Monday, July 29, 2013

ConBravo 2013

So as some folks may be aware (and some may not...I was a moron and forgot to make a video announcement so that people WOULD be aware), I was a guest at ConBravo 2013 in Hamilton, ON this past weekend.  This was my third time at ConBravo, as well as my third time visiting a convention as a guest (the past two times being ConBravo last year and Con-G this year), and going in I knew that I wanted to give back to the convention that has really helped me to get where I am today. I went on six panels.  Hi, my name is Derek the Bard, and I am a MORON.

It all started with three panels.  First, obviously I wanted to do another live What We Watched, because the one at Con-G went over so well and was a lot of fun.  Plus it would be an excuse to spend several nights with the wife just watching cartoons and being snarky.  Then I figured...why not?...I could just screen a pair of Z-grade indie films I had previously reviewed, just to share the wealth with friends.

...what I failed to bank on was: 1) Now that I'm with This Week in Geek
, obviously I'd be on their panel.  2) Of COURSE Tom would run another Audition, and I'm ALWAYS on those.  3) I got a line item in my itinerary from my buddy, Luke Williams (who handles guest relations) saying "Hey, there's a puppet death match on Sunday and all those involved want you to MC it".
Bam.  Six panels.  I figured "Hey, this just means more exposure." (in this I was correct).  "I'll have PLENTY of time to do other stuff." (...technically correct, but factually not so much).  "What could POSSIBLY go wrong?" (...see?  MORON!)

Now, first I DO I want to say a few words about ConBravo: It.  Is.  FANTASTIC.  The crew who run it, headed by my good friend and inestimable badass, Mark Tjan, KNOW how to run a convention.  They've been constantly hunting down other cons to see how they handle things, they are always receptive to feedback, and after four years they've gotten pretty darn good at managing their small army of volunteers and using them to good effect.  The result is always an excellent convention experience, both when I was a general attendee back in 2011 (when the convention ran for two days, I figured "Hey, the Nostalgia Critic's gonna be in town, I should go!"...and proceeded to make some of my best and closest friends in the span of 48 hours), and when I've been a guest these past two years.

The weekend actually started on Thursday (which I thankfully had booked off work).  I've known Nash since around 2008ish, and so when he started chatting about coming to ConBravo I was pretty stoked.  I see this guy MAYBE once a year, if I'm lucky, and no matter how much I chat with him on Skype or IRC it just ain't the same.  So I knew he was coming up, but on Tuesday morning I get a text from our mutual friend Fox saying "Hey, Nash is asking for a place to crash on Thursday night before the con."  Well, I have a couch, and I had Thursday I offered, and pretty soon we're hanging out and having adventures.  No, seriously, we had an adventure to parts of Toronto I ain't ever been before, in search of a guitar for him to play over the weekend and then auction off for Child's Play.  Good times.

...of course this also means that I had to spend a great deal of time convincing Nash that, no, in Canada we WALK places.  This thing called fresh air is not poisonous, and yes...this street car IS taking a while but we're all just used to it.  Such is the life of the non-driver.  It was fun times, and really prepped my energy for the con. he INSISTED that we (myself, my wife, and he) sit down and watch as much "Hey Ash, Watcha Playin'" as possible on the TV.  ...then he bitched about the Apple TV, but I've been hearing that refrain from him since I bought the damn thing.

On Friday morning (ish, more early afternoon) we headed over to the convention.  We were HOPING to get a GO Train over, but the GO system is ass backwards and there are no direct trains to Hamilton...lord only knows why.  Got to the convention center and hotel pretty easily, met up with Emily and I's roommates, and got settled in.  Our room had actually been planned out for many months, since just after MAGFest, and I was really happy with our crew: Jess (Ladyspaz), Kyle (Oancitizen), Ven, and Mouse (who...we barely saw after the first day, as Kyle was filming with Doug, Jess was FILMING Kyle filming with Doug, and Mouse and Ven were off doing their own stuff).

Friday I was screening Fable: Teeth of Beasts at 11, so Emily and I had just planned to hang around the convention centre after opening ceremonies, meet up with friends (and in Em's case get her introduced to the usual gang of reprobates I hang out with at these things), and scout the dealer's room for whatever tickled our fancy (both of us were enjoying windfalls from a couple of pretty solid paycheques following Summerlicious, as well as some frugal savings).  This...didn't really succeed as well as we had hoped.  We got our con badges pretty easily (there was some waiting in line for Emily's, then figuring out she WASN'T on their comp list, then just turning up the charm on the volunteers to get it sorted out without having to bother Luke or Mark), and went to opening.

Just before the ceremonies started I was approached by one of the con leads who says "You need to go down to the photography booth at 6 to get new headshots." (yeah...I felt AWESOME at that point; the convention was paying for me to do a friggin photoshoot!)  So...ok, opening is supposed to END at 6, so I figured Em and I would mosey on down there and scout the place.  I don't know if you've ever seen James Portnow (sp?) speak, but when the man gets rolling it is obvious that he knows what he's talking about.  He was the key note speaker, and his presentation asking simply "Why are video games important?" was rivetting, moving, and just KEPT ON GOING.  So much so that I lost track of time, realizing it was quarter after 6, and left Emily with the gang while I ran off to vogue.

...these headshots are amazing.  That's all I can really say of the guys at Convoke.  They do good work.

So yeah...Friday was a whirlwind, especially when we discovered that Em's phone doesn't do voice for some reason, and as a result we were reduced to texting to coordinate our locations.  Still, good times overall, and go to meet up with the Chez Apocalypse crew when they arrived, as well as Doug, Leo, and Lewis.  I hadn't seen any of these folks since MAGfest, and it was good to see everyone, but we were all pretty exhausted.

Have you ever fallen asleep while watching a movie?  Or while on a panel?  Or while on a panel ABOUT watching a movie?  This was the Fable: Teeth of Beasts screening for me.  I was taking 60 second micronaps during it, but it was a good time overall.  The audience HATED it, which was to be expected, but they had some fun riffing on it.

By Saturday I had pretty much the whole day free, with the Edison Death Machine screening at 5, the TWIG panel at 7, and the Auditions at 11.  We gave the vendors hall a really good once over, scoring a few things here and there.  From my swag: Victor Krum's wand from Harry Potter (WONDERFUL design, and adds well to my other wands: Sirius Black's and the Elder Wand), the leaf pin of the Fellowship of the Ring, I almost bought...oh about a dozen other things.  By Sunday I'd add another leather pouch to the swag, because it looked good and was a good price (also its big enough for my phone, a character sheet, some cards or dice, and generally for my LARP stuff.

We also met Pete Williams, the creator of underGRADS.  Pete is an AWESOME guy, did the voices for all four of the main characters on the show, and is now starting up a campaign on Facebook to bring the show back.  I shot a video to that effect, which will be going up online in the next day or so.

Saturday was also the Hilarious Food Adventure, and the source of my only real complaint about the convention.  They ordered pizza for the guests.  And put them in the VIP lounge, which has a glass door.  You could see the boxes and boxes of pizza.  Then they used the VIP lounge for guest interviews, and placed a staffer in front to keep people out.  So there are 8 or 10 other guests with plates of pizza walking around, and my wife and I, staring longingly through the glass at the food, so close and yet so far.  After coming back several times to find more and more interviews, we finally just said screw it and went to the food court.  I wasn't ANGRY, but I was rather hilariously and deleriously frustrated.

...just prior to this we'd swung by ConOps to ask if Holly (who came for the weekend and wound up working the back end of the convention...dear god, that woman never stops working!) and Luke if we could pick them up anything.  Holly: "I'll take the healthiest thing you can find." Luke: "I'll take the UNHEALTHIEST thing you can find!"

Thus was Luke Williams forced to eat a Double Down.  I have pictures.  It was horrifying.  ...I, on the other hand (and Holly) had teppanyaki, because it was rather more healthy.  And wasn't likely to reduce either of us to a mummified state thanks to the salt content.

And then...THREE PANELS IN A ROW!  Edison Death Machine screening brought out maybe 20ish people, including Mike Bennet (Philbuni), who is basically an expert on this flick.  I introduced him to it at MAGFest two years ago, and since then he's gone on to watch it a dozen or so times.  This movie is *GREAT* for collective viewing: Its to horror what The Room is to drama.  It invites riffing on all levels, and has some gloriously bad scenes that you have to quiet the audience for just so they get the full experience.  This was a very fun screening, even after the DVD/VHS player apparently ate my DVD and turned it into a cassette (pressed the wrong eject button: Cassette came out; pressed DVD eject DVD came out...this was eventually fixed).

Ran to the TWIG panel, which largely involved us talking about our con stories and experiences.  Which meant I got to promote Touring Bus, and talk more about the experience of filming it.

(For those wondering, Touring Bus is held up at the moment by technical issues; Nash is building me a new computer which fill resolve them and then I can get back to work...I also need to get around to comissioning some artwork for it and talking to my boss, Mike Dodd, about talking to some nerd bands about using music for it)

After that, I got to do something I'd been looking forward to all weekend: I got to hang out with Gregg Taylor from Decoder Ring Theatre.  Gregg had tweeted at me on Friday, asking if we could meet up while I was in town, and did not disapoint.  I haven't seen Gregg in person for a few years, but we've chatted occasionally online, so it was fun to catch up and talk about the show.  I also spoke to him about my desire to get involved with DRT for voice work at some point, and he seemed yeah, I may well be in the Red Panda or Black Jack Justice in the future!

At the same time I was also hanging out with gang from Retroware TV, ProJared, Nash, and others (pubs just make great central places to meet), and that was a fun time.  I don't meet a lot of game reviewers, its just not my bailwick, but this was a lot of fun and they're a good gang.  Also Joey (Roo) cheats at Monoply and one day I WILL DESTROY HIM!  Ahem.

The Auditions on Saturday night went *GREAT*.  Better than great.  This may be Tom's best script yet, and the performances were WONDERFUL.  I still think that Justin (JewWario) did it best with his King of the Sun Monkeys.  After that was drinking, then bed.

Sunday was...sunday was BUSY AS FUCK.  Nash and I had been filming a crossover this weekend, and I had written it to be far more complicated than our schedules would allow.  We shot most of it on Saturday, but there was a bit with Leo (SciFi Guy) we had to shoot on Saturday night at a late ass hour, then more that I had to shoot alone on Sunday.  The result is some hilarious continuity errors that I will have to just toss a rather large lampshade on...but the jokes come through, I got some GREAT cameos from people, and the analysis in and of itself should more than make up for it. there's a part where I get chased by an angry mob, and another where I'm almost murdered by the entire convention-going public.  Good times.

Sunday morning saw my live What We Watched opposite Lewis' live Atop the Fourth Wall panel.  As such, attendance wasn't great, but those who WERE present really engaged with the material and had a good time.  Still working out the technical bugs from these video presentations, but each one gets better.  Also learned that my scripts STILL need to be shortened.  I think next time I'll just do one TV show.

A couple hours after that was possibly the most fun panel I was on all weekend: THE PUPPET DEATH MATCH!

See, it turns out that I know three puppeteers: Dan (Foldable Human), Mike (Philbuni), and my good bud, Devin (Featherweight).  So I got to MCing the build, talking like Howard Kosell and a carnival barker interchangeably.  My voice was SHOT, though, so thankfully they started taking questions, engaging with the audience, and talking about the building process.  They made some GREAT puppets, each in a very different and very individual style, which was awesome.  The audience really got involved with the conversation, and it was a great chance for everyone to talk about their work, to discuss their styles and reasons, and just in general to have a good time.  I took some video of the very end, where they talked about the puppets they had built, but it was generally agreed that this was one of those panels you had to BE there for.  It was a wonderful experience.

With the death match over, I was free!  No more panels.  Just time to hunt down various people for cameos, most of which literally did not happen until the 11th hour.  Said goodbye to the folks who were heading out early (Nash, Leo, Doug [...who somehow I wound up saying goodbye to three times, as we kept running into each other while he was in the process of leaving and I was going about my business], Roo, Gerald, Shire...a lot of good folk, some of whom I'd barely seen all weekend due to being so busy), and we got some last minute swag from the dealer's room. 

Also got a chance to talk about Touring Bus more at closing ceremonies.  I have my schpiel down about it.  I don't stumble.  I just straight up talk about it as if it were the most real thing in the world.  I also confirmed this: Touring Bus *WILL* be ready for screening at ConBravo 2014 (though I'm HOPING to have it ready by MAGfest).

Went out for dinner with most of the remaining guests: Chez Apocalypse, Lewis, Pat (Coldguy), and...Mara Wilson, who is pretty cool, but with whom I'd maybe shared 10 words all weekend.

The conversation turned to filming, and what resulted was my helping Elisa and the gang shoot something for an upcoming Maven of the Eventide video (mainly because I have a top-of-the-line shotgun mic and they...well needed a shotgun mic; here's hoping the video came out well, wasn't sure regarding the audio).  I can also say that Mara screaming at the camera with a look of hate and rage is a DAMN FREAKING TERRIFYING THING.  Its just...something about her face, man.  It goes from normal, amused really, then contorts into this rictus of malevolence, the shadow turns her eyes almost black, and her voice makes the walls shake.  I know only one other person who can do that (Diamanda Hagan can literally make the walls of the more memorable revelations from filming the Trollhunter review back at MAGfest 2012). 

This was the DEFINITION of 11th hour filming here...we were damn near RUNNING from the shoot to get our bags and get downstairs, catch a ride from a generous volunteer, and get over to the GO station to catch the last bus home.

ConBravo 2013 was a wonderful, memorable experience.  All the more so because my wife was with me (I know I haven't mentioned Emily a lot here...she had her own things to do sometimes, but mostly was by my side the whole weekend).  The staff were great, friendly, and helpful.  The congoers were really nice, their costumes were PHENOMENAL, and the fans who came up for autographs and pictures just blew me away.  Really gets me energized again to work on the show, and gives me great hope for the future of what I can accomplish with it.  I send special thanks out to Mark Tjan and Luke Williams for getting me there and being such a HUGE help.  These guys are awesome.

ConBravo was also a place to see my friends.  Being as we're all on various parts of the continent, I don't see nearly enough of these folks.  They're good people, and meeting them is one of the best perks of what I do.  Most of us won't see each other again until MAGfest, but until then we're going to keep chatting on Skype and IRC, keep planning and working together, and just in general have a damn good time.

Be seeing you.