June 20, 2011 1 Comment
Walking into the Calgary’s Roundup Centre on Friday Night was an interesting experience. Upon arrival, I immediately noticed the groups of people in business dress. Closer inspection revealed that these were families. All the kids were wearing suits and ties, or dresses. Was I in the right place? I looked closer still. That was when I noticed the purple badges: “Let God’s Kingdom Come.”
I was worried I’d get abducted by aliens or somethings – strange things tend do to happen at Comic-Con, however this was far, far worse: Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I backed away. Slowly.
Into a group of zombies.
Oh good. I was in the right place after all.
The group of zombies actually turned out to be one zombie talking to his (non-zombie) friends, however I expect the four of them would all be zombies in due course, given zombies feed on human flesh after all. I tapped the zombie on the shoulder. He turned around to look at me. “The first aid room is right over there. You look like you need to visit it.”
They all laughed.
In order to get permission from my wife to visit the show on Friday, I had to agree to bring The Kid with me. Imagine this guy, all dressed in black, pushing a stroller with a curious and, I must say, somewhat weirded out Kid.
The Kid was actually very well-behaved on Friday night, thankfully.
After picking up my pass, I wandered into the convention hall, and made a beeline for the autograph booths. There was one person I wanted to meet — Mira Furlan, Ambassador Delenn from Babylon 5. I was amazed to see that there was absolutely no line at her booth; so I went straight to the front and said hello. I paid my money and let her choose a nice photograph. She suggested one of her and Bruce Boxleitner, so if, in the future, I had a chance to meet him, he could sign it too. I thought that was a good suggestion, so I went along with it. Ms. Furlan spoke to The Kid for a few moments, and then we said our goodbyes. I confirmed that there was a photo op, and that it would be bad form to ask for a photo at the table (it was, and I respected her wishes) and indicated I was helping out with the guests at the convention so she would likely see me around.
A few minutes later, I noticed that Jonathan Frakes was in town at present already; so I grabbed an autograph from him as well. The Kid was getting tired, so it was time to go home.
Saturday was The Big Day. Long and arduous, so I attempted to get a good night’s sleep and, all too soon, the morning arrived. I made my way down to the Stampede grounds, avoiding the Jehovah’s Witnesses as best I could. Once inside, I checked in with my team’s leader, Jean, (the same guy who had kicked me out of Leonard Nimoy’s green room last year) and went over the schedule for the day. Our guest wasn’t due to arrive until noon, so I was assigned to meet another guest first. Off I went with my group and, soon enough, the incredibly hot Summer Glau arrived with her agent, the awesome Erin Grey.
After introductions, and a brief discussion of the arrangements, we escorted the group to their green room so they could relax for a few minutes and freshen up before the busy day of autograph signing and photo opportunities. A little while later, after Ms. Glau had taken a few minutes to relax, we escorted her to her signing table. The place went wild.
Ms. Glau got settled and began signing autographs. Erin Grey turned to me and said,
“right, I’m going to go talk to some of my other people.” I confirmed she had her own table and would be signing later, and asked her if she needed an escort. She laid a hand on my arm, laughed, and said, “no, I’m very embracing of the fans, and they all know not to mess with me.” She was right, of course – nobody would dare mess with Wilma from Buck Rogers!
With that, I was called back to escort in our main guest, so I headed back over to the meeting point. A few minutes later, an SUV pulled up at the loading dock, and, once the door was opened for him, out stepped William Shatner.
Yes; I was about to spend two days working with William Shatner. My job was mainly to keep the throng of Jehovah’s Witnesses and adoring fans away from him. It turned out to be easier than I expected, as there were all kinds of back passages and tunnels we could use to transport Mr. Shatner from one side of the facility to the other.
Introductions ensued, and we took Mr. Shatner over to his green room to get settled, have a bite to eat, and relax before the busy day of smiling, saying hello, and signing autographs was to begin. There were also a few issues to deal with.
Running interference, as any Secret Service agent will probably confirm, involves a lot of standing around, playing “hurry up and wait.” This was no exception. There was nobody around outside the green room, as it was a restricted area. So we stood there, chatted, and waited. My counterpart, Marc, suddenly attracted my attention, and indicated to me to step to my left. I thought he was telling me to step aside, so I stepped to my right – and crashed right into Mira Furlan.
Mira was gracious, I was red-faced, my colleagues were laughing.
A little while later, Mr. Shatner emerged, and we headed over to the photography session. The lineup was huge. So huge, in fact, that the Corral (our old hockey rink) was used as a staging area.
William Shatner has an incredible amount of stamina. Once he starts, he just doesn’t stop. In the 90 minutes that we were there, I think there were about 400 photo sessions. That is one photograph every 14 seconds. Mr. Shatner was quite vocal in some of the things he wanted changed, in order to speed up the photography process. He was very polite about it, but clearly knew what he was talking about in terms of increasing the efficiency of the process.
After the photo session was autographs, which ran like clockwork. Again, Mr. Shatner knows what he is doing and the job got done in record time. I did a rough count at one point to see how much time it took for Mr. Shatner to autograph something – about six seconds. Later on, at a shorter autograph session, someone indicated there were about 100 people waiting to have an autograph, and Mr. Shatner commented that it would take about 15 minutes – and it did.
Financial calculations time:
$75 * 4 * 60 = $18,000 an hour for photography sessions, based on 15 seconds per photograph, on average.
$75 * 100 * 4 = $30,000 an hour for autograph sessions.
That is a lot of money.
A hell of a lot of money.
I’m not passing judgement on the numbers either way here. If you read the other entries here in my blog, you’ll know where I stand on capitalism, so as far as I’m concerned, if people are willing to pay the money, then all the more power to Mr. Shanter.
(Though I would like a job like that – signing my name on things for two or three hours a day.)
During the photograph session, the curtain behind the camera parted and Jonathan Frakes peeked through. He pointed at Mr. Shatner and mouthed the words, “I love you” with an adoring “fanboy” look on his face.
Shatner cracked up, ruining the photograph (naturally, the photographer took a replacement). There is a large amount of camaraderie amongst the media guests at events such as these, especially within the Star Trek cast, as I expect there’s a special bond they all share having all been crew members of a starship.
During the convention, there were periodic announcements about what certain celebrities were doing. I choked a little when, at one point, an announcement came on that “Tina Carrera” was at the photo op area. I hope “Tina Carrera” is as gracious and gorgeous as Tia Carrera.
After the autographs, it was time for the panel session. This was the question and answer session with the guest. Earlier in the day, I’d escorted Summer Glau down for her session. When she realized it was happening in a stadium which was almost full to capacity, she mentioned she was nervous.
“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” I asked.
“Never like this,” she replied.
We tried the usual imagine-everyone-in-their-underwear line, however she indicated that it didn’t work for her. So Marc suggested she pick one person in the audience and just talk to them. That wasn’t working either, so I changed the subject and talked to her about Tim Horton’s.
As we were heading down to the panel session with Mr. Shatner, we explained to him that he was going to be “White Hatted” by the Mayor of Calgary. After a pause, Mr. Shatner asked what the name of our Mayor was.
“Naheed Nenshi,” I replied.
Mr. Shatner stopped dead in his tracks, “WHAT?”
“Naheed Nenshi,” I replied, again, amused.
“Okay then. ’Mr. Mayor’ it is,” he said. I smiled quietly to myself and we continued on into the forum. When he saw the setup, Mr. Shatner paused again, “holy shit!”
I laughed, and took up my position of “authority” to the right hand side of the stage, standing there quietly ensuring that nobody approached and tried to access the stage via the staircase.
The plan was, apparently, to bring R2D2 out on stage to deliver the white hat before Mr. Shatner took the stage, however, unfortunately, R2D2 wasn’t cooperative. The hosts on stage waiting with Mr. Nenshi tried to cover it well.
“Maybe he’s recording a very important message,” said one.
“Maybe he’s not the droid we’re looking for,” replied Nenshi.
Yes, Calgary’s mayor, it seems, is a geek.
Someone in the audience shouted, “He has a bad motivator!” I rolled my eyes.
This video, recorded by rickwgold includes that bit, and also, if you know where to look, has me in it too – to the left of the stage standing beside the stairs facing the audience – but the video below, recorded by kevenskiner, is a much better one of the actual White Hat ceremony)
After the panel, it was more photographs, more autographs, and, at long last, time to go. We sent Mr. Shatner on his way for some food, flopped into some chairs, and ate pizza.
As the day was winding down, I briefly reflected on the events of the day, and a poignant thought came to the surface. At one point, there was some discussion about Mr. Shatner heading over to Jonathan Frakes’ booth for a brief visit. We pulled back the curtain so he could have a look, at which point, he called it off, saying, “no, there’s too many people out there.”
I thought about that.
Of all the events of that first day, that one statement has remained stuck in my head. Here’s a major celebrity, recognizable and respected around the world, refusing to step out into a public area because there’s “too many people.”
For the record, the crowds had abated somewhat and it really wasn’t as busy as it had been earlier on in the day.
That said, I can see his point. Had he set foot out there, even with an escort of ominous-looking black-clad security personnel, there is no doubt at all that, within minutes, a crowd would have formed of people holding cameras, gawking, and trying to say hello.
Mr. Shatner, I’m sure, accepts this as part of his lifestyle, and has likely become used to it, and knows from experience what he can get away with and what he can’t. For someone like me, however, it’s totally outside my frame of reference, and I rather felt like his success had become, for him, somewhat confining. Somebody like me, for example, wouldn’t think twice about ducking out from between the curtains and wandering over to visit Mr. Frakes for a minute. Then again, I wouldn’t have a crowd of obnoxious gawkers circling me like vultures either. Mr. Shatner, however, would have a completely different experience.
That’s one aspect of the career that I don’t think I’d like.
The following day, after some negotiations with my wife over the hours I’d be attending on the Sunday, I headed down again for an early start at 8. Mr. Shatner wasn’t due to arrive until 10, however I felt that, as a volunteer, it would be appropriate for me to show up and help out where I could.
A couple of my friends were assigned to work with Ms. Glau for the convention, and, as it turned out afterwards, Ms. Glau was one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people at the convention. She ended up going out to supper with my friends, and even went to the restaurant in their own vehicle! How cool is that?
You’ll note that I have not posted any photographs of myself with any of the celebrities at the convention. That’s for two reasons. First, I knew that people would likely be clamouring all over the celebrities asking for photos with them, and, I wanted to give them a bit of space in that department, and second, getting your photo taken with a celebrity is a little FanBoy for my taste.
Wandering around while waiting for Mr. Shatner, I saw Michael Hogan, and paused to say hello. ”I’m sure you’ve seen Galaxy Quest,” I said, then continued in a stage-whisper, “they all think it’s real!” He laughed.
I quietly mumbled an apology to Claudia Christian for stealing her line, and continued on my way.
The Sunday was pretty much the same as the Saturday: Autographs and Photo-ops. Once Mr. Shatner arrived, we had a few seconds of quiet. One of the team asked him, “how did you enjoy your dinner last night?”
“That restaurant was one – no, I’ll amend that – I think that restaurant was the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten in,” he replied. Mr. Shatner has eaten in a lot of restaurants, and I expect he gets asked that a lot; though listening to the tone of his voice, I think he was sincere.
As Mr. Shatner settled in for more photos, I realized it was approaching noon, my agreed-upon departure time. I took a quick moment to say goodbye to Mr. Shatner, shaking his hand and thanking him for coming, explaining it was time for me to leave.
“It’s a shame,” he said.
I took that as a compliment.
I realized I had left something over at the autograph booth, so I grabbed the golf cart we were using and drove it back over to the other side of the convention hall, grabbed what I needed, and then drove it back to the photo-ops area. On the way, I passed Matt Frewer. ”Convention taxi service,” I called out, “need a ride?”
He hopped on-board, with his volunteer beside him, and we drove back to the photo op area.
A convention experience which started with a close encounter with some Jehovah’s Witnesses came to an end, by giving Max Headroom a lift.