Okay, I don't want to be picky but first I have to correct you on one
point. Auto Assembly 2009 is the third two-day Transformers event that
the UK has seen. I'd love to lay claim to running the first, but that
honour goes to BotCon Europe in 1999 which had its activities spread
over two days, and this is the second weekend long Auto Assembly
convention that we have run. Saying that, if you include the Friday
programme, then you could say that it is the UK's first ever THREE day
Seriously though, as for
my hopes for the convention I want to set out to do everything bigger
and better than ever! I want to give fans a weekend of Transformers fun
that they will never forget. A guest line-up that they will want to
meet, activities going on all weekend that will keep people entertained
and busy non-stop, and offer a weekend of fun!
TFATM: Really?I only remember BotCon Europe 99 being one day (and a rather expensive one) - lol.
The event features two guests, Gregg Berger and Ian James Corlett, which spans the first three Transformers series (Generation One, Beast Wars and Beast Machines).How do you decide which guests you'd like to invite and do you find that being outside of the UK limits the guest opportunities.
Auto Assembly: It's always hard to decide who to invite to be honest. Sometimes actors will approach us and ask if they can attend (in fact, a G1 actor contacted me recently about appearing this year but I had to turn him down although I haven't ruled out AA2010...!), others I've built up a fairly good rapport after emailing them because of our charity auctions so after a while I can get a fairly good feel for what they are like as a person and whether they'd make for a good guest or not.
Obviously, if we get a lot of requests for specific guests, I'll look into them as well and do plenty of research to see what reaction they've had from other convention appearances but usually I try to see what the person is like from contact myself rather than agents before making a final decision.
The only real limitation we have in terms of actors living outside of the UK is cost to be honest so we can only bring a single actor to the UK for a one-day event or two at most for a weekend convention unless we get sponsorship and even then I have to do a lot of heavy negotiating to keep costs down! I'd probably say that about 65% of our total budget this year is going on guest costs, if not more!
Saying that, I guess events like BotCon and TFCon would say the same when it comes to all the UK comic guys!
TFATM:Do you have anything special planned for Saturday evening for the event, as many fans may be wondering what to do when the convention halls close.
Auto Assembly: Absolutely! The "main" convention will end at about 6:00 pm on Saturday for all attendees and we've then got a mad rush to re-arrange the hall for the Saturday evening programme. The plan is to re-open the hall at about 7:00 pm so it will give everyone time to go and grab something to eat - either in the hotel or McDonalds or somewhere and then once everyone's settled and had a chance to grab a drink from the bar we'll kick off with the entertainment...
We've got three main things confirmed so far... first up is a special script reading featuring our guests of honour. Simon Furman is writing a brand new script for us and this will be performed live on stage by Gregg Berger (as Grimlock), Ian James Corlett (as Cheetor), Simon Williams (as the Narrator) and a few Auto Assembly attendees playing other roles!
Following that, we have a rock concert by Next Of Kin - a three-piece band from Essex. They will be doing a 60 minute show based mainly around covers of tracks from the original animated Transformers movie. We think it will be a cracking show and if you want to get a taster for what the show will be like, you can see them in action here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLlMUk2mE8E
We are also looking into the possibility of adding something else to the evening as well but we're working on it!
After that, the evening will wrap up with a party / disco running on until about 1:00 am, naturally with a bar open until late! Of course, all of this will be exclusive for weekend attendees only!
TFATM: Do you have a schedule planned for the convention yet, or could you give us a rough idea of what attendees can expect to see / do over the two days?
Auto Assembly: We've had a rough programme up on the website for some time which we're tweaking pretty much on a day-by-day basis as new things are added to the event and as we find new items to squeeze in! However, because of the new Alternative Programme Room that can be booked by fans and websites for use to run activities in there, I'm expecting lots more activities to be added right up to the weekend itself and we've already got some workshops and fan run activities in there already!
TFATM: After last year's convention you reached out to the Transformers fan community for ideas and suggestions on what attendees would like from a convention.What type of feedback did you receive?Were any of the ideas taken up for the event and did you encounter any issues / problems in doing this?
Auto Assembly: There were some great ideas that came forward from the surveys and we had some great feedback from everyone, even the criticism! While we know that we can't please everyone all of the time, it's a fantastic way to be able to hear what people think so we can see if there are real issues that need to be tackled.
Probably one of the most useful things was for the dealers as we asked about merchandise and what people want to buy and we're sharing this information with dealers to help them plan what stock to bring to the convention.
Also, the suggested list of activities that we proposed has helped us identify what our attendees are actually interested in so we know where to focus our efforts and other attendees have even made suggestions of their own for things to add to the programme and you may find a few of these cropping up over the weekend...!
TFATM: Not all fans are able to attend both days, due to work or other commitments.Are you going to be offering 1 day passes and if so do you know the costs of these, and are they going to be specific for each day?
Auto Assembly: We have released a limited number of single day passes already and that is going to be the plan this year as the focus is on weekend ticket sales. What we intend to do is offer single day passes in small blocks at a time and then release more only when those allocations have completely sold out.
We have a maximum cut off for attendance of 550 for the convention per day and that will be made up of a mix of weekend and one day attendees so our potential total will be a lot higher. However, we do need to keep a balance of numbers so when it comes to one day tickets, we are not opting for a "free for all" so for every Saturday ticket we must sell a Sunday ticket.
Anyway, the first allocation was released at the beginning of April and the Saturday passes sold out fairly quickly and while the Sunday tickets haven't sold out yet, they have sold steadily. They are ¬£25 each for adults with reductions for children, students etc. and they are fixed for each day. They do give you full access to the convention for each day (including the talks, autograph sessions, workshops etc), and do include the goodie bag, but the Saturday passes do NOT get you into the party/concert/script reading session.
TFATM: You recently mentioned on The Allspark that you were looking into the possibility of a comic for Auto Assembly.How are things progressing with this?
Auto Assembly: It's an idea I think we'd been toying with for a while to talk to IDW about producing a variant cover of one of their comics as an Auto Assembly exclusive. I know TFCon in Canada had done it a couple of times with Dreamwave and DDP and now seemed to be the right time for us to try something. I knew we weren't going to get anywhere with Hasbro for a toy, but this would give us a chance to get an officially licensed exclusive for the convention.
Anyway, I got in touch with Chris Ryall to see how we would need to go about doing an exclusive variant cover for the convention and basically he said that we'd need to a Diamond account. Problem number 1... no Diamond account! I spoke to Mario over at Apocalypse Comics and they're working with us to make it happen through their Diamond account. Once we sorted that problem out we had to decide on the print run. The question was to either have a 1,000 copy print run of a new book or - to do a reprint of an old book - we needed a 4,000 copy print run! Naturally, there was no way we would be able to sell 4,000 books so we're going for 1,000 copies.
As for the issue, it is going to be All Hail Megatron #13.Sadly, since IDW decided to renumber the series, it's not going to be an Issue 1 which is what we first hoped for, but because it's two short stories, it will make it more accessible. Also, with one being written by Simon Furman and feature Prime and Ironhide, that's an added bonus!
As for the artwork, it's being done by Nick Roche with colours by Liam Shalloo and is very Auto Assembly focused featuring Grimlock as you can see from the preview artwork which I can reveal EXCLUSIVELY here for Transformers @ The Moon visitors! As I said, it is being limited to just 1,000 copies and will be on sale on the Apocalypse Comics table and will be limited to just 2 copies per attendee while stocks last so if you want to grab thiis, then you'll need to get your copy as soon as you can!
TFATM: There are even more guests than normal this year, and several guest panels planned.Were there any guests that you wanted to attend but couldn't?
Auto Assembly: Always! lolWe do invite a lot of the UK comic guests each year who aren't able to make it for one reason or another and for the last couple of years Lew Stringer hasn't been able to attend (Lew was supposed to have been our first ever guest back in 2001!). Hopefully this year he will be able to make it! In fact, I have been approached this year by a couple of G1 voice actors who wanted to attend and I have had to turn THEM down simply because we haven't had the funds to bring them over, there is another UK comic guest on hold because I don't know if we can afford them or not, and I have had to say no to Bob Budiansky simply because our overseas guest budget has been allocated with Gregg and Ian even though he is up for attending.
As for the panels, with the number of guests we have, and possibilities for extras depending on talks I am having with sponsors right now, I may have to add extra panels over the weekend so expect to see more panels each day as the programme gets updated!
TFATM: The last event suffered from a poor sound quality in the room; will this be resolved with the new location?
Auto Assembly: Absolutely! We're hiring in a brand new dedicated AV system for the convention this time so we won't have any problems. Plenty of microphones, LOUD speakers everywhere and plenty of flexibility to do everything we need!
To be honest, the system we used before simply "died of old age"! We had been using my hi-fi system for quite a long time (since the early days from our Star Trek fan club) and for a long time it did pretty well as it's a fairly powerful amp and speaker set up. However, over the last couple of years we were pushing it further and further to - and beyond what it was really designed for and at AA2008 we actually blew one of the speakers (which I found out when I tried to connect it all back up when I got home!).
TFATM: As the event is in a hotel, what disabled access is there for the convention?
Auto Assembly: Because of the advent of the Disability Discrimination Act back in 1995, hotels (along with other public buildings) had a duty to be adapted to be fully accessible. While a reasonably timescale was placed on alteration works, that has passed so rest assured that the Holiday Inn does have full disabled access throughout.
TFATM: Can you tell us which dealers / organisations will be in attendance at the event?
Auto Assembly: I think we've got a cracking line-up this time. From a dealers point of view we have T-4-E, Spacebridge, SF Collectibles, Toy-Fu, Xybertoys, Apocalypse Comics, Maz, Toyz and Gamez, Kapow Toys, and the Official Transformers Collectors Club (sorry if I've forgotten anyone!). From the fan side of things, there will be displays from Transmasters UK and yourselves with your stunning display of Lucky Draw toys which already has a lot of people talking online... Naturally, most of the artists will also be bringing prints and original artwork with them for sale as well and many will be doing sketches throughout the weekend.
As for other organisations, we're working on this and hope to be announcing some soon...
TFATM: A local television crew was in attendance at last year's Auto Assembly convention and you had some coverage on the BBC website last year as well.Has there been any media interest in this year's event?
Auto Assembly: The BBC will be covering the convention again. They are sending a reporter along quite likely with a camera crew and there will be advance coverage on the BBC website and radio. We will also be targeting local press and hopefully local ITV coverage. If we can, we'll be getting in touch with as many specialist press as possible too, unless they contact us first.
TFATM: How are the registration figures looking at the moment?Has the economic downturn, and increased prices (due to the two day event) impacted at all?
Auto Assembly: Quite the opposite to be honest! At the time of writing this we had over 260 pre-registrations. At the same time last year we only had just under 180 bookings and that was with tickets going on sale in late November 2007. Now with Auto Assembly 2009 we didn't open bookings until 1st January! That in itself is an impressive figure but when you think that over 90% of our bookings this year are for the full weekend, which are 3 times the cost of last year, then I'd say that the current economic climate hasn't really had an impact on the convention at all.
TFATM: We'll ask the next question, already knowing the answer, but it has to be asked.A UK Exclusive Convention toy ... do you think it would ever be possible and what do you think would need to happen to make it so?
Auto Assembly: I'm probably going to sound like a broken record on this one but we'd love to do an exclusive toy but it's really out of our hands. The only way we could do one is through Hasbro UK and we're getting no-where fast. Even if we could manage to get close, I think we'd need to arrange for a production run of around 2,000 toys and I dread to think what sort of cost we'd be looking at.
I guess we'd probably need to get a partner in the same way we have with the comic but then it's a question of whether Hasbro would offer a good enough quality toy! lol
TFATM: The event is taking place after the release of the Transformers Revenge of the Fallen movie.Did you not want to run the event closer to this media spectacular, or are there other reasons for the timing of the event?
Auto Assembly: Timing for us has to be based partly around our own personal schedules so we can have the time to run the convention without too much pressure personally, but from an event point of view we need to maximise attendance. For a UK event, that means running it during the school holidays and from a Transformers point of view keeping a reasonable gap between ourselves and BotCon so people in the UK/Europe who want to attend both can.
Also, from the hotel point of view, August is a traditionally quiet time so it helps us with negotiations for venue hire and gives us more control in getting our costs down!
TFATM: Roughly how long does it take to organise each event, and has this year's event planning thrown any new spanners in the works?
Auto Assembly: It always takes an incredible amount of time to plan each convention and work pretty much started as soon as AA2008 had ended with the questionnaires you mentioned earlier being the starting point. The first stumbling block we had was finding a new venue - it's not easy finding somewhere big enough in Birmingham without resorting to sports halls that can handle the sort of capacity we need these days!
We had narrowed our search down to three venues in the city centre - one turned out to be an empty shed in an arts complex (even though the photos on the website gave a different impression to that!) and it was about a 15 min walk from the main part of the city centre. The second venue, a hotel, was a bit further out so we ruled that one out for distance and the third was the Holiday Inn...!
There are so many things that need to be done though ranging from guest negotiations (that can be anything from a single email to extensive months of discussions and contract signings!), arranging sponsorships deals, booking dealers, venues, arranging for production of merchandise, handling bookings, promoting the convention online almost 24/7, updating the website.... I lose track of the amount of time I put into it almost daily and how many jobs I end up doing!
Obviously trying to add the Saturday evening with the band, script reading, disco adds more complexities to the mix, as does the comic, but I love the challenge of trying to make it all happen and I think the end result will make all the effort worth while. Rather than seeing any stumbling blocks as a problem, I'd rather see them as just part of the job that I just need to try to take in my stride and cope with as best as I can! After the hassle from the last venue, anything else is a doddle!
TFATM: Anything else you'd like to add?
Auto Assembly: All I can say really is that this is one convention that you are not going to want to miss! If you live in the UK and are free that weekend, please come along and celebrate the best that Transformers has to offer! Whether you can make it for the weekend or just one day, you won't regret it!
If you've already registered, please spare a few minutes to complete the survey we have online to help us give you all the convention that YOU want and if you can help us during the weekend, we need as many volunteers as we can to make this the best convention that Europe has ever seen!
Hope to see you all in August and keep your eyes open for more announcements soon...!