Dragon*Con is an overwhelming experience, and if you're like me, you want to go into it knowing as much as you can. So I decided to make a resource list of sites and forums that have helped me over the years.

Updated: August 2012

Official:
- Actual Dragon*Con website - one stop site pretty much everything including buying a membership
- Daily Dragon - mostly for updates, schedules changes, and mobile app info
- LiveJournal - the main "forum" if you will, for questions, sales, and most other things
- Facebook - mostly for big announcements and news
- Twitter - see above

Unofficial:
- Facebook groups: Official Facebook, General DragonCon, and DC Newbies
- LiveJournal for room transfers and requests
- LiveJournal for room deals using travel sites
- Forum for advice and questions
- Cosplay section for DragonCon
- Wiki format page with some amusing yet informative pages
- TheUniqueGeek podcasts have a 50 day countdown with interviews from track directors and staff
- Debriefing DragonCon - new podcast series that is better than my site, haha

Videos
- BeatDownBoogie's epic 20 minute plus look at the fun party that IS Dragon*Con. The con should use it as promotional material
- Four Days at Dragon*Con - an Emmy winning documentary made back from 2009
- Cosplay in America has been to many conventions, and they said that D*C is like no other out there!

My Stuff:
- My guide with part 1 (year out), part 2 (weeks out), and part 3 (at con).
- FAQ on celebrity autographs and photo ops
- Explanation of what a Fan Track is

And if you have any questions, feel free to comment, e-mail me at the address on the right, or best way, send me a Tweet. I always love CONverting people or helping first timers. If I don't know the answer, I'll try my best to find it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lessons Learned from Dragon*Con 2011

As usual, I had a blast! I want to first address 2 big changes that were definitely for the better.

1. Barcode Registration - Major win for the attendees. I heard reports from friends that it took a total of 10 minutes to get their badge. Most of that time was spent just walking through the snaking line that was basically empty. Granted, the system isn't perfect yet. There were a few times when the computer crashed. I was a victim to one crash and still waited 2.5 hours, but I could tell the line was always moving once they got things booted up again.

2. Increased Security - Starting at 7pm, hotel staff and private security started checking for badges and hotel keys at all entrance points. I thought this really helped with the atmosphere and keeping the crowds from getting out of control. There were far fewer reports of negative incidents from the D*C community. Going forward, anyone thinking of attending should expect to buy a badge if they want to be around at night.

Moving on, there are always new things I learn and here are some tidbits that could help others:

- Aleve: why didn't I use it sooner?! Take one in the morning, one in the middle of your day. It'll really cut down on aches and pains.

- Muscle Rub/Icy Hot/Bengay: rub some on your sore parts before bed and you'll feel better the next morning. As a bonus, you can soak in a hot bath tub too.

- Gold Bond powder: as someone who endures Georgia summers, this stuff always helps you be less sticky and damp in certain regions. But it is especially helpful with costumes involving layers or spandex.

- Showers: my new rule is going to be 2 a day. Everyone should get 1, but if you're in costumes and sweating for a few hours, it's a nice refresher to get clean again.

- Sleep: I swear by sufficient rest as the best means to keep away the con crud. That's 4 years in a row that I haven't come back with any sickness. Granted, I was still physically exhausted from the weekend.

- Badge Security: I did hear a slight increase in the number of stolen badges. An inexpensive way to keep it attached to you is to use a safety pin in addition to the clip.

- Hotel Booking: Hilton, Sheraton, and Westin already opened blocks for next year with Hyatt and Marriott coming in October. Keep in mind these are blocks, and more will be released as the year goes on, but it never hurts to secure something early.

- Next Year's Badge: I once again skipped the long lines Monday morning to buy 2012's badge, but I was surprised to find it offered online a few days later for $60. That's half price of the at the door full badge! It'll go up in $10 increments starting tonight, but know you can always transfer it to someone else and still get your money back.

- Packing Lighter: it's not easy to drag 2 rolling suitcases, a duffle bag, armor, a sword, and a staff for a 30 minute commute on MARTA. Likewise, trying to unload luggage from your car in front of the hotel can mean very long wait times with already congested city traffic. Getting back is a chore too. I just shelled out money for a taxi on the return trip (it's roughly $40 for 2 people to go from host hotels to Dunwoody MARTA station). Next year, I'm hoping to keep the packing logistics in mind when I'm planning my costumes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How I Prep at 3 Weeks Out

When it's less than a month away, I think it's best to countdown to the con every Wednesday. After all, come Thursday morning, I'm not going to be able to focus on doing anything else. So, from today, it's exactly 3 weeks away and I've started some prep work to ensure I can have yet another wonderful experience at D*C '11. I think everyone should do the first three. The others are for my own personal vanity :D

1. Sleep on a schedule that will be similar to what you'll do over the D*C weekend. For me, that means sleeping around 1am and waking up by 8am at the latest. I want to maximize my time at con, not losing any of it to oversleeping, being drowsy during the day, or partying too hard.

2. Start a walking routine. Go at a pretty fast pace, but something you can maintain for about 20-30 mins. You're going to walk at least a few miles at con, so start getting your joints and muscles ready for it. And for my fellow back pain sufferers, incorporate a few minutes of planks and superman stretches. Hold each for about 30-60 seconds and repeat 3-5 times.

3. Start your supplies shopping. This can range from anything you may need to mend costumes, to basic OTC meds, to snacks you'll be bringing. Be sure to think about how you'll pack and transport your belongings too. Those flying in should consider mailing a package to your hotel. They'll usually hold items until your arrival for a small fee, and some of them mail it back out for you too (since delivery services are closed on Labor Day).

4. I normally wear glasses, but I'll use contacts for that weekend. It's best to gradually increase how many hours you wear them. I'll wear mine every other day, and keep a bottle of eye drops on hand regardless. Even the most comfortable pair will get dry after half a day of costume watching, so the paranoid parrot in me brings an extra pair to start a fresh rotation when this happens.

5. Whitening teeth. I've used the basic strips from Crest and they've had great results. Then again, I don't smoke or drink lots of coffee. Now I'll warn you that your teeth will get sensitive after a few days, so you may have to cut it down to one treatment a day instead of the recommended two a day. Of course, extra dental care is good too. At least brush twice a day, floss, and use mouthwash. You'll be able to smile pretty for a photo op with your favorite guest! Lookin' at you, Autumn Reeser <3 !

6. Haircut and highlights. I think my hair looks best about 2-3 weeks after being cut, so I'm planning a trip to my stylist accordingly. Having brown highlights also works for one of my planned costumes, not to mention I loved the results last year.

Monday, July 25, 2011

40 Days Update!

Well, we're under the 40 days mark now, and news keeps coming out each week. Here are some important updates:

1. The official Progress Report is out. If you pre-registered you'll receive it in the mail soon if you haven't already. However there is a PDF version available online.

2. There is a wonderful countdown series from The Unique Geek, updating with photos, articles, or podcasts all relating to Dragon*Con. I highly recommend some of the podcasts with track directors to get some valuable info. In fact, listening to the first one with the Senior Director of Programming definitely shed some light on things like how they bring in guests and some special events planned for this year in celebration of the 25th anniversary.

3. The Daily Dragon, a website dedicated to posting updates and schedule changes, is naturally more active these days. There are also more frequent installments of the Dragon*Con Newsletter. Check on them every now and then.

4. Both professional photographers have started posting pre-sales: Froggy's and Craig Damon.

5. I've said this before, but they're really pushing the fact that you need your barcode/ID to make the badge pick up process quick as possible. Even if you want to buy on site, you still need a code, and the main page has everything you'll need to know for it. As for transfers, August 3 is the last day to do it! I've also heard rumors that the parade may be capped, so no on site sign up. And security will be more vigilant about checking for badges to keep things from getting too crowded at night. Finally, I updated my previous post with a link to an updated list of this year's tentative track schedules as they're released.

Bonus tip, start prepping your body so you can minimize the chances of getting the "con crud." Start by sleeping regularly and making sure you get whatever hours you need to feel rested. Next, adopt a walking routine so your feet can be ready for the pounding and miles they'll look over the weekend. Also throw in some core work like planks and good mornings to strengthen your lower back and abdominals.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What is a Fan Track?

UPDATED: June 2012

Dragon*Con is considered the largest multi-genre media/pop culture convention in the world because it caters to so many different crowds. It's not just for anime, costuming, or sci-fi; it's all those things wrapped up into one big party that runs continuously for 5 days. Most conventions, especially the smaller ones, have a few key events like a costume contest, movie screening, or banquet. Dragon*Con has over 30 official programming events running simultaneously at any given time! And this doesn't even include the ongoing events like dealer rooms, autograph signings, or merely people watching in public areas.

The best analogy I can think of to describe fan tracks is college majors. Each track is like a major, with its own subset of events that are based around a central theme. Let's pretend you're attending Dragon*Con University, the best institution for anyone who geeks out over something they love. And let's say you're mostly there because you're a Star Wars fan. You check out the Star Wars fan track website and see that there's a ton of events running from 10:00am Friday until 5:00pm Monday, JOY!! No doubt you'll start your weekend off with a Q&A panel with Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher. But then you're not too thrilled about what's next, a fan discussion about how Star Wars Legos toys have affected the fandom. So you look at the Pocket Program and see that the Costuming Track is having a panel on basic costume making. You've always wanted to wear a costume but never knew where to start, and here is the perfect opportunity to learn the first steps! Over the next few days, you still get a heavy dose of Star Wars: Lightsaber demonstrations from professional performers, trivia contests, discussions about the extended universe from books and games. But somewhere in there, you've also checked out anime screenings, science lectures, book readings, and *GASP* a panel with William Shatner because you don't actually hate Star Trek. You still get to "graduate" with your Star Wars major, but you've also learned a lot about the other fandoms. Likewise, there's about 40,000 other graduates, each with their own unique area of study. Some focused on Young Adult Literature, others on Tolkien's Middle Earth, and some who took an equal amount of everything! The only drawback to Dragon*Con's diverse "curriculum" is that you'll sometimes have to choose between two things you love. I've had to forgo seeing a Farscape panel so I could catch geek goddess Felicia Day.

If you want to learn more about what tracks are available, check out this page:

http://www.dragoncon.org/fan_tracks.php

Some of them update more frequently than others. Plus, a few tracks have already posted their tentative schedules for this year. It sure beats waiting until the week before D*C to make a rough schedule for yourself. Just keep in mind that times, rooms, and even participants are subject to change up to the day of that event.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Celebs, Autographs, and Photo Ops

UPDATED: June 2012

I always see a lot of questions related to media guests/celebrities. Having an opportunity to meet some of my TV icons was what originally brought me to con in the first place, so let me clear up some FAQs.

Autographs:

Practically all media guests charge a fee to sign something. It usually starts from $15 for lesser known people, and can get quite pricey for the big names. Most of them have tables in the Walk of Fame, a giant ballroom in the Hilton. The mega names have their own individual room to avoid huge lines that interfere with other guests’ lines. Each table will have its own line for fans to wait in. There’s typically a handler/agent beside the guest that handles the money and plays bad guy to deny certain inappropriate fan requests. The table will have some 8x10 pictures available to be signed in case you don’t bring something from home. These are typically free if you pay to have it signed. The Walk of Fame hours are basically 10am-7pm (except it starts at 1pm on Friday). Most media guests will in there to sign unless they have a panel or are going to eat.

Ray Park signing autographs.

Autograph prices are not posted on the main website. Your best bet is to research forums pertaining to that guest, or seeing if other conventions list prices (I know MegaCon and the Wizard World ones do).

The things I’ve said do not apply to authors and literary guests. They have specific signing times that are posted in the program, and I believe they do it for free (as long as you’ve bought their book).

SIDE NOTE: While you can technically go up to a guest's table and talk to them for free, their handler may give you the evil eye or rush you along. A few guests are also said to be jerks about it if you don't buy an autograph. As a precaution and just as a token of my appreciation for that person's work, I'll generally fork out money for an auto so that I can have a nice conversation with them in peace.

Photo-ops

Photos are a little bit more complicated, and it depends entirely on the guest.

1. Some will not allow any photography at all in the Walk of Fame at their table. Can’t snap a candid of them signing, not one of them smiling for your camera, and certainly not a posed pic with you and the guest.

2. Some will allow you to take a picture OF them, but not WITH them. This typically applies to bigger names who have a contract with one of the two professional photographers who work the convention (Froggy and Craig Damon). In this case, you need to either buy the pre-sale pictures from the photographer’s website, or buy a photo-op ticket on site. I’d suggest on site because the refund process for last minute cancellations can get tricky. However, a very popular guest may sell out, so keep that in mind as a good reason to buy pre-sale.

A professional photo op with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk.

3. Some will allow you to take a picture WITH them at the table, but will charge a fee. It’s often cheaper than the professional photographer’s fee because it’s not being split between parties. Some guests will do both—pics with your camera, as well as pics with the photographers.

A photo with Edward James Olmos using my camera.

A little more info about the two photographer services. People have a lot of hate mail for Froggy, but they’ve always been nice to me. Valid complaints against them can include customer service or slow e-mail response. But things out of their control are equipment failure or late guest arrivals. You also can’t help the rapid rate at which they move people along, because there’s no other way to fit in 100 people wanting a picture with Joe Celebrity within a 15 minute span. There are guests lined up from 10am-7pm and they have to stay on schedule. If you want to talk to the celebrity or give them a gift, do that at their table. The photo area is just for a quick hello and a photograph.

Craig Damon handles a smaller pool of guests, so the lines are often shorter, and you are not as rushed. However I feel his prices are a little bit higher on average. Both services provide extra copies or original JPEG files for a fee.

Overall, getting photos and autos can add up quickly in expenses. I've spent over $500 before in a given convention weekend, but thankfully that amount is decreasing each year since I've met many of the guests already. I've also cut down on autographs in general and just focus on photo ops.

Last note: PLEASE be aware any of the guests can cancel their appearance at the last minute due to work or scheduling conflicts.

New for 2012!
- A website called Celebrity Authentics is sponsoring certain guests. They're doing an internet pre-sale for autograph and photo-op tickets. I assume some tickets will be left over to be sold on site.
- Froggy and Craig Damon have also posted pre-sales on their sites. More names will be added as the weeks pass.

Monday Morning Special!
- By Monday morning, most guests have 1) already left or 2) are still hungover in their room. However, a select few will show up in the Walk of Fame and this is your best chance to get an auto or photo with your camera for a discounted fee. Not a guarantee but it never hurts to ask politely and try to haggle a bit. You may also get a longer than usual conversation with them.

Will xxx be coming this year? / How can I get xxx to come to Dragon*Con?
- First, check the guest list page. Other than that, no one knows in advance except for the directors and staff that are in charge of booking guests. If you want a particular individual to come, try to get a hold of them via snail mailing their agents or social networking pages and get them to fill out a guest application.

What if you run into a celebrity in the hallway?
- Depends on the guest. If they’re drinking at the bar and having a good time, they’ll probably be in a good mood and oblige a photo request or talk to you for a bit. If they’re eating with their friends, it’s probably rude to interrupt them. I just say hello or wave if I walk by someone I recognize. They’re just trying to enjoy the con like everyone else and I don’t want to get in their way.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wrestlemania Fan Axxess Advice

I had a WONDERFUL time at Wrestlemania XXVII weekend in Atlanta earlier this month. I tried to go into it prepared, but outside of one guy's YouTube video's, there wasn't much in terms of tips or advice for Fan Axxess. So, this is a good opportunity to share any words of wisdom I had after experiencing it for myself. Please note these things happen maybe twice a year, and are in a different city every time, so I can only give generalized suggestions.

1. Tickets
- They seem to go on sale around 3-4 months prior to the event. Check WWE.com for official updates.
- VIP tickets give you a few perks: meeting high tier superstars (regular ticket holders CANNOT meet these guys), early entrance into the event, ring side standing room for live matches, and being able to cut in line for certain other attractions (excluding autograph sessions). They also run you at least twice as much money, but it's the only way I would have met people like Cena, HBK, HHH, and Undertaker. Plus, VIP tickets sell out... FAST!
- So if you want VIP, you should Google pre-sale codes and such so you can get your hands on tickets a week before they're released to the public. In fact, this is a good strategy to use for any concert or sporting event because of all the scalpers out there.
- Regular Axxess tickets do not sell out. They'll have tickets for sale the day of the event if you just want to walk up there and buy one.

2. Lines
- I'd suggest at least getting there an hour before doors open for each Axxess session. Even then, there will already be a line of 100-200 people ahead of you. As mentioned before, VIP people will have a separate line and will be allowed to go in first.
- Once you're in, use those precious first few minutes to get in line for autographs. They may or may not list who will appear at what station, so it's a crapshoot of who you're in line for. If you go to multiple Axxess sessions, you may figure out a pattern to who sits at which autograph station (i.e., bigger names came to Station 1 and Station 2 during my weekend). Other attractions like memorabilia displays or games typically don't have as many people in line.
- Because WWE doesn't cap regular tickets, there are a lot of other people in line with you. You can expect to meet 1 superstar per hour, maybe 2 if one of them isn't a big name. The Diva photoshoot lines also go a little quicker. Just don't expect to meet everyone on your checklist.

3. Finer Points to Avoid Confusion
- There are multiple Axxess sessions during the weekend. You need 1 ticket for each one. Example, buying a ticket for Thursday night gets you into Thursday night only! You need another ticket for Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, Sunday morning, and Sunday afternoon.
- WWE announces who will be the VIP only Superstar for each session, and the VIP ticket is the ONLY way to meet them. Again, you need a separate ticket for each session. Yes, you can mix and match like I did. I only wanted to see 4 big name guys, so I bought 4 VIP tickets, and 3 regular tickets for the remaining sessions.
- The VIP ticket GUARANTEES you see the VIP only Superstar you came for (assuming you're in time for that session and are in the right line). I've been to many signing sessions before, and the folks who run these are efficient but friendly. You can typically have a few seconds to say something, and you are allowed one autograph and one posed photo with them.
- The regular ticket holders do not get a guarantee they'll meet the person they're in line for. If time expires and the Superstar has to leave, they're gone, and you're left with nothing. Even if you get to meet them, you may not be allowed a pose photo because the line has so many people behind you and they want to move it along as quickly as possible. This is not the case for VIP because they cap it at a certain number of tickets sold.
- Diva photo ops only allow photos with WWE's professional cameras. Not with your own, and you're not allowed to get anything signed either. Just a quick hello, pose for the camera, and that's it. They use a service where you get a card with a specific number on it for you to later look up your picture online. DO NOT LOSE THIS CARD! In fact, write it down or take a picture of the card so you have a backup copy.

If anyone has questions, please ask. I will eventually do a YouTube video of this to reach more people, and I'd like to hit as many points as I can.