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One source of debate amongst many of those who attended this event was the price of the autographs. Listening to all the different sources of information on what the pricing really was very quickly got very confusing. While I was waiting to enter the venue, two different attendees complained to me that the ticketing system only offered 'three autographs for £30' which they considered unfair. They pointed out that they only wanted one autograph and were being unfairly penalised in having to pay for three. I'm afraid I had little sympathy, as the price struck me as more than reasonable and one really can't try to cater for every conceivable combination of options that every fan might want. However, in attempting to buy one of these 'rip off' tickets myself no such bargain ticket could be found. Individual tickets appeared to range from £25 (Mark Ferguson) to £30 (Bernard Hill, Karl Urban). I thought the asking price for Bernard and Karl was pretty 'par for the course' to be honest, especially given the visibility both these 'Hollywood' actors have at the moment (Karl's 'The Bourne Supremacy' and 'The Chronicles of Riddick' have just been released here, and Bernard has been a 'name' actor for many years and rarely attends signing events, this apparently being his first).
I am told that Craig Parker's autograph was £40, which is perhaps surprising given his relatively low profile here, but indicates perhaps his popularity with the
hardcore fans that made up the majority attending this festival. What's important to remember is that while these prices may be steeper than E-bay (but how do you
prove they're genuine?) or an autograph-only event
like Collectormania, what you got here was a fairly short wait, a personalised autograph, a quick chat and a photograph opportunity too.
Compared with the long queues for the hobbit actors at Collectormania, where £20 got you a quick impersonal scribble, I didn't think the prices were
unreasonable. As usual, your mileage may vary! One thing that I did find surprising was that Alan Lee and John Howe, who had the longest queues of all,
were giving free autographs. I suspect
that artists are not paid the greatest living wage to start with, and I'm sure if the organisers had decided to charge £10 or £15 for their autographs,
particularly given the care and detail they put into them, it would have benefitted the artists themselves and helped to make the queues a little more manageable.
There's a lot of talk about 'Peter Jackson's vision' in these movies, but when I look at the screen for the most part I feel I'm seeing Alan Lee and
John Howe's visions, which have been unfolding over the last 30+ years, and it's depressing to learn that they are probably not getting the same recognition (or financial
recompense) as some of the minor cast members.
One personal disappointment was that I did not really get the chance to speak to Jed Brophy, whose work in Peter Jackson's films prior
to 'Lord of the Rings' (where he's taken much more of a lead
role) has always impressed. I heard a lot of fans talking about what a nice guy he was, and the demonstrations he and Lawrence Makaore gave were amazing. Both
actors worked up a heavy sweat in a show that was innovative and fun. At one point Brophy somehow managed to literally stand on his head, and deliver a short
talk from that position. The guys made the demonstrations a lot of fun, occasionally inviting young members of the public to join them in the role of Gimli or
Lurtz which proved a great source of entertainment.
The trade-mark Peter Jackson 'slow motion' fight sequences were somehow performed in real time, and the re-enactment of Boromir's death brought tears (of laughter)
eyes, for all the right reasons. Admittedly the re-enactment wasn't precisely as I remember it, with Boromir needing to be shot by an
even more unbelievable number of arrows than in the film before he fell. And some of them
were stuck in the most unlikely of places! But the demonstration was otherwise pretty faithful to that shown in 'Fellowship of the Ring',
although I have to admit I don't actually recall Sean Bean uttering the immortal line 'It's only a flesh wound' as Lurtz turned his back on
him. Maybe that was in the extended edition? ;-)
Like most, I had felt that the £200 asking price for a ticket to 'The Fellowship Feast' was too high a price to pay, but those attending the first night's feast had nothing but praise for the event. The selling point here was exclusivity, with only 90 tickets available each night for a feast that was to be attended by all the convention guests. I attended the second night's feast and it was not hard to see why people were so happy with the feast. The high cost meant that, on the night I attended, there were 13 guests and just 26 ticket purchasers, so that the promised dinner with the cast and crew became even more intimate an experience than had been advertised. The Feast was intended to be a very 'up market' affair which worried me as a self-confessed slob, and I found the 'Black Tie' dress code was irritating, not least because after dressing myself up like a dog's dinner I discovered that Alan Lee was the only other male attendee who'd done the same. 'I feel like a seedy waiter', he had confided to me earlier in the evening. 'Hang on and I'll see if I can find you one', I replied, not entirely sure it went down with the humour intended.
Dress code gripes aside (and the women did all look beautiful, it must be said), the evening lived up to the organiser's claims of being 'a night to remember'. Somewhat reluctantly, I found myself having to agree with those attendees who, in reviewing the Feast, said they were happy with the price and would do it again. The restaurant had nice decor and felt 'right' for such an event. The food was, to my mind, a bit average, and the wine, at least on our table, was a horrid mixture of liquid and cork, but none of that really mattered in the overall scheme of things. The cast and crew kept everybody entertained over the four course meal, and on my table 'Lurtz' proved himself to be a much funnier man than anybody would ever have guessed while Jorn worked hard to put people at their ease and keep the conversation going. With the meal over, we then found out how really talented some members of the cast are. Craig told a dreadful joke that I've heard a hundred times before, but still managed to have me laughing with tears streaming down my cheeks because of his 'Irishman in Queenstown' delivery. Bruce Hopkins showed, despite all his protestations to the contrary, that he really could sing, as did Sarah McLeod with her moving cover version of 'Into The West'. Jed Brophy showed his versatility, first performing a comedy rap number, with Sandro Kopp accompanying him as human beatbox, before going on to sing a beautiful ballad. But for me it was Gino Acevido who really stole the show - his rendition of Elton John's 'Your Song' was absolutely superb and proved that if he ever finds himself out of a job doing make-up and special effects work there's a professional career as a singer waiting for him.
The many fans complaining that the Feast ticket should have been priced at around £50 don't seem to understand the basic rules of Supply and Demand, which mean that at such a price the 'personal experience' of this dinner, which would undoubtedly attract a LOT more sales, would have been dramatically different
So, all-in-all, the Feast and the whole Festival itself were a great success, at least as far as the paying punters were concerned. The low numbers are a worry though, and I tried to get a feel for what the sponsors (or, more accurately, the exhibitors) felt about the event. The largest exhibitor, EA Games, appeared to me to be slightly cagey. They were happy with the reaction to their new 'Battle for Middle-earth' game and pleased to have taken advance orders for something not scheduled for release until November. But questions about whether or not they'd support the event next year were met with a polite 'We'll have to wait and see. We don't have a new LOTR-themed game coming out next year'. On a happier note, and much to my surprise, the smaller exhibitors, many fans themselves, all seemed enthusiastic. I was impressed with the way the smaller New Zealand businesses were working together to promote their wares, doubling up on stalls etc and I had a lovely chat with Barry and Cheryl Eldridge of Stansborough (makers of the elven cloaks and scarves) who in that typical Kiwi fashion insisted I visit their farm on my return trip to their home country next Christmas - an invitation I'm sure was being extended to anybody who just went up for a chat. They, like everyone else I spoke to, were more than happy with the business they felt they were getting and which would follow from the event. One stall vendor said he'd only turned a profit when he'd made a shift from higher-priced exclusive items he'd been selling on Day 1 to postcards (50p a throw) and posters which he'd managed to get in stock for the second day. Such news does not auger well for the 'quality' that the organisers are hoping differentiates their event from others they are competing with, but gives what I've thought is a long-clear indication of where the real sales potential for associated merchandise and products really lies: at the 'cheap and affordable' (even slightly tacky :-( ) end of the market rather than at the highly-priced, quality 'collectible' end.
More worrying for the longer term is how many of these events the market can support. Interest is naturally trailing off now that all three movies are out the way, and I, for one, am not convinced the franchise has the legs that 'Star Wars' or 'Star Trek' events have without the support of a new 'The Hobbit' film to keep up the interest of an increasingly fickle audience.
There are also signs that with everything that has been pushed into the public domain on these films, the market is getting saturated to the point of exhaustion. Friends who've previously travelled to The States or Germany for similar events didn't attend something on their own doorsteps because of what might be called 'Lord of the Rings burnout'. The challenge for the organisers of this event, and others like it, is to build on the hard-core fan base they know they have (nearly all of those in attendance were talking about attending next year's event as if it were a certainty) and grow it. That won't be easy with The Tolkien Society holding their own week-long 'Tolkien 2005' event to celebrate 50 years since first publication of 'Lord of the Rings' in the same month. Personally, I hope I'll get the chance to report on a 'Fellowship Festival 2005' because, as I've previously indicated, this event more than delivered on all its promises and is a great addition to the calendar of events for UK-based fans.
Tell your friends that they just missed out on one of the best 'Lord of the Rings' fan events in the world, and ask them if they really want to make the mistake of missing out again next year. Keep an eye on the official event site for ticket ordering details and other announcements about next year's event.
Back to page 2 of this report
Back to page 1 of this report
Elsewhere, you can read the interview with the event organiser or Sound Bites from Craig Parker, Sarah McLeod and Bernard Hill
Don't forget you can check out reports of lots of other Lord of the Rings -themed events in the Web Logs section