Reviews

Attending San Diego Comic-Con International without a badge

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When San Diego Comic-Con International 2015 finished last month, it wasn’t long before people started planning for Comic-Con 2016. Even though it’s still another 11 months away, everyone is already prepping for the upcoming Comic-Con badge sales. Unfortunately not everyone will be able to buy a badge but there is hope as you don’t necessarily require a badge to enjoy Comic-Con.

After attending previous years with a badge, I decided to attend this year to see what attending San Diego Comic-Con International would be like without a badge.

It’s early on a Thursday morning and the start of the first day of San Diego Comic-Con International 2015. Before anything happened I decided to try my luck getting into the Conan show, which was taping live from Comic-Con for 4 days, by queuing in the line for standby tickets. After a few hours I finally got one of the numbered wristbands, to be honest the queue wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be but then I guess it ain’t that bad when you don’t have to queue in the baking hot summer sun. But like I have probably mentioned before at San Diego Comic-Con there is a queue for everything, even if you are a celebrity you still have to queue. Yes they still get special treatment when it comes to transport and security but they still have to queue for other things. It’s easier for them to do things when they blend into the crowd, would you even have noticed them if you didn’t pay attention when you walked past them in the hotel lobby or on your way to and from the convention center?

With each year Comic-Con grows in popularity and demand, even with the proposed expansion plans and new hotels opening up in 2016 one has to wonder how long it will last? As much as I love San Diego, there still isn’t enough hotel rooms to meet demand as a growing number of attendees and non badge holders attend Comic-Con each year. As a non badge holder this year, I don’t think it’s fair nor do I agree with some of the negative comments made about them by actual badge holders. For one thing if it weren’t for non badge holders you wouldn’t get events such as NERD HQ which was initially created as something to do for those who failed to manage to buy a badge for Comic-Con. It was a way for them to experience intimate panels with cast and crew of upcoming new films and TV shows since they couldn’t attend the panels in Hall H, Ballroom 20 etc. There is simply more people who want to attend Comic-Con than there is actual badges available. All the outside events allows those who couldn’t get a badge to be able to experience some of Comic-Con. The studios who attend Comic-Con know this which is why they create interactive experiences outside the convention center, it’s a great marketing tool for them as they can market to more than just the badge holder attendees.

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Obviously I can’t get into the convention center without a badge so the first thing I see across the road from the convention center is a crowd of people with picket signs. At first I thought it was protesters but on closer inspection I realized it was a clever marketing ploy to promote the upcoming new TV series ‘Damien.’ ‘Damien’ is a new A&E series based on the horror film series The Omen.

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After I made it past the crowd I head on up to the rooftop of the San Diego Omni Hotel for the annual WIRED Cafe party. You can read my review of the event here. This year I spent hours at WIRED Cafe since I didn’t have any interviews or panels to attend as I didn’t have a badge this year. It’s actually quite a refreshing feeling to not have to worry about rushing to attend scheduled interviews and panels. I think the only thing I regretted was queuing for Conan, as I didn’t go in the end since I was still at the WIRED Cafe. I was lucky that I had the WIRED Cafe invite as it was something fun to do during the day but even if you can’t get into the WIRED Cafe, there is still plenty of outside events to keep non badge holders occupied.

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NERD HQ is one such event, like most people I was unable to get tickets except for the MR. Robot panel. It was thanks to the Friends of Comic-Con forum that I was able to trade and purchase, at face value, tickets for other NERD HQ panels. There is hope to attend events even when tickets are sold out, you just need to know where to look and where better than a community of like minded nerds?

Not only does NERD HQ offer intimate panel experiences, it seats approx 200, but they also offer photo opportunities called smiles for smiles where for a $20 donation to operation smile you can get a photo taken with guests including Stephen Amell, Hayley Atwell, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk etc. This year they had new experiences including the opportunity to personalize your own Coca-Cola cans with any name including Comic-Con or NERD HQ. You could also try out the new Star Wars Battlefront game which will be released in November 2015.

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Fox where also out and about promoting their upcoming new TV series Scream Queens with carts offering free ice cream and gumballs in exchange for your screams, yes you had your photos taken of you posing or screaming and once you shared it on social media you got your ice cream. We all scream for ice cream!

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Sadly we couldn’t attend the MTV Fandom Awards and Fan Fest this year, even though we where looking forward to it, due to unforeseen circumstances. However we will definitely be there if it’s back next year.

It’s early on Friday morning and this time I’m determined to queue and actually attend a live Conan taping since this time I’m not queuing for standby. Thanks to the amazing people at the Friends of Comic-Con forum I was able to get a ticket. Some of the tickets where allocated through a lottery system before Comic-Con but they kept the rest on standby for those who queued up for them each day of the tapings. The earlier you queued the better your chance as there was a limited amount of standby tickets available each day. Even with tickets you don’t know what row and seat number you will be until you pick it up. We where lucky this time since we managed to get great seats in the 4th row.Once I got my wristband and ticket I was free to explore until I had to come back in the afternoon for Conan.

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I’ve seen Game of Thrones themed tour buses out and about with seemingly no one in them, maybe this is how they transport some of the celebrities?

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The first NERD HQ panel I attended this year was a conversation panel with director M. Night Shyamalan and Jason Blum. I actually like this new venue, the Children’s Museum in San Diego offers a better layout when it comes to crowd control but the seating at Petco Park was miles better. At Petco Park the seats where all raised so no matter where you where seated you had a great view of the stage and no one was blocking your view. Unfortunately at the Children’s museum the stage was too low and the seats where all on the same level which meant your view was blocked if the person in front was tall or wore a hat or had big hair. I think if they come back next year and host NERD HQ at the same venue then seating is an issue they will need to look at to improve.

It’s great that all the conversations are filmed and streamed live so that you can watch what you missed or relive the experience afterwards, it also allowed others who didn’t manage to get a ticket to be able to watch the panel too.

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A new system was introduced for this year’s NERD HQ which was the RFID bracelet, it helped them with crowd control as they could monitor how many where in the building at any one time. I thought it was a great new system as it meant it never got too crowded, it’s a nightmare trying to get anywhere when you are crammed into a space like sardines.

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After M. Night Shyamalan’s panel I headed to the lawn in front of the Hilton Bayfront Hotel to check out the FX networks interactive zone for American Horror Story Hotel, The Strain, Fargo and The Bastard Executioner.

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Next stop was the interactive zone at Petco Park where Fox network had their Scream Queens drop zone, photo area and ice cream carts. With Scream Queens it was a nice touch to have a ride that would make it riders scream. There was huge queues everyday as everybody wanted to be dropped from a high height screaming their heads off as they fall back down.

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It was an interesting sight to see a crowd wearing Ron Perlman masks promoting his new Amazon Prime series Hand of GOD.

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In the Gaslamp Quarter there was a crowd of men in kilts playing bagpipes to promote the 2nd series of The Outlander.

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I think the oddest thing I’ve seen on display outside the convention center is the Colonel Sanders (KFC) statues dressed in various costumes including a unicorn. It was KFC’s way of promoting free Wi-Fi in downtown San Diego so everybody could stay connected and up to date with Comic-Con news and events. It was funny to watch people’s reactions as they tried to figure out what was going on. It was obvious what it was when they had someone with a t-shirt standing beside one of the statues saying free Wi-Fi but most of the time they weren’t there. If anything I thought the statues provided great photo opportunities. Another thing, which I thought was another interesting marketing ploy by the Kentucky Fried Chicken brand was the KFC comic book. Yes they actually had girls dressed in KFC bucket inspired dresses handing out KFC comic books. But of course it wouldn’t be KFC if it didn’t come with a free black bow tie just like the one worn by the Colonel.

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It’s Conan time and Mr Fantastic from Fantastic Four is out and about taking selfies with the crowd waiting to get inside for the live taping. After years of watching Conan, I finally get to attend a live taping and boy is this going to be quite the experience. Everyone is taking selfies as they take their seats and forever imprint their memories on social media. No matter what age, gender or race everyone was just as excited to be there. The stage is amazing, the Spreckels Theatre is beautiful and there’s even a live band performing.

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The guests for this live taping are the cast from the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones including Norman Reedus, Steven Yuen,Danai Gurira, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Liam Cunningham, John Bradley, Alfie Allen, Carice van Houten, Natalie Dormer, Conleth Hill and Hannah Murray.

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Conan sure knows how to keep his audience happy, during the ad breaks he would interact with the audience including taking selfies, shaking hands and generally keeping them entertained.

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As everyone enjoys the fireworks from the Star Wars concert, we made our way to the Playboy party, this year it was sponsored by Ryan Reynold’s new film Self/less. After spending a few hours on the red carpet waiting for and interviewing some of the celebrity guests we decided to check out the party. There was a huge open bar and lots of Playboy bunnies, if I was a guy I’d be in heaven drinking and dancing away with the bunnies. In fact I think me and Imogen where one of the few females at this party, that’s if you didn’t count the Playboy bunnies and the female celebrities.

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It’s Saturday 11th July, what to have for breakfast? Maybe pancakes or french toast at Mary Jane’s cafe at Hard Rock Hotel? Or rather as it is known this weekend as the Expanse cafe, promoting the new series from Syfy. After breakfast I decide to check out the Heroes Reborn interactive experience by NBC. Looking at the props from the original Heroes series brings back many memories. You could also get your photo taken to give the illusion that you had powers and then an email is sent to you with a jpeg of your photo to keep and share through social media.

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After the Heroes Reborn experience I noticed there was a large crowd outside the Hard Rock Hotel, turns out Daniel Radcliffe was filming an interview to promote his new film Victor Frankenstein. While everyone was busy taking photos and screaming for Harry Potter, I wondered if anyone even noticed that Charles Xavier or rather actor James McAvoy was standing right next to him. Maybe no one recognized him because he was bald and from behind they thought he could be anybody?

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After I made my way through the crowd of fans, spectators and photographers I’d thought I’d check out the Assassin’s Creed Syndicate experience.

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Next on the agenda was the MR. Robot panel at NERD HQ, it was a nice surprise when Nathan Fillion appeared on stage to announce that he would be moderating this panel.

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The last NERD HQ panel for me today was the mystery panel. Everyone was still guessing who the mystery guests would be, even as they took their seats. Zachary Levi remained tight lipped about the guests even as he auctioned off for charity, a t-shirt that would be signed by the mystery panel. Some hoped it would be Tom Hiddleston but to the dismay of one of my friends there it was not. However even if no one guessed right who was in the mystery panel, it was still one of the funniest panels I’ve ever attended.

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What better way to end the night than attending the live taping of the Nerdist podcast with guests Tom Hiddlestone, Guillermo Del Toro and Maisie Williams.

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It’s Sunday 12th July, 2015 and the last day of San Diego Comic-Con International. The last NERD HQ panel I attend this year is the Thrilling Adventure Hour with actress Aisha Tyler moderating.

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The highlight for me on the last day of San Diego Comic-Con International 2015 was the Hannibal cast signing with Bryan Fuller, Hugh Dancy, Richard Armitage and Martha De Laurentiis. I found this event by chance while walking on my way to Petco Park Interactive Zone.

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The line was already capped so I decided to use this opportunity to take some photos, although eventually Bryan Fuller and Hugh Dancy stayed to sign and take selfies with those who didn’t get in the line.

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It was a great gesture to reward Hannibal fans for all their support especially since the series was unfortunately cancelled. It also goes to show that you don’t need a badge to attend signing events, as they can happen outside the convention center at the TV networks interactive experiences or at events including NERD HQ.

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All in all, this experience proved to me that you can still have a great time at San Diego Comic-Con International even without a badge as all the outside events makes up for it. Plus it’s also great for your purse or wallet as you are less tempted to spend when you don’t have access to the exhibition hall. One of the highlights for most attendees, especially on preview night on the Wednesday, is the freebies but even without a badge there is still great freebies being outside the convention center. I think the best freebie I was given this year was the Hateful Eight t-shirt. I highly recommend those who’ve attended Comic-Con many times with a badge, to experience attending at least one year without one.

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