A few (more) thoughts about Dragon Con, Comic-Con and the Georgia film industry.

September 3, 2013 14:36 pm

by George Chidi · 7 comments

 

Zombies attending a screening of Zombieland at the Fox, Aug. 29 2013

Zombies attending a screening of Zombieland at the Fox, Aug. 29 2013

 

My piece earlier this year about Dragon Con earned me a press pass and an opportunity for a follow-up so I might take a closer look at the economic influence the convention could eventually exert on the Georgia film industry. (Also, there’s nothing quite like getting to skate on the membership fee.)

I had supposed in my prior piece that Dragon Con might grow into the Atlanta equivalent of Comic-Con in San Diego or New York – a much-anticipated event by fan boys and geek girls looking for studios to trot out their big stars for close contact with the masses, along with the attendant sneak peeks at upcoming movies. Comic-Con’s relationship with Hollywood is symbiotic and profitable. Comic-Con contributes about $150 million annually to San Diego’s economy, while the movie industry gets a shot at fine-tuning its blockbuster releases by vetting them against the interest of the hardest-core fans. Dragon Con generates a respectable $40 million or so for Atlanta on a bit more than a third the attendance.

The rationale seems pretty straightforward – expanding Dragon Con’s connection to the big studios could increase economic activity in Atlanta and draw even more filmmakers to Georgia’s growing film industry, now fourth in the nation behind Calfornia, New York and Texas. It could also draw higher-profile stars to mingle with fan-girls in Battlestar Galactica double-tank-tops.

But after four days of interviews with fans, vendors, volunteers and guests, panel discussions, research with the Georgia Economic Development folks and getting my geek on … I have changed my view.

Dragon Con as the Peach State’s Comic-Con would be the worst damned thing in the world for all involved.

Unlike Comic-Con and the South by Southwest film festival, Dragon Con is staffed and largely directed by volunteers. Invitations for panelists and programming tracks flow from small groups of highly-motivated fans at Dragon Con and not from the marketing imperatives of studio executives. It is from such things that movies like Joss Whedon’s Serenity get made – crazy fans keeping the flame alive long after television executives pull the plug. Even now, Dragon Con supports a well-attended Firefly fanbase.

These volunteers, many of whom are in their second decade of service to the convention, serve as the institutional memory of Dragon Con. And after a few conversations, it’s clear to me that they would go into open revolt – full-scale warfare with light sabers and bat’leth – if programming decisions began to be ceded wholesale to a suit. This may be especially true of leaders for popular-but-alternative programming – late-night offerings like BDSM 101 and Dragon Sex — which could conceivably get cut in the interest of being more family friendly.

The second consideration is size. At 50,000 attendees – more than doubling in size in six years – Dragon Con is straining at the seams. The convention takes up most of four hotels right now, along with the Americas Mart building for vendors selling zombie contact lenses, Firefly dusters and steampunk goggles. Even now, what I am told by a corset-monger is that the seven-year waiting list to get a vendor spot at Dragon Con elicits grumbling lessened only by the 15 year waiting list­ at San Diego Comic-Con.

Hotel room parties serve as a primary draw for many attendees, so moving the whole affair to the World Congress Center isn’t a realistic option. There’s talk about limiting the number of tickets – “memberships” in the parlance of the convention – just to keep things relatively sane.

DSC_0462

Competition with other events also factors in. Dragon Con competes to attract writers as guests with the venerable WorldCon science fiction convention, now entering its 74th year. The Hugo Award is presented at WorldCon, so if you’re a great sci-fi or fantasy writer … you’re probably there. And every even-numbered year, when WorldCon is in the United States, it’s on Labor Day weekend. Dragon Con also competes with Burning Man, to the consternation of thousands of guests who split their years between them. One of the room parties this year was dedicated to those who wished they could be in both places at once.

But I suspect the biggest challenge may simply be the clash of culture between the state’s economic development folks, the film industry and the Dragon Con stalwarts. Put simply, the state’s political opinion makers don’t really get Dragon Con.

Here’s some perspective. The economic impact of Dragon Con is roughly equivalent to the economic impact of a Wrestlemania event or the NCAA Final Four in Atlanta, every year. It’s worth two home Falcons games. It’s 25 percent greater than the SEC championship game. Chastain Amphitheater sold about 140,000 tickets last year, at an average ticket price that’s probably in line with industry standards: around $50. Dragon Con’s membership for the four-day event was $130, and had about 50,000 attendees. Dragon Con is bigger than Chastain’s entire summer run. Nothing short of a NASCAR race, a BCS championship game or the Superbowl generates more economic impact in a short period around here.

I’ll happily accept a correction from someone who knows better, but as far as I could tell after talking with the folks at the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the film office, no one there communicates regularly with the Dragon Con folks at all. It’s not even on their radar.

They can’t get past the weird.

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A final note, in passing. Dragon Con announced earlier this year that they had finally extricated themselves from the financial clutches of Ed Kramer, an accused child molester who owned a substantial minority stake in the convention. A few details about that extrication emerged in a brief conversation with the media director for Dragon Con.

Kramer had been unwilling to sell his share of the convention, so Dragon Con’s board formed a new corporation and then sold the existing corporation to the new one, for an undisclosed sum. Kramer still owns shares in the “old” company, but that company has no control or continuing financial claim to the new one, I am told.

Why didn’t they do this sooner? Well, because they’d get sued. Kramer could claim in court that the sales price of the old firm was too low, and that he deserves more for his shares than he got in the forced sale.

Why did they do this now. Ostensibly, because they don’t give a damn if Kramer sues them any more. They know they’re going to get sued. They’re expecting it. And getting sued by Kramer appears to be preferable to the alternative — having Kramer be part of the narrative of Dragon Con for ever after.

 

 

peachpundit (@peachpundit) September 3, 2013 at 2:36 pm

New post: http://t.co/GSasERddpE #gapol

KingRichard September 3, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Dragon Con = NOGAF – how’s the pervert doing that started the whole thing?

Rick Day September 3, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Phrase 1:
I GAF, therefore your absolute comment is as cold and lifeless as your understanding of young culture, or perhaps even your social life.

Phrase 2: did you not read this post? Are you so filled with loathing of things ‘not like you’ that you said what you said?

A very sad human, you must be.

Rick Day September 3, 2013 at 10:04 pm

D*C used to be cool, until they brought in the ‘pop culture’ aspect, which ruined it for geezers like me. Initially, it was just a geek/nerd sci-fi writers and cosplay convention that went horribly out of control in its growth.

Anyone even casually associated with D*C, be it a patron, volunteer or vendor, knew Kramer was out of the picture over a decade ago. He is and continues to be an issue only to those who can not think of any other way to diss those who are *gasp* spending money and having fun.

My wife buys me tickets but I just don’t like the crowds and Labor Day is a work weekend. I did the whole “Klingon with ridges” bit for a few years but it was too much like work; the fan clubs bickered like a blog post. So yeah, I did it, it was OK and then I realized it was not for me.

That does not mean I do not want it around. What I want is not new stadiums, but new entertainment complexes. One hotel and venue complex that could accommodate a new event, as well as D*C.

You are right, George. D*C is what it is. What Atlanta needs is another event like ComicCon with corporate control. D*C* ‘volunteers’ can he hired at a decent rate to run the con, sans programming.

I firmly believe that if we build it, they will come. The economic impact of one super bowls per year guaranteed is probably enough to justify the thing.

Where to put it? On the GA Tech campus! Where does Tech go? TO HELL!

Or the GM plant in Doraville, six one way…

SmyrnaModerate September 4, 2013 at 6:56 am

I agree with the idea that dragon con can’t get any bigger at this point. Speaking as someone who both works in peachtree center as well as attends the con, things are really getting to the breaking point. The con already takes up all the available space in the largest hotels in the city. The westin I suppose is the only large hotel close enough to the other 4 to potentially be added in to the mix. I also think the attendance number is low. There are tons of people who come for the con and don’t buy memberships or attend any of the official events. You can spend all 4 days just hanging out in the Marriott marquis lobby and be completely entertained. There are also thousands of locals who come in Saturday morning for the parade. The hotels also get really beat up over the weekend. The marquis literally has a moving company come and take out all the furniture on its 3 lobby/ballroom floors prior to the con. They’ve learned that’s cheaper than replacing everything that would otherwise get broken. Yesterday all the hotels were buzzing with expensive outside cleaning crews. The con has reached the point where less would be more.

Engineer September 4, 2013 at 10:59 am

I really wanted to go this year, but decided to save money and skip it again this year. From what I hear from friends that went, it was horribly overcrowded and very difficult to get into many of the panels (in a couple cases they waited an hour and a half to be told they couldn’t get in because the panel was full). It kind of makes Anime Weekend Atlanta look like a more appealing convention to go to (well if it weren’t for the fact that I’m more into sci-fi than anime). If D*C insists on expanding the number of attendees, they really need to look into a larger venue or at least expanding it (although I’m not sure if there is anywhere for it to expand adjacent to where it is other than the Westin or maybe the Atlanta Convention Center which could easily be reached via MARTA.)

George Chidi September 6, 2013 at 1:05 pm

I may be overstating things with regard to how closely the state works with Dragon Con. They do talk. They just don’t talk … much.

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