Monday, June 16, 2008

FedCon - The Dead Con

Here it is. Personal accounts and personal theories upon the biggest disaster to face Dallas since the Kennedy Assassination.

I got there a little bit after 3 o'clock and a sense of doom was already in the air. I could see it in the eyes of the hotel manager who greeted myself and Marc. There was a little bit too much of the forced smile, glassy-eyed look used by all people in the service industries when they are worried about something but are powerless to do anything.

We got a hold of Donna and went up to her room for a bit. Halo and Mike where there as well and Nugget showed up shortly after we got there. Everybody except Mike - who needed a nap - went back down to the main floor, where we eventually ran into the rest of the gang.

And thus began the long afternoon of alternatively sitting around waiting, walking around with our big sparkly sign trying to hand out flyers, spinning back by the Browncoats Firefly Fandom of Austin table to talk to everyone there and cursing fate that I chose today to fix my tires so that I could not get at least one piece of Doctor Who memorabilia as a memento.

This was punctuated - at 5 pm - by the opening ceremonies began. Now HERE was a disaster. The MC - Richard Anderson - was doing some manner of skit with the 501st (i.e. the guys who make their own Storm Trooper uniforms and appear in parades and such for charity). Now, this confused us as we had apparently been told NOT to make any references to Star Wars in any of our jokes, advertising or anything for the convention. (In retrospect, I think they feared George Lucas and the watchful eyes of his lawyers demanding a check for using his creations)

So when they open the show up with a video talking about the convention done in clear parody of the Star Wars movie opening style (yellow scrolling text against a starry sky) and the MC having a lightsaber fight with Darth Vader... yeah. Little confusing. Even more confusing was the next 15 minutes in which...

* the MC was left running for a hand-mike after the one pinned to his tie for the skit apparently didn't work.
* some woman from New Jersey sang something she called "The Stalker Melody". Apparently she is famous for following professionals around... which doesn't seem to be something to joke about by singing a mixture of "Every Breath You Take" and "I Put A Spell On You" along with a host of other creepy "love" songs, much less opening a convention with.
* some actress from some web-based sci-fi show called IQ-145 sang a song she wrote for her band called "Heavy". Unlike the woman before, she could sing. But since the song was your typical emo "nobody understands because I'm deeper than you" song, it was still hard to sit through.

And then came what I am assured by several people on cast was the best part of the opening ceremonies ... The History of Rocky Horror (not a Ken Burns documentary). And the response of people not on our cast was fairly good. I heard a lot of laughter at the bits where there was meant to be laughter, despite my many in-jokes.

In-jokes like using Mitt Romney as the Manger of the Waverly Theater where Rocky Horror was first shadowcast or a photo of Fish (a somewhat feminine looking boy on our cast) while the narrator is talking about "women of a whorish aspect".

In retrospect, I wish I had asked for an age-appropriateness level on the video because I was under the impression this was to be shown AT our show. Not during the all ages opening ceremony where small children might see it.

Still, there were no complaints so... good on me.

Daniel and I left at that point because it was getting too hard NOT to start playing "MST3K: The Live Action Role-Playing Game". Reportedly, I missed John Billingsley (Dr. Phlox on Enterprise) coming out with a bottle of whiskey, hijacking the opening ceremonies, pouring all the other actors a shot and toasting the show.

Everyone else seems to have found him amusing and says that he wound up saving the opening ceremonies - I take it as a warning sign that the biggest "name" actor to arrive at the Con has started drinking that early in the day. :)

I spent most of the rest of the time before and after set-up, wandering around with Jason. We managed to get inside the VIP Only Early-Bird party and walk around for a bit encouraging people to attend. I think this - based on faces I remember in the audience later - did more to attract people to our show than any other bit of promotion we had.

Still, I wish we had a means of contacting all our fans once we were there. Because it turned out that after all or our worries about doing a convention with a $100 a day ticket price-tag were all for nothing as the need for Convention Badges was thrown out the door early on.

It seems that - somehow - they failed to print up enough convention badges and were forced to depend upon the hotel's printer to make more. When that failed, they began openly announcing that you didn't need a badge to go into any events - something I'm sure that pleased the people who paid extra for a Gold-Level, No Waiting pass.

Why did they decide to do this? Well, even if they had the badges, it's a bit hard to enforce the "no badge/no admission" rule when you don't have a security team.

Yes, that's right. Whether they just couldn't afford one (likely) or they didn't have the volunteers (also likely), there was nobody at the Dealer's Room to stop people from going in who were not with the Con. Or - perhaps - they decided NOT to have security in the dealer room entrance because they realized at this point how bad an idea it was to make it harder to get into the dealer's room.

The Dealers, incidentally, shut down the room early. Like 7 pm early. I've heard conflicting reports about how this was either in protest to the VERY low turn out or in protest to the fact that there was no security personnel on the floor. Which is very much a concern when you're a vendor with a big, open table and you have five people standing there at a time. Either way - it kinda stunk.

As for our show itself... well, the performance was good. It was the nicest theater space I think we've ever performed in. What a shame we didn't have much of an audience. We just barely had more bums on seats than we did bums on stage.

Let the photo tell the story.

Our first four center rows, folks.

The only thing worth noting is that I THINK Gigi Edgley (Farscape) may have briefly come in to watch the show, but left shortly before The Floorshow started. Whoever she was, I heard her say after the "OJ Simpson, Carving The White Meat" joke - in what I think was an amused fashion - "Oh, that's just wrong."

And now... the stuff I wasn't there to personally witness and thoughts on the sad aftermath.

They shut the show down at about 10 in the morning on Saturday. Literally interrupted a Q&A session to do so. Reportedly John Billingsley came to the rescue again and demanded the Con Organizers answer questions right then and there about why this happened and how refunds would be handled.

Confusion has reigned as to who caused what to happen. Did the hotel pull the plug because of a lack of guests vs. staff they wished to devote to the event? Did Tim Brazeal - the Con owner and organizer - call it quits? Did a merciful God speak to Richard Anderson and command him from on high to let His people go?

Enough has been said about this that I don't need to repeat it. My friend Donna explained this whole mess beautifully on her LiveJournal.

After reading through a TON of forum messages my thoughts are that Tim is a fraud and was out to bilk people of their hard earned money. They actually discussed closing it down on FRIDAY night but kept it going hoping that walk in sales would pick up.

FedCon Germany should be taking some of the blame for allowing him to continue using their name. Most of the people I read today did not know that FedCon Germany pulled out of this endeavor back in January when it became apparent to them that this thing was not going to go over well. It was not a highly advertised pull out and there is nowhere on the website stating that FCUSA was not affiliated with FCG. In fact, it looks like they are very much linked together. There are links to FedCon Germany's website and it is made to look like they are indeed connected. A LOT of people bought their tickets based on the reputation of the German con. A lot of the stars agreed based on this as well.

In Tim's 'apology' message he states that this con was in the red months ago and has never been out of the red. How do you get people to sign contracts with you if you can't provide proof of funding? He also blames some of it on his inability to rebook flights at the last minute...Which might work if there had been flights booked to begin with. I mean how do you rebook things that were never booked in the first place? It sounds a lot like he is trying his best to shift blame to anything but his own incompetence. The fans are not buying it.

If he was in the red months ago, where was he planning on getting the plane fares for the guests he had lined up? Turns out he was never planning on getting the plane fares for what should have been their MOST important guests, since this was to be celebrating the 30th anniversary of Battle Star Galactica.

The guest list seemed to change on a whim. People were dropped and people were added and this added to the confusion. No one was really sure who would really end up being at this thing... why would you expect people to buy a ticket to an event where even the people running it couldn't figure out the guest list for? Then there were the CONFIRMED guests.

The thing is, when you post people as CONFIRMED guests, you should already have a contract in hand and all the arrangements should be complete for their appearance. This was NOT the case for Aaron Douglas, James Callis, Richard Hatch AND Dirk Benedict. Dirk caught on early and he backed out because no one would return his calls and he never received a thing from this organization. He basically said on HIS website that he did not make the decision to back out. FedConUSA stood him up. His name and picture were off the confirmed list a few days prior to the con.

Aaron and James were also stood up but they didn't recognize it as such. They were not told they would not be getting plane reservations or itineraries. They were still waiting on Thursday night, after clearing both their personal and their shooting schedules, for this con. Aaron left numerous messages on the forums in attempts to get in touch with ANYONE that would return his agent's call. This organization was still selling tickets to people who were led to believe that he and James would be there. Their pictures and names were NOT removed from the website until after 1AM our time on Friday morning. That would be about 12 hours before the con started. Too late for people who had already left their homes.

In one of Aaron's posts he mentioned that Richard Hatch had also not received anything in the way of plane reservations. Richard was also NOT at the con but he WAS still on the schedule that I picked up when I got there.. when it was time for his Q&A the fans were LIED to and told his plane was delayed... which would have been acceptable had he ever actually gotten on a plane.

Most of the stars were not made aware that FedCon Germany had pulled their support either. They were calling the people over there trying to find out what was going on. They agreed based on FedCon Germany's reputation and then at the last minute they find out that FCG has nothing to do with this con.

Fans on the forum boards were finding out a lot of this information but the people who just checked the main pages would know nothing of all this until after it was too late. People had already boarded planes and started their multi-hour car drives.

There was no advertising for this event... at least none that I ever saw or heard. I think LosBastardos did more advertising for this that they did. You would think that a con would advertise heavily in their location to get even more people to show up as walk ins.

Armed with this information from the forums and such, I think a lot of people who already charged their tickets started reversing charges on their credit cards and even more (mainly locals)who were just going to show up and buy tickets at the door decided that they would not bother.

This con died because of lack of planning, huge amount of NO organization and a guy, Tim, who talked a good game but couldn't carry the ball. Fraud charges should be made. A class action lawsuit should be filed on behalf of all the people who traveled here for an event that was not what they were promised. I met a couple who came from Canada. There were people from Europe... They bought tickets based on the FedCon reputation. They bought tickets based on the confirmed guest list. They bought tickets because of the 30th anniversary hoopla for BSG. They got here and the only thing they will get back from FCUSA is a refund of their tickets if they are lucky. That would be maybe an 6th of what they spent getting here... They won't get anything back for that any other way. WTF. Promises were broken. Someone should be held responsible.

But in the end, it doesn't matter. The one certainty in all of this is the Fandom Community's ability to turn on itself in a time of crisis.

A damning statement? Perhaps. But accurate given that...

1. Michael Nelson of Fen-Con (a Dallas-based, sci-fi/fantasy writer's convention) has been running-around the Internet, going every place that is discussing the Fed-Con disaster and reminding and emphasizing that Fed-Con is not Fen-Con, that they had nothing to do with this and they hope to see everyone there in October.

Naturally, Fen-Con is STILL getting angry letters from people who vow never to attend again, unaware that they haven't attend it once AND complaints from people on the board that there's no real danger of the two being confused and how this is just Fen-Con trying to drum up publicity.

(EDIT: Let me emphasize that I don't believe that for a second. Ignoring that Fed-Con and Fen-Con cater to totally different demographics, there is nothing wrong with trying to do damage control when you're getting angry letters you don't deserve.)

2. Mark Walters - one of the people behind Dallas ComicCon/SciFiExpo - is claiming credit for convincing the hotel to keep the autograph room open into the afternoon on Saturday.

Now, this doesn't make a lick of sense. Because apparently the hotel demanded all their money up-front and that is why there was no money to fly in the big name guests. So at that point - if the hotel was already paid and they couldn't do anything else with the rooms - then there was no real reason for the hotel to be rushing people out, was there?

(EDIT: Of course - as Donna pointed out to me - the only word we have that the hotel was all paid for is that of Tim Brazeal. So suddenly the whole scenario seems a lot more plausible...)

And naturally Mark was quick to mention that the Dallas ComicCon/SciFiExpo has never had these problems and that they could be depended on in the most shameless bit of hucksterism since Stan Lee did... well, anything.

Still, he did also speak a bit about the other great conventions that meet in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. So give him a point for that. But it still seemed somewhat self-promotional.

3. The FedCon Germany people are now running around on the forums and the Internet demanding people alter their posts and news reports to emphasize that FedCon Germany was not responsible or affiliated with FedCon USA.

Sorry, but when you rent your name out - even as a one time thing - that's basically a stamp of approval. At least, in my world it is. You don't put your name on something you aren't willing to call your own. And you certainly don't sell your name internationally to a man who is best known for being, at best, a hapless dreamer who doesn't plan well.

Personally, I'm leaning more toward the thought that Tim Brazeal tried - and failed - to pull what Max Bialyistock and Leo Bloom did in The Producers because he lacked the ability to sing his way out of a jail sentence and the stamina to sleep with dozens of little old ladies in order to raise his 2 million dollars in the first place.

Still, some good has come of this. Tim Brazeal's officially done with conventions according to his own son.


  1. "Michael Nelson of Fen-Con (a Dallas-based, sci-fi/fantasy writer's convention) Fed-Con is not Fen-Con, that they had nothing to do with this and they hope to see everyone there in October.
    how this is just Fen-Con trying to drum up publicity."
    Right. Let me set THIS straight: I know Mike Nelson to be an honorable, honest, stand-up guy, and absolutely the LAST person who would exploit this sorry disaster for the sake of free publicity.
    I was at the ORAC meeting last Saturday (the club is one of the sponsors of Fe*N*Con), getting reports of FedCon's crash and burn via text messages from on-site friends. We could hardly believe what was coming through and kept asking for confirmation.
    Every one of us--Mike included--was utterly appalled by the goings on. We were most concerned about the black eye the fiasco was bound to give to Dallas fandom in particular and Texas fandom in general.
    NO ONE said, "Hey, let's get some free publicity out of this." Sorry, but our little club is not wired that way. Our focus is on our fellow fans and making sure they have fun at a FeNCon.
    We know all too well that people had spent hard-earned cash, traveled long distances, and were likely never to get any of it returned--all because of Tim Brazeal's incompetence and greed.
    No way are we going to exploit their loss.
    ORAC and Fe*N*Con's aim is damage control. We're fully aware that there has been and still is confusion about the names. All Fe*N*Con wants is for people to know "We aren't them," and that a lamprey like Brazeal is NOT representative of S/F convention promoters in the wider world.
    Our HERO is Aaron Douglas. He had no problem recognizing Tim Brazeal's "total Bullsh*t."
    We love Aaron because he is blaming--rightfully--Brazeal, not the fans.
    Anyway, I've wandered a bit, but I'll vouch for Mike Nelson's character any day of the week.
    He's as stand-up as Aaron Douglas.
    No bullsh*t.
    -- P.N. Elrod

  2. Mr. Elrod, I agree completely. I've never met Mr. Nelson but what I've seen of his reaction has been nothing but classy.
    Let me emphasize that I'm not accusing him of slumming for publicity - just noting that the accusations have been made on the Fed-Con boards. I don't believe them for a second because what I know of Fen-Con is that it is one of the better cons out there.
    Heck, I'm thinking of buying a ticket to Fen-Con just to help balance out the shockwave of negative vibes that might hit.

  3. I should have been more clear as I see now it looks like I'm harshing on you.
    Oops. My bad!
    My harsh was only for the ones making silly accusations minus any information. Anyone who's met Mike knows better. I don't bestow respect lightly--ask anyone!--but Mike and the FenCon people have it.
    Absolutely come to FenCon! I'm a guest there again this year. I'll buy you a beer and kvetch about writing.
    And you can find out it's *MS.* Elrod. :snerk:

  4. Ha!
    Tell you what. I'll forgive you for accidentally harshing on me if you'll forgive me not knowing your gender.
    You'd think the librarian would know this, but I'm helpless with names, doubly so with initials and tripply so during the middle of Summer Reading.