I’ll have to admit, writing this post is both daunting and incredibly exciting, because I get to relive the most epic weekend ever (I’m still not over it).
In case you missed my last several posts, I flew to Portland, OR, last weekend to attend the Walker Stalker Con / Heroes & Villains combined event Fan Fest Portland for my birthday (which was the Saturday). I’m a huge fan of conventions – a place where you can unite with likeminded individuals all there to celebrate the same fandoms.
Rather than typing up a typical recap, this entire post (and the one following it for Day 2) is going to be an online diary entry of the day combined with NEW tips and tricks I learned, as well as a review not only of FFPortland as a whole, but also the Platinum Pass product that they offer. I know many people – myself included – were curious about the pass itself (and whether it’s worth what you pay) so I hope this gives everyone some food for thought. Some of my tips will be repeated from the convention guide posts I made, but seeing situations in real time just proved my points further so I have to reiterate them.
My general convention tips will be reiterated in blue, while any comments or feedback I have about the Platinum experience will be noted in red.
Are you ready to join me while I relive the epicness? Sweet. Here we go.
TIP: Pick up your badge/pass/wristband in advance!
After dropping my things off at the hotel, I made my way straight to the Oregon Convention Centre. The FanFest crew always endeavour to set up the day prior and allow guests to pick their passes up ahead of time, which saves time during the days of the convention itself. Any guests who have purchased ahead of time can do this, regardless of ticket level.
I highly recommend doing this if you’re able; they typically set up nice long hours (they were open until 8:00PM on the Friday), allowing people to do their pick up after work. Celeb Photo Ops was also there to facilitate photo op ticket redemption from noon to 6. Initially, the photo op company wasn’t going to be able to do this because their trucks were held up due to weather. Thankfully they pulled through. I was in and out getting my passes in less than five minutes! Not having to queue for either your entrance pass or your photo ops during the con days made it entirely worthwhile to me – I could rest easy and stroll up the next morning ready to go.
Saturday, 7:18AM: Good Morning
Happy 29th birthday to me! I woke up ridiculously excited, and after a few seconds my brain turned to OH CRAP GET UP GET SHOWERED DO YOUR MAKE UP FIX YOUR HAIR DON’T FORGET ANYTHING!
8:45AM: And So It Begins
A skip, hop and a jump to the convention centre later (either a ten or so minute walk or two stops on the MAX Red Line from my hotel, the Doubletree on 1000 NE Multnomah), I arrived with time to spare before the doors opened at 9:00AM. At this point, I met Malerie, the Fan Fest ambassador assigned to be my guide for the weekend. With her was Frankie, another Platinum pass holder that I would discover Malerie was also in charge of (along with a few others, I believe there was six of us in total, though all six of us never got a chance to be together all at once).
Platinum Comments: Days ahead of the convention, Malerie reached out to me to ask me if I had a schedule drawn up of who I wanted to see/what I wanted to do. I had my little spreadsheet done up so I sent it her way. From there, she gave me feedback on changing around a couple of things to make the schedule better as well as fit in my lunch time in the green room area, which is scheduled in a staggered way so it’s never overflowing with guests.
Having Malerie reach out ahead of time was a great perk of the Platinum pass. Someone not as prepared as I happened to be could just as easily send the platinum guide a list of names saying “these are the people/panels/photo ops I MUST see” and they would create a timetable for you, or suggest how to go about your day. This really created a stress-free experience because I was able to rest easy knowing that everything I wanted and needed to do would get done. After some back-and-forth, you can see in the image here the final game plan I had walking into the hall.
TIP: Even if you don’t get as detailed as I did, try and walk into the hall equipped with SOME sort of game plan. If you have nothing planned, yet want to do so much, you can easily get overwhelmed by all the shiny, pretty things and end up walking away having accomplished nothing or missing out on things you would have wanted to do. Even if you end up switching things around, it allows you to just map out your day better.
Let’s see how I did with my schedule, shall we?
9:00AM – Getting There Early Pays Off!
Frankie and I parted ways – his weekend was more focused on the Heroes & Villains side of the room (and in fact, he was dressed in an epic Green Arrow cosplay when we met) and I looked around the convention hall. It was the calm before the storm – you could feel the energy in the room starting to crackle to life.
Fan Fest opens the convention floor up to those with VIP, Gold, and Platinum passes an entire 90 minutes earlier than they do to the general admission attendees. TIP: Take advantage of the VIP-exclusive time before the hall gets crowded!
Platinum/VIP Comments: Whether you’re looking to get first dibs on access to the vendors, or you want to run to Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s line to make sure you get his autograph before the line is cut off, use this to your advantage. As I’ve said repeatedly, one of the main perks you are paying for with any higher level pass is the ability to save your time. The 9AM entry is one of the most valuable perks!
Now take note that on the official schedule page (see above), they do specify that autographs don’t officially start until 10:30AM. At Fan Fest Portland this was especially the case with the bigger actors such as Norman Reedus, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Chandler Riggs. This was not the case, however, with some of the other actors. Michael Cudlitz was at his table welcoming people at 9:00AM! He was there when I walked in! Others like Tom Payne, Austin Amelio, and Steven Ogg were on the floor by 9:45AM. Of course, you won’t know which of the actors will head out early but since you’re already there, you might as well take advantage of the time.
One thing I immediately noticed (and forgot to take a photo of, forgive me) is that both Norman and JDM’s autograph booths are now set up in a way where they’re blocked from view unless you come around a curtain. It’s a smart play, really – at any con where they’re in plain sight, people crowd around the area just to take photos of them (or simply gawk) which really clogs up the space. They also smartly laid out their tables where they back out onto the green room; for their safety this allows them to enter and leave the space as needed without having to walk the con floor. While these precautions may seem excessive to some, know that in the past many “fans” have crossed the line with the guests and have necessitated the need for Norman’s (lovely, sweet) bodyguard Stacy to be at his side at all times, or the beefy Portland PD cop parked by JDM. Be aware that unless you get in for an autograph or photo op, you probably won’t get to see Norman or JDM at all.
Since JDM was the one bigger name that had not doing a pre-sale for autographs, most VIPs I saw made an immediately bee line for his table and parked there so as not to lose their spots before he came out at 10:30. Gold and Platinum pass holders didn’t need to do this since they have their own fast lane which allows them to bypass the main line; they can simply queue when their schedule permits. If you have regular VIP or General Admission tickets and you want an autograph from a super popular actor, head straight to their line and get it out of the way first thing on day one. Later in the afternoon, lines could get capped or you could run into conflicts with the actor’s photo op or panel schedule. That way too, if you miss out on your chance, you can try again on day two.
10:45AM – Being Norman’s First
At around 10:42 (ish), to the delight of the many fans, Norman finally arrived at his table. Being first in line meant I got to head in and be Norman’s very first guest of the entire weekend, which I thought was a pretty sweet accomplishment on my birthday. After a brief hello to Sean (Norman’s convention agent), I made my way over and man, let me tell you, the guy is a sweetheart beyond measure.
This marks the third time I’ve met Norman (after ECCC 2016 and FanExpo Canada 2017) and over those two conventions I’ve created an ongoing little photo op joke. It started when we poured the Bisquick at ECCC which he found to be the funniest thing. Fast forward to FanExpo last September, and I’d told him (to his amusement) that I had a sequel with pancakes planned. That photo turned out amazing as well so I had to get him to sign it this time around.
Norman (and the rest of these lovely folks) meet thousands of fans a year at conventions all over the world. As you can imagine, it can all pass in a blur after a while. But doing little things that make you stand out and set you apart from the other thousands of guests is pretty sweet. Not only does it make your experience more unique, it’s also unique to the guest and breaks up their day too! In my case, it also ended up helping Norman and his bodyguard Stacy remember what we have since dubbed The Bisquick Situation.
I shan’t bore you with details (this is rambly enough as it is), but I will tell you that Norman Reedus – bless his damn heart – is one of the most kind people with his (restricted) time. Even with the endless lines of guests, he looks each person in the eye, has a proper conversation with them, and is genuinely appreciative of people coming out to see him. That pretty much goes for all the TWD guests but I always reiterate it about Norman because he could easily turn his table into an autograph mill where he doesn’t look at you, doesn’t personalize anything, and keep it so impersonal. Instead, he’s incredibly warm (and goofy). Having that be the first stop of my day was worth it.
11:15AM: In A World Full of Negan, Be A Steve
After wrapping up with Norman, I made my way to the photo op area where I could begin lining up for my scheduled photo op with Steven Yeun. When you’re at the photo op area, pay attention to any announcements on the microphone as well as the TV screens. If anything I thought the screen could have been larger or perhaps they could have had a second screen so people didn’t have to crowd around too tight around one, but for the most part paying attention to where you’re supposed to line up is straightforward business.
Around 15 minutes before my photo op, Malerie texted (then eventually found) me to make sure I was in the right line and that I was there on time. For myself but especially for anyone easily distracted or those who have a hard time keeping tabs on a schedule (or simply have a super jam packed schedule), having a concierge is awesome to make sure you’re on track.
TIP: For everyone who doesn’t have a Platinum Pass… be your own concierge. Look at all the times for everything you want to do and set reminder alarms on your phone for each one, about 15-20 minutes prior. That way, in case you get caught up or distracted elsewhere, you can trigger a reminder and get where you need to be.
I was pretty damn excited for this – Glenn is one of my favourite characters on the show and losing him was and is so incredibly terrible. I was also excited because Steven hasn’t been as active in the convention circuit as some of the other actors due to his schedule and family life. There were no crazy props for this one, just a fitting shirt I found thanks to an Instagram Ad. I had originally just intended to wear the shirt in my JDM photo, but the play on words with Steve Yeun / Steve Harrington from Stranger Things was too good to ignore.
I’ll tell you this: Steven Yeun was so soft-spoken and incredibly kind. The photo op experience starts and ends in seconds, but with every guest, Steven gave hugs, and to me specifically he gave my arm a little rub after the hug and said, “Happy new year to you. Have a good one, okay? Thank you for coming.” It’s those little moments that I find stand out more than anything. A fellow attendee Nicki scored the most epic photo op with Steven ever, taken not even a minute after mine. What a flipping genius photo op, let me tell you (and smartly, she met with him beforehand to ask him if he’d be down to do the pose).
If you have the chance, definitely ask the actors ahead of time if they’re cool to do a more complex photo op. If you don’t get the chance, be prepared that they may say no once you try and explain it on the spot.
11:45AM: Roaming the Aisles
After my photo op with Steven, I found myself with free time on my hands that allowed me to walk up and down some aisles and check out many of the artisans and vendors, to get a sense of anything I’d want to look at closer, or come back to. I also walked through the autographing area to see everyone from Tom to Ross Marquand and Pollyanna McIntosh signing autographs, taking selfies, and chatting with fans. Free time is also a great chance to scope out their schedules and prices. Since autograph and selfie prices are set by the actor and their agent for the con, those are not disclosed ahead of time like photo op prices. By scoping these signs out ahead of time, you can decide if and when you want to line up and also know how much money you’ll need.
AUTOGRAPH TIP: if you can, time when you’re going to line up at their tables to 10 or so minutes before they’re scheduled to come back from a break. With the exception of the higher profile actors like JDM, actors’ lines are typically empty when they go on breaks. People tend to rush into the line when they see the actor is there sitting there meeting other guests. If you line up there and wait a few minutes before they return, you’ll end up being one of the first people they meet. Timesaver!
ANOTHER REMINDER: Cash is how you’ll be paying your way through the convention floor! Even if some vendors who may take cards, you never know if the signal in the hall will be bad and you won’t even get a connection. There are plenty of ATMs on site but as I said in my con guide, they have extra fees and they will always have a ridiculous line – I even took this photo to prove it. Save yourself the trouble and take cash out ahead of time to bring to the convention! The same goes for food and snacks. Bring your own if you can! I had someone tweet me that they read my con guide after Day 1 had passed – she spent an hour and a half just in line for food but was much better prepared for Day 2.
12:15PM: Rositara Love
In my original schedule, I had intended to meet some actors for autographs in the afternoon but when I walked by their tables, there were very short lines so I decided to head over to Alanna Masterson‘s table. What a cool lady! She’s the most chill person to meet and gave me mega hugs for my birthday. We gushed over Portland and shopping (her exact words were “tax free is the way to be”), about me visiting from Canada, and about her sweet daughter.
Right after Alanna, I popped over to meet Christian Serratos, who was just as lovely. She said that my makeup was gorgeous (her highlighter was lit) and we started chatting about my best friend, Chynna. I got Chynna Alanna and Christian’s autographs and Christian asked why she couldn’t be in Portland with me. After mentioning she was in Edmonton and that I was from Vancouver, she asked if we’d met online (which we did, over seven years ago) and it was so sweet of her to say how cool it was that we could connect with someone who in years past we’d probably never get a chance to meet. Fandom really connects people around the world and I’m grateful for that.
1:00PM: The Fan Fest Live Stage
By the time I was done meeting Alanna and Christian, I had unfortunately missed Steven’s live stage panel (which was on my original schedule), but that’s okay – I was glad I got to meet the ladies instead! When I got there, Pollyanna McIntosh was up on stage being interviewed, and she’s just the loveliest and so unlike Jadis.
The Fan Fest stage is a nice little spot for these quick 15-minute panels, but there’s no seating and it’s right in the midst of vendors (and was right next to food stalls) so it was quite congested – I’ll be honest, I didn’t hang around for very long. Someone as short as I am needs to get there with time to spare, otherwise you’re just seeing shoulders and heads (I took this photo tiptoeing and holding my phone high over my head).
1:30PM: Munchies (without a Camera)
Platinum Comments: Shortly before 1:30, Malerie texted and we met up again so I could be brought to lunch in the green room. This is the area where the actors come to rest and eat away from the fans, and lunch in this room is an exclusive perk for Platinum pass holders. They make it very clear that the actors still have a separate space so they may not necessarily sit with you (which, I mean, I totally get — this is their one chance to have a breather, I wouldn’t want to talk their ear off or try and get photos), but it was still super cool to feel like a rockstar backstage.
I thought it was nice to sit down with other attendees and take a break together. When I’m at cons it’s so easy to get caught up in everything you’re doing that you forget to rest, hydrate, and eat. For that alone I was grateful for this scheduled break. Saturday’s lunch brought us build-your-own baked potatoes, soup, and salad which I was super excited for (I’d have a photo, but phones and cameras have to – respectfully – be kept while in the green room area).
Something really sweet to see was Stephen Amell hanging out with a young fan in a motorized wheelchair (I’m not certain but he may have been part of the Make A Wish wish-granting). He spent their entire lunch break together and even brought Emily Bett Rickards and Katie Cassidy to chat as well.
Beyond that, we kept to ourselves, Norman Reedus walked by me and mussed up my hair affectionately (hah, I die), and I was able to rest my feet.
2:10PM: A Religious Experience
For the first time all day, I was jittery. Sure, 20 minutes prior, I watched Tom Payne build a baked potato for lunch, but I was about the meet the one person from the entire convention I was most excited for! By this time I had switched shirts and I started putting on my props. Any sense of embarrassment I had wearing neon pink shutter glasses and cracking a ton of glow sticks went away pretty fast – half the people around me are in costumes of some sort, after all!
Being a Platinum VIP means we get to be first in line for photo ops. This also means I only had two other people ahead of me before it was my turn to take a photo with Tom (of course, both of them did lovely normal hug-and-smile poses while I stood there looking like a madwoman).
A few seconds later, it’s my turn and I came up to him. After being greeted with open arms and an enthusiastic “HAYYYYYY!” I approached and said, “So… I was thinking to do a Jesus Raves!!! photo?” Thankfully he responded with a very emphatic, “Yes. YES!” so I handed him his own pair of shutter glasses and a ton of glow sticks. After a bit of fiddling, we posed and took the shot. As I helped him with the props, he looked at me and said, “Please post that and tag me. I want it!” so I knew I was onto something good. After a little hiccup that caused a delay at the printer, I was finally able to bask in the glory of this iconic photo:
I immediately went to get a digital download add-on for it! For $10, Celeb Photo Ops creates a link which allows you to download a super high resolution digital JPEG of your photo. You can buy these add ons in advance or on the spot; it doesn’t really save you time because either way, you’d have to go up to their staff to redeem it. If you want to save money, you can wait until you see the photo before you decide that you want the digital copy of it on the off chance you aren’t 100% pleased with it. As soon as I received the copy, I went straight to Twitter and Instagram and posted it (because who would dare disobey our Lord and Saviour after he asked me to do so?) before heading straight to…
2:40PM: In A World Full of Negan, Be a Steve, Part 2
Steven Yeun was originally meant to be at the convention for both days, however he had to change it up at the last minute and was only available on Saturday. As you can imagine, this meant the volume of people meeting him increased significantly. Platinum Comments: His autograph line (and JDM’s) are the two that I am particularly thankful that I had the Platinum pass for, to circumvent the lines. I was able to walk straight up to Steven’s line and get my photo op autographed as well as his autograph for Chynna within minutes.
The best part of chatting with him was that I was able to show him my tattoo of his (previously Hershel’s) pocket watch, and how it serves as a reminder to me of Glenn’s goodness and kindness and how I want to emulate that and remind myself to give, to love, to live, just as his character did. He was incredibly touched (“Jen. That’s real. That tattoo…that’s real. Thank you.”) and gave me a hug and after he wished me well I took the opportunity to compliment and wish Jo and Jude the absolute best too. Talking to Steven for a few minutes just gave me the impression that he was just an incredibly kind person, and it was an honour to meet him.
AUTOGRAPH TIP: If the actor has pre-sale autograph tickets, they’re typically categorized into groups which are then assigned times to line up. Try and get a Group A ticket before it sells out! The later in the day your group assignment is, the more delayed you’ll likely be and you’ll be stuck in a line rather than exploring the convention. I know of some folks who – even as a Regular VIP – had to wait over 2 hours before they finally met Steven.
3:01PM: Take Your Mom To Con Day
After my chat with Steven, I met up with my mom and sister because it was time for mom and I to queue for our photo op with Norman Reedus! My mom watched The Walking Dead from the very beginning. For years and years, she’d tell me about this guy named Glenn, or this guy named Daryl, and everything that was going on with them. I, on the other hand, didn’t start watching until halfway through season six thanks to prompting from Chynna and a marathon on Netflix. Platinum Comments: I should note at this point that once again, Malerie my guide checked in on me, made sure I was in line on time, and kept me on track with my schedule. Even if I hadn’t seen her in an hour or two while she was with another Platinum pass holder, she was still able to manage my schedule too. Impressive.
As my third and fourth photo ops of the day late in the afternoon, let me take this moment to remind you you all (if this applies to you) to powder/blot your face and retouch your lipstick/makeup before the photo! By this point I’d had make up on for over seven hours and the last thing you want to do is spend $100 on a photo with Norman only to look gross in the photo after. (#regrets)
3:30PM: Mom Meets Her Fave
For years, mom would rave about her favourite character Daryl Dixon. So it was a no brainer to get her to meet him and for us to all have a photo together. Like all the other photo ops earlier these interactions just took a few seconds – mine happened to be a bit longer because I was doing two photos, one after the other.
First off, the birthday celebration, which, upon seeing my props, he snickered and hollered “Haaaaappy Biiiiirthday!!!” to:
After quickly tugging off my props and handing it to the staff member next to me, I told Norman, “My mom’s always wanted to meet you and get her photo!” to which he replied, “Hi mom! Come on in!” and pulled her under his arm while I tucked in on the other side.
Can we briefly talk about how cute my mother is? She couldn’t stop talking about how nice we look and how nice Norman smells (it’s true, he smells great). I’ve taken six photos with Norman over the years and jeez, this is quite possibly my favourite. REMINDER: these photo ops are not a meet-and-greet! We spent around 30 seconds from start to finish before moving on. Be prepared for this (practice that smile!) and don’t expect to strike up a conversation.
4:00PM: A Religious Experience 2: Electric Boogaloo
After the photo ops were done, I made my way to my final stop of the afternoon, Tom Payne’s autograph table. As with all the other autograph tables I visited, I was able to take the fast lane and skip the line. By this time of day, Tom’s line was pretty long (I’d say a good three or four dozen people), so I was quite thankful to be able to jump right in with my Platinum pass.
I received another enthusiastic “HAAAAAAAAY!” (god, this guy’s energy) upon approaching Tom, and I immediately had to tell him and show him that our photo op turned out amazing. The laugh he let out at the sight of it was pretty darn priceless. After repeatedly exclaiming how it was so good and how he loves it when people bring stuff to photos to change it up and do fun poses, he whipped out his own cellphone to take a photo of our photo!
He signed my photo as well as an autograph for Chynna, a comic I donated to the charity auction for Cancer Gets Lost, and an autograph for my dear Gansey (but that’s a surprise she didn’t know about til Day 2, hah). He even recorded a video because she couldn’t be there with me:
There was much chatting (including a moment forever burned to my memory where Tom looked up at me with dawning realization and exclaimed, “Wait, YOU’RE Jen of the Moon!!!” — more on that in the next post), Tom and I took a series of selfies that are so beyond epic which I will treasure forever.
After big hugs and Tom telling ME that it was lovely to meet ME in person, I walked away from that wholly reeling, especially since I had to (LOL, had to, like it’s such an inconvenience) meet Tom again on the Sunday, but let me tell you… in all the conventions I’ve been to and the many guests I have had the pleasure of meeting, Tom is one of the nicest people I’ve met. He takes his times with all of the fans and you can tell he’s just extremely grateful to be there.
I’ve had quite a few experiences where you’ll meet an actor and you can see that they know how lucky you are that you’re meeting them, but in Tom’s case, he’s wonderfully gracious and he has in fact repeated time and time again that his favourite thing about being on this show is the connection he now has to the fan community.
After roaming the aisles a bit more to scope out some vendors, we decided to call it a day (which was fine by me – I sure didn’t mind ending on a high note)! Since I had already met Alanna and Christian, I had managed to cover everything I wanted to do! The convention itself however extended its hours to 7PM on Saturday due to some earlier delays getting fans into the hall. I think that’s pretty sweet that they were able to do that – the vendors and the actors at their autograph tables had all agreed to stay late for the fans.
Later that evening, I discovered (thanks to my phone’s notifications suddenly deciding to implode) that both Tom himself and the Walker Stalker Convention twitter accounts had indeed retweeted my Jesus Raves! photo, which was just more icing on top of an already ridiculous birthday cake… and this was just day one.
Tune in to my next post where I’ll walk you through how my Sunday at the convention went along with my “how to survive post-convention blues” guide.
Thank you all for your wonderful reception of my convention guides; typing it all out actually thoroughly prepared me for this epic weekend where I had the time of my life.
See you on the next post. 🙂