A few weeks back, the Hollywood Reporter ran an article shining a spotlight on just how lucrative the convention circuit has become for celebrities that appear in genre television shows or well-known film franchises. If you’re a die-hard fan reading this site, then no doubt at some point in your life, you’ve probably attended a convention, yourself, and the above revelation doesn’t come as much of a surprise. You’ve also probably budgeted for your convention-going experience, so you know the deal.
However, the piece frames this subject with a slightly negative connotation by proclaiming that these stars are going home with “garbage bags full of $20 bills.” I mean, I guess it’s surprising to learn that Millie Bobby Brown who plays Eleven on STRANGER THINGS is charging $50 bucks for a photo with her, but is it wrong, or even a big deal that for one weekend, a “name” actor can earn more than they might at their day job?
Long gone are the days where conventions acted as a celebration and genuine love for the things we grew up on or were excited about. A lot of times, the old Fangoria Weekend Of Horrors were a place to get super sneak peeks at the biggest and best upcoming horror movies. You might find a VHS tape of that hard-to-find movie, or a classic score, or an original one-sheet poster to a movie you saw several times in theaters. But over the last decade or so, it’s simply become big business. And it just seems to be the natural evolution of fandom.
The internet has changed the way people consume advertising. Why would a studio send their entire cast and crew to promote their new film at a horror con when they can bombard every website you visit with a pop up trailer ad? All those hard-to-find movies are now probably available on Blu-Ray in pristine high definition from one of the specialty labels you buy from. And Mondo has made it very profitable to cater to fans’ desires to own limited edition poster prints as opposed to an original one-sheet.
If you go to a convention, it’s because you want the human experience; whether it be to interact with fellow fans or to hopefully get a minute or two to say hello & meet the star of your favorite show or movie. Basically, it’s an experience fully catered to your own tastes. Who is it YOU want to meet? What cool stuff do YOU want to buy? Which panels are the ones YOU find most interesting?
When I first attended horror conventions as a kid, getting to meet genre celebrities and take photos with them was free. You’d pay your admission to get in the door, but after that, it was a promo machine for whatever big movie they had coming out next. I recall my first time being caught off guard going up to Gunnar Hansen who played Leatherface in the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and him ending our conversation with, “that’ll be $5 dollars.” Or the same with Kane Hodder, who I had met several times while promoting his first few FRIDAY THE 13TH movies, and had signed tons of stuff for me for nothing other than a handshake. But I get it. I understood why it was happening.
A few years back, we had Sean Clark, the manager and owner of Convention All Stars, as a special guest on the Killer POV podcast (now Shock Waves here on Blumhouse.com) and we got into an in-depth discussion with him about why and how the convention market changed. Short answer – eBay. After a while of wising up to the fact that someone like Leatherface would sign for free at an event, there would always be one guy with 20 glossy 8 x 10 photos that would make him sign them all and then pop them up on eBay to make a massive profit. From the star’s point of view, why shouldn’t they see a piece of that profit that someone took full advantage of when there is, in fact, a market for it? As the years went by, $5 bucks for an autograph turned to $10. $10 turned to $20. And the last time I went to one, it was $25. Judging from the figures on that Hollywood Reporter piece, it has since gone up even more. Long gone are the days where it’d be cool to take a photo with someone after they signed your item. Now that’s an additional charge.
But hey, if you don’t want to pay for autographs or pictures, you don’t have to. I gave it up a long time ago. Initially, I would have celebrities sign my DVD covers. I figured, I love this movie. It’d be cool to pull it out and be reminded, “oh yeah, I totally met Freddy Krueger that one time!” And there was a period where your item, something you brought from home, would go for a cheaper rate than say an original 8 x 10 that you bought from the celebrity. But once it became $20 bucks for either or, I decided I’d rather go home with a photo that I couldn’t get anywhere else. Besides, the autograph wasn’t really that important. I just wanted to have a few minutes to tell these people how much I appreciated their work. I’ve since sold off pretty much every signed DVD I had since I’ve upgraded just about everything to Blu-Ray. So if you go to the horror section at Amoeba Hollywood and see multiple titles signed “to Rob G,” yeah, those were mine!
But people lead different lives and do different things. For some, going to a convention is a form of escapism. And what someone does with their hard earned cash is completely up to them. Who knows when else in your life you’re going to get an opportunity to be in the room with Norman Reedus to take a photograph? For $100 bucks, you can make it a reality. One of the most recognizable faces on television and you, together in a professionally shot 8 x 10 photo. I recall attending a Chiller convention with my Icons Of Fright co-creator Mike Cucinotta. Mike is the biggest fan of actor George Kennedy that I’ve ever met. It turned out to get a photograph with him was going to cost something like $30 bucks and he was tight on funds that weekend. I paid for it, because to me, getting to see my best friend side-by-side with an actor he’s talked about as long as I’ve known him was totally worth my $30 bucks, and because I knew we may never get that chance again. (And we didn’t! RIP George.)
I was on my way to a movie not too long ago and was passing a corner shop with hundreds of people eagerly waiting in line to get in. When my friend and I asked what was going on, someone on line told us they were waiting to buy $3000 dollars worth of Kanye West’s new clothing line. My initial thought was ‘this is absolutely absurd!’ And I jokingly took some video to illustrate how long the line was, and that these people were all waiting to spend thousands of dollars on Kanye West stuff. I meant it all in fun, but a few people defensively jumped on me and commented with things like, “what do you care? Leave them alone!” and “Don’t you do the same thing for Record Store Day?” And granted, they’re right. I don’t care! I just have never personally known anyone that could drop $3000 bucks on anything without some sort of spender’s guilt. But hell, life is short and kind of sucks. So if that is going to make that long line of people feel better about themselves, who am I to criticize?
So, sure. Everyone from the long-term convention guests like THE INCREDIBLE HULK’s Lou Ferrigno to current stars like ARROW’s Stephen Amell are making big bucks at the conventions. Garbage bags full. So what? Good for them. After working 40 hours a week, people are totally free to do whatever the hell they want with their money once payday arrives. Some people probably save up just for that one big convention every year. What’s an autograph worth to you? Whatever you want it to be.
*Header Photo: Sean Clark, All Other Photos: Rob Galluzzo