Farpoint is the Energizer Bunny of Cons
Once upon a time (two decades ago), there were only two Cons in the Washington DC area, both held outside of Baltimore: a larger one known as Shore Leave Con, and a smaller Con known as Farpoint.
Farpoint Con was both the younger and smaller of the two. They shared the same host hotel until a few years ago when Farpoint moved to a Holiday Inn in Timonium. It also used to be held in October until they moved to the President’s day weekend in February. This year, for the 25th anniversary of the Con, they moved back to Hunt Valley, and moved their date to the weekend before Presidents Day. Through the years and the moves, with a much smaller budget than most larger Cons, they continue to put out a quality product. So was that still the case this year? Well, I can undoubtedly say that the 2018 edition continued that trend.
While Farpoint Con might not have the resources to bring in large amounts of guests at a time, they assuredly make up for it in quality. Taking a look back at a sample of guests they've had over the years illustrates this fact. Don't believe me? Some past guests include the likes of Melissa McBride (Walking Dead), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Felicia Day (The Guild), Penny Johnson (The Orville), and James Callis (Battlestar Galactica), just to name a few. Equally impressive have been the guests fans have had the opportunity to see before they left us too soon (such as Richard Hatch, Andreas Katsulas, Harve Bennet.)
This year, they didn't disappoint, as they brought us the following guests: Nana Visitor, Mat Frewer and Nora Mclellan. Not only that, Farpoint continued its proud tradition of bringing an array of quality authors by bringing us Timothy Zahn - who among his many credits, created Grand Admiral Thrawn within the Star Wars Universe. All of the guests were at this Con for the weekend, and were equal parts eloquent and charming. Nana Visitor seems to have found the Fountain of Youth as she looks like she could don the attire of her Mirror Universe character on Deep Space Nine (the Intendent) without missing a beat. This, in spite of a lengthy history that-in her own words-goes back to appearances on Knight Rider. Matt Frewer, known both for his classic ‘Max Headroom’ character from the analog 80’s to his most recent appearance as ‘Carnage’ on ‘Altered Carbon,’ displayed (in his talk) his impressive physical comedy gifts. Timothy Zahn, conversely, was a walking authority on everything ‘Star Wars’ and brought his unique perspective into what is currently happening in the very active Star Wars Universe. In addition, he shared both how he created Grand Admiral Thrawn and who he believed would portray him best on screen (hint: Benedict Cumberbatch). Last, but certainly not least, was Nora Mclellan, who shared what was going on with ‘Killjoys’ as it prepares to wrap as a series.
There was a healthy mix of different topics for panels for each day, held in intimate side rooms, on topics ranging from Cosplaying to Star Trek Discovery. The hotel provided more space for all the different elements of the Con and had ample parking for all guests.
Following now, are my thoughts on what I thought Farpoint did very well, and what I believe they can tweak.
Things done well:
Loved the printed signs reinforcing that ‘Cosplay is not Consent’. It was positive, especially in these heightened times, to reinforce this message that just because people are in cosplay does not mean they wish to have their picture taken.
The auctioneer for the Julian Fleming Memorial Fund was fantastic. At both Shore Leave and Farpoint Con, there has been a tradition of auctioning an item, signed by the special guest, so that the proceeds can go to the Julian Fleming Memorial Fund. However, in recent auctions, the auctioneer has not been as dynamic, or has given off the sentiment that people should automatically just bid to support the cause without engaging them. However, that was not the case this year, as the auctioneer was brilliant! He was engaging, energetic, and managed to secure a high bid for an item for Matt Frewer. Moving forward, I feel that the Con runners should ensure he remains as the auctioneer for items at both Farpoint Con and at Shore Leave.
All the guests were very eloquent and prepared. Not all guests at a Con are the same, and some simply do not know how to engage in a dialogue with people at their talks. This was not the case with any of the Farpoint guests. They were all seasoned pros who performed exceptionally well. Whoever did the job of selecting the guests for this year did their homework.
Better placement and much larger room for the silent auction. In years past the silent auction room has been in a smaller space that was off the main activity area. This time the room was large and allowed for items to be better displayed, and for people to move around without bumping into each other.
Very good choice in moving back to the Hunt Valley Inn. It provides both more parking, more space for the con itself, and access to public transportation via lite rail. It also is a quick walk to the nearby shopping plaza with its amenities of movie theaters, restaurants and grocery stores.
What to tweak:
The two questions I heard most throughout the Con were: Where are people signing? What time (are they signing)? If the signing area is going to be at the end of the corridor next to the main ballroom, there should be a LARGE banner that simple says ‘Autographs’ and have it hung in the designated area at the start of the Con. That way anyone coming to the main ballroom will know where celebrities are signing. Likewise, there are two main gathering points for people attending the Con: in the lobby (outside the main restaurant and adjacent to the check in desk) and at the bottom of the escalator. I feel that it would helpful to have (in these areas) the signing times for each guest on two dry erase boards w/ easels. The advantage to not dealing with half a dozen or more guests is that you can fit this information on a single erase board/easel.
Have a game tournament. Most of the audience in attendance are also gamers. Provide as an alternative in the evening for people who do not wish to go to the Masquerade or the after party a Board game tournament. Have people sign up to start at 6:00 PM and go until 10:00 PM. Don’t pick a game that will go on for hours such as Pandemic, but a game that will hold 4-5 players and be finished under an hour. ‘King of Tokyo’, ‘Guillotine’, ‘Splendor’ and more are all possibilities. Offer as your main prize a free weekend pass for next year.
A designated room equipped with audiovisual where you just show tv episodes or movies featuring your special guests. Have this run until late at night on Friday and Saturday. It provides attendees with another choice of what to do if they don’t wish to attend masquerades or the after party.
All in all, it would be far too easy, based on the richness of Cons available in the area (Awesome Con, Universal Fan, All Star, Mid Atlantic, Regeneration Who) to think it takes only a small effort to organize a Con. Indeed, it is quite the opposite. Organizing a Con is a very difficult task, and there have been attempts at holding a Con that have been one and done’s. We would not have any of the aforementioned Cons if Farpoint had not shown that it is possible to organize a Con with a small number of guests, and sustain it for decades. Inspite of date changes, hotel changes, and the occasional monster snow storm, Farpoint Con keeps moving forward. They do not have a large advertising budget, but they hit the pavement and wherever there is a Con and they have a table to let people know they are there. Farpoint and Shore Leave Con are the pioneers who came first to show the way for all the cons who have come since.
Farpoint Con is the little Con that could - and still does. It is the energizer Bunny of Cons. And for that, we are all thankful.