The Fandemic Tour, a new line of celebrity/comics events, kicks off this weekend with its first show in Sacramento, with headlining guests Norman Reedus, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Bruce Campbell, the Bellas and so on – and even a few comics guests including Neal Adams and Mike Golden. The first show was initially planned to be in Houston last September, but got wiped out by Hurricane Harvey.
Recently, I was able to speak with show runner John Macaluso about what it was like to have first show cancelled by a hurricane and then get started up again, the crowded con schedule and other matters. Macaluso is a colorful interview who worked as an executive in the garment industry before joining Wizard World as CEO back in 2012, where he got bit by the pop culture bug. He’s back i the pop culture world, a space he enjoys working in greatly.
THE BEAT: So how have you been?
MACALUSO: So as you know, I had my first show all set up and ready to go in Houston last September, and then Hurricane Harvey came and destroyed the 1000 hours of work that I put into this show. It felt like, for lack of a better term, a male miscarriage. I felt terrible for the people of Houston, obviously. But I went into a total depression. It was terrible. I had to have my friend Joey almost smack me in the face to get me out of it. But all of a sudden I got a phone call that informed me that my old company had dropped out of Sacramento. It’s has always been a great city, with very loyal and wonderful fans, so I’m going to do my show there.
We have a great guest list but going forward with the rest of the tour we’re going to roll things out very slowly. The industry is so overwhelmed by shows right, that it’s almost like a joke. But our next show is in Houston, which is going to be the third largest city in the country. Currently they have only one show, Comicpalooza. They also had Space City which is now owned by the city. Basically you have eight million people, and my thought was, why am I not doing a show there?
THE BEAT: So you will be doing Houston, a year after the first time which, not to further depress you, but it will be hurricane season again.
MACALUSO: Right, but this time I have hurricane insurance.
THE BEAT: [a long pause.] Ohhhhhhhh.
THE BEAT: I guess there’s a learning curve on some of this stuff.
MACALUSO: You know previously we never got hit by a hurricane! Obviously, we’ve returned all the money to fans. The only thing that we that we really got stuck for, when all was said and done, was the PR that we did, the travel back and forth and so on. We had to buy aisle signs and welcome signs but we’ll use them this year.
THE BEAT: You had everything set up and ready to go.
MACALUSO: Yes. And we had a great guest list and this time we will basically have the same list of guests. Again, the venues, the artists, the celebrities, have all been so unbelievably kind to me. And they’re, I guess, they’re just happy that I’m getting back into it. You’ve never been to one of my shows, but for me it’s like I’m inviting you to my house. That’s the way I want to make you feel. And that’s the intention of how I’m going to make the attendees feel.
THE BEAT: You’ve had some time to reflect on getting back into this space, which I know you like a lot, but with all the competition now, did it seem daunting?
MACALUSO: You know what I missed most is the interaction of making so many people happy If you can walk around the event and see that people are having a good time and they’re enjoying themselves. Coming from the garment business where everybody is just f*cking miserable, it was fun to see people enjoying themselves! And you’re also able to make money at it. For me, you create these great relationships. And it’s fun.
THE BEAT: So what do you think of some of the variations in the convention model that are coming out, such as ACE Comic Con [running a show the very same weekend in Seattle] and last year’s Id!0t show.
MACALUSO: I think that the fans now have so many different options of going to so many different shows. With my previous show, we did a very good job logistically, including providing not volunteers but staff to take celebrities to their photo ops so that they’re on time and so on. That’s another goal, to create an experience that would make fans say “you know, that was a well run event.”
THE BEAT: Okay, another thing that’s been on many people’s minds of late is pricing. I know in looking at your show, some of the photo ops are pretty pricey. A lot of people are wondering if there is a ceiling for this?
MACALUSO: Well, first of all the world changed once the agencies got involved. Now guests are asking $200, $300 even $500,000 for a day. People can say whatever they want about the prices but quite frankly if you pay someone a hundred thousand dollars and you don’t price it out correctly you can get tapped for $50,000-60,000.
THE BEAT: With all the shows, the minimums that top celebrities are getting are going up and up.
MACALUSO: They’re ridiculous. But it’s reality for now. I will say, if you look at my celebrity list, they’re great people who love their fans. Milo Ventimiglia used to come to my shows, and he had 25 people and now it’s 10 times that. Or Norman Reedus, how he interacts with fans.
THE BEAT: Milo is interesting because he had one go round with Heroes but now he’s back and bigger.
MACALUSO: Or look at Jon Bernthal. He’s a great guy and a huge animal lover. His father is an attorney and is the head of the entire Humane Society of the United States. Also main character in The Wolf of Wall Street was my wife’s first husband, which Jon was in, so we became friends over that.
THE BEAT: It’s a small strange world! Not too long ago I interviewed Chris Jackson who runs Planet Comicon, and we talked about the big show conflict coming up next year [Planet Comicon, WonderCon, C2E2 and Silicon Valley Comic Con will all be on the same weekend.] He said he hopes that show runners start to talk a little bit more about this in advance. Do you do you think there’s any way to do that, of show runners getting together a little bit more?
MACALUSO: I’ve never met Chris Jackson but I understand he is just a delightful wonderful guy. And I hear his show is fantastic. But I’ll tell you, look at the C2E2 weekend we had this year. I went to Walker Stalker in Rosemont, the same weekend, and I think it was the biggest they’ve had. C2E2 must have had 40-50,0000 people. I don’t know anything really about Silicon Valley but from what I understand they were very busy. So, as you wrote, if there were three shows within a hundred and eighty mile radius on the same day I wouldn’t necessarily be concerned.
But I’m willing to talk to anyone. There’s going to be a lot of fallout in the industry because there are too many people that really don’t know what they’re doing and running shows that have long, long waits to get in and so on. There are total clusterf•cks. It’s not like everybody who thinks they can put on a show, can actually put on a show. They think it’s easy, but it’s not. They see the first tidal wave coming and don’t know how to ride it. Buckle up.
THE BEAT: How many shows do you see Fandemic eventually running? Do you have an idea or are you just going to grow territory by territory?
MACALUSO: Really, I’m playing it by ear. Quite frankly I’d rather have one unbelievably giant big fantastic show. Houston is certainly capable of having this kind of show, because the convention center is so big and there are so many people. But really, I don’t know. We’ll see where the jury takes us. I just want to be able to give the fans a great experience. Our mantra is “take care of the fan take care of the fans take care of the fans.” I want to give the vendors a really nice experience, the celebrities a nice experience. When all is said and done I want everyone to walk away saying “You know, that was a good time.”
Fandemic Tour Sacramento tickets are on sale here.
UPDATE: This post has been updated with photos from this weekend’s first Fandemic show.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.