Disclaimer: I do not work for Creation Entertainment. Vampire-Diaries.net has no prior experience or existing relationship with the company. I paid full retail price for every ticket and piece of merchandise I bought. I am not being paid or compensated in any way for anything written in this blog. This was my first TV show or movie convention and my first time meeting any of the cast.
Before we get started, understand that this is a review, not a recap. I went to TVD Nashville to review the convention itself – how it was organized, what the staff was like, whether or not the fans had fun, and why. If you’re looking for more general coverage, head over to Vampire Diaries Online, they’ve got great stuff from both days already up.
If you’re wondering whether or not to attend TVD Chicago (or any other Creation Convention, really), then this is the post for you.
For anyone in a hurry who needs a shorter version, here it is: Go buy your tickets for the Chicago event! I’m serious. Go buy them right now. Creation Entertainment puts on a great con. Some of you who saw me looking like roadkill on Sunday may have your doubts, but the fact that this event reduced me to staggering incoherence is nothing but a credit to them, the cast, and the lovely, fun people who attended. It was an awesome weekend. I had no bad experiences and there are only a few things I think could use improvement. Overall, I was very impressed with the company and the event.
What, now you want details? I’ve got them.
As conventions go, this was tiny. I’d guess there were about 250 people, give or take. It’s not surprising – short notice, first TVD convention, etc., but not only did the show go on regardless of the low turnout, but they ran the show with every bit as much professionalism as if we were a sold-out hall. The small crowd made it feel very intimate, and I think most people who had questions for actors did get to ask them directly during panels. There are pros and cons to both large and small conventions, but the low numbers made it easy to talk to people, which was nice. Everyone was friendly and the actors were really able to give us some personal attention. I believe that any future stops on this tour will be much larger, but TVD Nashville was a unique and special experience. I’m very glad I went.
We all know the cast is terrific, and we all know how much we love them. Paul Wesley, Daniel Gillies, David Anders, Joseph Morgan, Michael Trevino and Zach Roerig were all amazing this weekend, without exception. They were friendly, outgoing, hilarious, patient and extremely kind to all the fans. Obviously I’m not shy in supporting this show – the whole writing for fansites thing kind of gives me away – but I came out of this weekend feeling very proud to be associated with the show and the people who create it.
In terms of access to the actors, there were several ways to see them: Q&A sessions, autograph signings, photo ops, the cocktail party, and special Meet & Greet sessions. Autograph signings moved quickly; personalization was allowed. I found that the line moved easily and there was time for a few words with each actor, all of whom were friendly and upbeat. I never felt rushed or pressured, and I think most fans did their part by not monopolizing any one actor. I didn’t do any photos, but I only heard one general complaint about them, which I’ll address a little farther on.
The Q&A sessions were about an hour each, though we may have run over a few times. They began with questions taken from a question box, which were read to the actors by the Hillywood ladies (keep reading for more about them). They also took questions from the audience during the second half of the panel, and by and large the audience was respectful. There were only a few live questions that I felt were inappropriate, spoilery, or stupid. I did have a problem with many of the questions submitted via question box, but we’ll get to that later as well. The actors themselves were a pure delight. They handled bad questions with grace and humor, tossed out kind words, compliments and the occasional questions to the fans who addressed them and I came away with the impression that they were all genuinely happy to be there.
I have to give Michael Trevino extra-special props for being wide awake and awesome at 8:45am on a Sunday, despite having been out late the night before. I found out later that he also took the time to give a fan who missed the (very early) photo op a picture. That sort of thing might not be possible at a large convention, but even at a small one it definitely counts as going above and beyond. You’re a class act, Mr. Trevino, and don’t think for a minute that it wasn’t noticed and appreciated. Thank you.
Speaking of class acts, let’s talk about the “Cocktail Party/Decade Dance” on Saturday night. These are really difficult events to pull off, a lot of people (like me!) don’t dance, and there’s a broad spectrum in terms of the age of fans. The main draw of these parties, of course, is access to the actors and Creation really came through. David Anders, Daniel Gillies and Joseph Morgan all attended Saturday’s party. There was a brief photo op when they entered, fans were allowed to come up and take a quick picture of them on stage, and then everyone went to their tables and waited while the actors circulated through the room. With a small crowd they got to spend a fair amount of time at each table, and it was a really wonderful experience to be able to talk to them in person. Daniel Gillies was wonderfully kind, and so sincere in his thanks to the fans for supporting him and the show. Joseph Morgan never seemed to run out of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and charming, self-deprecating stories, and David Anders was like one of the fans himself, joking with people and just hanging out. It’s also worth noting that the actors’ handlers were functionally invisible; apart from a quiet word here and there I didn’t notice them at all. I would absolutely recommend attending a Creation celebrity drop-in style event, even if you don’t usually like parties.
The last way to get up close and personal (no, not THAT close, behave yourselves!) with the actors was through exclusive ‘meet & greet’ sessions. These were extremely limited – no more than 10 fans in each session. Each session lasted about an hour and took place in a small meeting room with a single table. Everyone sat around it and chatted with the actor, rather as if you were hanging out with them in someone’s dining room. I purchased two of these tickets – one for Joseph Morgan and one that ended up being a group session with Paul Wesley, Michael Trevino and Zach Roerig. There was also a meet & greet with Daniel Gillies and the only regret I have from TVDNashville was that I couldn’t attend that one was well.
I suspect the Joseph Morgan meet & greet was more indicative of the intended experience than the group greet. The Joseph Morgan session was a lovely and relaxed affair. I gather that these events are meant to be one actor per group, and that the Michael, Paul, Zach combination happened at the last minute. Whether it was due to low numbers or actors’ schedules I am not sure. There were a couple hitches with the group session (addressed below) but even so, both experiences were ones that I will treasure. The actors were all friendly and totally down-to-earth. In fact, they were very warm and approachable throughout the weekend, whether on the main stage or in a small room.
Side Note: As I mentioned in another post, I did not tweet any coverage of the meet & greets, and very little from the cocktail party. The truth is, I just didn’t feel comfortable tweeting the actors’ actions or comments unless they were on the main stage. In all other situations and especially during the meet & greets, it seemed inappropriate and disrespectful, like having your head down over your phone at a dinner party. For all those reasons and out of consideration for the actors as people, I will not be doing any kind of official recap of what they did or said during those non-stage events.
This is the part where I rave about the The Hillywood Show and how much I love them. Opening the con with their parody was a fantastic idea. This was the only time I wished the crowd was bigger, because these guys deserve a full house to perform for. Regardless, the parody was a great way to get people in the mood and set the tone for the event. I also liked the introduction skits before each actor panel, it smoothed the transitions and their skit choices were nice little nods to each guest. The ladies did a great job facilitating the audience questions, they had a good system worked out and with two mics there was no waiting, as soon as one question was answered another was ready to go. They also won points with me for being unobtrusive during the panels. They sat or stood very still and quietly throughout, so even though they were performers themselves and in costume, they were not at all a distraction from any guest on stage.
In retrospect I think what I liked best about their presence was that it made the event more special, more specifically TVD. It’s just more fun to have ‘Katherine’ or ‘Caroline’ holding the mic for you when you ask the real cast questions. I’m not sure what their role would have been with a big crowd – whether they roam around in costume and do improv when there are long lines or anything of that nature – but when our little crowd needed some livening up at the cocktail party, The Hillywood Show was right there getting people out of their chairs and onto the floor. They’re all very friendly and I felt that Nick (‘Damian’) and Brett (‘Steven’) were very sensitive to the fact that many of the fans were a little shy. Hilly and Hannah took the lead most of the time, and that, too, was a good choice for the audience. Many thanks and congratulations to The Hillywood Show for all their hard work this weekend! It really added a nice dimension to the overall experience. Well done! Follow them on Twitter at @HillywoodShow.
Adam Malin is the Co-Chief Executive Officer of Creation Entertainment, and he was very present throughout the weekend. He opened the convention with a welcome speech that concluded with him telling the entire room his email address and inviting all to email him or chat with him at any time during the con. He didn’t wait for fans to come to him, either. I saw him approach people on several occasions to chat with them, asking if they were having fun, and giving them an opening to ask questions. I know for a fact that a number of fans took him up on his invitation to chat about the convention and future plans for the tour, and I didn’t hear any complaints about any interactions with him during the event.
TVD Nashville was well staffed. There were plenty of people on hand to keep things moving and answer questions; I never had any trouble locating a staff member when I needed one. Everybody I dealt with was friendly, and there was a gentleman named Rick who really went above and beyond. Everyone I spoke with – anyone who would stand still for a minute – had positive things to say about the staff. I myself may have annoyed them slightly by telling them how awesome they were every few minutes, but I have a museum background and standing around being helpful all the time is harder than it looks.
There’s only so much you can do with a big room full of chairs, but Creation clearly has experience in this department. They had very large banners of promotional pictures hanging, large enough to make the room feel like an event space, hung high enough not to be distracting. They had a good-sized stage with an unobtrusive backdrop and two enormous video screens, one on either side. These made it so everyone, regardless of location in the hall, could easily see the actors’ expressions. Each screen was flanked by TVD banners that the actors signed at the end of each panel. The banners were auctioned off during the convention, with part of the proceeds going to charity. I gather that it varies, but this time it was Arts High Foundation; kudos to Adam for choosing such an appropriate cause for this audience.
Most of the signage around the convention was there to inform – maps, signs to tell you which room was for what purpose, vendor room, main theater, etc.- but they mixed it up with a Gone With The Wind poster, signs for Mystic Falls, even Damon’s poor dead crow was represented.
The vendor room seemed big for the few vendors they had, but I will say that while there weren’t many tables, there was some really cool stuff. Creation’s policy is to only sell official merchandise, but they had some nice items for sale. The Hillywood table looked great, and I loved their setup for photos with the parody cast. At least once charity benefited from sales in the vendor room, a Hummingbird Rescue & Bat Conservation group (which I apologize for not having a link to, we’ll fix that ASAP).
I can’t be entirely sure how logistics would work at a larger con, but my experience was that that everything happened more or less when it was supposed to. There were a few delays here and there as photos finished, but the schedule was mostly reliable. Some people felt there were not enough breaks, other people felt there were too many, but these were minor quibbles for the most part. I didn’t meet one single person who said they had a bad time at the con. I’m not sure how the schedule would look with a bigger crowd, given the extra time needed for photos and signings, but I do feel very confident that after 40 years in the business, Creation knows how to make it all work.
There were some events that I’m told are part of the company’s regular convention schedule, regardless of which fandom the con is for. The no minimum bid auction was surprisingly entertaining, and I like their policy of not selling anything for more than retail price. I played their Yes/No Trivia Game (twice, because I made such a poor showing the first time I had to play again to regain my self-respect) which was fun to play and not bad to watch. It requires no public speaking, you just hold up either a yes or a no card to answer questions, and if you’re wrong or hesitate, you have to go sit down. Eventually, there’s only one person left standing, and that person wins a prize.
Prizes come in the form of Gift Certificates for Creation Merchandise, and they’re very generous with giving them out. Triva, Costume Contest, Best Dancer, Best Dressed, all kinds of things. I don’t think I saw any prize certificates worth less than $100. I was the only entry in the centerpiece contest, and I wouldn’t have blamed them for canceling it, but no, I won by default and now have $250 to spend in the vendor room in Chicago. The Orphaned Bunny Association of Mystic Falls appreciates the support of everyone who didn’t enter.
No convention in the history of the world has ever come off completely without a hitch, and of course there were a few things about TVD Nashville that I wasn’t entirely happy with or hope will be improved for the next event. There are also a few complaints here that were brought to me by other fans throughout the con.
The panel questions should have been screened. Some of them were incredibly random. “What kind of cheesecake would you be?” Really? Come on, now. There were a LOT of random questions and they should’ve been weeded out ahead of time. The actors handled this problem with impressive good humor and tact, but it’s not okay to waste their time on what their favorite soda is. I suspect that some of these questions were born of desperation, fans who really wanted to ask the actors something but couldn’t think of a good idea. Creation could solve that problem easily, brainstorming sessions led by a volunteer who has panel experience might be fun, and would give people something to do while waiting in lines. That said, I’d be shocked if Adam Malin didn’t notice this issue. If it’s not near the top of his list of things to fix before Chicago, I will eat Ian Somerhalder’s fedora.
- Schedule design. The paper event schedule was crowded and hard to follow. I don’t mind simple – simple is good, for ease of reading- but this wasn’t easy to read, and it surprised me because everything else looked so professional. I have a similar criticism for the Creation’s website, which is also in desperate need of a good proofreader.
- The combined meet & greet with Paul Wesley, Michael Trevino and Zach Roerig wasn’t set up correctly for the number of people attending. As this one was a combined session, there were maybe 14 fans, plus the actors. The room felt small for that number, and there weren’t enough chairs. This might have been the hotel’s fault, but no one seemed to know how to correct it. I will say that Creation staffer Rick was very proactive, dragging in little couches so that at least everyone could sit. There was just no way to avoid putting some people at the edges of the circle, and that made for a feeling of exclusion from the group. It was especially hard on shy fans because a raised voice or raised hand was needed to get an actor’s attention. Zach Roerig did do a great job making sure some young girls behind him got included, though. Basically, everyone made the best of the situation, but it could have been avoided all together if someone had thought to check the room in advance.
- More Vampire Diaries specific events needed. This one was brought up to me by fans when I was asking for their thoughts. They liked the regular Creation Events but they wanted more stuff that was specific to our show, and I agree. Romancia from TV After Dark and The Hillywood Show did a wonderful job, but the con needed more activities that were TVD-centered. A “Find Jonathon Gilbert’s Journal” scavenger hunt or a dance lesson to learn the dance from Miss Mystic Falls, maybe a panel on creative writing, just a few more options for things to do between actor-centered activities would make a big difference. Several people added that they preferred panels and day activities to nighttime parties.
There were also a few complaints that I received that I didn’t think were Creation’s fault, but for the sake of impartiality, I’ll include them:
- It was cold. A lot of people complained to me about this. You know what? I warned you about that. It’s a convention. Trust me, cold is better than hot.
- Actors were (sometimes) not allowed to give hugs during photos. I got a lot of mixed information on this, but after consulting with some convention junkies I don’t think this one can be blamed on Creation. People assumed it was staff being arbitrary or officious, but the issue seems to have something to do with actors wishes and/or contracts, or maybe just a way to avoid actors being put on the spot. I honestly don’t know what the deal is with this, but it does seem to be a universal convention gripe, no matter where you go or who runs the event.
Hotel was too big and/or too expensive. I get this, I really do. The Gaylord Opryland Resort is freaking enormous, and it’s expensive to stay there. That said, I felt the hotel’s beauty added hugely to the experience, and I really appreciated the excellent staff and service. I’ll walk a little farther if it means having waterfalls to explore. Your mileage may vary, but while I think this complaint is valid because there were inconveniences and expenses, I also think the company made a good choice with the Opryland Resort.
Attending a convention is expensive. There’s the hotel, travel costs, food and beverage while you’re there and of course the con tickets themselves. Autographs and photos cost money, special events and privileges are all available, but you do have to pay to get them. The real question in all this is one of value – for the money you spend, is it worth it?
This convention was worth it. This company came through. Before I bought my tickets I sat down and ran the numbers between Creation and its competition, package against package, and compared their general pricing. Creation came out by far the better value. The autographs alone made the Gold & Preferred packages worth it. With Chicago looking to have much bigger turnout, I’d encourage everyone to give the packages serious consideration and run the numbers for yourselves. The assigned seating and shorter waits in line can make a huge difference between a good con experience and a great one, especially if you’re like me and a little uncomfortable with crowds. The additional Gold panel with all three Sunday guests was great, by the way; it was definitely worth springing for. This will vary by hotel, but at Opryland, the “Works” package probably saved $50-$60 on hotel fees & taxes. If you’re staying in the host hotel and planning to go Gold anyway, trust me – do the Works.
Now, before anyone gets upset about the costs, let me be very clear – you do not have to buy a package to have a good time. This event can be done on a budget and still be really fun. The setup with the video screens means that you don’t have to be up front in order to see, the actors and audience questions are all done with mics. If you participate in contests and games, you’ve got a good chance of winning yourself some swag. I think if you do a lot of conventions or have a lot of chances to see the cast, you might want to do a more a la carte sort of thing, and just pick and choose what you pay for, but if this is your first or only con that you’ll do in a year? Spring for a package. You won’t regret it.
So there you go, my friends, that’s my (ten thousand pages long, I know, sorry!) review of Creation Entertainment’s Salute To the Vampire Diaries: Nashville. I have to give some love to the incomparable Romancia Love from @TVAfterDark, who really worked her tail off this weekend to help support the event and share it with the fandom – and did it all in high heels! Shout-outs also to my impromptu focus group: @Badwolflil, @Mherr1979, @PA337, @DawnGarrison & @LunaMae23. There were many more wonderful TVD Fans that I met who gave me their thoughts, comments, and most importantly their company throughout the con. Thanks so much for a wonderful weekend.
…are you still reading this? WHY? It’s over! The con rocked! GO BUY YOUR TVD CHICAGO TICKETS!
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