News is still coming fast from last week’s San Diego Comic-Con, but we are already thinking ahead to the official Star Trek Las Vegas Convention that kicks off next week on August 2nd. TrekMovie talked exclusively to Gary Berman, co-founder of Creation Entertainment who puts on the annual Vegas con, about what to expect from this year’s STLV along with what may be next for Creation and Star Trek.
STLV is getting bigger
Obviously last year in Vegas was huge with the 50th anniversary…
Yeah! That was such a nice event with so many people who had been to our conventions all over the country and Canada and even in London, all coming together. It was a tough ticket to get. We sold those 6,000 seats out and that was it. We could have sold more if we had done the sort of Comic-Con thing but that has never been our thing. As we have talked about, I have always wanted to do theatrical events that people would look at in that way. If they are coming from such great distances to see something or someone, we didn’t want to have the possibility of them not being able to get in.
You did five days last year and you are doing five days again this year, is that the new normal?
Not necessarily. It took some years to get everyone internally on the same page with five day, but I think we have found that when we have done it we need the time. The franchise is so big with so many branches, to cover it all we need the time. And people need break time being that it is Vegas. It will be hard this year to squeeze everything in. Are we really going to say no to having a panel like the one for “The Inner Light?” These are things that unprecedented to have so we can’t say no. We could use another day, but I don’t want to kill anybody.
The TNG 30th reunion and more special panels for 2017
The “Inner Light Panel” is to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that episode, how did that come together?
Sir Patrick [Stewart] wanted to do a panel on “The Inner Light.” Patrick has been great and he supporting his son [“Inner Light” guest star Daniel Stewart]. For us to get a second panel with him for no other reason than him being a cool guy and doing it for the fans it’s all great. And his son is going to be there along with [“Inner Light” writer] Morgan [Gendel] and Margot Rose, I don’t think she has ever done a convention, at least not one of ours.
What else are you most excited about for this year?
Well what I am most excited about isn’t necessarily a new thing – it is something we have done forever – and that is to see everybody. For some reason as we get older it seems more and more important to seeing this loving and passionate supporting group of fans that we see once a year and they are still coming and they are – as we are – still believers in Gene Roddenberry’s philosophy.
Are there any firsts or rare moments this year?
One of things – like getting Whoopi Goldberg last year – was to get [astronaut and TNG guest star] Dr. Mae Jemison as a guest. Of course you know her distinguished career but it is also the tie to Nichelle [Nichols] that we want to honor at the convention.
You are doing a special 30th anniversary Star Trek: The Next Generation cast reunion event this year. How difficult was it to get them all together?
It is very difficult to get them all together at the same time in their lives and careers. I don’t believe that Sir Patrick is doing that many conventions. I did read that he enjoys doing Las Vegas in terms of the city and we have always tried to be supportive to him and he has always been nice to us. And any time we can have him really ups the convention itself and having them all together really does.
There was a bit of controversy about the event around a separate ticket and then you guys made a change based on feedback, can you talk about that?
The majority of our shows are three-day shows and Vegas is usually a four day, and we had this fifth day and we wanted to have a night event as we like to fill the space we have. So when they and Sir Patrick all agreed to be together we jumped at the chance. It was never advertised as something that would be part of any package, but we did announce it as a separate package people felt that they should have it and after internal discussion we realized that “Hey, these fans have been great to us and to Star Trek and we can return the favor.” And the celebrities were super nice to us and we set an agreement and we were able to do it. That worked out as people let their voices be known and we reacted as fast as we could. In the end it worked out great and we couldn’t be happier.
Making STLV more affordable
This brings up an issue about have a lot of fans have noted that Star Trek Las Vegas has become more expensive over the years. What kinds of things are you guys doing to find a way to make it more affordable for those who can’t afford all the options?
Yeah. I have been going to conventions as a fan for over 40 years and obviously since running them. And yes the prices have gone up but then again you can’t buy bubble gum for a penny either anymore either. I have the poster for our first convention and it was $1.50 to get in and people were complaining about the price. Yeah it is expensive and often it isn’t the most expensive part as people are flying long distances and paying for hotel rooms and the food. It is a big commitment financially so what we have to do is make sure we are delivering and make sure we are trying to get better.
One of the things we have brought to the whole genre to conventions is presenting these stars in a theatrical way. Star Trek conventions used to be just a guest getting up there for an hour and answering questions, but now we have celebrity hosts and we have the house band up there so we have music all day. We have a rock concert on Saturday night too. We do complimentary karaoke on Friday night where the fans actually get to have celebrities as their back-up singers.
We have to deliver better and more which I think we are doing based on surveys and feedback that we get. But people have to realize that our ticket costs – as are anybody’s – are based the cost of producing the event. The celebrities are remunerated and that has to be reflected. If you break it down, I still think it is a pretty good deal.
One of the things that people love about events like Comic-Con is that it has a lot of behind-the-scenes people, but they are not necessarily big autograph draws. Are you guys going out of your way to bring more of these people with interesting insider stories?
Yes. These guys are equally as important as the stars themselves, even though they are not going to sell a lot of autographs or photo ops. But that doesn’t mean they are not interesting to hear or even in many cases, they are more interesting to hear from. A lot of them are being brought to us by startrek.com. A lot of them have written books and they come with that. We continue to have Brannon, Doug Drexler, Andre Bormanis, Ron D. Moore, and the other Ron More, Ira Steven Behr, the Okudas [Mike and Denise] are regulars. I think Michael Westmore has been a huge honor for us and a big hit as he takes a celebrity and recreates their character on stage. So yeah we are making that outreach because our audience wants it.
Star Trek: Discovery at STLV
CBS and you have has announced that there will be Star Trek: Discovery panel with some cast and creatives on Wednesday along with the exhibit of props and costumes…
We are very excited about that and have been working hard to make it happen. Star Trek Las Vegas has always been a place that covers all the incarnations of Star Trek and we always love it when there is a new one coming because we have always tried to have some sort of scoop.
We are fervently hoping the show is fantastic and we are supporting it as best that we can. Any Star Trek is going to be good for us as the fans are going to be there as they have been for decades.
The future of the Rio
You guys moved to the Rio Hotel after Star Trek: The Experience closed at the Hilton. Any thoughts on how long that relationship is going to last, any thoughts on a new location?
The actual convention facilities are pretty extraordinary in terms of the fact that it is part of a hotel. It is not those cold, concrete kind of places where some of the expos held at like the Las Vegas Convention Center. In terms of the convention facility, the Rio is pretty state of the art and it is big and we are using every bit of space now. We are really trying to max it out.
So that part is great and I believe they are doing renovations on the rooms which have improved. We do look each time the contract comes up to see what is available. Every time the contract comes up we do a full scouring of the city. Despite all the rooms we can sell, it is pretty hard to get a location, it really is. You would think anyone would snap at it, but that is actually not the case. And you don’t want to go to something like the Mandalay Bay Expo Center, where rooms start being $250 a night because they know there is a big convention in town. We don’t want to do that to our fans.
Conventions outside of Las Vegas
Let’s talk about your Continuing Voyage conventions outside of Vegas – which are your unofficial Star Trek cons – are you looking to continue those and maybe expand to more cities?
We are doing them in [San Francisco, Chicago, and Parsippany, NJ] in September and October. And we hope to add more in the future. We have to see how people enjoy the new series and how successful we are in getting the celebrities.
I would like to do more events officially because I find working with the studio to be great. I think there are time limitations. It is hard to get support from all quarters to add something. But from our perspective I would love more official conventions.
What about Grand Slam, which was held in Pasadena [CA] for a long time? Are you going to bring that back?
Here is the thing. There been a big sea change with conventions over the year. The shows where celebrities will come and sit there and charge for their autograph, that has changed everything. If you remember at Grand Slam the autographs were free. I remember having the whole Voyager cast out there including Kate [Mulgrew] and they were there for hours for free and then there is the realization that people were not coming to the convention, they are just coming to get autographs. Besides not being cool, the celebrity’s evaluation of their presence has changed. So something like Pasadena is tough. And the package is tough to put together is tough, that includes autographs.
So why not just do one of these Continuing Voyages events in the Los Angeles area somewhere?
I’m not saying that we wouldn’t. Although L.A. is a bit close to Vegas, but not saying we wouldn’t. I think we are going to have to see what happens. I hope that Star Trek: Discovery is this huge, tremendous hit. I know that everyone is working like dogs to make it happen.
Hard to get celebrities – including Kelvin movie stars
Who is your white whale? Who have you been trying to get to Star Trek Las Vegas but can never seem to land?
After having Whoopi Goldberg and Kirstie Alley last year? We tried twenty years in a row to get Whoopi. It’s not like we casually called last year, we really tried. And we really tried with Kirstie. And it happened and I think they loved the experience. There are some people that we haven’t had that we are trying. A lot of times it takes time. Like, we didn’t get Bill [Shatner] for quite some time. And even when we were doing Next Generation conventions there were some hold outs there. It took some time. But yeah, there are a few.
I know you have had some people from the new movies – like I know you are having Karl Urban back again this year – but do you even reach out to others that may be harder like Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana. Is there a number that would make it happen?
Some of them may not even have a number. Some may just not want to do it. I won’t be specific in any way. But the answer is yes we try to get everybody. There are some that would have done it had their schedules allowed. We are trying. There is no need to ask “why didn’t you invite x.” We did, we just couldn’t work it out.
STLV begins next Wednesday
Star Trek Las Vegas 2017 runs Wednesday August 2nd through to Sunday August 6th. There are still single day, weekend and reserved seating still available and tickets can be purchased at the event. For more information visit the official Star Trek Las Vegas site.
TrekMovie will be in Vegas all week bringing coverage and highlights. Stay tuned!