We’re now not too far away from London Film and Comic Con 2015. I’ve been doing these events a few years now, and thought I’d share what I know about the weekend to help newcomers enjoy themselves with a little less stress. If I miss anything out (or get anything wrong…) please feel free to comment below…politely.
LFCC 2015 is run by Showmasters, and will be taking place over the weekend of Friday 17th July to Sunday 19th July 2015. It’s being held at London Olympia this year as the usual venue (Earls Court) has been shut down. The space inside the new venue is huge, and there’s plenty of natural light coming through the glass roof. I always found Earls Court a little stuffy, with zero natural light, so we’re heading to a much better venue overall. There’s a whole lot to do at LFCC. It’s not just about getting autographs, although that is a big part of it for most attendees. If you’re a geek of any kind (or even if you’re not) there’s something for everyone. It’s about managing your time right to try to fit in as much as you can.
PLANNING IN ADVANCE
If you want to get the most out of LFCC you must absolutely plan your trip in advance. There’s no point arriving on the day ticketless and hoping to get everything you want. It just won’t happen. First, make a note of this link: – http://tinyurl.com/nt82w35 – this is the Showmasters LFCC 2015 forum. All announcements on guests, date changes, events, features and opportunities will appear here first. I find myself checking it at least once a day normally. Most of the info you need will available there. If it isn’t, just post on the forum. Don’t worry about asking about anything you’re not sure on. There are plenty of fellow attendees and forum moderators who will be happy to help. If you’re on Twitter, follow the @showmasters account, which will update you on all announcements. The official website for the event is http://www.londonfilmandcomiccon.com. The forum will keep you updated as to which guests will be in attendance, which days they’ll be attending, and how much it’ll cost to get an autograph/photograph. At the time of writing, Showmasters are not pre-selling autograph tickets, but I’ll come to this later. Photoshoots on the other hand should always where possible be bought in advance. There may be limited photoshoot tickets available on the day, but this is never guaranteed, and you’d have to join a big queue at the ticket desk inside when you arrived at the venue. Stress. Stress which is easily avoided by buying in advance. You can buy your photoshoot tickets at any time from the Showmasters store. This is now found on the Eventbrite website and a link to the correct page is here – http://tinyurl.com/l948t69. Just be extra careful when you’re making your purchases – tickets for all Showmasters events across the country are sold in this store. Make sure you’re buying the right ticket, for the right day, for the right event. You don’t want to turn up to LFCC with a photoshoot ticket for the wrong event, as that would be rubbish. A change from the older store means that with Eventbrite you will be able to print off your own tickets. Convenient for most, and it also means that you should be able to buy tickets just before the day of the event. The Eventbrite site is relatively easy to use. Just add the tickets you want to your basket, and click ‘Order Now’. You’ll then have 8 minutes to complete your order. Just fill in all the details, and ensure that you agree to BOTH waivers and click on the £2.50 validation fee box in the ‘additional items’ section. If you don’t click on this your order won’t be valid. Do also ensure you buy an entry ticket for the day(s) you wish to attend as well as your photoshoot ticket. The photoshoot ticket does not include entry. If you turn up on the day without an entry ticket, you ain’t coming in – and it’s highly unlikely you’d be refunded.
This year Showmasters are debuting the ‘Diamond Pass’. This is a ticket solely catering for fans of a particular guest. Each guest’s Diamond Pass includes a selection of activities with that guest. As an example, Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) has a pass which includes:
1 photo shoot with Robert in full Freddy Krueger make up (unique to Diamond pass holders)
1 in-person autograph with Robert Englund
1 seat in a talk with Robert Englund and make up artist Robert Kurtzman
1 exclusive print
1 exclusive T-shirt
All this together is £135.00. Something worth considering if you’re a Freddy Krueger fan. A few days before the event a photoshoot timetable will be put on the forum. Download this, copy it, print it out, anything. This is your friend. There will be copies around the venue over the weekend but it’s well worth having your own. Or, be a bit of a nerd like me last year, and make your own:
So that’s who I was meeting, when, which location – and the last number is my photoshoot number. I’ll go into more detail on photoshoots later. There are normally at least five or six separate photoshoot areas, so it’s worth getting an idea as to where you’re going and when.
VIRTUAL QUEUE TICKETS
These have their own section because it’s important to be aware of the nature of Virtual Queue tickets. Chances are that if you’re attending LFCC you’re probably after at least one or two autographs. Chances are that if the guests you want to meet are particularly well known, a great many others will be wanting to meet them too. To stop the possibility of a thousand people standing next to a guest’s table, we have the virtual queue system. Think of it like a deli. Near each guest’s table there will be a Showmasters volunteer holding a stack of tickets. These are free. Every individual who wants an autograph from the particular guest needs to take one. These will have numbers on them, which is your ‘virtual’ place in the queue. Throughout the day, there will be a whiteboard up near the guest with the VQ numbers allowed to join the queue. So, if your number is 78, and the board says 1-100, then you can go up. If your number is 124, then you need to wait until the board says 1-200. You can’t miss your time – VQ number 1 for example can go up later in the day if they want. It’s always 1-100, 1-200, 1-300 and so on. This all means that you don’t have to wait around for your time if you have a high VQ number. It means you can wander off, do what you like, and you can come back sporadically to see where they’re up to. Some guests do take longer than others, so be aware of that.
Before we get too excited about who you’re going to meet at LFCC you should be aware that guests do occasionally cancel prior to the event. Some guests cancel pretty much every time (I’m looking at you, Ray Park and Temuera Morrison). This is something that you should prepare yourself for. As exciting as it is when a guest you really want to meet is announced, it’s equally disappointing when that same guest has to cancel. This can happen for all sorts of reasons, mainly due to work conflicts. Remember, many of the guests who appear at conventions are actively working, and such is the nature of TV or film work that huge amendments can take place to their shooting schedules. It’s not going to happen that often (unless you’re really unlucky) but it can happen with any guest at any time. I remember attending a convention a few years ago where Alex Kingston – Doctor Who’s River Song – had to cancel the day before the event started. Another involved Danny John-Jules – Cat from Red Dwarf – cancelling on the actual day of the event. It’s disappointing, but it can’t be helped.
With that in mind it’s wise to head in to LFCC with a backup plan. If you’re travelling a long way in the hope of meeting one particular guest then you may end up wasting a lot of money if they have to cancel.
But, if you’re lucky enough to have plenty of guests to meet, you’ll need to come equipped.
WHAT TO BRING
A wallet. A big wallet. Stuffed full of cash. Seriously. LFCC is an expensive business, and you don’t want to be caught short. There are cash machines on site, but the queues are large all the time, and there’s always the danger that they’ll be bled dry by mid-afternoon. I’ve seen it happen. Try to bring as many £5 notes as you can, they’re very useful.
A bag. I always carry around a secure over-the-shoulder manbag. Aside from being the height of fashion, you’ll need something to carry all your stuff in. Don’t wander around with a suitcase though, there’s not enough space.
A watch. As I’ll cover later, you need to be able to keep a eye on the time. There can be a lot to do at once and you don’t want to lose track.
Comfortable footwear. You’ll be on your feet a lot over the weekend. There aren’t very many places you can sit down with much comfort, so you’ll find yourself walking, and walking, and standing, and walking some more. Rubbish shoes will knacker your back in.
Water. Do not arrive without some water. Walking around LFCC is thirsty work. It can get very hot (especially if the hall is full to capacity) and you don’t want to be spending half your budget buying bottles of water for £3 a pop at the venue. Just take your own.
Something for the guests to sign. This is optional. Showmasters (or the guests) provide plenty of images for each guest for them to sign, and these are included in the cost of the autograph. There’s a large selection for each, so you’ll more often than not find something you like. There’s always a risk though, so have a backup – bring your own print or a poster or a DVD. At least you’ll have something for the guest to sign. There are also plenty of stalls selling good quality prints for most of the guests in attendance.
Plastic autograph wallets. These have been my saviour for years. You don’t want to collect an autograph from one of your heroes and then get home to find it smudged, bent, or ripped. These plastic ‘toploaders’ are available from many of the stalls, but they’ll cost you around £1 each (or more, depending on the size). I bought a stack of them online a couple of years ago, and they’ve served me well. They’re also useful to carry your photoshoot pictures in – you don’t get a cover with the photo. Try not to keep the autographs in toploaders for too long though, you don’t want to damage the ink.
A poster tube. Not essential, but I’ve found them hard to come by at the stalls at past events, and if you’re buying a print/poster you want to be able to keep it safe. These are really cheap from B&Q or Staples, or places like that.
A mobile phone. Fairly obvious this, but very useful for many reasons. If you’re separated from your group (say, following a photoshoot) you might need to find them. Based on the crowds last year, think ‘needle’ and ‘haystack’. On that note, always have a meeting place sorted out with your friends to meet up if anyone goes missing.
Most importantly, have a budget. I cannot emphasise this enough. It’s very easy to get over-excited at LFCC. You will be faced with non-stop geek product temptation for three days – make yourself a budget before you go, and stick to it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve spent far too much on things I didn’t really need simply because the money was burning a hole in my pocket. Enjoy yourself, but don’t bankrupt yourself while doing it.
Travel to Olympia is really pretty simple. If you’re arriving into London Euston take the Southbound Victoria line down to Victoria station, then change to the Westbound District line which will take you straight there. To be honest, by the time you get to any of these stations you will more than likely have a trail of cosplayers to follow all the way there. They’re not hard to spot. Remember the scene in Thor 2 where Thor rode the underground? That happens for real on LFCC weekend. If the District line isn’t going to Olympia, get off at Earls Court and walk from there. It’s a 20 minute walk, and again, you won’t struggle finding your way there. Just in case, here’s a map.
If you’re taking other means of transport (bus, train, taxi etc) there are plenty of ways to find your route online. I always use the underground, and – touch wood – I’ve never had a problem.
Things have changed a little this time round. Usually there are three queues. One for the Gold Pass holders, one for Early Bird entry ticket holders and a third for people paying on the day. This year however Showmasters are not selling Early Bird entry tickets, and they are not allowing people to pay on the day, certainly not on the Saturday at least. As a result of the changes, everybody who has a ticket will be allowed in at the same time (9am). The Gold Pass holders will be given priority and will enter first. Everyone else will follow. For reasons which will become clear, if there is a guest you absolutely have to meet, or you are limited with time on the day, you should make sure you arrive at the venue very early. I’ve arrived at 8am in the past and had to join a queue which has already snaked its way right to the back of Earls Court. That’s a long queue. Turn up at 9am on the dot and you’ll be at the back of a huge queue. If you’re not that fussed about meeting any particular guest, try arriving at say 10:30-11am. By then everyone else will be inside and you’ll more than likely be able to walk straight in. Do remember though that the set up this year is new, so this may not be entirely accurate. If you’re having trouble on arrival just look for the signs or just ask. There will be a lot of people happy to help. The queue is a good place to take a look at some amazing cosplayers. Seriously, some of them could have just walked straight off the cinema screen. By all means talk to people. I always find that folk near me are just as excited as I am, and it’s great to get to know new people. One little thing though, if you’re a smoker, have some consideration for others if you want to light up. Just leave the queue and stand a distance away so nobody else is affected by it. I smoke myself, and I don’t like forcing it on non-smokers and children nearby.
At 9am the doors will open. At this point the people who are prepared will have a plan of action for the first half hour of the day. Here’s how I do it, and I’ve never had a problem yet.
Step 1: Calmly enter the building. Don’t go running – this is poor form, and not only will everyone think you’re a buffoon, you’ll also be told off by the crew. You could injure yourself, or others, and there’s absolutely no need for it.
Step 2: Virtual Queue tickets. Collect these straight away. Find the tables for the guests you’ll be wanting to meet (these will be clearly signed) and politely ask the volunteers holding their VQs for one. If there’s a chance a guest will be very popular an early numbered VQ could be key.
Step 3: Get your bearings. It’s unlikely that the majority of the guests will be at their desks at opening time, so unless you’ve got a photoshoot straight away you may as well take the opportunity to work out where the toilets are, where each of the guests you want to meet will be stationed, and where your photoshoot areas will be.
Step 4: If you see a guest you want to meet at their station, and there’s nobody in the queue (and no VQ), go and meet them. Sometimes opportunities come up where you won’t have to queue for something you want, certainly early on. Take that opportunity. It could save you loads of time later on.
Step 5: Finally, make sure you keep an eye on the time. You don’t want to miss a photoshoot because you weren’t paying attention. I remember at my first LFCC (2011) I was about to leave the venue to head to the pub for a pint when I remembered my Sophie Aldred photoshoot was about to start. It’s surprisingly easy to do, certainly if you’re a bit of an idiot like me.
AUTOGRAPHS/MEETING THE GUESTS
The fun bit. Or the terrifying bit, depending on your point of view. Meeting the guests is very simple indeed. When it’s your time to join the queue, go to the back of it and start getting your items/images ready. Also get your money ready – you don’t want the person ahead of you to move on and have the guest sitting there watching you fiddle about with your wallet. Pay the assistant your money and choose an image. Now, I’ve been doing this a few years, and I still get a little nervous when I meet the guests, but I’ve developed a bit of confidence since I started out. I had no idea what to say for my first few cons. There’s nothing wrong with just saying hello, asking how they are, and asking them to sign your piece. For the less busy guests you might have a good opportunity to talk to them for a bit, but do be aware of the people around you. If there’s a huge queue it’s unfair to stand there talking to them for 45 minutes, keeping everyone else waiting. The majority of guest encounters I’ve had have been relatively brief. The very busy guests will often have no time except to say a quick hello. Don’t be disappointed if this is the case – they have a lot of people to get through and they just don’t have time for much interaction. Do bear in mind also that the guests are human beings – they can have ‘down’ days like the rest of us. Some can be a little grumpy, and some can be incredibly talkative. Most guests will personalise autographs for you if you want them to. Some guests will insist on it, and others will simply have no time to personalise at all. In these cases they will have a sign up at their station clearly stating ‘no personalisations’. If this is the case, please don’t ask. There could be many reasons why this has been decided, often due to the guest themselves requesting it. You try signing your own name AND someone else’s name 750 times in a few hours without your hand going numb. A lot of guests will allow you to have a free photograph with them at the table. This is very unlikely with the more popular guests, but does happen a lot with others. Again, if there’s a sign up saying ‘no posed photos’, don’t ask. There is normally a good reason for it.
Check the map and timetable to work out where you’re supposed to be at what time. Head over to the correct area and listen to the crew members. They will call everyone in for your shoots in stages, ordered thusly:
1: Old store tickets by number.
2: Non Batched e-Tickets
3: e-Tickets by batch
4: Tickets sold on the day by number.
I’ve lifted the above order from Showmasters’ own FAQ section on their forum. Each ‘batch’ is 100 tickets. It should state the batch number on your ticket. If it does not, then you will be called with the non-batched e-Ticket group. In the meantime, if you are not due to enter the photoshoot area for a while, you do not need to wait around just yet. One of my main bugbears of photoshoots is the number of people who gather in a throng around the photo area despite not being due to be called for a good half an hour. Just bugger off and have a wander – the space around these areas can be crowded enough without 500 people all trying to join the same queue. Once your number is up and you’re called in, you’ll be directed to the back of the queue by a crew member. Again, listen to their instructions and do what they ask – they’re trying to make it easier for everybody. As you get near to the front of the queue you’ll enter the photo area (still in a queue) and you’ll see the guest standing there in front of a backdrop. You can drop your bags and coat here with the volunteers at tables. One by one the people in the queue will be motioned forward and will have their photo taken with the guest. You will be stood next to the guests for about five to ten seconds, maximum. As soon as the photographer gives you the OK, move on and wait to collect your photograph which will be printed off immediately. If there’s anything wrong with the photo and you’re not happy with it (eyes closed, blurred image) refer to a crew member and they may ask you to rejoin the queue for a re-shoot. I find my main issue with photoshoots is the reflection of light in my glasses. I’m constantly going back for re-shoots due to that. Some guests are happy to hug you for your photo. Some are happy to pose how you want (within reason) with props. Please do respect their personal space though. There are large bodyguards often stood mere feet from you who will immediately get involved if you try anything unpleasant…you don’t want to get your head kicked in, so behave (you won’t have your head kicked in, I assure you). Once you’ve collected your photo, move on out of the area as quickly as you can.
Many of the guests in attendance will be taking part in talks through the weekend. Many of the talks are free, however some are paid. Check the forum for details regarding this – paid talks are only accessible to ticket holders. The talks are normally entertaining enough, although they do tend to be more Q+A type affairs, which of course is absolutely fine if you have a question to ask your heroes. Entry to the talks is on a first-come first-served basis. Gold pass holders will be at the front.
Where do I start? The majority of the floor space at LFCC is taken up with stalls selling absolutely everything you could imagine. There’s…(deep breath) posters, action figures, t-shirts, American sweets, pre-signed autographs, DVDs, books, comics, vintage consoles, teddy bears, lightsabers, mugs, shoes, anime, craftwork, paintings, jewellery…oh I could go on and on. You will not be short of things to spend your money on, folks. I don’t really need to tell you how to shop, though, do I.
One of the best things about LFCC (and most events like this) is the folk who dress for the occasion. Prepare to be astounded by the level of skill and effort these people put in to making outfits for conventions. You’ll see Spider-men, Jedi/Sith, anime characters, every Doctor (and most of the companions), Thor, Captain Jack Sparrow, and countless Deadpools, amongst others. The cosplay community is well catered for at the event, and if you’re considering doing it but are maybe a little nervous, worry not. I only wear civilian clothing for the event and I’M the one who feels a little out of place. Cosplayers in the main will be more than happy to pose for photographs, either of just them, or with you. Please, please please however – ASK THEM FIRST. It is considered incredibly rude to just take pictures of cosplayers without their permission, and given that you’re much more likely to get a great photo if you ask them to pose for you, you should either ask, or put your camera away. I have also heard horror stories from cosplayers regarding the things they are asked (“have you got underwear on under there” for example…) or ways they have been manhandled. Yes, some of their outfits can be ‘revealing’ – this does not imply consent to touch anyone up. Don’t treat anyone differently or invade personal space simply because they’re cosplaying. Many cosplayers are in attendance at these events on charity business, raising money for various causes. Perhaps donate some of the wodge of cash you’re carrying, help them out. They’ve made real effort to be there, doing what they’re doing.
There is a strong sense of community at LFCC. Normally the sun is shining, fun things are happening and everyone is in a good mood. If you’re reading this some time before the event you have plenty of time to get to know new people. I’ve met loads of new people through attending these events, but mainly through Twitter. Start off by following @Showmasters, and as we get closer to the event, check the #LFCC hashtag – you’ll meet some great people. If you’re happy to settle for average people, follow me on @djdarrenjones. I’m forever going on about LFCC on there. I also enjoy meeting new folk. Introduce yourself.
If you’ve read this far then you’ll hopefully have a good idea as to what to expect from the event. As I’ve said, I’ve been doing these events for a few years, and I’ve picked it up pretty quickly, but there are plenty of other, more experienced attendees who have plenty of information to help you. Just do a bit of a Google search and see what’s around.
Try @Bunny_Summers blog, Unconventional (http://unconventionalblog.co.uk/category/guides/). Her guides aren’t solely limited to signing events such as LFCC. She’s a con-goer with huge experience and knows her way around these things. You’ll hopefully find answers to anything I’ve forgotten about plus everything else on her site.
Well, I hope this all helps. Generally speaking LFCC is a lot of fun and very simple as long as you’re prepared. So prepare!