There are a lot of cons out there… some good, some bad and some just somewhere in the middle. Some of the conventions that go wrong, such as IfCon, never open their doors. Others, despite massive issues, still manage to open their doors. The problem is that you can’t really tell a good convention from a bad one until you find yourself fleeced, and by then it is too late.
The primary difference between a good convention and a bad convention is how people feel after it is all over. If the majority of vendors, celebrities and attendees walk away satisfied with the day then the con is a success. However, if any of those parties walk away feeling like they have been ripped off or mistreated then the con is not so successful.
Sometimes it is the attendees who walk away disgruntled because they feel they didn’t get what they were promised they would. Frequently it is the vendors that walk away because they feel that the crowd wasn’t what they were told, the con was under-advertised or the crowd just wasn’t spending money.
Then there are the paid celebrities. This is their job, they are paid to be there. They may not fully enjoy it, but like the rest of us, it is something they need to do to pay their bills. It also helps to get their name out there and to keep their face familiar to the public. It’s not as often that you hear about them walking away disgruntled with a con. They tend not to voice their dissatisfaction in the fear that it will give them bad press and ruin further invitation to events. They also don’t want the negative publicity that could ruin their careers
Villains Con 2016 was the weekend of June 3rd at The David S Palmer Arena in Danville, IL. I hadn’t initially covered this conventions because I couldn’t find a lot about it. It seemed to be mostly local advertising. Then after the convention, when I went looking for cosplayer photos I found very few.
I had written the convention off as a small con that went off okay and moved on.
But then I got a few calls and talked to a few people and it seems that not everything went off without a hitch. A lot of the attendees enjoyed themselves, but behind the scenes things weren’t quite so pretty.
Looking at their celebrity lineup was rather impressive for a small town convention. They had a lot of representation for geek culture. From Star Trek they had Marina Sirtis, Chase Masterson, and Aron Eisenberg. They had Chad Rook, Chris Gauthier (who ended up canceling), Steven Williams and Samantha Ferris from Supernatural. They had actors from The Walking Dead and they even had Power Rangers.
That was a pretty good guest list.
The majority of the convention goers thoroughly enjoyed themselves….after all it was a small area hours away from any of the big conventions and this was an opportunity few of them usually got.
The problems with this convention were on the backside. Celebrity contracts were negotiated and signed, months before the convention. There were talks regarding hotel and taxis, everything seemed to be going smooth.
Like many conventions they had a few local cosplayers, none of which ever appeared on the website, and the guest announcement used for one of them was not an authorized graphic, it was taken from their personal Facebook account. Yes, there is frequently a thin line between personal and private accounts on Facebook, but the line is usually there for a reason and Villains crossed it.
Things started to break down just weeks before the convention when some of the contracts fell through, as many guests had not yet see their airline tickets. It was obvious that money was tight at this point as the convention claimed to be waiting for some vendors to pay for their tables. This started some of them wondering if the convention was even going to occur.
Then Marina Sirtis canceled one week before the convention, not a surprise to anyone… as she frequently cancels her appearances, but this was used as an excuse for further delays. According to the con organizers, Marina was to provide the con with a video apologizing for her cancellation and then the con would announce the cancellation on their site. Unfortunately, the con never received the video and her cancellation was announced on her own page before the con could do it. Even though the cancellation was officially announced on her own website, Villains Con did not announce until the day before the convention.
Her cancellation was another excuse added into their financial woes as they stated that Marina had not yet returned her appearance deposit, and this was affecting their ability to purchase plane tickets.
Finally plane tickets were sent and transportation was arranged.
Danville is a smaller town with a population of only 33,000, so top-level accommodations were not expected by the guests, but they also weren’t expecting to be placed on the outskirts of town with only a Big Boy restaurant in easy reach.
The con itself was smaller than the guests expected. It was held in an ice arena and it seemed like there were more guests than vendors. It was this small intimate location that the attendees loved. It gave them a better opportunity to meet and greet with the guests and gave it more of a personal touch.
The real problems for the convention started with transportation. Apparently there are very limited transportation services in the Danville area, and instead of making car service arrangements, or using the personal vehicles of handlers (as many cons do), Villains Con chose to use a local taxi service. This frequently left the stars stranded, as there wasn’t enough taxis to accommodate their needs. On at least one occasion, a guest never made their appearance because the taxi left them at the hotel.
There was no schedule provided to the guests on Friday, and they only knew the schedule because someone saw it posted at 10:30 that morning on the site. In fact, one guest found out that she was scheduled to perform only because it was listed on the website.
The transportation issues came to a head on Sunday, when there was a definite miscommunication between the taxi service and the con. The nearest airports were two hours away (Indianapolis, Midway and O’Hare) but the taxis would only go to Indianapolis. One of the guests had tickets out of O’Hare and the con was fully aware of this at the time transportation was supposed to be arranged. This left the guests and their handlers scrambling for rides and most of them ended up packing into personal vehicles with multiple stops to get people to the airports and their homes.
And then there was the heart of the issues. As I stated earlier, this is their jobs, the appearances is how many of them pay their bills. If your boss suddenly came up to you and said, “I’m sorry we can’t pay you today,” you’d be a little upset and rightfully so. If you were forced to work four hours overtime, but then look at your paycheck and see that you weren’t given overtime pay, or even worse, that it wasn’t on your check at all… You would be mad.
It’s the same thing with the guests, only many of them have to fight for each dime of their contract. That seems to be the case with this convention. Even after fighting to get paid, they were given post-dated checks, despite their contracts stating cashiers checks or cash. Most of them walked away with post-dated checks. The guests were told to hold off depositing the checks until June 9th, which most (possibly even all) of them did. Of course the banks eagerly accepted, but the guests are still holding their breath to see if the checks bounce.
Despite the guests figuring out their own transportation and waiting to cash the checks, I still have reports of the promoter contacting both the agents and the talent to yell at them for being hostile and not waiting to deposit the checks.
Things aren’t looking very good for Villains Con getting decent guests next year and let’s see how their Billings Con carries out next.