CONVENTION HOW-TO: Photographing Celebrities or How Not To Get Killed By Darth Maul

This is the first in an Ultra Mega Super series on attending conventions, meaning science fiction, comic book, anime and/or gaming conventions. As a nine-year veteran of San Diego Comic-Con, I hope to share some insight.

At SDCC, every movie studio/television network/publishing company is there to get people to consume their product. A decade ago, there were a few nifty small-but-elaborate booths for things like the Lord Of The Rings or Snakes On A Plane. Now it’s like the pages of Entertainment Weekly come to life for a week in July and have a competition to be who can be the biggest, loudest and most interesting. And it’s not just nerd stuff anymore: Lifetime had a display for some fashion thing last year. Or maybe it was A&E? Whatever…I don’t think anybody there really cares about fashion.
The point is that you can’t seem to get more than 10 feet without bumping into somebody famous. And when you do, you probably want to document the occasion. During public appearances like autographing events, they’re ready to be bombarded by eleventy-billion cameras— but what if you see them walking into a restaurant or sitting in a hotel lobby? Let me tell you about my experience with Darth Maul himself, sci-fi/fantasy martial-arts wonder Ray Park.
I was waiting for the elevator in my hotel, which was taking quite a while because the place was filled to maximum capacity. Across the way I see a familiar face sitting by the window, focused on his cell phone. HOLY SITH, THAT’S RAY PARK! I assumed he was catching up on very important messages, mercilessly tapping and swiping at the mobile screen like it was Liam Neeson. I so very much wanted to get a picture of him, but I didn’t want to interrupt his business. After all, he’s got work to do and his life to get on with, right?
The quandary made me think of my sister, who used to be the lead anchor for CBS in Houston. No matter where she went or what she was doing, somebody would always ask her for an autograph or a picture. During a holiday lunch with the whole family, a fan abruptly stopped her mid-conversation with my mom to ask for a picture. My sister was always gracious and accommodating, but I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been.
I didn’t want to be that kind of fan. I was going to be respectful, I thought.
I took the lens cap off and raised my camera, framing the shot. THIS IS GOING TO BE A GREAT SHOT OF ONE OF MY FAVORITE MOVIE BAD-ASSES BEING A REGULAR GUY. Just a little bit of focus and then I’d shoot. Right as I was going to snap the shutter, he saw me. He was not very pleased. OH CRAP, I PISSED OFF RAY PARK. “Why didn’t you just ask me,” he said sharply, his Scottish accent somehow making him sound even angrier. In retrospect, I realized that he probably had his privacy surreptitiously invaded like that countless times. I felt like— no, I actually was that kind of fan.
I imagine many nerdy types may have scampered off in shame. I wanted to make it right, though. I approached him, apologizing. I think that surprised him a bit.
“You know, you could’ve just asked me,” He glared at me, probably with exasperation built up from every rude fan he’d ever encountered. Even while sitting in a grandma-looking Hilton lobby chair, even without red & yellow contact lenses, the man can be scary.
“…it’s just that you were working on your phone and it looked like you were busy…” I’M GOING TO GET QUI-GON JINNED ANY SECOND NOW.
“…and I didn’t want to— Wow, you are REALLY intimidating.
He burst out from the chair, but into laughter, “What? Why’d you say that?”
“Well, ‘cause you kick so many asses in your movies, I… I figured you might kick mine.”
“Aw man, I wouldn’t do that!” He smiled, which clearly meant I would survive the encounter.
“Really, I am sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing by not interrupting you. May I take your picture?”
“Thank you very much, Mr. Park.”

“And… Thank you for wanting to respect my time,” he added.
So there you have it. If you’re at a convention, you see a celebrity and you want to get a picture, wait for them to finish what they’re doing and politely ask them first. Especially if they’ve performed all their own stunts and fights while playing a Sith Lord, an Evil Mutant and a Ninja Commando, because they can totally kick your ass and make it look like an action movie while doing so.
And they may not be as awesome to their fans like Ray Park.
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