Putting On the Con: From Attendee to Organizer

Em-Con © Lee Wallis
Em-Con © Lee Wallis

For many of us, attending our first convention is a geeky right of passage. Whether it’s an enormous, PR-heavy show like SDCC or a tiny one-fandom gathering in a hotel ballroom, walking into our first show provides many of us with a real sense of finally finding “our people.”

However, attending a convention and deciding to create and organize one of our own are two completely different things. The latter is what Lee Wallis, founder of Nottingham’s brand new Em-Con, decided to do. The show is now just weeks away from opening its doors on March 16th, so I wanted to ask Lee what made him move from attendee to organizer.

GeekMom: What was your first experience of going to a convention?

Lee Wallis: My first experience was visiting Wales Comic Con in Wrexham. Jaime, the organizer of WCC, has become a firm friend and I’ll be down there in Wrexham again in April. Since then, I’ve visited most the larger conventions around the UK, networking and making friends—there’s a nice atmosphere in the convention circuit amongst the attendees, which I hope we can bring to EM-Con.

GM: How do you think conventions in the UK differ to those in the U.S.? Is there anything the two styles could learn from one another?

LW: That’s hard for me to say, as I’ve never visited a convention in the U.S. One thing I have noticed is that all the conventions in the UK have their own styles; some specialize in being a more local affair, others are happy to forgo a local reputation to compete internationally, and obviously the U.S. conventions have it easier when it comes to booking the big U.S.-based actors.

GM: Where did the idea to set up EM-Con originally come from?

LW: I wish I could say the idea was my own! I’d run various sell-out events in the city of Nottingham prior to organizing EM-Con. When we were organizing the evening with the cast of Red Dwarf, I saw the enthusiasm around the city for sci-fi, which brings me to Danny John-Jules. I’ve been friends with Danny for a long time now and he suggested I organize an event in Nottingham. At that time, I was also working in another industry which kept me very busy, but after visiting other conventions and seeing the reaction from the city for the Red Dwarf evening, I decided the time was right to launch EM-Con.

Nottingham's Albert Hall © Albert Hall
Nottingham’s Albert Hall © Albert Hall

GM: Why did you decide to set up in Nottingham?

LW: I am Nottingham born and bred. I grew up in Clifton and support Nottingham Forest. I guess you could say I’m very proud of my roots. When I was initially setting up EM-Con, we had a lot of interest from venues in Derby and Leicester, but it never entered my mind. I think this is another reason Nottingham City Council are so happy to back the convention and be involved.

GM: Where did the name EM-Con come from?

LW: EM-Con stands for “East Midlands Convention,” which was thought up by my friend Adam Hall. I’d like to make a point, another part of the convention planning is how lucky I am, lucky to have good friends helping me.

Get the GeekDad Books!

   

GM: What has been your biggest challenge to date and how did you overcome it?

LW: One of the biggest challenges has been the fact we’re doing this from scratch—establishing relationships with celebrity guests and artists who are attending EM-Con, relationships with locals businesses and building awareness for a convention that’s yet to establish a reputation in the fan community, but I think that’s also been a great asset. There’s never been anything like this happening in Nottingham, so a number of media outlets have shown a lot of interest in something that’s new. As soon as people have found out about EM-Con, they’ve shown real excitements and support. We hear from a lot of people who’ve traveled around the country to attend conventions and are really pleased to have something happening on their doorstep.

GM: Do you intend for EM-Con to be a family-friendly event and, if so, how are you catering to families?

LW: We’re very dedicated to making EM-Con family-friendly, which is why we’ve priced our tickets at a level that makes it affordable to bring the family for a day out. We’ve also made sure to book guests who appeal to multiple generations of fans. Using Doctor Who as an example, we’ve got Frazer Hines, who starred in the show in the 1960s and people like Dan Starkey and Simon Fisher-Becker, who appeared in the most recent series, so every generation is catered for.

GM: What are your hopes for EM-Con and its future?

LW: The future of EM-Con is built around a 5-year plan, which we’re striving to achieve even sooner. Without going into too much detail, I’ve been to a lot of the UK conventions in the last year and it’s given me a great appreciation for what attendees want. It means we’ve been able to spot things that could be done differently or things that aren’t done at all. For instance, we want to make sure that once you’ve bought your entry ticket, there are enough things to be enjoyed for free at EM-Con, not making people pay an entry fee only to have to pay again for everything inside. Tthis is why we’ve booked props like the TARDIS, two Daleks, and Bumblebee from Transformers for guests to see and have their photos taken with for free.

GM: Are there any guests in particular you would like to see at a future event, however implausible?

LW: Brilliant question, where to start? I don’t think anyone is implausible, although there are always actors, writers, and directors that have yet to attend a convention. My personal choices? Simon Pegg and Nick Frost would be on my list. I’m a huge fan of their work. Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones and Nathan Fillion, because I’m a big Firefly fan. Bill Murray I think would make for an amazing Q&A panel and I also think Chris Pine, who plays the new Kirk in the Star Trek films, would be a great guest.

Em-Con takes place on March 16th at the Albert Hall in Nottingham. Entry tickets cost £8 and children under 5 enter for free.