FedCon24: Convention Highlights
FedCon is Europe’s biggest Science Fiction convention. Last week, I attended its 24th edition at the Maritim Hotel in Düsseldorf, Germany. Originally, it was launched as a Star Trek convention but has expanded over the years and is now celebrating all things Science Fiction. The convention spanned over four days, from Thursday to Sunday. Around 10,000 attendees were able to listen live to their favorite actors, take photos with them, collect their autographs, participate in the costume contest, attend lectures and workshops on space, movies and TV related topics, and visit the merchandise booths. The 2015 edition regrouped several fandoms: Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Defiance, Doctor Who, Stargate, and more. Obviously, with such a line-up, most of the attendees were here for the Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica guests. Despite not being familiar with these two shows, I tried to report on them as best I could.
Being in its 24th year, FedCon is now a well-oiled machine. Everything ran smoothly and only once did a panel finish later than planned. The con opened around 10 am every day with activities until 8 pm, and then the hotel hall would be taken over by a big party. The schedule of the days was posted online weeks before the convention, and any changes were immediately posted on Twitter, on the FedCon app, and on big boards near the panel rooms. The hundreds of volunteers were also extremely helpful and were prepared to answer any questions. At no point during the weekend was I given wrong information about a room, a schedule change, or a guest. It was quite refreshing to have been able to fully trust the staff and volunteers! All in all, the whole event felt very relaxed and with every attendee having assigned seating, there was no need to rush to find a seat for panel discussions. Unfortunately, there were some last minute cancellations by celebrities due to their changing work schedule or for personal reasons. As a big Buffyverse-fan, I was very much looking forward to seeing Julie Benz, but she was held up on the set of Defiance.
I must say, the Hotel Maritim was the perfect location for this convention. It is literally a 5 minute walk from Düsseldorf Airport which is very convenient for the international attendees and guests. The hotel had two big conferences rooms for panels and smaller rooms scattered on two floors for photo sessions, art shows, and merchandise booths. Sadly, FedCon is moving to Bonn next year. I heard many people complaining about the move as Bonn is much harder to reach for attendees having to travel to Germany.
With Star Trek being the biggest draw for ticket holders, FedCon’s attendees were of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities. This allowed for a great diversity in costumes: a 7 year-old Dalek vs a 4 year-old Yoda (cuteness overload), Star Wars vs Marvel, onesie Tardis vs old wedding dress Tardis. I would estimate that about 50% of the attendees dressed up for the occasion. Several group pictures were organized on Saturday: Star Wars, Marvel/DC, Stargate and Doctor Who. The Star Wars group 501st Legion organized a parade in the hotel lobby with all their members in full costume. It was very impressive. However, the Trekkies won by their sheer numbers as the stairs of the hotel could not even accommodate them all. A party was hosted at the hotel bar every night. It was quite likely you would bump into one of the famous guests dancing the night away or having a drink at the bar. There was an unspoken agreement between everyone not to bother the guests unless they wanted to mingle with the fans and it was respected for the most part and most of the celebrities were completely at ease. Star Trek’s Tim Russ even took the stage on Saturday night for an impromptu karaoke.
One unique feature of FedCon is the fact that they have an opening and a closing ceremony. During each, trailers and ads from sponsors are shown, then each of the guests is introduced onto the stage through the Stargate. The ceremony is very informal; guests were dancing freely and talking with each other. During the opening ceremony, the Sushi Chef of the hotel restaurant even came on stage to sing a song goodbye to FedCon before they move to Bonn.
Throughout the con, the celebrity guests signed autographs and had photos taken during specific sessions. Once again, everything was very well organized. Autograph sessions were planned on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning in the big panel room. Entrance was according to ticket numbers, which regulated the flow of people and reduced queues. To be honest, this set-up was good for both the attendees who never felt rushed and the celebrities who looked quite relaxed and shared a few words with everyone despite the fact that they met around 600 people each day. Photo sessions were organized throughout the whole convention in the same fashion. Even for the most sought-after actors, no one waited more than 20 minutes and the prints could be picked up minutes after the photos were taken.
Exhibition hall / Merchandise & sponsors booths
Various exhibitors were present. You could buy SciFi-related jewelry, paintings, toys, autographs, props. Dealers came from all over Europe to promote their unique products. One of the rooms even hosted an art/props show that included adorable knitted Avengers Minions or model replica of the Enterprise ship. The con was mainly sponsored by SyFy who were heavily promoting Marvel’s Agent Carter premiere in Germany and Defiance‘s Season 3. Being a fan of both shows, I spent quite some time at their booth. One of the other sponsors was the Odysseum Museum in Cologne which currently hosts an exhibition on Star Wars: Identities. If you find yourself in Germany soon, go see this exhibition. It is worth the trip!
Doctor Who: Colin Baker & Paul McGann
Now, I love Doctor Who. However, I have only watched the 2005 version and therefore do not really know much about the 6th & 8th Doctors. Both talked a lot about their work on Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio books. The audience question I found most interesting was about a female doctor. Baker said “Why not? Why does he always have to be a man? We need a female doctor!” He pointed out that he was often asked this question so he researched the matter a little and always asks people at conventions about what they think. He was actually surprised that a lot of women did not seem to be in favor of it. He then joked: “It turns out they want to see more David Tennant!” Baker praised Capaldi’s performance as the 12th Doctor saying he was “smashing.” He loves that “Capaldi is ‘a grown-up.’ We’ve had eye-candy Doctors for too long,” referring to Tennant and Smith. When the producers asked him what costumes he would like, Baker, as well as McGann, described something like Christopher Eccleston’s outfit in the show, but at the time the producers said they had terrible taste! McGann recalled a funny story from his era as the Doctor: “While we were shooting the so-called movie, the delightful Eric Roberts who played The Master was an amazing actor but kind of an intense guy that lives on Planet Roberts and he is the only inhabitant. I was wearing a wig during production with my short hair underneath and it took him nearly two weeks to realize that I was the same person at the hotel every evening as the guy on set every day.”
Defiance: Grant Bowler & Rob Archer
Despite Julie Benz’s cancellation, both actors were a crowd’s favorite. Their joint panel ran smoothly sprinkled with jokes from Bowler and Archer about their fight scene on Defiance.
Star Trek: Jeri Ryan, Tim Russ, Manu Intiraymi & Jonathan Del Arco
As I said, I do not know much about Star Trek so I will do my best report on the actors’ panels. Jeri Ryan’s panel was one of my favorites. She is very animated, interacted a lot with the audience, and had many interesting stories to tell. Ryan talked about her role as Eddie McClintock’s wife in Warehouse 13 saying it was a lot of fun and that she liked teasing Eddie on set. A fan asked her about her kissing scene with William Shatner in Boston Public and what was going through her head while shooting the scene: “Well I was certainly not thinking ‘Captain Kirk is kissing 7 of 9′! It would have been weird.” On her character in Star Trek: Voyager: “I loved the moments where Seven was exploring her humanity, when she fell in love.” She explained that if there were a script that had a good legitimate reason to bring Seven back, she would reprise the role, but she feels that Seven’s story and her quest for humanity and identity had already been completed in the series: “She came full circle by the end of the series.” She was asked to come back for one of the Star Trek movies but she refused because it did not make sense for Seven to appear in a movie with characters she had never even met. A 10-year-old fan asked her what it felt like to play a Borg: “It was fun! The costume was not a lot of fun. It was very hard to play a character that could not smile or laugh while the rest of the cast were joking around.” She talked about how the first episode of Star Trek: Voyager she watched was the worst hour of television she had ever seen, and that it almost made her not want to sign for the role, the fact that she is the only Borg to mispronounce “Resistance is futile,” and that the weirdest question she was ever asked was “What does it feel like to be teleported?” On the Borg Panel, Intiraymi joined Ryan and Del Arco to everyone’s surprise. All complained about how uncomfortable their Borg costumes were. Russ and Intiraymi brought with them their new movie Star Trek: Renegades which premiered during the convention. I did not get to see it as the room filled up very quickly but the reactions from the fans after the movie seemed to be very positive.
Stargate SG-1/Atlantis: David Hewlett, David Nykl & Carmen Argenziano
All three actors were a delight to listen to. The Stargate Atlantis panel was one of the best; both Davids had great chemistry while onstage and kept teasing each other, playing up on their characters’ rivalry. They even reenacted the scene where Zelenka shoots Mckay in the rear. Nykl talked a little about his projects since Stargate. He loved working on Arrow. He said he has “A lot of respect for the cast and crew as they have to create a mini-movie every week.” A female fan took this occasion to ask him what he thought of Stephen Amell: “He is soooo dreamy!” The ladies in the audience seemed to agree with this statement. He recently booked a part in the movie Tomorrowland where he plays a teacher. He joked that he was not even certain he is allowed to disclose this information. He described the whole process as very secretive. No one was allowed to tell him the plot of the movie while he was shooting it. He only had access to his lines and nothing more. “I’m looking forward to finding out what the movie is about!” On Stargate Atlantis, he revealed that production didn’t want him to make up the swear words his character, Dr. Radek Zelenka said in Czech, so he had to learn the real words. Talking about his role in Stargate SG-1, Carmen Argenziano said one of his favorite moments of the show is the emotional scene of his death with Amanda Tapping whom he greatly admires. What Hewlett loves the most about McKay is that he doesn’t care about what people think, he cares about what’s best for him and the team. He joked that he would sometimes not be able to get out of character before going home and, once home, his wife often gave him 15 minutes to get McKay out of his system or he’d spend the evening alone. About his role in the new SyFy show Dark Matter, he expressed his happiness about SyFy finally deciding to go back to space. “The characters have the same banter that Stargate had, they don’t take themselves too seriously but there is still a lot of action.” He said that he “wanted to play the role of The Android but they hired a very talented and gorgeous actress instead [Zoie Palmer], which I was very offended about because I feel I could have fitted in that outfit just as well!” His character is an evil mercenary agent with “an amazing dress sense. He was a lot of fun to play.” With FedCon being fully dedicated to SciFi, Hewlett told us that he is very happy about the fact that being a geek is finally cool and liking SciFi is better accepted than when he was a kid. “People don’t watch Science Fiction, they live Science Fiction.”
Battlestar Galactica: Edward James Olmos, Tricia Helfer, Aaron Douglas, James Callis
As with Star Trek, I am a novice in all things Battlestar Galactica, my apologies in advance for any mistakes. Olmos was in excellent spirit during his panel. He commenced by jokingly telling the audience to only ask questions in Spanish which some of them did! He shared his learning technique for his dialogue: he learns all his lines as one big monologue and then reacts to his co-stars depending on the context. One of the things he is most proud of was being invited to the United Nations with the Battlestar Galactica cast and producers where they discussed the way the show treated several key themes (reconciliation, terrorism, children in armed conflicts, human rights and torture) and their parallels with real life events. We also learned that he was offered a role in Star Trek but could not take it at the time. Moreover, he thought in the past that being in Blade Runner was basically his contribution to Science Fiction and that was it. But had he accepted Star Trek, he would not have done Battlestar Galactica. He is very grateful for the fan support of the show. For him, without the discussions on blogs and forums, without the fans’ theories and reactions to the show, the producers could not have come this far with Battlestar Galactica.
On the same day, Olmos introduced Tricia Helfer and James Callis onto the stage under a roaring “So Say We All” from the audience. Helfer started the panel by sharing her first scene with Callis: “We were the last cast and the first to shoot. On the first day, we had one small scene and then we had a sex scene. I took James [Callis] downstairs, just the two of us, and I just kissed him! Now that we had done that without cameras, we could do it in front of the cameras.” Callis picked up on the topic and talked about the struggles of shooting intimate scenes in front of a crew of 70 people and making the audience believe in them. He is also pleased that Battlestar Galactica brought some role reversal especially when it came to his character Gaius Baltar and Helfer’s character Six. “Six is often looking at me in a way a guy would look at a younger woman.” The height difference also plays a role in that relationship and it’s the reason why the producers decided to use it to further the dominance that Six has over Baltar. On his experience on Arrow, Callis said he would have loved to be in it longer. He joked: “My character was named The Dodger and I really feel like I dodged being in the episode! It was an absolute privilege to be part of the show and Stephen Amell is awesome as Arrow.” What they both took away from the show is that it is a study on human nature and humans put under these extreme circumstances in the fight for survival. To this day, the themes of Battlestar are still relevant. During his panel, Aaron Douglas brought some items to auction for a cancer research charity. One colonial flag from the set went for 1.000€!
During their joint panel, they divulged some interesting tidbits: Callis was asked to audition for Superman several years ago because the producers wanted to go in a different direction (cue Callis miming launching off in the sky on stage), Helfer discovered in Season 2 that Six had her own music whenever she would appear on screen, Callis’ song for Baltar would be “I’m too sexy for my shirt,” Douglas explained the story being the famous “Last Supper” BSG photo (none of their legs are real, look it up!), they all reiterated how important the show was – especially nowadays, there were serious discussions among the cast about the reason why none of their characters really noticed how weird and peculiar Dr. Baltar was, the Galactica set was the actors’ favorite place to shoot. There is real friendship among the actors, and it is a joy to see how much they are proud of their work on Battlestar Galactica.
Additionally to guest panels, there were also a wide range of lectures. As I work in the space industry, my favorite was the overview of ESA’s Rosetta Spacecraft Mission by Dr. Matt Taylor. Do you remember the ESA Project Scientist who wore a shirt with imprinted pin-ups on the day of the probe Philae’s landing? That’s him. He was excellent at explaining the mission to a crowd who is not well versed in (real) space matters. An ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut was also giving a talk that I wanted to attend but it was held in German so I decided to skip it. A very popular workshop was “How to Become a LEGO Designer” with examples of Star Wars Legos toys. Niels M. Friederiksen gave a great presentation on the process of designing Legos from A to Z. Sadly, I learned that my lack of 3D-creativity will prevent my success in a career at LEGO. Oh well… Another lesson was focusing on cosplay photography. As a photographer, I had hoped to learn many things but as it was held in German again, I skipped the theory and went directly to practice! There were many other lectures that I did not have time to attend: How to Write a Novel, a Star Wars comedy show by Steve Dix, How to Dress in Space, The Special Effects of Star Trek: Into the Darkness, The Visual Effects of Game of Thrones, and a very touching tribute to Leonard Nimoy by Richard Arnold.
FedCon24 was a great experience, one that I can only recommend to join for anyone who would happen to be in Germany mid-May next year. The staff, the exhibitors, the amazing guests, and the attendees themselves; everything was brilliant. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to watch Season 1 of Battlestar Galactica.
Froggy holds a Master of Science degree in Marketing and Management from Dauphine University in Paris. She currently resides in Northern Germany where she works in the Space Industry. On top of covering conventions across Europe for The Geekiary, she’s a sports photographer for Our Game Magazine.
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