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Exclusive Interview with Crystal Taylor from WiSHCon

Crystal Taylor is a long time con goer and native of Cincinnati. She’s served as a volunteer at several conventions and has attended many, many others. After so many years of attending fandom and general sci-fi cons, she and a group of like-minded women saw the need to have a multi-fandom celebration of Women in the industry. She began working with WiSHCon’s Co-Chair (Kerry Carnell) to develop a convention dedicated to honoring those women across multiple fandoms and genres. Although Crystal isn’t big on horror, her love of sci-fi shows and movies is equal to her passion for working on WiSHCon.

When not working on that, she works for a large banking company and is always making plans for her next convention adventure while binge watching her favorite shows.  Crystal was kind enough to take a break from her busy schedule to speak to use about WiSHCon and what we can look forward to from this convention.

How did the idea for this convention come about? 

We, my co-chair (Kerry Carnell) and I, have known each other for a very long time and have worked on projects together off and on through the years.  We were actually working on another convention that was only sort of like what we’re doing right now and we found them to be so fandom focused.  They didn’t want to broaden their horizons ….like, we came in with the theory that there are women in many shows, movies and genres, that do not get much support and we felt like we had to spread out amongst other fandoms and not be so fandom specific since that really limits what you can do and the kind of message you can send.  So after a while we kind of broke off to do our own thing.  We believe whole-heartedly that WiSHCon should be multi-fandom and not so narrow of view.

I can see how that would benefit you in terms of attracting more attendees to the event.  Particularly when starting up, if you make your focus more broad-based you can garner interest from places that you may not have expected.

The way I was looking at it is…I kind of got involved in that other event not solely based on the fandom itself and in the end my co-chair and I felt that for as much passion as we were putting into this effort, it just didn’t feel like it was enough.  We felt like there was just so much more we could do if we took this much broader approach.

How long ago did you start thinking of WiSHCon and then how much longer was it before you started to put your plan into action?

This is a fun question because a lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them that we started this effort on October of 2015!  So we’ve just been working on this for three months.  It has literally….I mean like something happens every day where we’re like, ‘holy crap, where is this coming from?’  This must be really resonating with people hardcore when they realize what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

It (WiSHCon) is not privately backed by anybody.  There is no large corporation running this, WE are the corporation.  So once you get into that and realize what we’re trying to do, it just kind of takes off, it has been absolutely crazy the last three months.

That should give you a pretty good indication that you’ve identified a niche, a need, where something was lacking.  When that many people jump on a bandwagon that fast it means that there are people out there that are looking for something else.  So many of the original conventions were started way back when by small groups of people and have grown into the giants they are today.

I’ve actually had the opportunity to talk to and become acquaintances with Adam (Malin) of Creation Entertainment over the last couple of months and I’ve gotten some advice from him and advice from others.  The main message I’ve gotten is to keep making it about the passion and the reason that you’re doing this and don’t focus on the money and you are going to soar.

Going into this…we are all volunteers, we don’t make a dime doing this and we will likely never really make a dime.  We are doing this for the event and for the message.  So far keeping it like this has worked out for us and I’ve been very lucky in the people who I’ve come across to bring on to our board.  Like I said earlier, my co-chair and I have been friends for over a decade now and we’ve put together a lot of things revolving around Lord of the Rings and other things of that nature in the past.  Then our other board members….I got really, really lucky…board members and assistants included there are six of us.  We’re a small bunch, but we’re trying to get this done here.

What kind of events can people look forward to when they attend this con?

Oh God – there are so many that we’re working on right now! (laughs) The main thing will be celebrity panels, of course….actors, directors, writers.  We plan to have costume contests and a cosplay red carpet so to speak, that leads up to that so that people can have an opportunity to get really close up pictures of the cosplayers before they go on stage.  This will also allow the cosplayers themselves to show off their costumes and the detail more completely.  We will have trivia, we are attempting to get Geeks Who Drink to be involved with that – we’re still in negotiations with them because we think that would be a really fun weekend night kind of event.  We have some musical guests booked and will have a Saturday night concert.  We have a VIP breakfast scheduled for Sunday morning that will be attended by a couple of our celebrity guests.  The attendance at this breakfast will be limited.

We will have a very large and eclectic vendor room.  We are trying to limit the vendors to primarily handmade or crafted items.

I believe we will also have a celebrity Family Feud of sorts which is still be put together now by one of our assistants.  So we have quite a few things in mind.  We are trying to get the rights to screen some movies/TV shows….we’re trying very hard to get the rights to screen Firefly and have a pajama/movie party night on Friday.

One of our goals is to also have this event be kid-friendly.  We plan to have some crafts and other things for them to do.  We’ve even talked about having some students from the local college where people go to get degrees in childhood development and things like that to do some of their intern or co-op hours with our event and have almost like a little babysitting service so mom and dad can go play for a couple of hours and the kids will still have fun.  We know that families may want to attend together, but that there may be instances where mom and dad don’t want to expose their five-year old to adult language.  We want to make sure that the kids have something to do to keep them entertained while mom and dad have their fun as well.

We’ve talked to local crafters and plan to have some adult crafts as well, like build your own chain mail while the kids are building birdhouses out of Popsicle sticks.  We just wanted to make sure that everyone understands that while we are celebrating these women that everyone is welcome at the event.  We want you there, we want you to enjoy it and we want you to have a good time.

We understand that not all of the panels/events will appeal to every single attendee so we wanted to make sure as we were putting together a schedule of events…an itinerary of things… that if Sallie Jo doesn’t want to go to this panel that she has a vendor room to go look at.  Oh, I forgot to mention that we have YogaQuest coming and they will be doing fandom cosplay yoga sessions!  Which are amazing (laughs).  There will be any number of other things to do at the venue or they can leave and go over to the shopping area near the convention center or to the North Market.  We wanted to ensure that we left time open for everybody to get the most out of their weekend.

You mentioned that you have attended other cons.  Did you use your experience of what you liked and disliked to help design the events for this con?

Oh yeah, definitely, definitely.  Actually one of the main reasons for getting involved with any kind of woman focused event is because at the past cons I’ve been to, the women aren’t highly represented.  I like those characters and want to meet the women who play them.  I like those writers, so learning from that was one of the ways we came up with this idea.  Then we just kind looked at how some of the other conventions like Creation, Wizard World, and Origins actually scheduled their events.  There are some good things about how they did this and some not so good things.  I’ve volunteered at events and one of our other volunteers has been attending conventions as a vendor for over fifteen years so we all have some good and bad experiences that we brought to the table.

One of my tasks is taking care of the volunteers.  Recruiting, scheduling things of the nature and one of the first things I stated in my business plan for the volunteers was that we were going to be sure that they got designated breaks.  They will have two people giving them breaks at all times and we’re going to feed them.  They are not going to starve, they are not going to get thirsty, if they need to sit down, they can sit down as long as they’re doing their job.  I never really received that kind of consideration when volunteering at past conventions.  You kind of realize you’ve got ten minutes to run, use the bathroom, get something to eat and drink and get back to your post.  All of us on the board are prepared to do any position at any time to make sure that someone can get a break and get something to eat.  We’re all on a level playing field, we’re all volunteers.  We plan to take care of everyone that way that we’d like to be taken care of ourselves.

What decision process was used in deciding on your guest panelists? 

To be honest, when we first started sending out invites we picked our own favorite shows.  We thought we’d start with a small group of shows that we all like and that we’d like to see represented and then we’d see if we had the space or ability to add more.  The more we started to get our ideas down and out there, the more I saw suggestions come to us through Twitter.  So we pulled back and took a look.  I guess we just didn’t realize the massive scope of sci-fi and horror shows that feature these amazing women on camera and have these amazing women behind the camera.  It then became, ‘how many shows can I list?’ and I think we sent out probably close to 500 invitations over several fandoms, I mean like 10 to 20 fandoms.

How has the response been?

It’s been interesting.  I haven’t heard back from everyone but sometimes the agents don’t deal with these kinds of things and I have to go back and find the manager.  So you start with the first contact information you see and if you don’t get a response, you go back and dig a little deeper.

Some have been very responsive and they fall just outside of our price point so to speak where we can’t really afford them.  Others have not been so nice and they don’t take us very seriously so with those we just thank them for them time and say we hope to do business with them in the future and keep it moving.  We can’t stop and focus on the negative; we have to keep moving forward with the positive.

OK, you have no budget constraints and it’s a perfect world, who would you like to invite to the con?

(laughs) Every woman from The Walking Dead; every woman from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D…. honestly, if I had no budget constraints whatsoever, those are the two shows that I’d go after immediately.  Then I’d follow it up with The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, the new show Shadowhunters… I’d just go after every single one of them.  And we have, they are just not quite affordable at this point.

For those that fell just out of our price range we let their agents or managers know that for a one day appearance their fees are just not going to work out for us right now.  The managers/agents have, a couple of times, come back with the names of other talent that they represent who’s appearance fees are more in our price range, what do you think?  We have gotten a couple of people out of that.  We keep things completely up front and honest with the agents we don’t want anybody to think we’ve got this unlimited budget and we’ve established some good contacts for the future when we get to the point where we may not have an unlimited budget, but we’ll have a bigger one and we can say ‘Hey, remember us?’

The con is being held in Columbus, OH.  Is there any special significance attached to this choice?

Originally I was ready to go into battle to get the con to be held in Cincinnati because I’m a life-long Cincinnati-er and I love Cincinnati.  After we reviewed everything, looked at everything, there was just no denying how much better Columbus was an option.

What are some of the things that sold you on Columbus?

First of all, the airport; Columbus is one of the cheapest cities in the US to fly in and out of.  So when talking about flying guests in, people flying in who wanted to be attendees….this was just the logical choice.  That was the biggest decision maker on a financial aspect.  In the last two to three years Columbus has just exploded with shopping, new restaurants – like these mom and pop places that you’re not going to find anywhere else.  It’s had a really steady growth over the last few years, not just in size, but in what the city can offer people who visit.  Like our hotel is right next to a place that’s called the North Market, which is a place that sells fresh produce, organic restaurants, things you can’t find anywhere else.  It’s an amazing little area.

You mentioned earlier that you were planning to have a large and varied vendor room.  Can I take that to mean that vendors are responding well to your event?

Vendors have been responding, that is for sure, we don’t have anybody signed on just yet as it’s still just a little too early in the year to get commitments, which is totally understandable.  We’ve got people who make fandom jewelry, people who make fandom candy, and then just general merchandise folks.  We’re trying to stick to just handcrafted items and vendors who work that way.  We don’t necessarily want the person who mass produces fandom t-shirts to come in.  But if it’s something where they are actually putting the pieces together at home, like they are actually doing the ironing then we would be willing to look at that.  We don’t want somebody that ordered a whole bunch of stuff on-line somewhere and then is going to mark it up at least 150% so that they are going to make their money back and then some.  We don’t want that.  We want somebody who has put the time into their craft.

There will be…. Like we have an author that is signed on to be a guest and she will have a table where she can sell her books.  To me that’s hand-crafted because she wrote that, she did the research, she did the blood, sweat and tears of staying up all night editing.  So things like that we will consider as hand-crafted even though the books may have been printed in large quantities.

We plan to ensure that our vendors are well taken care of as well.

You are raising funds through the crowd funding site Indiegogo, how is the fund-raising going?

Today was a really big day! (laughs) We actually sold… we had two available perks called World Security Council that allowed the people who were interested in this to escort their favorite guest to the stage and then introduce them.  There were two, and we sold out of those!  They were $500 each.  So we went from being 8% funded to 19% funded.  Just over double the number.

How much longer are you keeping the fund open?

Tomorrow it will flip over to 14 days, so more two weeks.  Our bare minimum needed is $5500 and we are sitting at just over $2000 right now.  So a good handful of people buying those five dollar bracelets or donating ten dollars and we’re going to hit it.

What would you like to say to people who may be interested in the con but who haven’t yet decided to contribute?

I try to look at it as if it were me seeing this event pop up.  We all work hard for our money and you don’t want to give – even if its five bucks – you don’t want to put that money into something that you’re not sure is really going to happen.  All I can say to people is that we already have legal, binding contracts with our guests.  This is real and this is happening.  Even if we end up having to change the venue, it is still happening.  We’re bound at this point but more importantly, we are so committed to this event that even if we had to hold it in an open air tent, this event is going to happen, because it needs to happen.  Not just because people have put money into it, but because women have literally the minority voice, not only in entertainment, but in life.  It’s time for that to stop.  So that five dollars that you’re considering can make that happen.

How many people are you hoping will attend this inaugural event?  What is your minimum goal and what is your stretch goal?

Our low goal, and we’re kind of basing prices and “who we can afford” based on having 300 people attend.  Our sell out number is 1000.  That would be amazing, and we are hoping.  We’ve got a couple of guests who are reviewing contracts right now that once announced will cause everybody’s heads to explode.  We are hoping that we will be able to make this announcement very soon.

People interested in WiSHCon can follow them at:

Twitter

WiSHCon.com where you can subscribe to a newsletter that will keep you informed of all the latest guest announcements

Facebook

Indiegogo Make donations and pick up perks

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