This was posted on Wednesday, November 16, 2016 on the AJC Radio & TV Talk blog by Rodney Ho
"The Walking Dead" may be the primo show to focus a fanfest around but other shows need love, too.
So when Walker Stalker Con organizer James Frazier heard from "Arrow" actor Stephen Amell about doing an event that focused more on other superhero-type shows, he was game.
Starting one a year ago in San Jose, the Heroes & Villains Fanfest comes to Atlanta for the first time this Saturday and Sunday (November 19-20) at Georgia World Congress Center. Actors from shows such as "Arrow," "Flash," "Once Upon a Time" and "Gotham" will be there. (Details here.)
Frazier, who has now done the Heroes & Villains fest in four other cities so far, expects about 6,000 people this weekend.
Among the actors who will be there: "Arrow" cast members including Neal McDonough, Charlotte Ross, John Barrowman, Katie Cassidy and Willa Holland; "Gotham" actors Robin Lord Taylor and Milo Ventimiglia; "Once Upon a Time" actors such as Emilie de Ravin and Sean Maguire; and "The Flash" actors Robbie Amell and Rick Cosnett. (See the entire list here.)
With so many sci-fi conventions in the country now (including the well-known DragonCon in Atlanta), Frazier needed to differentiate this one. He decided to focus on quality over quantity. In other words, he doesn't want to rush people through the lines for a quickie autograph.
"Instead of a few seconds with an actor, you could get a minute or two," he said.
At panels, he has shaken things up. Beside the usual Q&A, actors will play games with audience members a la Jimmy Fallon.
And there will be opportunities to pretend to be a superhero. There will be ziplines, bungee jumps asnd opportunities to shoot targets with arrows and other weapons. "We wanted to do indoor skydiving but the engine is so powerful, it would emit too many fumes inside a building," he said.
He said there was a time attendees were satisfied just walking around to shop, people watch and attend panels. "They want to be engaged," he said. A majority of attendees this weekend have gone to a comic con or fest in the past so they have higher expectations, he said. (Most Walker Stalker convention goers are newbies, he said.)
Frazier also doesn't want to exhaust the actors. He wants to provide them with a quality experience as well. "The 'Arrow' actors may have to fly in from Vancouver at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday to be at a panel at 10:45 a.m. that morning," he said. "They may have only four hours of sleep. The schedule is hard for them. I don't want to make everyone feel like we're herding cattle. We encourage the actors to really engage. It creates a permanent fan for life."
He said one great example of an actor who embraces the fanfest experience is IronE Singleton, the Atlanta actor who played T-Dog on "The Walking Dead."
"The guy is just so likable," he said. "He lights up a room. He makes every person who meets him feel special."
Frazier said rarely has he booked an actor who comes in with a sour attitude. (I presume that person won't be invited back.)
Plus, in this fanfest's case, you won't be seeing the likes of Richard Hatch from the original "Battlestar Galactica" from 40 years ago. (He's a regular at DragonCon.) You'll see actors from recent shows. The target audience for the convention is 12 to 40 or so.
With Frazier's success holding multiple Walker Stalker conventions (in Atlanta, more than 60,000 attendees last month), "we know how to run these things and we're able to start on a great foot."
He hopes with word of mouth, the Heroes & Villains conventions can become profitable year two. (He helped develop the first Walker Stalker via a Kickstarter campaign and has never taken on debt to build the business.)
The event at the Georgia World Congress Center Saturday and Sunday costs $70 for both days, $45 for Saturday and $35 for Sunday. (Buy tickets here.) There are multiple premium packages ranging from $225 to $900. At the super $900 VIP price, you'll get early admission, free lunch, autographs of any four celebrities, four individual photo ops with any actors of your choice, and front-of-the-line access and concierge services.