Many anime fans find their way to our hobby through friends, a display at a store like Suncoast, or television. Their love is cemented at the anime convention.
Most, if not all, of the people reading this column have attended (or are planning to attend) an anime convention. Theyre a lot of fun to go to. But even more work to put on.
Im in my 4th year of convention management. I worked at Anime Central for 5 years, working my way up to Convention Chairman. A few of us decided we wanted to do something different, and Anime Reactor was born. So Ive helped build 2 conventions.
Working behind the scenes at an anime con is fun, but its a lot of work. Ive been asked on several occasions how one can go about starting a convention. So, Ive created a guide on how to start, and maintain, a convention. If you have any specific questions, e-mail me.
But first, I must issue a warning. Organizing and executing an anime convention is hard. It will test your physical and mental endurance. You will put in long hours trying to figure things out. You will be fatigued all the time. You will not have a social life. You will not get to sit back and enjoy the convention. You will not receive anything for your hard work, except for a good set of friends and some memories. If thats not enough for you, dont try and start a convention. If it is, good luck. Youll need it.
The most important, and most often overlooked, part of starting and maintaining a convention is all of the documentation that registers the con as a company in your home state and the paperwork that lays out your basic rules. Are you going to be for-profit or not-for-profit? How is your organization going to be set up? What rules and regulations will govern the staff? All of these questions need to be answered BEFORE YOU ATTEMPT TO TALK TO A HOTEL OR GUESTS. I cannot stress the importance of this step. Ignore it, and you might be personally liable if anything goes wrong with the convention.
Theres no right or wrong way to set your organization up. But make sure that whatever structure you create makes it so decisions can be rendered quickly and with as little red tape as possible. Pay the $100 or so it might cost to have a lawyer look over any documents you create. Incorporation/non-profit rules vary from state to state, so check with your local government.
You need someplace to have the convention, right? Make sure you choose someplace that has the facilities to house your show. Be realistic, though. Dont head for the Ritz Carlton and expect a warm reception. Start small, and as your attendance grows, get a bigger facility.
There is some terminology you should know when approaching the hotel:
Room Nights: A room night occurs when a person stays in the hotel overnight. So, if youre going to a convention and you stay 3 days, thats 3 room nights.
Room Block: A number of rooms set aside for your convention in the hotel. In order to get your function space for free, youll have to fill your room block.
Again, with these things, you have to be realistic. Estimate how many people you expect and make your room block. Get a good Hotel Liason. They can mean the difference between a good contract and a bad one. Bad contracts kill conventions.
Catering Most contracts requires catering. Thats the hotels bread and butter. They make more money off of catering than they do from the hotel rooms. And they never include the mandatory gratuity.
Youve probably noticed by now that anime hasnt entered into the equation yet. Thats because, no matter what people may say, running an anime convention is a business. You have to make sure that these things are in order before you start.
A convention also needs a finance person. This person cant be any old guy off the street. They have to be trustworthy and, most importantly, meticulous. This person should go over every monetary dealing with a fine tooth comb, making sure money is coming in and, more importantly, going out correctly. Tales of embezzlement are too familiar in anime conventions.
OK, now, we have a hotel, a decent structure, and a finance person who throws nickels around like manhole covers. What else is there
oh yeah, guests.
For many conventions, the hardest thing to do is getting guests. For first year conventions, things can be hard. You have no history behind you, so guests may be cautious in committing to you. Most American guests can be contacted through the company they work for, but again, getting a commitment might be difficult.
Japanese guests, however, are different. Sending an e-mail wont get the job done. Youd be asking someone youve never met to come across the world and attend something that may or may not be successful. So, youll have to find someone with contacts who is willing to vouch for your new convention. Thats easer said than done. If you start planning your convention a year and a half to two years in advance, you should have the time to find someone.
There are certain things every convention has:
1. Game shows
4. Video Programming
The worst thing you can do is to go to another convention, fall in love with a programming idea, and imitate it. Your version of the show will suck. Period. For example, I think Iron Guest, ACens artist competition inspired by Iron Chef, is a good idea. Would I imitate it for Reactor? Nope. It wouldnt be as good as the original. Find a creative programming director and think of original programming ideas for game shows. There are some that havent been done. Noone is ever happy with the video schedule. People always complain. You can have the best video schedule ever, and youll find 50 people who hate it. So do your best when putting it together. Make sure you have a good sampling of all the anime thats out there.
Ive provided a basic outline for you to follow to success. I left some things out
Youll have to figure out what on your own. Before I leave, let me give you one last piece of advice:
When you make mistakes, and you will make mistakes, learn from them. A new mistake is always better than an old mistake. Old mistakes become problems. Problems make it difficult for you to succeed.
Got something you wanna say to James?
Think he's right on? Think he's full of it? Let him know! He loves to hear what others think. Especially when they disagree. He just loves fan or hate mail. Gotta keep him happy. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.