Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

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Who Starts These Rumors, Anyway?

Over on the SMOFS e-mail list, one of the many discussions happening right now is on "media" guests for Worldcons. The subject of Patrick Stewart's appearance at ConJose came up. For those of you who weren't around then, let me recap. About a week before the 2002 Worldcon, ConJose announced that Patrick Stewart would make a short appearance on Friday evening of the convention. Stewart appeared on stage for about an hour or so, showed a promotional clip from the next Star Trek movie, took a few questions, and then left, as he had plane to catch. (He stopped off in San Jose for a few hours while returning from Vancouver to LA during a shooting break on X-Men 2. If it had not been for the Worldcon, he would have just flown straight to LA.)

During the discussion on SMOFS, people said that they'd heard ConJose had paid $20,000 or more to have Stewart make this appearance. This is a rumor I'd never heard before, and I had to address it, as it's completely untrue. Actually, Paramount paid us (or would have done so if we'd actually persued it) $3,000.

A few weeks before ConJose, studio promoter Jeff Walker contacted us with a possibility that Stewart might be able to come by to promote Star Trek. While we were interested, it needed to be done in such a way that didn't cost us anything significantly extra, on account of even then we didn't think there would be a chance of bringing in a lot more revenue through promotions. Moreover, our budget was sufficiently tight that we had not yet made the decision on whether or not to have a projection screen above the main stage, and Stewart needed that in order to show the promotional material. That screen cost $3,000 in addition to the rest of our tech kit.

Paramount pledged to pay CJ $3,000 to cover the cost of the screen if Stewart could come and make the promotional stop. In addition, we threw in some memberships for Walker and a few other people (and incidentally Stewart himself, not that it mattered that much).

So about a week before the con, while Tom Whitmore and I were appearing with ConJose Toastmaster Tad Williams on KFJC radio talking up ConJose, Randy Smith, who was Hugo Awards ceremony director and deputy division manager for Events, called us while we were on the air to tell us that the Stewart appearance was a Go.

As soon as we could, we told Tech to go ahead and add the Big Screen, and Facilities to make the necessary extra arrangements. We ended up picking up the one function room in our hotels that we hadn't originally reserved: the Boardroom of the Crowne Plaza, which didn't really suit anything we needed. (We primarily used the Crowne Plaza for Gaming.) We set up a little hospitality suite, which had to be catered at Hotel rates, so combined with the room rental itself, we shelled out $750 extra.

We did what we could to promote this, but it was difficult on such short notice. We figured we would probably get about $5000 extra revenue from additional single-day memberships (around 70 people paying $70 each). It wasn't a huge windfall, but as important as anything else was that we were able to add the Big Screen to our Events, which was something we really wanted but were concerned we couldn't afford.

Our Tech Team were great. They, along with the Events division, had to quickly redo a bunch of their plans, as they were not expecting any major events in their space that evening. They'd planned on a rather leisurely setup in preparation for the events on Saturday.

A queue did form outside the Civic Auditorium a couple hours before the event. I went and talked to some of the people in line. Those folks at the front of the queue had come specifically to see Stewart and had not planned on attending Worldcon otherwise.

The queue went down the block and started down toward the entrance to the Tech Museum. We think a lot of people who might have wanted to see the appearance (that is, people who were attending ConJose anyway, but might have come to the appearance out of curiosity or casual interest) balked, thinking, "Oh, it's too full; I'll never get inside." What they did not know is that the apparently huge queue was only 700 people deep by our count, and you can get almost 3,000 inside the Civic Auditorium. In fact, had we known that only about 1,000 people would attend (which annoyed the studio publicist greatly), we wouldn't have even bothered opening the balcony, which would have made the Front of House Manager much happier.

Stewart showed up at the front door of the Crowne Plaza around the time we expected, where he was met by Tom, me, Randy, and a few other senior committee people. We escorted him into the Board Room (conveniently located so we didn't have to take him through major convention space). Turns out he was not very hungry, but he did take a bottle of water. We spoke briefly. I reminded him of the ST:TNG episode "The Inner Light," which he did remember (it having been designed as much as a showcase for him as anything else) and told him that the Worldcon had given it the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation back in 1993, something he vaguely remembered. (The trophies went to the producer, director, and writer -- Paramount paid for an extra trophy.) Then we handed him over to the Tech director, with whom he huddled to make sure all of the material he'd brought along worked. After that, we took him over to the Civic Auditorium and, my involvement finished, I took a seat in the audience to watch.

Stewart was the professional we'd all heard he was. He handled the appearance well, was polished, and the audience seemed happy. He did have to leave -- the plane was waiting for him. I understand he told our people that we were among the most professionally-organized-looking groups of fans with which he's had to deal, for which our Tech/Events teams should be quite proud.

And that was that. ConJose did not pay anyone, neither Patrick Stewart personally nor either of the studios involved, any appearance fees. If Stewart was paid to make that stop, it was presumably by one or the other of the studios. We gave him and a few other people like Jeff Walker free memberships. We put up $750 worth of catering Stewart never used, but it did not go to waste: we collected up all of the stuff for which we'd paid and carted it over to the Civic Auditorium and gave it to the Tech Team in gratitude for them giving up their afternoon (and dinner) to make things work.

To be completely honest, CJ's out-of-pocket was actually $3,750, because we never got around to billing Paramount for the $3,000 pledge, and given that we had enough revenue to cover our expenses in the end, we decided to not try and collect it. But because of that pledge, we were able to put up the projection screen and use it for the Hugo Awards and Masquerade, which improved the experience in my opinion.

One thing that has always bothered me about this was that we did have to make several last-minute scheduling changes to Terry Bisson's play scheduled for that evening and to the Lux Radio Theatre presentation of "The Adventures of Luke Skywalker" (in which Star Wars is imagined as a 1940s radio play staring Mickey Rooney as Luke Skywalker, Humphrey Bogart as Han Solo, and so forth). Because we had to schedule everything around Stewart's appearance, the time of which was out of our control, we were forced to make last-minute changes that screwed up Bisson's play, particularly because we were unable to reach Bisson on short notice (like that afternoon), and because nobody remembered to go put up signs in the Fairmont's ballroom telling people that the performances had been relocated to the Civic Auditorium.

(We only had enough tech to support one major venue at a time, so everything that would have been in the Ballroom had to be in the CA following Stewart's appearance. I think the Lux Players worked better on the CA's stage anyway. I only wish I'd been able to catch the entire performance.)

We never would have paid $20,000 for a one-hour appearance as was rumored. The payback would have been impossible. We would have needed to be reasonably certain that we were going to get an extra $80,000-$100,000 revenue -- say around 1,100 extra day attendees -- to justify such an expenditure. Tom and I both knew that wasn't going to happen.

Anyway, not only did we not pay a huge appearance fee, but we were actually able to leverage the pledge of extra funding to improve the convention's tech to the benefit of all the members -- except those who never attend the Masquerade or Hugo Awards or who think those events are too tech-heavy as they are.

Please, if you ever hear anyone saying that ConJose paid ${LARGE_VALUE} to bring in an actor, try and correct them. Of course, some of them won't believe you. Even if you quote me directly -- and I'm happy to give anyone who wants it a copy of the Excel spreadsheet that is the ConJose budget -- some of them will say, "Oh, they just cooked the books. Everyone knows they're all on the take anyway." Those people are unreachable, and I know they exist because I've talked to them.
Tags: conjose, worldcon
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