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©07 The Media Desk
By the numbers, the Fourteenth edition of the Farpoint Convention was a hit. About 800 registered attendees with half that number pre-registered, the highest pre-reg in five years. The hotel was all but sold out, the dealer's room seemed to do a steady business and the art show had a large number of entries.
According to Steve, the Convention Mastermind in a 'state of the con' statement Sunday morning, the convention was very good and energetic. He was very enthusiastic about the weekend and had only heard minor rumblings of discontent about a few issues. Overall, he rated it a success.
When you talked to the attendees, things weren't quite as rosy, but they seemed content with it. There were a lot of people there with their children, or in some cases, grandchildren, and they liked the idea that the con was leaning more toward families than it had been. The people had good access to the celebrities, various functions had run on time and were well attended, and the schedule was adhered to for the most part. And many were planning on attending next year even if only for one day.
But then again....
When you looked a bit deeper, things seemed a bit darker.
The masquerade only had 16 entrees, down from about 25 the last few years.
The groups with tables for recruitment or fund raising were somewhat less than happy with the layout and the space they were given. One group had been promised 'Ten Feet' and were making due with barely six. Another group came down to set up Sunday morning to find their table gone, yes the hotel found and set up a place for them in short order, but why hadn't anybody noticed earlier?
A few of the panels didn't have a meaningful description either in the book or online. Others were canceled without reason, one with people in the room wanting to participate. But of the sessions that did happen, most attendees reported that they were happy with them. Some could have made better use of the facilities like projectors or displays, but that is more up to the presenters than the con itself.
Several vendors had a mild case of heartburn over things like access to power or one outfit being able to conduct business all morning when the area the others were set up in didn't open until ten. One complained about a "room manager with delusions of godhood".
Other complaints centered around one of the stars refusing to sign autographs on their page in the convention booklet or allow photographs to be taken except for their prescribed time in the autograph line, instead they pushed twenty dollar color glossy prints that they would be happy to sign. Truth be told, that is standard practice and is so outlined in the guidelines for the con, however, most of the time the 'stars' humor the attendees by granting reasonable requests at their table as long as it doesn't cause a scene.
[sidenote: while there was some negative reaction to the star being called a 'twenty dollar signature whore' after the situation occurred several times with several different attendees including one woman who was 'special', nobody went out of their way to defend the celebrity's honor other than one con staff saying they thought the star was subject to migraines. But if they are indeed uncomfortable in public contact situations, perhaps they are in the wrong line of work. Later the celebrity's canned, totally phony, and smoothly polished response to another fan "What a beautiful gift" when the fan gushed absolute worship and adoration left the impression on various witnesses that the star would probably be more at home in Congress.]
Even the Service Dog In Training, Miranda the female American Staffordshire Terrier, seemed to be better with things than some of the people. Her mentor Sam was a veteran of several conventions and was essentially oblivious to odd looking people, robots, random noises and everything else associated with a sci-fi con. Which is part of the training. A Service Dog has to be really even tempered and able to tune out things that would give a regular dog the fantods. What's a better place to train anybody to put up with major weirdness than a con?
[NOTE: Clarification of obscure reference. Fantods: an outdated term describing a folk-tale type of illness characterized by extreme nervousness, heavy sweating, darting eyes, hollow laughter and rapid breathing. Last seen at Ford Motors when several high ranking officials tried to explain away the company's current condition. ]
Back to the Con
There were freebies... posters and literature, and buttons and cards, and gimmicks and comic books, and all sorts of everything else. And it all seemed to be very popular with the people.
There were panels on artwork and the web and discussions of the future, or past, of several of the more popular TV shows and movies across the entire spectrum of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
And the Game Room was as lively as ever with all sorts of games being played. If the word 'play' can be used in reference to something that requires an extreme level of arcane knowledge, impeccably hand-decorated tiny models, impressive mathematical skill, and a book three inches thick to do. And once again the 5, 2, 1 rule was in effect. All players must have Five hours of Sleep, Two Meals, and One Shower in every 24 hour period.
There was a movie room, and various private parties, and the Con Suite where weary attendees and the occasional vendor or staffer could get away from the crowd and noise and have a cold drink and some junk food and recharge. And then there was the masquerade and the big dance party and all the rest that go with it.
There was even Snow Flurries Sunday! (Inside joke, in 2003 the Con was Snowed In by a blizzard that dropped in excess of THREE FEET of snow on Baltimore and some couldn't get out until Tuesday or Wednesday.)
A post mortem analysis by the Desk and its team came to a couple of conclusions.
Yeah, OK, we all agreed with Mr. Steve for the most part. This year's con was a success all things considered. The weather was good, though cold. There was a decent crowd although the con facilities and the hotel itself were not overwhelmed. The stars were people that the fans wanted to see without being superstars that didn't want to see their fans. There was enough variation and selection with the vendors and art show and panels and all the rest to suit almost any taste.
And now we'll come to the "Constructive Criticism" and why this article is subtitled 'A Con In Transition'.
Farpoint has always been a slightly smaller slightly saner slightly more 'family-friendly' convention when compared to its larger summertime cousin- Shoreleave.
Shoreleave is one of the major conventions on the East Coast. It packs them in from miles around. Two hour waits for autographs from top flight stars like this coming July's appearance by Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura from the 1960's version of 'Star Trek') are not uncommon. The dealer's room is usually wall to wall people with an amazing selection of anything any fan of anything could ever want. The hotel itself sells out a year in advance. Even getting in and out of the parking lot or a restroom can be interesting.
Shoreleave is a BIG DEAL.
Which is one reason why the Desk doesn't make a habit of attending it. Yes it has gone, it has had a good time, and it watched a lawyer dance the hula at midnight one time. But it is a bit much.
Farpoint on the other hand is meant for people like the Desk. You can move around, see things, go to stuff, and do so without feeling like you're enduring rush hour in Manhattan.
Which is fine.
IF THAT IS WHAT THEY WANT THE CON TO BE!
A few years ago Farpoint seemed to stagger under the weight of its own success. It had gotten too big. The crowd rivaled Shoreleave. The staff was overwhelmed and things were getting out of hand.
They took a step back. A bit smaller, more manageable, more 'intimate' if that's a word to use in context with 800 paying guests.
OK. We're back to where it was several years ago. But now they need to shift gears and focus that way if that is where they are going.
If you are going for families, you need some family type activities. With displays and maybe a few panel sessions aimed at kids with one eye on what types of shows and movies kids like. Maybe schedule a dancing penguin type of family movie at a time when the entire family can go, and maybe, just for giggles, give away popcorn and sodas for it.
In any case. Farpoint has survived the remodeling of its host hotel by somebody with access to the rejected props and scenery for the last 'Austin Powers' movie and has gotten itself positioned in a niche where there doesn't seem to be another con in the area to compete with it.
Just within a hundred mile drive of site there are single interest type gatherings, comic book and animation shows, costuming outfits and movie production groups, board game clubs and 'players of strange card games' that invade various venues from time to time... but nothing that says "hey- ya'll come" to the entire family, including grandpa that remembers "When Worlds Collide" being the latest thing in Sci Fi.
If the Farpoint committee is aiming for that market, and they can advertise it and make it stick without loosing the rest of their regulars who like to throw room parties until three AM or spend the entire weekend in storm trooper armor.
You Can have a con that welcomes both. They are not mutually exclusive interests. You can have a workshop or two for mom without canceling the slash panel or a costuming workshop for real metal heads. Sure, show her how to make a scrapbook page that compliments the photos of her husband in armor.
It might be fun.
And that's the whole point right?
the 2007 Picture Page
Farpoint 15 will be held again in February of 2008 at the Hunt Valley Inn by Marriott. The URL is http://www.bcpl.net/~wilsonr/
This year's Shoreleave is 13 - 15 July 2007 at the same hotel. http://www.shore-leave.com/
Past Desk Coverage. All with Pictures!
FARPOINT: The 2005 con. the 2004 edition and the article about the coverage.
More Desk Photo Essays
To the Desk's main page
Contact: Dr_Leftover(at)TheMediaDesk.com PLEASE put Farpoint in subject line due to SPAM.
[NOTE: Farpoint, Shoreleave, the Marriott Hunt Valley Inn, etc, and all related identifying names and marks are properties of their respective owners. All individuals represented are private citizens and real names are not used by the Desk. The Media Desk is not affiliated or otherwise attached to any of them. The Media Desk is a registered fully qualified domain operating as a Journalistic outlet. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of anything affiliated with the Farpoint Con. ]