Have you ever wondered what goes into a organizing a convention, let alone starting a brand new one, all on your own?
Eric Nordhoff and James Frazier, two dads from Nashville, Tennessee, bonded over “Lost” and decided to launch a podcast based on another: “The Walking Dead.”
After a feeble start, their “Walker Stalkers” podcast took off, having 27 straight episodes that featured either actors or cast members from the show.
From there, Frazier had a harebrained idea, and with the help of fans, the First Annual Walker Stalker Con is now reality, and Nordhoff and Frazier hope to inspire you, too, to tackle what seems impossible.
(And did I mention they also revolutioned waiting in line??)
First things first, tell me about your podcast. How did that get started?
Eric: We met about a year and a half ago. We were both big fans of the TV show “Lost,” and we started connecting that way and then when “Walking Dead” came back on, we just watched it. It’s one of our favorite shows.
James: I saw something on the internet and said, “We gotta get up and watch the last day of filming,” so we got up at 3 or 4 in the morning, drove 4 hours down to Senoia, Georgia and got to see them film. We really went with the hope that maybe we’d get to see the set, maybe we’ll get to meet one actor, but we kind of had the “dream day.” We got to see filming, we got to meet Andrew Lincoln, Laurie Holden, Melissa McBride, Greg Nicotero, Norman Reedus…it was insane! And we came back and we shared that experience and we were just stunned by the number of people that picked up on it the next day. I put it on my legal blog, where I normally get, like, 80 people to look at it a day, and I think we had, like, 8,000. There’s a video of that day on our YouTube channel, too. So, we said, “Well, let’s do a podcast.”
E: Sure, why not? Naturally! [laughs]
J: I mean, it was good, but it was terrible. [laughs] We had screaming kids in the background…it was bad. And we were like, “Well, we can do this better,” and “Let’s see if we can get somebody from the show,” and about three weeks later we got Greg Nicotero to come on and from there it gave us just instant credibility with the cast and crew of “The Walking Dead.” We ran 27 straight episodes with an actor or a crew member on the podcast. It was a great experience, and I think as it developed we realized we really needed to hand the podcast over to our listeners and our fans and not just us doing the interviews. Actually, to be honest, the first episodes, we didn’t really have any real listeners!
E: [laughs] We made up listeners!
J: [laughs] So we HAD to do the interviews, but as we started to add the guests, we did get listeners and we did get callers, so we let them handle the interviews, we just kind of guided them. That’s really what our podcast turned into was a podcast for the fans, which is now what this convention has turned into.
Now, how did the podcast transition into a convention?
E: It was just crazy that we even did this convention, because James has harebrained ideas. We wouldn’t be doing this convention if it wasn’t for his passion and enthusiasm, because I’ve tried to quit this about two or three times. [laughs] You know, it’s a lot of work and it’s a tremendous risk to do a convention.
J: It’s a lot of risk, especially because, you know, we don’t have the money to do this convention. We did the Kickstarter and then we just kept adding guests and this is truly fan-funded. Eric and I haven’t put a dime of our own money into this and the hope is that it continues to be fan-funded by the ticket purchases and those types of things, and it’s coming together. There’s no ‘if’ it’s going to be funded anymore, because the ticket sales have been just overwhelming, but it started out, really, as – I did a little bit of work for Daniel Thomas May who played Allen on “The Walking Dead.” I attended a convention in Orlando with him, because I was visiting family in Orlando and he needed help with an appearance there, so I said, “Hey, I’d be happy to do it.” So, I’m sitting there with him and I’m saying, you know, “I think we can do this. I think we can do a convention and kind of model it after our podcast.” And Sean Clark, who manages Norman Reedus, is sitting three tables away, and Norman was actually supposed to be there but had canceled his appearance, so Sean is sitting there by himself. I go over and I said, “Alright, if I do a convention, does Norman have any availability?” – because I know Norman is at a convention every weekend – but he happened to have availability the first weekend of November, but you know, I was pretty much told by Sean that it probably wasn’t going to happen, but he does have availability. So, I came back, I said, “Eric, let’s do a convention, let’s do it that weekend, so we at least know Norman is available, so there’s a possibility.” So, we started planning this convention and we got a lot of great response from a lot of the second-level actors. Lauren Cohen was the first cast member to be committed. We actually got turned down by Norman initially, and I just kept believing that if we put together a great convention [and] kept adding main cast members that we could potentially get Norman again and we were blessed with the opportunity when he finally said yes and I think Greg Nicotero had a lot to do with that.
E: Greg’s been a big part of this, and that’s why he’s our Guest of Honor at the con. He was the first guest we ever had on our podcast, and really once Greg committed to our con – and by the way: He has seen our silly videos. We make these spoof videos that he’s seen and [to James] he actually came up to you and told you he actually liked the one where we had the spoof of the hitchhiker scene from last season. So, he saw the video and was telling you how great he thought it was and he has just been somebody we’re incredibly blessed to know and he’s just been a real supporter of what we’re doing. He’s just that way with all the fans, honestly, so it’s a no-brianer to have him as the Guest of Honor at the con and when he committed to come to the con, that’s when other things started to break through for other main actors.
I attend lots of different conventions. I’ve always wondered: What goes into organizing a convention?
J: Well, we didn’t think it was that much. [laughs]
E: We have a lot of respect for everybody who puts on conventions.
J: I think we really thought, like, “Hey, we just rent the space and call the actors and then they show up and that’s it,” you know?
E: That’s how he got me into this! [laughs]
J: Because of our podcast, we already had good relations with management and publicists, so we had the ability to contact them, however, the actual logistics of the convention are nuts! I mean, Eric puts together a whiteboard every morning and I walk over, and it’s like, “We’ve got to get these 20 things done today, in order to have it ready for the convention,” and just signage and…
E: And all the panels we have to put together, coordinating the photo ops with the panels…
J: Paying to fly each celebrity out, picking them up at the airport, printing the photos for them to sign, getting them a hotel room, handing them their per diem everyday…
E: Then dealing with the vendors and all that goes into making sure we have the right vendors and dealing with set-up and what time and load-in, et cetera…it’s just a lot.
J: It’s space requirement, hotel minimums…I mean, it’s just stuff you don’t even think of when you go to these things. I mean, yes, we would do it again, but it’s just a ton of work.
You said it was all fan-funded and given all you just said…You have enough money for all this?
E: Well, we raised an initial $15,000 and that helped kick off some things. I think actually that probably that kind of hurt us in the beginning with credibility, like, “Oh, they have to do a Kickstarter to make this thing happen,” For us, we kind of recognized through that 30-day intense campaign, where you’re having to post stuff every 10 to 15 minutes and you’re really interacting, you find out who your core team is and out of that we got our 12 core leaders who are coming to the con and being very involved in the convention. We couldn’t do it without these volunteer leaders – 150 volunteers we have now – and once you add the guests coming, once the Kickstarter was over, you begin selling tickets and slowly but surely, as we announced more and more guests, the tickets started to accelerate, and when we announced Norman Reedus, they really accelerated.
J: And announcing Andrew Lincoln [last Wednesday]? Oh my gosh! No offense to Norman, but his ticket sales…he never does a con.
What sets Walker Stalker Con apart from other conventions, like Dragon Con or Days of the Dead?
J: Well, I think what sets it apart is that [while] we’re both small business owners, we’re not doing this from a business owner perspective. We have done this, totally, the whole time, from a fan perspective, so everything we do, we’re thinking, “How would we want this done, if we were at the convention?” First of all, lines suck. That is the worst part about conventions. I go to San Diego [Comic-Con] every year. My son or myself will pick something and we’ll end up sitting in a line for hours. We are initiating for the first time – no other con has done this – a virtual line system. You walk up to a kiosk, you tell one of the volunteers if you want to see Andy [Lincoln] or Norman, for example – and we’re not doing this with every actor, because not every actor will need this – but you tell them you want to see them. You give them your cell phone number, and then they will send you a message telling you it’s time to get in line for the actor, and you’ll only be 30 or 50 people deep into that line, so literally, you’re probably 10 or 15 minutes away from seeing them when you actually get in line. That way, you don’t have to stand in line all day … so it’s a great opportunity for you to do other things, than spend your day in line. And then also, with that same system, if you’re not ready to see them, you can just hit ‘T,’ I think, for ‘Time,’ and they will extend your wait, like, 30 minutes, so you can keep going, do whatever you want. They’ll send you another notice saying it’s time to get in line. You can keep hitting ‘Time’ as much as you like, although I don’t recommend it, because you might actually end up missing them.
So, in order to do this, do you have caps? Are you selling only a certain amount of photo ops and VIP passes?
J: Yes. For example, the Andrew Lincoln individual photo ops have sold out already. The only other way you can do it is if you buy the op as VIP. We had 200 allotted for him for VIP and 200 allotted for ones you can just buy. His VIP includes a photo and an autograph. We will also be adding a few of the group photos that he’ll be in. I think there will also be a limited number of Andrew Lincoln-Norman Reedus photo ops. It’s only limited because they just don’t have all the time in the world to do these things.
E: He’s only there one day. He can only do a certain number of photos.
J: I think he’s there for 7 hours total. He’s got to break for lunch, he’s got to break for other things.
E: Yeah, he’s got to take photos and he’s got to sign autographs.
J: It is what it is. We’re fortunate he’s just there, period, but we realize not everyone will get to meet him.
I’m curious – As businessmen and as fans, what is your take on paying a celebrity to say hi to you, essentially?
E: I don’t see a problem with it at all. I mean, in a situation like a convention, that’s the way it is set up. I think they should do those things. I mean, there are a lot of people who can run into them and can meet them and get their autograph by chance, but this is a way for them to give back to the fans.
J: You don’t have to [pay], nobody’s forcing you. The thing is is that they’re in demand. Their time is in demand and they’re there. I grew up – I had baseball cards and basketball cards and every now and then I’d talk my parents into going to some baseball card or basketball card convention. I had this fascination as a kid with Joe Frazier, the boxer, because he had the same last name as me, and my dad took me to meet him and I think it was 20 or 30 bucks to get his autograph. It gives you a keepsake, and that’s the biggest thing. And actually, I value the photos over the autographs. Today, I could go on eBay and buy an Andrew Lincoln autograph, if I needed one, but I’d never be able to buy a photo.
E: It’s about the experience and it is about showing that experience.
J: You’ve got that lasting photo that you can always look back on and go, “Man!” Especially with this convention. You’ve got 13 main cast members in one photograph. For “The Walking Dead” actors to even do this is huge and then find another show that’s ever done that and it just hasn’t happened. I mean – “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” – nothing like this has been done.
E: I feel like we’re avoiding the question, but we don’t have the problem with it in the sense that it’s supply and demand, very simply, and we honestly realize that we are, in a sense, business people. Businesses are all built on leverage and marketing is all built on leverage and we are, in essence, leveraging the power of celebrity to come to our convention and that’s how we’re able to cover the costs and the expenses of the convention for us to put on the convention in the first place.
E: Any profit we would make come from ticket sales. We don’t make anything from autographs or photo ops.
Thank you for your time! Is there anything else you’d like to add?