Utah’s passion for all things pop culture was on full display Wednesday morning as costume-clad fans and members of the press packed a movie theater at the Megaplex at Jordan Commons in South Jordan.
The hullabaloo wasn’t for a movie premiere though — instead it was the first official press conference announcing guests and changes for FanX: Salt Lake Comic Convention’s September event.
The list of guests announced was lofty — by far the largest for any initial announcement at any FanX event in the past, and the fans noticed.
“We wanted to send a really strong message that we’re going to go really big and solid this time,” Farr said of the announcement of nearly two dozen guests pegged for the fall convention. “It’s hard to keep secrets, and hard to not share. It’s always fun to tell people and see how they respond.”
Though the convention announced Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom in “Harry Potter,” Patrick in “Me Before You,” Jamie Bradley in “The Syndicate”) prior to the event, the celebrity lineup now features:
- Keifer Sutherland: Jack Bauer in “24,” Ben Carson in “Mirrors,” Tom Kirkman in “Designated Survivor”
- Christina Ricci: Kat in “Casper,” Wednesday in “The Addams Family,” Trixie in “Speed Racer,” Lizzie Borden in “The Lizzie Borden Chronicles,” Penelope in "Penelope"
- Dolph Lundgren: Drago in “Rocky IV,” King Nereus in “Aquaman,” Andrew Scott/GR13 in “Universal Soldier”
- Ryan Hurst: Gerry Bertier in “Remember the Titans,” Lump Hudson in “The Ladykillers,” Sgt. Ernie Savage in “We Were Soldiers,” Beta in “The Walking Dead,” Chick Hogan in “Bates Motel”
- Jason Patric: Max in “The Losers,” Shakes in “Sleepers,” Michael in “The Lost Boys,” Officer Alex Shaw in “Speed 2: Cruise Control”
- Lesley-Ann Brandt: Larissa Diaz in “Gotham,” Mazikeen in “Lucifer,” Guts in “Painkillers,” Naevia in “Sparticus”
- Sebastian Roché: Balthazar in “Supernatural,” Martin Heusmann on “The Man in the High Castle,” Mikael on “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals,” Yuri Landau in “A Walk Among the Tombstones”
- Carlos Valdes: Cisco Ramon/Vibe in “The Flash,” “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” “Arrow” and more
- Danielle Panabaker: Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost in “The Flash,” Layla in “Sky High,” Phoebe North in “Yours, Mine & Ours,” IS in “Read It and Weep,” Jenna in “Friday the 13th"
- Lindsay Jones: Ruby Rose in “RWBY,” Hilda in “X-Ray and Vav,” Kimball/Apovos and more in “Red vs. Blue”
- Kara Eberle: Weiss Schnee in “RWBY,” “BlazBlue”
- Arryn Zech: Blake Belladonna in “RWBY,” “BlazBlue,” Emily Grey in “The Chorus Trilogy,” “Red vs. Blue”
- Charles Martinet: Mario/Luigi and more in the Mario series of video games, Arnie in “Nine Months,” Paarthurnax in “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”
- Megan Follows: Anne Shirley in the “Anne of Green Gables” film series, Catherine de Medici in “Reign,” Diane in “Lie Exposed”
- Jonny Cruz: Lucio in “Overwatch,” Ricardo in “Small Timers,” Jordan Cross in “Hitman”
- Kel Mitchell: Invisible Boy in “Mystery Men,” various roles in “All That,” himself in “Kenan and Kel,” Jay Jay in “Rob Dyrdek’s Wild Grinders,” Double G in “Game Shakers”
- Rebecca Mader: Jocelyn in “The Devil Wears Prada,” Zelena/Kelly West in “Once Upon a Time,” Dr. Charlotte Lewis in “Lost”
- Lana Parrilla: Regina Mills/Evil Queen in “Once Upon a Time,” Teresa Ortiz in “Boomtown,” Sarah Gavin in “Lost,” Trina Decker in “Swingtown”
According to Farr, locating the press conference at the Megaplex made the announcements all the more exciting.
“When you’re showing pictures and everything, it’s so much easier to be a part of it … just seeing (things) on the big screen makes all the difference,” he said.
The nicer seating, bigger screen and long list of celebrity guests weren’t the only changes to the press conference: those in attendance got a treat with the surprise appearance of FanX regular Jess Harnell.
Harnell is a prolific voice actor, though many know and love his work as Wakko Warner in the “Animaniacs” Cedric in “Sofia the First,” not to mention countless other shows and even his work with is band, Rock Sugar.
According to Harnell, the decision to come to the press conference was a sudden one, but once the invitation rolled in, he knew he had to make it.
His appearance at the conference also stood in as an official announcement that he’s planning to come as a guest to the fall fan convention.
“Yep, I’m coming – truth is, if I wasn’t officially coming to FanX, I’d be coming anyway,” he quipped, of just how many times he’s been to the event. “I’ve said it before … this is hands down my favorite convention.”
Harnell said he attends 8-10 conventions a year, so the fact that two of them are usually FanX is a clear sign of his love for Salt Lake and the people here.
“I go every time and the people here are so enthusiastic,” he said, noting that he’s the envy of most of his friends back home, who also want to come to FanX.
“It’s a great experience … it really is a different feel at this con,” he said.
“Aren’t we lucky that he would do this for us?” Farr noted of his last minute trip to Utah for the press conference. “We’re so fortunate he’s so supportive of what we do.”
A lot of it, Farr said, comes down to the people here.
“We do try to listen to what people want to make sure people feel like they’re heard,” he said of guest announcements and updates to the convention. “We can’t make everybody 100% happy 100% of the time, but you do your best to make things as good as you can.”
That goodness has started with the fan response to the onslaught of guests, something Farr said was partially due to a delay in announcements in relation to previous years.
According to Farr, Charles Martinet, who voices the characters of Mario and Luigi, has gotten a pretty tremendous response from fans, especially compared to other big names like Keifer Sutherland and Dolph Lundgren.
Another big response has come from the announcement of cast members from “RWBY,” as well as “Lost,” “Flash” and more.
“When selecting guests, you try to make your best bet of who would be exciting for fans,” Farr said. There’s research we do, but what really pays off is when people say they're excited about them.”
As to changes for the event, one of the first big ones is the Loyalty Launch pricing of 30% off tickets extending past the first large wave of guest announcements, with discounted tickets on sale through Father’s Day, making it the best time financially to snag passes.
A big shift will also be coming for those who purchase VIP passes, which will come with additional perks such as a VIP Lounge, as well as swag upgrades such as a slingback backpack and vouchers to the merchandise booth.
The event will also include added attractions to keep people engaged throughout the show, whether in panels or just wandering the floor.
“The key for me is just that we have so many wonderful people that help make this happen and that’s the magic,” Farr said of the event and its staff. “I’ve been able to be surrounded by amazing people that just make great things happen so many times. If anybody comes up to me and says, ‘Oh, you’ve done a great thing,’ I never feel worthy of that comment because there are so many other people that contribute.”
As to the press conference itself, Farr said another highlight was the cosplay.
“It was incredible to see the turnout with the cosplay community,” he said. “The thing that’s really fun about that is they are part of the entertainment at the event. The great support that they’ve given us is phenomenal. I was talking to someone as I was walking in and they told me it took three hours to get into costume and makeup for a one hour appearance. That’s the type of gift that these people give.”