Comic-Con International in San Diego begins in less than one week. Less than one week, people! For anyone in the industry who’s attending the show, the seven days running up to CCI are probably best known as “hell week.” Everybody’s busy putting together their schedules, finalizing their announcements and making last minute plans. And of course there’s always surprises that crop up at the last minute, throwing all your carefully laid scheduling plans out the window.
While it’s a crazy week for all in the industry, the people it’s likely craziest for are those who actually run the show. While the CCI crew have been planning the show for months and months now, the weeks leading up to the show are definitely their busiest. And while we weren’t looking to add to his workload, CCI’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations David Glanzer sat down with CBR News for a chat about the show to come.
David, thanks for taking a moment to talk to me. I know your schedule is packed right now. Let’s start with the obvious – how are things going with Comic-Con as we enter the final stretch here? You’ve got just less than a week left, what else is there left to do at this point?
Everything! The truth of the matter is the closer you get to the show, the more you have to make sure you’ve crossed all your T’s and dotted all your I’s. Any potential situation that you haven’t been able to deal with has to be dealt with now.
So, right now it’s a lot of making sure that everything is scheduled the way it’s supposed to be scheduled. We just want to make sure we’re as prepared as we possibly can be before the show.
You’ve been revealing on the Web site a number of surprises over the last month, such as a “Lost” event and actor Sam Jackson and the “Snakes on a Plane” crew showing up at the convention. Are there any surprises left?
There are always cool surprises at Comic-Con. We try to get as much information as we can prior to the show, but sometimes events or guests can’t confirm until the last minute. And I’m sure this year will be no different.
I think one of the cool things, in addition to Sam Jackson coming out, is Lion’s Gate is bringing Jason Statham and Amy Smart to the show. They’re doing a movie called “Crank” and I think it’s the first time at the show for both of them.
You’ve got a huge programming schedule. What are some of the must visit events in your opinion?
Well, that depends upon what it is that you enjoy. I know that sounds like a pat answer, but it’s true. I was talking with someone just after the show last year who was a huge movie fan and while he spent some time in comics related panels and how-to panels, his whole weekend was spent mostly in our film festival and our Comic-Con Film School.
This year we have the participation of the Screen Actor’s Guild, who are coming down to do a presentation on how to get good talent for your indy film and there’s a group called the Musicians Secondary Fund who are coming down to talk about how to get great music for your film, and how some licensed music isn’t as difficult to obtain as most people might think.
It really all depends. If you’re into toys there are a lot of toy panels. If you’re into comics history, we have golden and silver age panels as well as how to panels, as well as the cool spotlights on our guests. It’s hard to say that there’s any one track or even one program not to miss. It really depends upon what you’re interested in.
Is there a specific program or panel that you won’t want to miss?
This is going to sound horrible, but I’ve not gone through the program list with a fine tooth comb yet! I’m sure there is. I’m a big Jason Statham fan, so I’d like to see his panel. I hope I have the opportunity to do that. I also don’t want to miss the “300” panel.
Obviously we don’t all get to see all the panels we’d like, but many departments go through the Events Guide and each person picks one or two panels they just can’t miss. Then they coordinate their time so each person gets to see what it is they want, while others make sure the departments are covered.
You mentioned the film festival. As more film festivals have been popping up across the country, they also seem to be gaining in stature. Is Comic-Con hoping for the same to happen with your own film festival? Is that a goal of yours?
Well, you know, one of the things that I think is very true in relation to all aspects of Comic-Con is that our reason for being isn’t to try and be the biggest. We do strive to be the best though, but that’s because the people who put on this event are fans themselves.
I think the same holds true for our film festival. This is something we started initially back in 1976, but we just didn’t really have the staff to give it the attention it truly deserved. So, seven years ago we resurrected it and we’d like this to be an event where genre related films can have an audience.
It does seem to be growing in popularity and we’re excited about that. It seems to be getting a little buzz and we’re always happy with that.
I’ve seen G4 television promoting their live coverage of the convention on their channel. Any idea what they’ll be up to?
They have a booth at the show and are planning on broadcasting live one of the days of the event for one of their shows, plus they’re going to have camera crews running around doing packages, trying to give viewers of G4 as much of an impression of Comic-Con as they can. I think you and I have discussed before that you can see pictures of Comic-Con and you can see video of Comic-Con, but it’s not the same as attending the show. So, I think G4 is going to attempt to see what it’s like actually attending the show.
|David Glanzer at CCI 2003|
Speaking of attending the show, you know that every year the show builds upon itself – you have more attendees and more exhibitors. It just keeps getting bigger! Along with that, expectations rise precipitously. So, you’ve got to plan not just for an increased audience, but you also have to play into the expectations game to some extent. This raises a couple of questions. Can it get any bigger at this point in that facility? With regards to expectations, is there a ceiling at some point? Do you try to play down expectations in any way?
To answer your first question about size and can it get any bigger, well, I don’t know that it can. We’ve really maximized our use of the facility. Because of that there have been several things that we’ve been approached to do, but just don’t have the space to do them.
In terms of trying to play down expectations, I think one of the things we always try to do is put on an event that we would want to go to ourselves. If that turns out to be a great show, then we’ve done a good job and everyone has a good time. This event kind of takes on a life of its own. We just try to put on the best show we can. If we’re a little lucky, we’ve hit a home run and everybody has a good time.
But you’re right, living up to expectations isn’t always an easy task and I just hope people have as much fun coming to the show as we’ve had in putting it together. Again, while I know that kind of sounds like a pat answer, it really is the truth because we get excited about the stuff that’ll appear at the show whether it be on the floor or in programming and we just hope people coming to the show are equally excited about it.
One of the things that seem to be driving those expectations higher comes from the increased competition you’ve had in the last five years. You’ve had other conventions around the country come at you guys pretty hard, but the expansion of the convention circuit seems to have hurt itself more than it’s affected Comic-Con International. How does all that outside pressure affect your planning?
It’s business as usual. We’ve had a fair amount of success for the past 37 years putting this show on and I think that success stems from an organization that’s dedicated to comics and pop culture. I certainly don’t mean to imply that any other organization isn’t — I can’t speak for any of those organizations — but I can tell you we’re a non-profit organization. We put a lot of time and effort into the programming and the exhibitor floor at our event. A lot goes into the safety of our attendees. Who will appear at the show. Those things are constants and can never change. I think it’s that attitude that helps us produce a successful show. That goes not only for Comic-Con, but it also goes for WonderCon or the Alternative Press Expo.
We’ve always focused on what it is that we want to achieve and how best to achieve that. Then, after the show, we measure whether or not we were successful. Of course there’s always room for improvement. We obviously don’t live in a vacuum, but we can’t change what other people do so we can only focus on ourselves and how we can make our show the best it can be. That’s the task we’re challenged with every year whether we have competition or not.
You say it’s business as usual, but obviously your competitors are setting up strategic partnerships with this company or that company to get exclusive toys for their show and all those types of things. Have you had to get more aggressive in that arena yourself?
We hope that people will come to our show whether they be attendees, exhibitors or program participants, and, of course, we always hope we are the first place they come. Being a non-profit, we don’t have a great deal of resources to go after some partnerships or alliances that others may have the ability to go after. But we do have the best comic book and pop culture event in the United States, and we hope that is a selling point in itself.
One of the things we always hope to accomplish is to make sure our partners feel they got their moneys worth or that it was a fortuitous decision for them to partner with us. And this holds true for attendees as well. We want people to feel they got their money’s worth when they come to Comic-Con.
Looking back at last year’s show, the biggest complaint had to be the problems seen at registration on preview night and Thursday morning. There was lots of confusion amongst the volunteers and very long waits in line. This was true for both the public and professionals. How has that been addressed this year? Have improvements been made to the registration process? And is there any way the first day/first night registration procedure can really go smoothly with that many people registering at one time?
Onsite registration did have problems last year, and, sadly, it wasn’t limited to general attendees or professionals. Press had very long lines and long waits.
We’re hoping this year will be better. Together with our registration company, we have initiated some programs that we hope will speed up the process.
Chief among them is bar coding those who registered in advance. Each person who registered in advance should have received a bar code which can be scanned onsite and a badge automatically printed. Hopefully this will eliminate having to wait in long lines to have your information looked up and retrieved and then a badge printed.
We really do have our fingers crossed, no one wants to wait in long lines, and we certainly don’t want people to have to spend time waiting. We have our fingers crossed that the process will run smoother this year.
I’m curious, how many employees, or rather how many people does it take to put on a show like this?
Wow, let’s see. Through the course of the year we probably have ten full time staff. Right now in the office I think we have about 15, maybe 20. And as you can imagine they are all extremely taxed. Some of those people are temp staff. In addition to the office staff there’s of course our 13 member board of directors, there’s a 60 person committee and over the course of the four days of the show there are about 1200 volunteers. That doesn’t include hired security or things of that nature. It takes a lot of people to put this event on and my hat is off to those who give of their time and effort because I think they’ve done a pretty good job.
Absolutely. Let’s move on to some of those perennial topics. To start with, the hotel situation. Is it better this year?
I think so. One of the things that helped is we got the Marriott back, which we didn’t have last year. I think people have also realized that just because a hotel has sold out three months in advance, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to have rooms closer to the show. In fact, I just spoke with someone recently who was checking daily and found rooms available at a variety of hotels near by. Apparently a lot of people double book hotels just because they don’t know where they want to stay or they may have business associates or friends coming in, so as we get closer to the show often those rooms open up.
The other perennial is “The show’s moving!” Well, simply, is Comic-Con International moving?
There was a big Internet rumor last year that said 2005 was our last year in San Diego and that we’d be in Anaheim for 2006. Here it is, it’s 2006 and we’re still in San Diego and we’ve already got dates for 2007 and 2008 as well.
I will say that yes, we’ve maximized our space and the convention center certainly knows that, but there are ways around that. There are mechanisms that you can employ to meet demands, on the short term anyway.
I guess the big question is do we want to move. And the obvious answer is a resounding no.
So, you’ve maximized your space. Does the city or the center have plans to expand the convention center once again?
The center has certainly talked about some expansion, but I don’t know how realistic those talks are or even where or when the expansion might occur. For the short term that’s really not a solution, I don’t think. One possibility is moving some programming to area hotels and things of that nature.
Unfortunately, the city isn’t in the best financial state for a variety of reasons. There are a great many things we have to pay for – and we’re certainly not begrudging that, whether it be additional police to handle traffic or items like that – those are things that all factor into the bottom line of our event and those are expenditures that can be pricey.
Somebody asked me a while back if the moving scenario was just a way of leveraging a better deal from the City. Well, speaking for myself, I have to be honest and say that I think the Convention Center realizes what a great event we are. But the Convention Center isn’t the City, and I’ll just leave it at that.
And you’re definitely back in San Diego for 2007 and 2008. What are those dates?
July 26th through the 29th in 2007 and July 24th through the 27th in 2008 in San Diego.
Can you say definitively that the convention will stay in San Diego for the next decade?
I’d like to be able to say that. We’ve been here forever and we’d like to stay here. The fact of the matter is that we do have a situation where we’ve got a finite amount of space. We can probably work within those parameters for some time, but there are other convention facilities in other parts of the state and country where the city is a great deal more involved in luering events by offering various incentives. I don’t know that San Diego has that ability to do that right now, as I said San Diego has seen better times financially. But there is a new mayor, and maybe, hopefully, things will change.
Thanks, David. See you in San Diego!