Rolling Pone: An Interview on Pony Convention Finances and Doubtful Allegations
By Foal Duke, International Affairs Correspondent
Allegations of scamming at BUCK thrown into disarray... Allegations of financial mistakes more doubtful... We talk con finance... A lesson for the readers: speculation’s fine but don’t assume shit...
With the beginning of the last BUCK, or British pony convention (apart from Bronyscot, which exists in a far nicer part of the country), the biggest convention in Europe is under way. Ever since the shock revelation in the press release a month or so ago at the time of publishing, I’d been ruminating on just how one could run a convention in an atmosphere that – at least according to BUCK’s managers – hasn’t really changed much from the days Henry VIII started taxing beards to pay for his wars and decapitation fetish.
I was lucky, for various reasons, to run into an associate of mine whilst fucking around on this side of the Atlantic. This associate just so happened to work in event organisation for various comic conventions around the U.K. as part of his job, employed by a certain television network to hire writers, voice actors and so on to appear at their convention panels. We’ll call him Riley Escobar for confidentiality reasons. Whilst travelling via those rotten railbound coffins that exist as the ghost of National Rail, Riley and I got down to discussing the situation. We analysed some of the content of the press release, which I intend to address fully at some point in the near future.
Riley first laid out to me the difference between one of his conventions and something like BUCK. For a television studio, it is far easier to hire out voice actors and writers to come to their panels, as their VAs have a certain number of contractually obligated appearances per year. So, they don’t get paid, but their expenses do get covered. However, BUCK has no such contracts, being a private convention, so they have to pay for the guests themselves.
As for signing sessions – again, the actors at a major con don’t get paid by their parent network, due to contractual obligations / their expenses being paid. At BUCK, of course, the staff needs to find a way of paying for the expense of hauling Larson and his reserve wings out across the Atlantic.
On top of this, the TV network in question is a for-profit, so it can afford to keep some of the money back to make a profit on top of the expenses (and even afford charging for signings). BUCK, obviously, is not that large, so it has to charge – and as a non-profit, has to put that money towards the VA’s expenses, the fund for next year’s con, or the charity bin, otherwise they’d have to give the guests some of that ca$h too.
Although, you’d think it possible, as £20 a signing amounts to $5732.81 in our monopoly money.
Money Money Money: Voice Actors Costlier than Writers, Priorities Depend on Fame.
As the train stopped once, a very large bald man with a head like a pumpkin sauntered onto the train with his baboon of a girlfriend and a pit bull terrier that looked more like a bulldog that had its face caved in with a shovel. Unfortunately, it hadn’t. I mentioned to Riley how strange it was that BUCK generally would not hire voice actors – or, it wouldn’t be very likely, as a convention source kindly informed me at our Season 5 Finale meetup – and then went and hired Peter “Apple Blossom” New. This led Riley opining that, on balance, Peter “Chief Horsebando” New is known for his personality and quite funny, so it would make sense to hire him as he can provide more entertainment in panels and what have you, like Tabitha St. Germain.
Generally there is less to learn from with voice actors – their trade is interesting, but writers have far more varied experiences to one another than the voice actors, so there is more to learn and advise at the technical workshops, one of BUCK’s big strengths.
As he mentions this, I notice a warm sensation on and behind me – Skinhead Q. Fuckwit’s shaved badger has taken a piss up my leg and my precious Wal-Mart bike. I casually continue talking with Riley as I watch the dog trot back over to its master, and grip the Bowie knife in my pocket in rage.
This led us to discuss the cost of hiring voice actors against writers. It’s all about priorities, Riley states: for example, Sean Astin, a voice actor who starred as Samwise in Lord of the Rings and is currently voicing Raphael in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may be more widely known and famous in the general public, but his main credit was a trilogy of films that ended over a decade ago; whereas, Seth Green also stars in the new series of TMNT, but is also more prominent in the circles of people that attend conventions (dedicated fans, animation hobbyists, webcomic authors, our wonderful readers who love to donate to us, etc.) as he has appeared in far more cartoons, things which these people will be familiar with (such as Family Guy), and TMNT is still active right now. So, they’d be more likely to choose him for his greater appeal to the main attendee group.
Riley has found that a VA generally costs around £10,000.
Riley says that writers, on the other hand, cost more around £5,000 and make fewer requests, partly because VAs can have more leverage, especially if they are well known in the field, such as Tara “Your Waifu” Strong. Writers generally tend to settle for business class flights and a decent hotel, rather than the swank. Basically, anything other than the local BnBs – again, this is common sense.
I converse casually as I walk over to Puppy on the far seats, shaking with the dilapidated train and scratching my inside leg with the knife as I do. I bite my lip, my anger growing.
One thing that really caught my attention in the press release from BUCK is the claim that there simply isn’t a market for this sort of event in the UK. Naturally, I was skeptical, and taking a methodical approach, I wondered why it seems to work with another form of convention with equally limited appeal that was very comparable and would work as a test case – furries.
Riley pointed out that furry cons have a more diverse array of content than the show – there are webcomics, bits of animation, that sort of thing, and many VIP guests are well known in other areas of the creative industry, so they can being in a wide range of content from across more genres, and thus command the appeal to bring in more attendees from the furry base (perhaps it attracts more sponsors too?). Furthermore, when the show finishes the fandom will be less likely to have these large conventions, as fans and creators get involved in other additional fandoms and focus more effort on them, leaving less time and effort for them to do much more than watch the show and maybe attend the weekly local meet-ups (which will hopefully then have become lifelong friends).
I ponder this as I produce the blade from my pocket in front of Fatso and Pooch.
This is something I’m still skeptical of, even as I write this, because I always felt that the majority of furry convention VIPs are from within the furry fandom (and it has just occurred to me that we may be seeing a move to wider ‘internet/alternate culture’ conventions that are mostly or partly pony – one hopes mostly – similar to how furry conventions started out as part of a science fiction convention and blossomed, but in reverse, and have you ever heard such a cringe-inducing term as ‘internet culture’?). Nevertheless, it’s still something to look at if you’re thinking of running a con.
And to add to my scepticism: so we have a TV show that has limited appeal, with a fandom that hosts sizeable conventions and by rights, ought to die with it, rather than continuing onto the Next Generation of the franchise.
Star Trek, anyone?
As for the other UK pony convention I asked Riley about, UK Ponycon, which serves as another test case, this is more an all-ages convention that appeals to all generations of the franchise, so it is not quite the same and may have other reasons to be more enduring – I ponder its decade-plus longevity as I lift up Poochy’s leg with the blade in hand.
This is something I will inquire about further. Watch this space.
I Want to Cum Inside Event City (Disclaimer: Figures Not Exact)
Another thing that has always been an issue with BUCK is the venue size – claims of ‘mismanagement’ or the ‘stage being too big’ about Buck 2014 (the second one I’m inclined to agree with) from the attendees got me mulling this over. Riley states that with a con increasing in popularity, there will inevitable be a shortage of tickets, then complaints, and then demand to move to a larger venue. But, going from around 800 at the con’s first hotel venue to the next year’s 1200 requires a jump to a larger venue such as Event City, which is for hosting far more people than 1200 – and therefore far more expensive. There is no inbetween.
Another potential test case – the amazing Galacon, in Germany – is comparable for its location at the Forum am Schlosspark in Ludwigsburg. The venue seemed to have the same sort of theatre-seating room arrangements and capacity, but was a ton cheaper than what you’d have to pay on Airstrip One. And it was quite far out from the nearest urban centre, rather than slap bang in the middle.
Riley pointed out that in Germany, the train links are more direct, running straight through from France and the rest of Germany, and from Russia – especially Russia! – and Italy and other surrounding countries. So fans have an easier time getting there, instead of having to go to London and take the Tube of Death to another station and sit on an overcrowded coffin all the way from there to Manchester. I don’t personally see how that’s much of an issue, myself.
Riley states that it is likely also cheaper in Europe, especially flying guests in – flying them from the East Coast, though, is a lot cheaper than the West Coast, due to mileage and other things. There is also the possibility of there being a bigger con culture in Germany.
To be fair to Riley, he says he is not sure, and emphasises that really, you’d have to ask the staff at conventions in Germany for this – it’s a whole different ball game, he says.
THE FINALE: BUCK’s allegations of bad money handling are probably wrong.
As we part, I start what this has all been leading up to: I tell him about the allegations of poor financial management – and worse, misconduct – that have popped up once or twice at BUCK.
“These are based on the fact that their hiring costs, ticket prices, and debt don’t seem to match up, at least to the naked eye. Do you think the discrepancies are justified and above board?”
He pauses in thought.
Only the sound of the tannoy is heard.
The train stops at my station.
He proffers a disclaimer: “I don’t have access to BUCK’s accounts, obviously, so I won’t know precisely how good a job they did.”
“I’ll bear that in mind.”
“But from my job experience, I’d wage the ‘discrepancies’ make sense. No scams or mistakes.”
And with that, we make our goodbyes, and I lug my shitty vehicle off the train with a Bowie knife in one hand and a pair of pit bull testicles in the other.
So there you have it, folks! It is very likely the allegations of scamming were just that: allegations.
(Like they were in any way believable).
HOWEVER, while allegations of financial mistakes also seem more doubtable now, I’m not entirely sure, because as a journalist, second and third opinions are always needed, I need to find out more information, and admittedly I’m biased, as I’m pissed at this happening. BUCK was always a good con, and you can’t help try and look for someone to blame. Just make sure there IS someone first.
What do you think? How similar is Galacon to BUCK? Are furry conventions? Do you live in Germany, and if so, what is the convention culture like? Let us know in the comments.
Also, look out for Horsecon 2017, details coming soon – if you donate more than $20, you get to keep a ball signed by MA Larson from the ball pit. $30, you get a free pair of wings with it.