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Stories From The Virtual Conventions: In-House Con and StarNet!

Stories From The Virtual Conventions: In-House Con and StarNet!

With the regular convention season thrown into flux and uncertainty with the global pandemic at hand, there are hundreds of convention attendees, guests, and agents looking for alternative options. Last weekend we got the first rendition of what may be a viable solution for the foreseeable future- virtual conventions!

Taking place over Zoom, the popular video-conference software, both the company Coolwaters Productions and former Star Wars make-up artist Nick Maley have become trailblazers in the field, creating and promoting events that allow fans to engage directly with stars and members from the Star Wars galaxy, just in a new, modern way.

Coolwaters has produced In-House Con, the first virtual convention. They have organized and advertised four weeks of events, with last weekend featuring a Jabba’s Palace reunion with Deep Roy, Corey Dee Williams, Dave Barclay, and Julius LeFlore all coming together, hosted by Coolwaters’ Derek Maki (a recent guest on the Graphcast to promote In-House Con!). Maley brought together friends and colleagues from across the Star Wars spectrum, including Mike Quinn, Tom Spina, members of SWAU, and others to discuss the art of puppetry, having a career as a cameo actor, autograph collecting, the Cantina from A New Hope, The Mandalorian, and much more!



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Members from across the globe attended these events, including some members of the SWAU community.I reached out to a couple to get their thoughts on the debut weekend. Both Spencer Jawitz and Alan Kaltz attended the near-three hour Coolwaters event, and came away pleased with their experiences. “Only Derek and the four actors had video for us to see them,” said Kaltz. “There was a chat room for fans to interact with each other, as well as a Q&A room, for fans to ask questions which was visible by Derek and the actors.” Jawitz added “We did comments in a chat but if you were asking questions, there was a q&a button which went right to Derek so everyone didn’t see it.”

The event got off to a rocky start- “some technical difficulties as Deep Roy couldn’t get his sound right on zoom, but Derek got him in via FaceTime,” but the conversation started soon and flowed for nearly three hours. At one point Williams started playing some bass, and Barclay brought out his restored, operable replica Yoda prop with a promise to bring it to future conventions, and LeFlore talked about the stunts that he helped perform and coordinate at the Pit of Carkoon. “I enjoyed hearing all the stories from each actor learning how they got their roles and experiences behind the scenes in both Star Wars and other films/shows that they worked on,” noted Kaltz.



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By the end of the session, both SWAU members were happy with their experiences. Kaltz declared “Overall, I think the Derek and his staff did an excellent job hosting the event and adjusting for the challenges that they experienced during the event,” and Jawitz agreed, saying “$20 for 4 weeks of panels, autos between $35-$50..It’s perfect for now. Nothing beats personal interaction but this works for now.” And it should be mentioned that In-House Con is offering more personal interaction with their guests for a greater fee, so fans still have a chance to have that one-on-one interaction they are used to with guests.


Sunday brought with it the second virtual convention of the weekend, Nick Maley’s StarNet 1.0. Put on as a way to raise funds for his museum located in Sint Maarten, Maley brought in talent from across Star Wars rather than condense it to a singular theme. The 8-hour virtual show had a similar chat room feature to In-House Con, and had two segments of four hour panels split by a lunch break in between. One cool feature for StarNet was that all participants had access to the entire day’s events, so if participants missed a panel they were able to go back and watch it.



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The morning’s panels featured David Whiteley, a career cameo actor known for roles in Star Wars as well as being an author; legendary puppeteer Mike Quinn discussing his time working with Jim Henson and his career behind the puppets; an autograph hour featuring SWAU’s Steve Grad, Tom Cathey, Andy Luk, and Pete Bendu; and Tom Spina, one of the leading experts in studying the Cantina scene from A New Hope.

The afternoon panel featured David Whiteley and Brendan Alinger (of Propstore) discussing the legacy of famous costume designer John Mollo; Frank Ippolito discussing his career in effects and costume making; an hour of cosplay on display, and ended with a large gathering discussing The Mandalorian and the creation of the costumes, props, and sets.



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Alan Kaltz attended StarNet as well. “Overall, I thought all the panels provided a good look in the creative process from various professionals that work behind the scenes to create Star Wars. Nick did a good job keeping the panels on schedule and offering his own perspectives.” As we stated, all proceeds went directly to Maley’s museum, which is hurting given the lack of tourism and attendees in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. For $6 as an entry fee, this convention hit all the right notes and interests for fans who want to get a deeper appreciation of how Star Wars is made.

Maley also stated he plans to host more conventions and day-long panel events in the future, both to raise money for his museum and to get the stories of the un-sung heroes of Star Wars out there. As a fan of behind-the-scenes work myself, I couldn’t be more excited, and Kaltz agreed: “For me, as someone who has not heard these stories before, this has piqued my interest and I intend to look at each guests’ resources to support them some as best that I can.”



It appears that the first attempts at virtual conventions have gone off quite well! Fans appear to be leaving the events satisfied, and the interaction guests/actors are having with attendees and guests appear to be as intimate and personal as allowed under the circumstances. I think with StarNet and In-House Con providing the foundation, virtual conventions should be a satisfactory filler for in-person shows for the foreseeable future.

Thank you to Alan Kaltz and Spencer Jawitz for sharing their experiences with me and allowing me to quote them for this article.

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