Friday, November 28, 2014

Far Away, So Close - HAL-CON 2014


Greetings, Con Crawlerz!

Before I get into the meat of this month's entry, Gentle Reader, please permit me a brief biographical indulgence.

For close to four glorious years I lived life large, pretending to be a real, bonafide full-time independent writer, editor, novelist, videographer, and all-around busybody. And while this venture was supremely liberating it was also financially draining, eventually depleting my life savings down to a fraction of what it used to be. For the full story, please see the previous two-hundred and fifty one entries of this here bloggie. Assuming, of course, that you're particularly hard up for entertainment value.

This necessitated my tentative re-acquaintance with the reality of gainful employment. Mercifully I was lucky  enough to snag a part-time job just over year ago that actually dovetails with my interests for the first time ever. Subsequently I've been trying to sustain a precarious balancing act between my creative pursuits at home and working at this new gig at night to keep the lights on. In popular parlance this is often referred to as "burning the candle at both ends".

Well, color me horrified when my new place of employ took on a major presence at HAL-CON 2014 and blacked out November 7'th to the 9'th for vacation time. Ever since this event rose phoenix-like from the ashes back in 2010 I've played amateur journalist every year: video-capturing the Q&A's, producing a series of independent promo reels, meeting celebrities, conducting interviews and much, much more. For further details here are the links to my previous HAL-CON-related entries:

HAL-CON 2010/11        HAL-CON 2012        HAL-CON 2013

Although I was disappointed by this blackout I also wasn't surprised. Working at a place with close ties to my geeky interests was always an occupational hazard. Paradox would be a constant risk where obligation and intent were concerned.

Now, if I had a brain in my head I would have looked at the HAL-CON event schedule and tried to scheduled around some of my usual must-sees. But since this was the first year of the blackout I really didn't want to impose any restrictions on my availability. Besides I'd already decided that my attendance this year was heavily dependent on what guests they brought on-board.

As an ersatz replacement for the late, lamented Fleet Con, HAL-CON was always mandatory attendance at first because me and my circle of peeps used it as an excuse to play board games all day long. But now that HAL-CON was doing it's own separate game day I didn't have as much of a burning desire to attend the flagship event.

Or so I thought.

When the likes of Michelle Forbes, Kristian Nairn, Morena Baccarin and the multi-talented Mark Sheppard were all announced as guests I started to experience major pangs of ennui regret. Distracted by my work, these feelings went from vague nagging to full-fledged panic as the big weekend drew closer.

This desperation prompted me to compose a pathetic eleventh hour "Hail Mary" email to the powers- that-be to see if I could, at the very least, document some of the guests Q&A's for my YouTube channel. Much to my surprise not only were they totally open to this idea they bent over backwards to accommodate me. Needless to say, it's pretty awesome to be working for a non-authoritative / non-draconian work environment for the first time in my life.   

Knowing that my odds of meeting any of the guests fell somewhere between "lottery winner" and "lightning strike victim" I didn't do any research or come up with any hypothetical questions. I just picked up some digital video tapes and then bombed into the event the next morning, duly armed with my delusions-of- grandeur inspiring vendor pass.


10 am - 2  am: Worked.

2:45 pm - 3:30 am:   Michelle Forbes Q&A.

I was super-stoked to see Michelle speak. I've been an ardent fan of hers ever since her character Lieutenant (née Ensign) Ro Laren finally made Bajorans interesting to me on Star Trek: The Next Generation . Over the years she's made tons of new fans by playing the less-then-hinged Admiral Helena Cain in Battlestar Galactica: Razor and the walking aphrodisiac sex monster Maryann "the Maenad" Forrester on True Blood.

For anyone out there who risks losing their tenuous grip on reality if they watch something that doesn't involve aliens, monsters or elves: you're really missing out. Michelle has appeared in a bunch of critically acclaimed dramas, including Homicide: Life on the Street, 24 and most notable of late, The Killing. Plus if you haven't seen the movie Kalifornia, featuring Michelle, David Duchovny and a batshit nuts Juliette Lewis / Brad Pitt, then you need to rectify that shiznit A.S.A.P., son.

Beautiful in more ways than one, Michelle is one of those rare celebrities that seems completely devoid of pretension and totally down to earth. Despite having a rough trip to the con she was nothing but gracious, warm and approachable. Some guests claim to be excited to meet their fans, but Michelle really walks the walk. You can definitely get a sense of this as you watch her funny, informative and quite candid Q&A linked below: 

By rights I should have been exhausted by the time my work obligations and the Q&A were over but the collective energy of like-minded people milling around really sustained me. As such, I spent the better part of the day shooting B-roll video of the vendors, auction items, models, props, video games, pinball machines and my usual haunt, the third floor gaming space.

Later that day I bumped into one of my regular HAL-CON cohorts, Sabina. Jetting to the front of the autograph lineups and claiming the closest Q&A seats thanks to the newfound powers inherent in her shiny, limited-edition Warp Pass, she was having an absolute blast. By the time I found her she was just about to get her photo taken with Kristian "Hodor" Nairn.

"You should totally jump into the picture with me!" she enthused.

"Oh no," I replied. "I don't think so."

"Why not?" she returned. "I've seen lots of guest photos that have two or three people in them. I'm gonna ask to see if it's okay!"

Sabina sure has come a long way. When she first started going to these things she was downright terrified by the prospects of meeting celebrities and now, here she was, strong-arming me into a photo opportunity with the gentle giant from Game of Thrones. Was this glorious feeling of drunken entitlement merely the result of  her now-veteran-level con status or a side effect bestowed upon all Warp Pass holders? If it's the later, then I know why every one of them sold out in a matter of hours! 

Before I could form another protestation we cut through the lineup like a White Walker's blade through a Stark's carcass (Starkass?). Sabina snagged the requisite approval, resulting in the following historic photo:

Two funny l'il pieces of trivia about this awesome snap:
  1. That look of shock and awe on my face is 100% genuine.
  2. If you're looking at this and thinking "Wow, I didn't think Kristian would be so short" then you really need to know that he's SITTING DOWN ON A STOOL IN THIS PICTURE. I.E. he's a big boy.
In the brief time we shared with Kristian I got nothing but positive vibes from the dude. Happiness comes offa this guy in waves; just look at that genuine smile! Let's face it, he snagged a pretty sweet gig. He shows up to the Game of Thrones set, brightens up the place with his good karma, carries stuff around, never needs to memorize dialogue and gets to hang out with a lot of incredibly cool and creative people. Plus he's a master-class D.J. to boot! Indeed, Kristian is livin' large in more ways than one.

Later, when a few of my beloved coworkers were finished their shifts, we hung out together for awhile and played a tile-laying board game called Monster Factory. As soon as we started into it I began to suspect that Carcassonne designer Klaus-Jürgen Wrede doesn't retain a particularly vigilant legal team.

In the game players take turns picking up and placing tiles, trying to perfectly time the creation of their boss monster before moving on to spawn a host of minions. The gross-out factor makes this one perfect for kids and the simplistic rules turned out to be a perfect fit for a bunch of mentally exhausted, punch-drunk retail monkeys.

I stuck around for as long as my energy level held out which was around  9:30 or so. I left that evening feeling pretty content, having enjoyed a surprisingly-fulfilling day.


I rolled in around 10:15 am to help my peeps set things up but then rushed off to document the:

11:00 am - 11:45 am: Morena Baccarin Q&A

As moderator Garrett Wang would likely attest, it was just a privilege to be within line of sight of Morena for an hour. If you think she looks incredible on screen in Firefly, How I Met Your Mother, Stargate SG-1, V and most recently in The Red Tent and Gotham, then you need to realize that she's even more striking in person.

But Morena isn't just another pretty face. She's shown tremendous range in such dramatic fare as Homeland and Heartland where she played Jessica Brody and Jessica Kivala respectively.

Hmmm, interesting.  Homeland. Heartland. Jessica Brody. Jessica Kivala. Co-incidence? Perhaps...

The other considerable compliment to Morena's unearthly beauty is that she's smart, sassy, self-depreciating and funny as all get-out, as her insightful Q&A will attest:

I get a bit morose watching this because I met Jewel Staite last year and I really wanted to meet Morena and get her autograph as well. Oh, well, maybe it's for the best. Standing in her presence I probably would have exploded like Ben Affleck at the end of Dogma.

As folks started to file out of the auditorium I remained rooted to the spot. Mark Sheppard's Q&A was up next and I didn't want to miss it. Knowing what I knew about Mark, I expected a pretty wild ride and he certainly didn't disappoint.

12:00 pm - 12:45+ pm:  Mark Sheppard Q&A

Unless you've been living underneath a genre-warded rock for the past two decades then I guarantee you've  seen Mark Sheppard somewhere. The first time I ever remember laying eyes him he was playing the pyrokenetic serial killer Cecil L'Ively in the first-season X-Files episode "Fire". Years later I marveled at his instinctive turn as the incompetent penny-ante minor crime boss Badger in Firefly and as Paddy Armstrong in the tremendous "Guildford Four" biopic In The Name of the Father.

M.A.N.T.I.S., Battlestar Galactica, Sliders, Star Trek: Voyager, Charmed, Bionic Woman, Dollhouse, Doctor Who: Mark's resume is so chock-a-block with sci-fi and fantasy credits that he arguably usurps Hugo Weaving's "King of the Nerds" crown. Speaking of royalty, his guest-starring gig as Crowley, the King of Hell and chief foil for the Brothers Winchester on Supernatural has generated so much buzz that he was elevated to the status of series regular in Season Ten!

Mark's been an accomplished musician ever since he was a wee lad growing up in London and this video certainly bears that out. Clearly he's comfortable being on stage and can work a crowd like an accomplished stand-up comedian.

So here it is, folks. Sit back, relax and enjoy what I consider to be the best HAL-CON Q&A I've ever seen: 

The Mark Sheppard Happy Smile Time Show™ ran a bit late so I had to scramble to get something to eat before my shift started. Pressed for time, I was forced to dislocate my jaw and swallow my chicken shwarma wrap whole like an anaconda as I ran back to my station.

2 pm - 8 pm:   WORKED.

By the time my shift was over I was beat to a proverbial snot. At that advanced hour all of the autograph sessions and panels were done with so I just crawled home, knowing that I had yet another long day ahead of me on the morrow.


10 am - 6 pmTWERKED. No, wait... that's wrong. I actually WORKED. I got all of my twerking done the previous Sunday. Sorry.   

My obligations kept me pretty busy that day so I couldn't break away at all. By the time I was done, everything of note was long since been over so I just helped the guys pack up the booth and then hit the bricks around 7:30 pm.


So yeah, th-th-that's all, folks! No autograph-related meet and greets. No guerrilla-style interviews. No board games played. No writing-related panels. No cool vendor finds. And, trust me, there were ample opportunities for all of this plus much, much more!

The most painful omissions included missing out on both Kristian Nairn and Garrett Wang's Q&As. I also had to pass on Mark Sheppard's Sunday afternoon "Bonus Round" Q&A, which, by all accounts, was just as raucous and memorable as the first. Sorry, but that just sucks. 

Now, I don't want to make it sound is if I harbor any resentment towards work; quite the opposite in fact. The vendor pass I wore for most of the weekend gave me the freedom to come and go as I pleased. I didn't pay to be there; in fact I was paid to be. In other words, I was one of the only HAL-CON attendees who walked out of the World Trade and Convention Centre Sunday night richer than when I went in on Friday morning.

Besides, the onus was on me to try and get scheduled around these things a lot earlier. And even when I sent that last-minute request as an afterthought my employers did everything they possibly do within their power to help me. It's times like this when I think about all of the poor local nerds out there who would have loved to have gone to HAL-CON but couldn't either because they didn't have the cheddar or their all-too-terrestrial work/life responsibilities kept them away. 

Still, working through HAL-CON certainly wasn't my first choice. It was pretty painful at times; especially when my free-range friends popped by every once and awhile to tell me about all of the fun they were having. It was kinda like hearing your favorite band playing all of their best songs in another room while you're stuck working at the merch table.

If challenged to come up with an overarching central theme for this blog one possibility might be:

"We earn money to do things we want to do but often can't do those things because we're too busy earning money." 

Such is the irony inherent in our wacky modern work-a-day world. If I'm mad at anything I'm mad at society for making me choose between economic necessity and once- in-a-lifetime opportunities.

Here, let me give you another example. Back in 1997 my buddy Dean passed up going to a local outdoor music festival called Summersault because he "had to work". In doing so he missed his chance to see A Perfect Circle, Foo Fighters and the Smashing Pumpkins, the later being one of that particular band's last live shows as a cohesive unit. Now, I know what I did that day but I daresay Dean would be hard-pressed to remember what was so gorram important at work that required him to miss out on something so incredible and unique.


If any of the HAL-CON organizers are reading this then rest assured that you guys totally hit it out of the park this year. After the "unlimited day pass" debacle of 2013 you more than made up for that little faux pas this time out. Trust me, I met hundreds of people over the course of those three days and literally everyone I talked to seemed to be having the time of their lives. Kudos for once again making major strides to improve the pedigree of geek culture here in the Maritimes.

EPIC VID If you were at HAL-CON this year then I calculate that there's about a 17% chance that you're somewhere in this video.

GLORIOUS CON FAILZ  Leave it to my favorite indie movie-makers @ Red Letter Media to take the piss out of the convention format by viciously skewering both No Brand Con and Chicago Comic Con: