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SYFY WIRE Interviews

As comic cons strive to adapt, HomeCon explores a new way to connect fans with celebrities

By Bryan Cairns
HomeCon 2020 logo

These days, social distancing and self-isolating can be scary, tedious, and lonesome. To alleviate the boredom and raise people’s spirits, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate’s Paul Amos and Batwoman’s Rachel Skarsten have teamed up to organize HomeCon, a fully online fan convention. Its motto — "Be Connected. Be Entertained. Be Safe." — really says it all.

The virtual event, taking place April 10-11, will allow participants to attend various live panels featuring TV celebrities including Amos, Skarsten, Casey Cott (Riverdale), Cas Anvar (The Expanse), Ben Lewis (Arrow), Chester Rushing (Stranger Things), Dominique Provost-Chalkey (Wynonna Earp), Inbar Lavi (Lucifer), Anna Silk (Lost Girl), Nicole Maines (Supergirl), and many more. In addition, people can interact 1:1 (via video chat) with their favorite actors, with all proceeds going toward charities.

As co-founder Amos explains: The virtual con takes place over "a Twitch TV forum... You pay $4.99 — or $3 with Amazon Prime — to come on to our TV station." All proceeds will go to charity, and instead of packing into a crowded convention center and standing in line, con-goers can have a chance to listen in on "panels" and participate in meet-and-greets from the comfort of their own homes.

The masterminds behind the ambitious and entertaining endeavor — Amos and Skarsten — recently spoke with SYFY WIRE on Zoom (keeping with that virtual theme) about the genesis of HomeCon, giving back to the comic con community, the importance of human interaction, and just having fun. 

HomeCon 2020 logo

With all the social distancing, how are you keeping busy during these crazy times?

Skarsten: Well, [HomeCon], first and foremost. I actually feel really blessed. I got to come back to my hometown of Toronto to be close to my family. Even though I can’t be physically with them, because my mom is older and I was just really worried about her, my brother is with her now. He had moved back in with her, so she has someone. But, just in case anything went wrong … I feel for people who are so far away from their loved ones right now. So that is one thing I feel grateful for. If anyone has clean water to drink, food in their fridge, at this point you just have to consider yourself so blessed.

In terms of keeping myself busy, I did a seven-day series on Instagram, talking to different inspirational people about life, but also how it pertains to now. In a way, I feel a little busier than I’ve ever been before. But, also with the show [Batwoman], while we didn’t finish the season — we were only two episodes away from finishing — there was an anticipation of a time off.

Actors are so acutely prepared for something like this. We’re told we are unemployed all the time. We have months and months of nothing to do and nobody holding us. Many actors I’ve spoken to have sort of just said, “Well, you know, for us, this is par for the course.”

Where did the idea for HomeCon stem from?

Skarsten: Basically, it was Paul’s idea. He comes to me with an idea a week. Ninety-nine percent of them are bad ideas that could get both of us in a lot of trouble. This one I said was a genius idea.

Amos: After lockdown happened, and the world got shut down, I was trying to figure out if I could do something that was worthy. I had cons that I was supposed to attend. I basically went onto Instagram, asked a bunch of fans if they wanted to message me, and I would get back to a fan every day and have a Zoom chat, much like this. The response was overwhelming.

I started doing them and people were like, “This is the best thing ever. This is better than going to a con because you are in my house. I’m in your house with a glass of wine and we’re just shooting the sh**.” I thought, “Oh my God. That would be really good if we did a comic con where maybe instead of signing, we call people. I mentioned it to Rachel. She said, “Wow, you’re dangerous.” At that point, I had to clarify. “Are you OK? Are you feeling all right?”

We just went from there. We assembled a crack squad from there. That was 12 days ago. We all got on a Zoom conference call and we started trying to dream up what it looked like.

There will be [participants from] 15 different shows, with show panels including Vagrant Queen, Wynonna Earp, Lost Girl, Lucifer, Supergirl, Arrow, Batwoman, Expanse, Watchmen, and Riverdale. We have people [from] all these shows, and you will be able to watch them for $4.99. Then the traditional signing tables are basically the 1:1 Zoom calls. They will be five minutes for $50.00.

All of the proceeds [will go to charity], 10 percent of which will go to our [choice], First Responders First, which is helping to get [personal protective equipment] in the hands of healthcare workers. Then the actors will donate [the rest] to their charity of choice.

Skarsten: And we got 10 people who were crazy enough to agree to do this. When we told them all in the beginning, they were like, "This is great. This is great." And we were like, "And it’s going to be in two weeks." Everyone was like, "OK ... "

We have to give so much credit to the people who are with us. Paul had the idea, and we are great hype men and are fortunate enough to know so many actors and roped them all into doing it and got them excited. But doing all the backend of something like this, the actual coding of websites and the streaming platforms …

Amos: We crashed the server when we first announced it. We had so much volume, we fried the server. Now, we are on the biggest server you can possibly get because the volume of traffic going through … This stuff isn’t cheap.

We are working with this incredible company in Los Angeles. They are one of the only people in the world that can pull it off. If you can imagine, what we are trying to do is essentially an awards show, of sorts. We have to have these panels, back-to-back-to-back, and we have to feed it through a station that then broadcasts it out to Twitch. And it has overlays, so it all looks good and looks polished.

Skarsten: Everyone is obviously patching in from their own house, and we are all coming up on the panel together. We can all see one another and interact.

Amos: It’s going to be back to back. Then, we are going to restream overnight, so it’s a global audience. The big thing was to try and bring the community of people, who have nothing to really look forward to in terms of comic conventions, and this is their community. This is where they get together. This is where they get to express themselves and be with each other and feel comfortable with each other and safe. We wanted to create a community forum online, where all those communities can come together, so nobody really feels alone in the middle of this crisis. We wanted to make it affordable. We wanted to make it fun, safe. Everybody can have an experience [for] $5 and a really unique experience, where you are talking to us in our house for $50.00. And you know it’s going to a good cause.

Skarsten: I think the other thing, too, is that every actor participating in HomeCon has gone to comic cons in the past, or had comic cons coming up, and each and every one of us feels really grateful that we’ve been able to be on shows that have brought us into the community. I don’t just speak for myself. I know I speak for the other actors involved, that we just wanted to give something back to that community and also to the charity of First Responder, who are actually now doing the real work.   

Do you see this as the future of conventions? Is this where we are heading?

Skarsten: I think we’re very careful to say nothing can replace human interaction. It’s really a beautiful thing to have a photo op with someone and give them a hug or shake someone’s hand when they come to the table. I really hope that type of comic con continues to exist and thrive. But I do think this is another complimentary way to have comic cons for all the people for whom cons are not accessible because they can’t afford the flights. They can’t afford the hotels. Now this whole world is open to them as well. I think it is the future, but not the exclusive future.

Amos: From the feedback we’re getting, that is the case. There are people who have never been able to afford it, or [can't attend because of a] disability. It’s the sheer logistic problem for them to get to a comic-con with all those people, people with agoraphobia, in terms of mental issues of why they can’t be around large groups of people. But this is the opportunity for them to be there, with that community, with the actors that they love, on the shows that they love. That’s got to be a good thing.

Is there anything else participants should know?

Amos: There’s one big thing I’d like to add. I’m looking forward to the Vagrant Queen panel, which we really moved heaven and hell to get in there. It came in a bit late. We moved the schedule aside. If we can get out, in order to have 1:1 chats with the talent, everybody will have to subscribe.   

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