Phoenix Comicon 2016

I once again volunteered as a Photo Booth Coordinator for Phoenix Comicon, completing my 5th year in the position the first weekend in June. It’s a volunteer position I have loved from the beginning and one I will continue to do in years to come. It can be very busy and I usually don’t have the opportunity to see much of the con, but it’s always a great experience. I come away feeling like it’s completely worth missing certain things.

Preparations for Phoenix Comicon start in January and it always feels so far away until you look up and realize it’s May and the con is literally around the corner. We did a lot to improve upon our communication process and training for our volunteers and managed to fill our staff requirements early on around April. We only had a few people drop out last minute due to unexpected circumstances, but we had a stellar team that really stepped up to fill in the gaps and made for another successful con for the photo booth.

I left work early on Wednesday and arrived to help setup the photo booth and prepare for the weekend ahead. We finished setting up in time for volunteer training in the evening. Training usually involves running all the equipment and having the volunteers work the necessary positions for a full technical run through. Our photographers are usually present as well so that we can take actual photos and test everything as if it were the real thing. It was a successful training session and our volunteers left confident in their roles.

On Thursday, I joined my friends and our manager for brunch at one of the best breakfast places outside of The Breakfast Club in Bisbee, AZ, a place called Snooze. You can get pancake flights, all delicious. I went with a version of Eggs Benedict with the roundest and tastiest serving of hash browns I have ever had. The only downside to this place, you have to wait forever to get a table in the mornings. But it’s well worth the wait. Super nice staff as well. But after brunch, it was off to check into the hotel and check in at the Photo Booth for any last minute prep. We also had a few stragglers showing up for training, who had been unable to attend the main training session due to work. Once we finished with everything for the day, we spent our evening wandering around the crowded vendor hall to scope things out.

Since we do not have any photos happening on Thursday, this is usually our day to have free time to wander around the convention and say hello to vendors we may know or wish to speak to. It was far more crowded than usual for a Thursday evening, but this was not entirely unexpected since the convention had given away a ton of free Thursday passes in order to get more people to check out the convention. I was able to see all the comic book artists that I knew were going to be in attendance and hung out with a couple podcast friends(Mike and Ryan from Rainman Digital and Supernatural the Crossroads) to chat with them before once again meeting up with my photo booth friends. We met up at our hotel room and then made plans for dinner. So ended Thursday and the last of our free time.

Friday rolled around, as it usually does after Thursday. We showed up early in the morning, armed with breakfast and coffee, ready to face the day ahead. Friday is usually our slower day for photos, but this year saw us starting a bit earlier and have quite a full day. Of course, the day still paled in comparison to Saturday and Sunday. Even though Friday saw its own challenges, but we’ll get to that.

We finished getting the booths ready and hung up the big schedule out front before the 1st shift coordinators had their morning meetings with their teams. Then it was off to the races. The morning was slow to start with the biggest photo op session of the morning being Sean Astin (The Goonies, Lord of the Rings). It was right around this time, that we encounter our one and only major issue of the weekend. Our network crashed. This meant our wifi that connected our scanning devices to our ipads and ipods was no longer working, we had to manual keep track and count the photo op tickets. Luckily our printers were not impacted too greatly and there was only a slight delay with getting photos out to people.

The worst side-effect of the network crash was the giant line to get in that formed around the convention center building…in 111 degree weather–the first heat wave and it wasn’t even summer yet. Registration was unable to process passes until a fix for the network had been put in place, and once implemented they quickly moved people through and into the air conditioned building. My mother was one of the people caught out in that line. I felt bad for her and everyone else that got caught out in the heat, but our convention director did send out an apology for the mishap. Plus, he gave complementary passes to people who had only purchased a Friday pass, to allow them to return on Saturday to enjoy things they may have missed due to the delay. We also followed the same process at the Photo Booth. We honored photo ops purchased for Friday on Saturday for those with full event passes and we gave people with single Friday passes a Saturday pass to allow them to come back to get their photos the next day. Most people were understanding and appreciative of our efforts, which was great.

My afternoon shift started with The Karate Kid Trio comprised of Ralph Macchio, William Zabka and Martin Kove. The guys were really cool and it was a nice way to start out the afternoon. My highlight of Friday though wasn’t even something that happened to me but I was present for most of it. I was short staffed for the afternoon and a few of our morning shift volunteers were gracious enough to stay and pull a double shift to help out. One of those volunteers, Ashley, was great in her position as a photographer’s assistant–her second year in the role and with us at the Photo Booth. She was shadowing my brand new volunteer in the role and helping out. It was during Oded Fehr’s photo session that the really cool moment happened. Oded Fehr, if you don’t know, is from The Mummy and Resident Evil amongst other things.

It was at the end of his photo session, we were waiting to see if there were any last minute stragglers. I am on the radio calling the front line coordinator to check if they had anyone they were sending through. In the meantime, Oded had wandered over to our computer table where Ashley stood for some water or hand sanitizer (I’m not sure which exactly). Ashley mentioned to Oded that when she was a child, she and her friend had a competition to see who could watch The Mummy the most. He had asked her why and she had replied because she loved the movie so much. It was just about this moment that I walked back up to let him know that there were no more photos and he was free to go. He asked Ashley if she wanted to take a photo with him and in a truly professional manor she declined, as we volunteers are supposed to if a guest asks. If they persist, we are of course encouraged to take the photo but we are not allowed to keep the photo unless we pay for it. Its a general rule, we do not get special treatment just because we work in the Photo Booth, we have to pay for photos just like everyone else–most of us are more than happy to do so anyway.

I get a call on the radio, turn around and step out to answer as I happened to be standing right beside the guest entrance. I turn and head back in to find Oded with Ashley’s phone in his hand. It’s also a rule that we’re not allowed to have our phones out, especially in the booth, as selfies with guests are a definitely not allowed, again unless at the request of the guest. I could tell that was the case in this scenario as well, especially since Oded was pretending to play with her phone when I jokingly mentioned that the phone was not supposed to be out in the booth. Ashley looked a bit panicked because she knew the rule as well but wasn’t able to tell him no. He humorously pretended not to know how the phone worked and said he was only trying to figure it out and wasn’t sure what these buttons did–he had found the phone’s camera and flipped it so that he could take a selfie with Ashley. He pointed the phone up at the ceiling, the floor, in between snapping a couple photos with Ashley. He handed her phone back and she thanked him. I smiled and thanked him as well and held the curtain open for him so he could exit the booth. Ashley apologized to me immediately, for having the phone out, but that he had asked for the phone and she didn’t know what to do and gave it to him. I reassured that she handled everything correctly and if he asks for her phone she gives him the phone. She had remained calm the entire time and not fan girl at all, even though I know for a fact, those few minutes made her entire weekend and definitely made working a double shift worth it. I was very happy for her. Oded Fehr is one awesome dude, he was great with all of his fans.

Friday night after my shift, I did get to make it to a panel. It was a panel and live show being done by Rainman Digital for two shows on their network, Supernatural: The Crossroads and DC on CW. These were the podcast friends I had visited on Thursday to say hi to. They had asked me then if I was making it to their panel and I told them that I would definitely be there. I wanted to go and support the guys while also meeting up with my friends who listen to the podcast(s) as well. We had all met the boys at last year’s Creation Entertainment Supernatural Con here in Phoenix. Mike, Ryan and Thomas were there to begin with for the Supernatural podcast and then Ryan was joined later by his other co-hosts for their DC on CW podcast. The panel was a lot of fun, mostly because our group made a bunch of signs to heckle the guys with, during their show. They had asked for it though, wanting to make sure they got crowd participation, and they all thought the signs were great.

Saturday was crazy busy as we expected it would be, but things ran smoothly and everyone (staff, guests, attendees) was happy and enjoying themselves. I have two highlights for Saturday. The first was my photo op with Mark Pellegrino and Timothy Omundson. Both actors were in Supernatural together, but I also loved Mark in Being Human and Tomorrow People. Timothy I adored in Galavant and knew from Psych. They’re both a couple of really cool guys, funny and charming as well. Mark had his two dogs with him in the photo booth, they were two adorable Dachshunds (one long haired and one short haired). Timothy still had his glorious beard and dark, flowing hair. I couldn’t be happier with my photo, sandwiched in between Tim and Mark.

The second cool experience was with Kane Hodder, Jason from the original Friday the 13th. He really didn’t have very many people coming through for his photos, which he said he was used to. But because of that, he did hang out with us in the Photo Booth for quite a while. He had some cool stories about the horror movie business and also had a great sense of humor. He purposely leaned on our computer table and shook it while my friend and fellow coordinator, Holly, was sat there filling in as my photographer’s assistant. He blamed the shaking on her and asked her why she would do something like that. She responded cleverly, I guess I just don’t have respect for other people’s property. While we waited for any stragglers, the photographer wanted to quickly clean up the carpet in between photo sessions. Kane asked why he was cleaning, I replied that the floor had gotten a bit fuzzy. Kane stepped towards me and playfully shoved my shoulder, asking if I was calling him dirty. I laughed and assured him that it was already like that before he arrived. After about 15 minutes, I told him he was welcome to leave and head back to his table. He thanked us and we him and he headed off.

I couldn’t have asked for a better Sunday, if I tried. There were quiet a few great moments. Everything ran perfectly and at this point, our attendee appreciate project had become a roaring success. The Appreciation Project, an idea thought of by my friend and also fellow coordinator Erin, was a thank you to our repeat attendees who had spent money and time with us throughout the years. Erin searched through our archives and pulled photos for all the attendees and then photo-shopped them into a thank you card that we printed on photo paper. We then stuffed them into paper envelopes with hand-written thank you notes and handed them out to the attendees as they came through the photo booth this year. The response was great. People were touched and so appreciative. We made a couple people cry, but in a good way.

My Sunday afternoon began with back to back Star Trek photo sessions. First it was Gates McFadden who played Dr. Beverly Crushers from Star Trek: The Next Generation. She was lovely. She explained in one of her panels that she recently had cataract surgery, which required her to wear sunglasses all the time, even indoors. Everyone who came to have their photo taken with her were all very understanding and there were even a couple women who came through with sunglasses to wear in their photo with her. At the end of her photo session, while we waited for the all clear, she sat and chatted with us for a bit, while drinking the coffee she had been brought. We did end up having a couple last minute stragglers come through this time but once they were done she addressed all us girls (most of my staff were female volunteers) and told us to gather in together for a photo with her. We attempted to decline but she quickly insisted and we had our photo taken before she left.

Next was Robert Beltran from Star Trek Voyager. I welcomed him into the booth and asked if he had any preferences. He gave the best response I may have ever heard, then later included an equally amusing followup. His response was, and I’m paraphrasing from memory, “I don’t want to talk to people, I don’t want to them to look me in the eyes, I don’t want to shake hands, I don’t like flash photography.” Now clearly, he said it in a sarcastic manner and we laughed. I asked if he was ready to start and he said let’s do this. We finished with his photo session and confirmed there were no stragglers. I walked up to him and said that he was good to leave, he comments about how all the things that he mentioned before had happened. One of my volunteers jokingly apologizes and he looks and points at me and says, “She’s the one I told, it’s her fault.” I agreed and pretended to leave, before we all broke out into laughter. He thanked us all for everything and we thanked him as he heads out of the booth. With not having had any prior interaction, I thought he might be a serious kind of guy, but he has a great sarcastic sense of humor that I can certainly appreciate.

Immediately after, we set up for the final Doctor Who Group photo session of the weekend. The risers were pulled out for the last time, the lines were queued and we launched into the last high volume photo session of the con. I had originally planned to at least get a photo with Billie Piper and Alex Kingston, but they sold out rather quickly and I had a budget to stick to. As luck would have it, my lovely friends Erin and Stephan Manning had purchased a group photo and were kind enough to let me share it with them. I then not only got a photo with Billie and Alex, but Dan Starkey and Neve McIntosh as well. This was definitely a big highlight, being the huge Doctor Who fan that I am.

The last highlight of the weekend was during Eve Myles’ photo session. She is gorgeous in person and so funny. It was her goal of the entire weekend to be more beloved at a convention than John Barrowman–her co-star in Torchwood–and boy did she pull it off. She revealed not one, not two, but four different “sex faces” as she called them, outnumbering John’s. Then, the funniest and possibly craziest thing to ever happen in a photo booth took place, in my photo booth. A family came in for their photo with Eve and the mother had a motorized scooter to get around on. She parked the scooter and had her husband help her into the photo with Eve and their child.

Eve commented on how much she liked the scooter and wanted to get one for herself. After the photo was taken, she then proceeded to hop onto the scooter and drive it around the booth, whooping and laughing. She almost went out the exit, but backed up, turned and then swung around nearly running into the photo backdrop. She raced back across the photo booth with her legs sticking out to the sides, backed up and positioned the scooter right in front of the camera to pose. Our photographer managed to get some action shots during the process and the lovely pose at the end. I rushed out to our back area and had them print out an extra set of those photos for the family and for Eve. It was hilarious and I have never laughed so much during a photo session while also being worried about a guest’s safety at the same time. But it all worked out and that will be a memory none of us will never forget.

So, that pretty much summarizing the highlights of my Phoenix Comicon 2016. There were plenty of other things that happened, but it would be too much to list everything and honestly at this point I don’t remember everything exactly. I do know that it was another successful year for the Photo Booth and I can’t wait for next year. But before that, on to Phoenix FanFest!

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