Why do movie stars do convetions?
January 29, 2012 3:30 PM   Subscribe

Sci-Fi Convention Filters: Why do movie stars do autograph and photo-op sessions?

I live in Orlando, FL. I have attended MegaCon a few times (which is supposedly the 2nd largest sci-fi / fantasy convention, after ComicCon in SD). It is always a fun day going to MegaCon. I am going again this year. I have never done one of the autograph or photo-op sessions, but might this year. Some of my nieces are going, and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) is one of the many visiting stars - and they are dying to meet him, and are willing to pay their own $40 to do it. So, we are going to do it. And that got me thinking...

Why are do movie stars do these conventions at all? I know that some are promoting new movies, and are there as part of contractual promotional obligation. But not all of them. Not Tom Felton, or Stan Lee, or William Shatner.

The obvious answer is money. There are lots of lesser movie stars that will no doubt earn some nice cash. Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) will be there. $30 for an autograph from him. What was the last film he was in? I bet he can probably earn $15,000 or $20,000 in one weekend. (Figure he can do 300 autographs and photo-ops a day, and that his share of the money is $20 each. He is there for 3 days.) Nice pay weekend. It would make my year.

But Tom Felton, Stan Lee, William Shatner - why do they do it? They are not promoting anything. They are all worth ten of millions. I am sure it is a grinding 3 days of work. I mean, my nieces are confident that Tom Felton will be scary and mean. They are expecting Draco Malfoy, not an actor named Tom. And, he will have to be on his game, smiling, meeting fans, for hours each day. Why would an A-list star put themselves through that? They can't need the money? Right?

If they are there to connect with fans, then why are they charging more money to see the A-List stars.

Why would Tom Felton, Stan Lee, and William Shatner do photo-op sessions at MegaCon?
posted by Flood to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Money. Career building. Ego. But mostly money. Sometimes because they love these things. But really, mostly money.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:35 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't say it's grinding work. They get paid well, and get put up in a nice hotel with a huge expense account. But more than anything it helps their "brand." Showing up at these things keeps the fire of their celebrity stoked. More movie deals, TV commercials, etc. Plus, it boosts their ego.

I can't imagine why they wouldn't want to do these things, especially if it's only a few times a year. Shatner is sitting somewhere right now, hanging out, probably not working much. He's still healthy. It gives him something to do, and helps him make more money.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 3:36 PM on January 29, 2012

Money. Self-promotion. Perhaps promotion of an upcoming film. Money.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:45 PM on January 29, 2012

When I am a famous sci-fi author, I plan on doing lots of book signings for my fans. Because the fans are who make you famous and popular. This kind of an event allows famous people to feel a personal connection to their fans, and perhaps let it sink in that they really are living the dream. I'm sure their agents want them to do it for money and promotion, but I like to think deep down that the stars do it because they love their fans.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:47 PM on January 29, 2012

If an actor gains a devoted nerd following, they will be cast in movies that want a devoted nerd following. One way to gain a devoted nerd following is to pander to devoted nerds.

And, really, none of those people -- not even Shatner -- are "A-list stars." You won't see Julia Roberts at a convention any time soon.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:52 PM on January 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

I imagine some combination of money, self-promotion, maybe as a favor for someone they owe, maybe because their agent told them it would be good for them, maybe just a chance to take their family on a free vacation.

I can't imagine "connecting with the fans" is much of a factor at all. Not that these people don't care about their fans, but an assembly line of people asking for an autograph or a photo isn't a very deep or satisfying interaction for anyone.

If they're also doing something else at the convention, like say giving a talk, I see that as a more meaningful interaction that they might genuinely enjoy. Or maybe they like sci-fi too and just want to go to the convention- so why not get paid for it?
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:01 PM on January 29, 2012

Those people are probably not worth as much money as you think they are.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:02 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

"They are not promoting anything."

That's where you're wrong. They're promoting themselves.

Also, with the exception of Stan Lee, they're not worth tens of millions. You might be surprised how much actors get paid to show up at a convention.
posted by Ookseer at 4:06 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

If Tom Felton had a movie to shoot, he wouldn't bother. But he's not an A-lister; he's not endlessly in demand. So why not go, encourage his fanbase, and make a pretty decent chunk of cash doing so? Ten grand is a pretty solid amount of money for most people, and outside of a very small number of A-listers, most people in film - even ones who've had a noteworthy role in a profitable big movie - really don't have that much money.

Even when they do, the feast-and-famine nature of movie paychecks means that it's hard to maintain a consistent cash flow - Tom Felton was in debt because, as a 16-year-old with 3 million pounds in the bank, he mismanaged his money like any teenager with a massive windfall probably will. Look at it this way - if you had $3M income every year from doing very-big-budget movies, an extra $10K would be an additional 3% of your annual income. Which is like someone making $50,000 a year pulling in an extra $1,500, proportionally speaking. Which, to me as a middle-class professional, seems like an excellent return on a weekend's effort!

Meanwhile, that's assuming you're actually making a whole $3M every year, year after year, which is absolutely not the case. So it represents even more of your income.

In short: Very, very few people in Hollywood make all that much, and therefore these kinds of events can easily comprise an enormous percentage of their total income.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:10 PM on January 29, 2012

You need to remember that the guest is not only earning money from photo/autograph ops, but the convention itself has paid them an appearance fee. You're talking hundreds to thousands, depending on the guest and venue. Then, you have comped travel fare, hotel, meals, and a per diem. Not a bad gig.

I know for fact that Shatner is extremely expensive just to get him in the door. I remember flipping the fuck out when I heard last year how much he charges. But, like all things, his appearance was an investment on the con's part for ticket sales.

Working with guests is an odd scenario where you find yourself paying people to come over to your venue and self-promote (if you're a lucky convention director, the guest will participate in panels and events, making the bill easier to swallow, as they're acting more as traditional entertainers).

Their only investment is time and the willingness to interact with their fanbase. Some guests really do love this last part, but I find you still end up paying them an appearance fee, regardless of how much they want to be at your con.
posted by Wossname at 4:13 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

if you had $3M income every year from doing very-big-budget movies, an extra $10K would be an additional 3% of your annual income. Which is like someone making $50,000 a year pulling in an extra $1,500, proportionally speaking

Your math is very, very wrong. If you make $3M, $10K is about 0.003%. For someone making $50K, that's like an additional $150.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:17 PM on January 29, 2012

I past-experience-guestimate about 60% of the nerd-stars who show up really, truly like their fans. The money almost seems like a bonus. Or, well, you know, they act well. Some of them are kinda... surly. Short. I mean, yeah, fans are probably HORRIDLY annoying sometimes...

oh, and Booze. If most of these people show up at a bar with nerds.... yeah. And, uh, some of the nerds are hot and.... yeah.
posted by Jacen at 4:29 PM on January 29, 2012

But Tom Felton, Stan Lee, William Shatner - why do they do it? They are not promoting anything.
Shatner is constantly promoting things, and more likely several things. In the most recent interview I've seen with him (maybe three months ago), he was simultaneously promoting a book that he authored, a one man play with him as the one man, a new album of his music, and a documentary film that he wrote, directed, produced, and was heavily featured in.

And this isn't terribly uncommon for him - I remember many interviews over the years in which he was all agog to promote a ridiculous number of projects simultaneously.
posted by Flunkie at 4:38 PM on January 29, 2012

Just because you don't see money change hands doesn't mean these folks aren't getting paid for their time.

A friend of mine is a TV actor who does lots of these events. Sometimes, he gets paid by fans per signature/photo op. Most of the time, he is getting a wad of cash directly from the convention/event coordinator. (And when you're an actor, your agent/lawyer/manager team takes a huge chunk of your salary, so he considers these weekends a great way to bag all the dough himself.)
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:48 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

10 thousand is .3% of 3 million.
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:50 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

The same reason Kim Kardashian goes to night clubs - because they're paid.

Celebs at your convention (or night club) = more people in attendance.

More people = tickets sold.

More tickets sold = more money in your pocket.

Therefore if you want to sell a lot of tickets, get a celebrity to come to your convention.

Many conferences work the same way - the speakers are generally paid to attend and the attendees pay to see the speakers. I attended my fair share of sci fi conventions & a conference or two (through work - I didn't pay to attend) and I'm sure Seth Godin didn't get up on stage and talk for free and he wasn't promoting anything.
posted by MesoFilter at 4:50 PM on January 29, 2012

Tom Felton was at a convention I went to last year. Autographs were $40 and photos were $50. Another celebrity told us that they didn't get paid to come to the convention, instead, they got the entire amount from the autographs and the photos (and obviously their airfare and hotel accom etc was paid for). That means he could have easily pulled in about 50K for a weekend of smiling and shaking hands. So, I would say the money would be a main motivator. Not to mention the self-promotion. Every time one of this celebrities comes down to Australia for a convention, they get heaps of interviews and airtime in the media.
posted by liquorice at 4:55 PM on January 29, 2012

Don't forget that many actors have a team of people they've got to pay. Agent/manager, publicist, personal assistant, lawyers, etc. Hearing a paycheck of $3m for a movie or $50,000 for an appearance is misleading; this is probably not what they're actually keeping for themselves.
posted by asciident at 5:24 PM on January 29, 2012

When Bruce Campbell was promoting his first book and Spider-Man 2 was just getting ready to come out (aka prior to Burn Notice) during his Q&A (or was it the book?) he said that the most money he had ever made in a year as an actor was $40,000. Even back then he was a pretty big name actor. I have a feeling most actors aren't as rich as we think they are.
posted by dgeiser13 at 5:26 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sys Rq, been to any conventions lately? It's not totally uncommon to see stars like Angelina Jolie at big-name conventions. Sure, they don't sit at tables for hours on end, but they do often have autograph sessions. (And she may often work in genre films, but you can't call her not an A-lister.)
posted by wintersweet at 5:27 PM on January 29, 2012

I'll assume you've seen Galaxy Quest. I think that seems to sum it up pretty well. For some, it's ego. For some, contractual obligation. For some, purely the money.

By Grabthar's Hammer ... what a savings.
posted by Diag at 5:36 PM on January 29, 2012

They're making money and making sure no one forgets about them.
posted by gordie at 8:18 PM on January 29, 2012

i get the impression tom felton REALLY wants to continue his acting career now that the HP series is over, but he doesn't have quite the a-list cachet that harry ron and hermione have. therefore he's very much pushing to remain in the public's consciousness, by making big screentime contributions to the various HP dvd special features, lots of cameos and small roles like in "get him to the greek" and "rise of the planet of the apes", and plenty of public appearances such as at conventions like megacon.
posted by messiahwannabe at 8:57 PM on January 29, 2012

I also remember seeing an interview with Felton specifically that he and his family did not handle the Harry Potter money well and ran into some debts. So, all the more reason for gladhanding!
posted by whitneyarner at 9:33 AM on January 30, 2012

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