Monday, November 7, 2011

Post 1806 – Interview With Hal-Con’s Shane Wilson


November 3, 2011

Shane Wilson and I met for lunch on November 3rd at the Timberlea Beverage Room. It was the first time Shane had been there. He ordered the clubhouse sandwich, noting that it is very difficult to mess up a clubhouse sandwich. Obviously, he hasn't been to some of the dives I've been to.

This section of our conversation is about Shane's interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy and Hal-Con. The remainder of our discussion, about his career in radio and television, will be published at a later date.

Please tell me about your interest in science fiction/fantasy, and how that dovetailed into being so heavily involved in this iteration of Hal-Con. Hal-Con goes back probably about 20 years.

Shane Wilson: It does. I don't know much about the original crew. I can't really comment on that. But, personally, I've been a Science Fiction fan since I remember being a fan of anything.

It started out with the original Star Trek, Captain Kirk and crew. It just morphed from there into reading a lot of Isaac Asimov, a lot of just pulp science fiction.

Bevboy: Throw out some other names of authors whom you like.

SW: Arthur Clarke. Spider Robinson.

BB: I have a whole bunch of Spider Robinson books. DSCF4844

SW: A lot of younger people won't know that name. You and I are of the same vintage.

BB: He lived in Nova Scotia for years and years.

SW: He did. Who else? Let's see.

BB: Harlan Ellison?

SW: Harlan Ellison. Douglas Adams. I'm a huge, massive, Douglas Adams fan. It started with "Hitchhiker's Guide", like everybody else. I worked my way through everything he ever did. It even reached the point where I was searching through "Doctor Who" episodes that he'd written just to stay with Douglas Adams.

Those are the greats. And, then, there are a lot of smaller authors that I can't remember right now.

That started there. It went to Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was working for MITV, which is now Global. I was doing sports under A.J. Walling. One of the most exciting parts of my job was that Saturday, after all the sporting events were over, and my tape was cut, I could go into the Production Room, take the Beta tape of Star Trek: The Next Generation that hadn't run yet, and sit in the studio and watch it.

People say, "Oh, you were on tv. That's really exciting." It was great. But, my big memory was sitting in the studio watching Star Trek: The Next Generation before anyone else in the Maritimes.

BB: How far back does your love for Science Fiction/Fantasy go? You mentioned you got your first radio when you were a little kid. Were you reading by the radio back then?

SW: [Chuckles] Well, I do remember listening to "War of the Worlds". That was part of that Science Fiction love. I don't really remember. It's like it's almost been a part of me forever. Which is very strange, because my brother is not a Science Fiction person; my parents aren't Science Fiction people at all. It was just something that grabbed DSCF4859me for some reason. I needed more.

BB: What authors do you read today?

SW: Not much, sadly. You could probably have a look at the Hal-Con site and see the authors. I've read most of them because I'm trying to sell the con. I need to keep up with them. But, really, I have so little time to sit and read. I did just get an e-reader.

BB: Which one?

SW: I got a Coby.

BB: How is it so far?

SW: I love it. I've been using it to learn Android, to learn the system, to learn the OS, so that I know what's going on within my machine. Some management e-books. Some health and safety e-books right now. I'm going to move into what I love. It's just a matter of time; I find it very convenient. It's not 5 books to carry around. What I'm in the mood for, I can get my e-reader and read it. But, right now, it's work-related stuff, generally.

BB: What made you choose a Kobo over a Kindle?

SW: A Coby was on kijiji for 80 dollars. It's a used one. I wanted to start used because I just wanted to get a feel for it. It's my first Android device. It's my first introduction to the Android tablet, so I wanted to start cheap and see if I liked it. My next one will be a 10 inch Acer, 3.2.

BB: Is it colour?

SW: Yes. It's capacitive screen. It's a high end Android device. Hopefully for Christmas, nudge! nudge! wink! wink! to anybody that loves me.

BB: All right. Let's talk about Hal-Con. Hal-Con goes back.. it's got to be 20 years. Did you have any involvement with them, back in the day?

SW: No. I went to Hal-Con once, back in the day. But, that was about it.

BB: They were at the Lord Nelson.

SW: That was one of their venues.

BB: We went to Hal-Con in 1996 or something, quite a while ago, and we were not very impressed because we had been to Wolf Con in the Annapolis Valley, which was a lot more fun. I was a little surprised to see Hal-Con come back, but delighted to see it happen.

SW: And hugely successful. I think the reason for that, and I don't know a whole lot about the history but just an overview, is that the original Hal-Con lost its community base. It lost its community feel. Whereas, if you walked through the doors at Wolf Con, you were with your people. It didn't matter if you were an Anime fan or a Star Trek fan or a Fantasy fan or a Horror fan, you were with your people in this very welcoming, open environment.

I think the original Hal-Con turned into a business. Which is fine. There's is nothing wrong with monetizing anything. But, when the business of it creeps into the atmosphere, I think it becomes less attractive, especially to the geek community that was there then. There wasn't "Big Bang Theory". There wasn't a popularization of being a geek or a nerd or a Sci Fi fan, an Anime freak or a Steampunk. There wasn't that general acceptance of that. And, I think people like Steve Jobs have made geek into something that's cool and mainstream. Parsons on "Big Bang Theory" is a huge star. How much more of an antisocial, typical geek and nerd is that character? And, the character is huge.

I think Hal-Con has come in at a point where there's a huge demand and a wider audience. I think what the board was able to do last year was really have that welcoming community. Everybody comes here and we know who they are. If you're a Doctor Who fan, you can come and talk to other Doctor Who fans in real life, DSCF4874not online. You can break down episodes, Tom Baker episodes to your heart's content. I think that community and that welcoming got lost on the old Hal-Con. I think that's why interest dried up.

It was the time period, too. Geek wasn't cool.

BB: Geek wasn't chic

SW: Geek was not chic.

BB: Is that why you think Hal-Con came back? Geek became chic?

SW: No. Not originally. I think the original board members (we call them the Original Six) had a passion. They said, "You know what? We're the biggest city in Atlantic Canada. We don't have a convention. Newfoundland's got a convention. New Brunswick's had a small one. PEI's had a small one. But, here we are, the centre of it, and we have nothing. I think, really, honestly, they did it for themselves, and hoped that some people would show up.

Well, people showed up. They were expecting 800 people; 1400 people crammed into the Lord Nelson Hotel. And, the Lord Nelson was an amazing venue for it, but it's just too small. There were line ups for the zombie talks.

BB: I want to go this year.

SW: Alex Hall is awesome. We have 2 this year. We have one with the incomparable Alex Hall, which will be the Zombie Survival Guide. Then we have one with Joni Crocker, which will have a more scientific and thoughtful approach to zombies. It will be really interesting. It will really appeal to the people who are going, "Apocalypse! Guns!", and to the folks that are like, "Hmm. This is interesting on a more intellectual level."

"Zombies"? "Intellectual"? Can you put those words together?

BB: Well, we just did.

SW: So, I think the Original Six of this incarnation did it for themselves in hopes that people would show up so that they could pay for it. I think that's what made it a success, and made it that community atmosphere.

BB: What are the expectations this year, in terms of attendance?

SW: We're expecting to double last year's, at least. We've got 24000 plus square feet right now, as opposed to 1200 last year. We have 2 floors of the World Trade and Convention Centre. We had pretty much all of the Lord Nelson last year. They were awesome. I really want to that to get in, because they were incredible, and we'd stay there. The only complaint we got last year was, "I couldn't get to anything." Nobody could get to anything because it was so crowded.

We're actually hoping to double the 1400 from last year. We've tripled our vendor space. We have more guests. We've brought in more authors this year. The Klingons are doing their annual KAG event, at Hal-Con this year. That's why J.G. Hertzler's in town. He was Martok from Deep Space Nine. He's in town for that, and it's all come together really well. They're having their annual convention, and we're having Hal-Con.

We've got a huge Warhammer tournament. Steve Jackson's coming in.

BB: The Steve Jackson.

SW: The Steve Jackson. In the gaming world, he is the man. He's been at it for 30 years. He's been at the top of the pile for 30 years. He knows his stuff. He's introducing some new products with us. That's really exciting.

Nicholas Brendon, Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

BB: I want to meet him.

SW: It's really exciting to have him. We've got Erin Gray from Buck Rogers. The story about Erin Gray is fascinating. She runs Heroes for Hire, which is a casting agency for people that do cons. We asked her to come for 2 reasons. First, because we're trying to appeal to an older demographic. We want as wide an audience as possible. Our generation, we remember Colonel Deering. Also, she has insights into Hollywood and into building a business out of this niche that we wanted people to hear that we know people are interested [in hearing].

We've got the Steampunks in this year. We had a great Steampunks costume contest last year.

BB: My understanding of Steampunk is that it is Science Fiction but from an Old West perspective. I think of the Wild, Wild West [or Cowboys and Aliens]

SW: That was Steampunk, yes, but it’s so much more.

BB: It's quite a thriving subgenre of Science Fiction, isn't it?

SW: It's very thriving. They had their Time Travellers' Ball last weekend. It was sold out within days. The place was packed. We had media there. It was great. That group approached us, and we approached them. It was a real match made in Heaven.

Of course, we have Drakaina Muse. She really is a Muse for fantasy artists.

BB: Can I meet her?

SW: Yes, you can.

BB: Sweet.

SW: She was with us last year. She lives in Halifax now. She's internationally famous. If you're a Fantasy fan, you have seen drawings of her. Period.

BB: Can she walk around downtown Halifax in anonymity?

SW: If she wasn't a six foot beautiful blonde woman, she could walk around without being noticed. But, no, she has anonymity for sure here in Halifax.

Wow. Who else? Fat Apollo. He's a guy, Mike McClusky, a local guy involved in Geeks VS Nerds, who showed up at Hal-Con last year as Fat Apollo, taken from Battlestar: Galactica. He was such a hit that we brought him back as a guest this year.

There's so much going on. It's hard to remember everything that's going on. If you're a fan, there's something here for you. There's Anime art. It's an incredible thing. And, for me, it's been such an honour to have been invited to join the board.

BB: I don't want to get too much into the cost factor. It's none of my business. But, how do you devise a budget that says, "We can afford to pay X dollars to bring this person from their home in California?" Pay them a stipdend for coming?

SW: A stipend?

BB: An appearance fee?

SW: Somebody like Patrick Stewart (I'm just pulling a number out, but it's close) is about $28000 for a weekend. Plus expenses. But, when you have the budget to bring Patrick Stewart in, that will bring vast quantities of people in to buy tickets.

We don't have thatDSCF4885 kind of budget, which I think is good, because it forced us to pick and choose not just the big names, but the people that we know others are interested in. Maybe they're not the Patrick Stewart's or Brent Spiner's, or the new incarnation of Doctor Who.

BB: Not David Tennant.

SW: No. Although, he's expensive, too. So, it's forced us to really think about it and really pick and choose whom we bring in and try to appeal to the widest audience we can.

If you take a look at the website, there's everything from local comic book artists to Steve Jackson. It's a wide range of people, and that's what having a little budget forced us to do.

BB: I've always wondered about that. How do you raise the funds? It must be expensive to float these costs and hope you get reimbursed on the ticket side.

SW: It is. The Original Six spent 3 years, fundraising. Bagging groceries. Doing films for whatever people wanted to pay. They worked really hard to get the nest egg to get the first con going. We came out of the first con with $10000 left to invest in this year. That's great. It allowed us to put deposits down on all these folks, and on the venue, which is incredibly expensive. The World Trade Centre is not cheap. It's an amazing venue. We're not complaining. They earn the money, but it's not cheap. So, it allowed us to make those plans to make it all happen this year.

And then, this year, we’re skin-of-the-teeth, and hoping that everybody who is even vaguely interested, or who just wants to see a modern day... freakshow? I don’t want to use that word because of the connotations of the past. But the people who go to Hal-Con, want to be seen. The man who spent the last year building an Iron Man costume, with moving parts, metal and plastic and rubber, wanted to be seen. It’s a freakshow, but the people who are on display, want to be on display.

BB: I look at these people who dress up like that, and people ridicule them; but on the other side, you have these sports fans who paint their faces and go to the games. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference. It’s a different passion.

SW: Go to a CFL game in November with no shirt on because you want to paint your team’s logo on your chest.

BB: That’s just as extreme and passionate, just a different channel.

SW: Exactly.

BB: OK. What is your role with Hal-Con?

SW: I am the Director of Media Relations. It seems to make sense, from my background.

BB: What does a Director of Media Relations do?

SW: I try to get people interested in covering us, coming down to see us. This year, I can’t really talk about it, but we’ve got a couple of big Canadian television shows coming in to shoot spots at Hal-Con. This year, Space is coming. Ajay Fry is coming. Their crew is coming. They’re going to be doing hits from Hal-Con. They were there last year. Loved us. Loved what we did. They’re actually coming as Space, but also as guests and fans. It’s great to have them and their support. That station is the gel that holds a lot of the geek communities together, if you ignore DSCF4839the online world of forums and that kind of thing.

BB: I’ve been watching Space since they went on the air.

SW: Me too. Did I answer your question?

BB: Anything else you want to add about Hal-Con?

SW: I’m so excited to be awake for 72 hours. Last year, I was able to leave. This year, I’m a member of the Board of Directors. I’ll be there, and the Board, the committees, the volunteers, are all involved to make this happen. I’m proud of us. It’s great.

If you have any interest at all in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Anime, Horror, come down and pop in. Get your tickets now. They are going fast.

BB: There is a finite number of tickets?

SW: Just because of fire laws. We could only fit so many people in the World Trade and Convention Centre.

Thank you. I appreciate that.

BB: My pleasure.

Check out Hal-Con on November 12th and 13th, 2011 at the World Trade and Convention Centre, in Halifax.

1 comment:

Drakaina said...

Hope to see you at Hal-con on Saturday BB :)
2pm is my panel .. just saying ;)