How Dragon Con is handling its celebrity panels with the actors strike

Actors can’t talk about certain TV and film projects, but they can talk about their love of cats
Lindsay Wagner, George Takei and Gina Torres are among guests set to come to Dragon Con Labor Day weekend 2023. PUBLICITY PHOTOS/AP



Lindsay Wagner, George Takei and Gina Torres are among guests set to come to Dragon Con Labor Day weekend 2023. PUBLICITY PHOTOS/AP

Dragon Con, Atlanta’s largest sci-fi convention, is facing an unusual challenge this year when it comes to its celebrity actors and writers courtesy of the ongoing SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes.

We had an e-mail exchange with Rachel Reeves, Dragon Con co-chair who oversees the 400-plus guests that appear on dozens of celebrity panels over the five-day Labor Day weekend in downtown Atlanta.

Actors can’t bring photos of themselves in movies and TV shows to sign for the Walk of Fame autograph room, and they can’t promote most scripted TV and film projects, past or present, on the panels.

But that didn’t stop Dragon Con from nabbing some notable names including Sean Astin and Elijah Wood from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, George Takei from the original “Star Trek” series, Gina Torres of “Firefly” fame and Paul Bettany from Disney+’s “WandaVision.” (Nathan Fillion, originally announced as a guest, had to bow out.)

DragonCon Co-Founder Pat Henry poses for a portrait alongside his daughters Rachel Reeves, left, and Mandy Collier, right, at Atlanta Marriott Marquis on Wednesday, July 26, 2023 in Atlanta. The sisters will be taking the mantle from their father. (Michael Blackshire/

Credit: Michael Blackshire

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Credit: Michael Blackshire

Q: Has the SAG-AFTRA strike impacted your ability to book guests in a negative or positive way?

A: Our goal each year is to have a robust roster of about 100 actor guests, representing the wide range of fandoms covered at the convention. While each year has its challenges ― COVID was a significant challenge in 2021 and 2022 ― we are confident that we will meet that goal in 2023.

It’s important to note that actors make up only about a quarter of our guests. We have another 300 authors, artists, game designers, scientists, and experts from other disciplines at the convention to lead discussions and help fans get deeper into the things they love.

Q: Are there some actors who are choosing not to do any conventions? Also, because there is no actual work out there, are there some actors who are coming who otherwise wouldn’t have been available?

A: Both ideas are true. Some actors have decided to skip conventions this year because of the strike. For others, the lack of work has created space on their calendars to meet with fans and we have been happy to fill that space.

Sean Astin (left) as Samwise Gamgee and Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins appear in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." Both actors are appearing at Dragon Con 2023. Pierre Vinet / New Line Cinema


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Q: Did that make it easier, for instance, to get the major “Lord of the Rings” stars?

A: We have worked for the past several years to bring Elijah Wood and Sean Astin to Dragon Con. Acting commitments and contracts with other conventions have prevented their appearance until this year. We were ecstatic that everything came together in such a way to allow them to join us.

Q: When do you typically start booking guests?

A: Booking guests is a year-round process. Some guests take years for things to align, similar to Sean and Elijah. While we do begin announcing names in the spring typically, the flow of guest bookings really begins in mid-summer. It’s a balancing act because we like to get fans excited early by the guest list, but also booking/finalizing guests a bit later typically means fewer cancellations due to scheduling issues.

Q: How many people are involved in booking guests?

A: If you mean our Walk of Fame guests, it’s just me. I work directly with our network of amazing agents to attract and book most of these guests.

Q: What is the biggest challenge any given year when it comes to booking some of the top actors?

A: Acting commitments, family commitments, and contracts with other conventions are limiting factors. In addition, several well-known actors limit their participation in fan conventions, choosing irregularly to attend only a few conventions.

Q: What are the restrictions placed on the actors given the strike?

A: As part of their strike rules, actors cannot promote any work that was created by Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) member companies. From our perspective, this affects what they can discuss on panels and what pictures they can offer from their Walk of Fame tables.

Q: How are you going to manage celebrity panel discussions? What are off-limit topics?

A: We are working very hard to make our panels fun and memorable while avoiding discussions about our guests’ current and past television and movie projects. Planning this year’s panel discussions has been more challenging than actually getting guests booked for the convention, but it has also given our team an opportunity to really get creative and show their resilience. We created a whole system of moderated fan Q&A using social media so that fans can still ask their questions, but we can avoid any that would violate the strike rules.

Q: Do you think the panel discussions might actually end up taking some interesting turns if certain topics are off the table?

A: Yes. We expect to learn new things about our favorite actors this year, things we had never thought to ask in the past. This year is going to be totally different each and every day and that is just fun and exciting.

Q: Given that Dragon Con is such a participatory convention, do the celebrity guests matter that much? Do they impact ticket sales in any tangible way?

A: More than anything else, fans come to Dragon Con because it gives them a chance to step off the planet for a few days, to forget their worries and just be themselves. Some fans do come to meet a favorite actor ― and Dragon Con is a special place to do that ― but that is only a 5 minute interaction in a five-day, multi-faceted convention. There is just too much awesomeness at Dragon Con to let any one thing drive the decision to attend.

Q: Do you always try to get at least one major “Star Trek” star?

A: “Star Trek” is a huge part of the science fiction fandom. The original series was groundbreaking, and its stars are among our most popular guests. For as long as they are willing, William Shatner, George Takei, and Walter Koenig will be a part of Dragon Con.