Welcome back to our interview with Eric Larson, the creator and host of the extraordinary steampunk convention, Teslacon.
Read Part One here.
Airship Ambassador: Continuing our discussion about the convention’s storyline and themes, can you tell us more about the new trips…even a hint at what is planned?
Eric Larson: Well, for starters now we will be in a new story cycle. So the next 2 cons will be far more story centric. The Journey to the Center of the Earth will be a big production. Sound efx In the halls,decorations throughout and everything else thrown in for good measure. Dinosaur noises and many other strange unearthly sounds will waft through the halls. Strange plants and fauna will be everywhere. We will start from a different view though, and people will find out how at this years event.
I can tell you this –we do use the drill and we do go through layers of lava-rock-ice-crystals and more. We also use other machines that will amaze people again and also be tied into merchandise and design of the convention. Also the science factor of steam and diesel goes way up for this next one…you will believe the technology is really working. We also introduce a new “punk” to TeslaCon. One that will have repercussions for themes to come. Many people will be very excited by this, because I did not think it would work. Now it will.
I am also planning on making part of the story for anyone over 40 more fun by putting in our childhood cartoons. I won’t say which ones, but you will get the jokes and they will be funny…very funny.
Proctocus and everyone returns…in a way that even surprised me when I thought of it.
The one following that Bobbins decides to take a Holiday…somewhere he has never been. That is when all the “cogs” hit the fan. This one will be the funniest and most lively of all the cons I think. It blends history and steampunk with other elements of time and technology. For once you will see Bobbins as himself, without all the ship people around, just being Hastings. Very slapstick and fun…and serious at the same time.
I plan on using many steampunk celebrities in the films…so it will be doubly fun and the audience will have a time rooting for their favorites. If the story goes the way I want, it will be a classic 60’s/70’s film and TV sitcom style story…just more steampunk though. I really want people to just cut loose and have fun. Many more sight gags at this one and more direct involvement with the audience. My costumes will undergo a whole new design, and be even more ridiculous also.
My big issue is keeping this stuff fresh and new. Yes some other cons have done a storyline similar to one of these…but nobody will have the story we will. I promise the fans that they will have an adventure, and I mean it. Just think of a closing film where for over 14 minutes it is NON stop action and comedy…combined with steam celebs acting in various parts. That is what makes TeslaCon so unique, the ability to make something old new again, and make it fresh without knowing how it will end.
The second year I left the audience crying because my wife had been stolen off my ship. People actually got upset and did not know what to think, or do. They had never had an experience like that before. So these new ones will be special to them and me. It means making the characters an integral part of the story and also the lives of the members at the con.
I really want the fans to realize we are trying to provide the very best adventure and story we can, while making the weekend an immersion event the whole family can enjoy. We are like Disney World in a way, just in a more steampunky way. I often say we are not overly edgy or completely expected…we blend the best of all words to create the world we know and love, and I throw in some funny parts for good measure.
The best job in the world is creating this stuff. Watching my staff’s faces when I explain the next trip. They get so excited and really feel part of the story, that is what makes it so special for me. Without my staff and crew it would be just another con. I consider myself very lucky to have such talented people and supporters working with and for me as we move forward in this fandom. They also love playing in my “sandbox”…and I love sharing my toys.
AA: The view from the front of the house is always amazing and entertaining. Can you pull the curtain back a little and share what happens behind the scenes to make it all possible?
EL: Insanity! Yes even TeslaCon goes bonkers once in a while. I am not perfect, I make mistakes and we all go crazy.
The best thing is prepping for decorating, all the printing and stuff. This year I have several amazing folks working already on things. Terri Gower is the biggest help, she will be in charge of much of the printed-cut material. Think laser cut menus, invites, place cards, decorations…she is doing it all. Also some new things from some very talented designers and engineers. You really have to think “Imaginers” at Disney World, that is what you will find at TeslaCon. One device is for the Ball on Saturday night. No bands, no live music…but a whole new way to deliver a real ball atmosphere that nobody has ever seen.
We will have special machines in the halls for various reasons, huge displays on the history of steampunk devices thru the Civil War and some added fun stuff just for Halloween. Actually some of the surprises my own staff does not know about- so for me it makes it extra fun.
I do most of it up to about 2 months prior, Yes it’s insane work, but I have a look and feel that I like to create, I want my vision to stand out the way I intended it. It may seem odd but being a designer and artist I understand why Disney did what he did…and it worked. I do have helpers, I need them badly but in the whole scheme of things I tend to do much myself upfront to make sure it has a tone and look people have come to expect. I worked on Star Wars for three years, so I know a thing or two about cohesive design.
AA: One of my favorite memories is seeing you and your first grandson walking together, both sporting the Bobbins mustache. What are some of your most rewarding and challenging moments of the last few conventions?
EL: I like to think there are memories that will never fade, they are now part of me. That one was great, he hated the “Moosestache” as he put it. Learning divination from a good friend, the dinners have always been fun. Bobbins at a 7 course meal is great.
The balls have always been special, since I created the Choo-Choo dance, I feel I brought some life back into these style of events.
My most heartwarming memory happened last year. A woman approached me and introduced herself. She was from California and worked for Disney Inc. She was so excited and bubbly. She mentioned my speech at opening ceremonies (another highlight for me) and told me she thought she was sitting in front of Disney herself. Evidently they show management old Disney talks and literally have him speaking to them about various issues.
She said it was like I had channeled him during one of those talks. That actually made me tear up- she hugged me and thanked me for the experience. I think a big one was when I walked out on stage and 1400 people stood and applauded. I know they are excited to see the character, but it is humbling to realize the excitement in the room. They know at that moment the con truly starts, and that they are in for one hell of a ride…I cannot bottle that feeling but if I could I would drink form it every day.
To be truthful I have so many memories but I do have a few that are quite special and lovely to remember.
AA: There is some pretty impressive artwork and videos leading up to the convention. Who does all of that work?
EL: I work with various artists and designers. I have a staff of about 4 now that create all the videos and films. It takes time. By the time your readers see this we will have been working on year 5 for about 3 months. The pre-viz alone takes a while. The efx are always fun and yet rewarding to see completed. The sub attack year two is still a highlight.
My business partner in all of this is also an artist and contributes heavily. Bryan creates many of the posters and such you see in the halls. This year he has created portraits of the main characters that will be on display…it’s weird to see Bobbins as “Bobbins, but it does add to the overall feeling. By making the artwork so vivid and real I think it enhances the look and ambience of the convention. The mere fact that we have ads for soap and hair products in the bathrooms makes me laugh, but it is also realistic for the times.
The SIlverstar players make up the crew, the Stafford Society makes up background characters and security. We are also very lucky to have ships such as the Archon and IAPS as formal presenters and participants at the con. These groups and more have given us their talents and ideas to help make this convention what it is.
AA: There are quite a few extra special touches done for the attendees. From the room signs, posters and special gifts, like a china place setting and special tea cups, for the Balmoral and Grand Royale ticket holders. How do you make all of that happen?
EL: This will sound weird, but I just do. I think one of the profound quotes I have ever heard was from Irvin Kirshner director of “The Empire Strikes Back”. Someone asked him once why he became a director, he said “ You wake up one morning and say I am a director…and you go direct!” That pretty much is my mantra. I have an idea, and I just do it. In truth it may take several people with wild imaginations to help it come true, but that is the fun.
I guess I am a maker in a sense. Instead of clothing or jewelry I create a world. Last year we sold evil potions by Dr. Proctocus. I thought it would enhance his standing in the “evil” community. We bottled about 20 items. Fairy farts, dragon drool and such. Nonsense items that are used in the art of dark steam magic. Well they all sold, people loved them. So this year we doubled the amount.
I tend to create from a feeling. I read all the time. Three hours a day at least I pour over sites and read comments. I try to get a sense of what people like at the moment. I then use that to create an idea I turn in something- something tangible.
Creating the art we have up is always the most fun. This year we will be offering a collection of Cabinet Cards-old photo’s just for Halloween. Each one is lovingly made macabre by yours truly so you can decorate for the season. I love taking the images and making them unique to a theme. Our old travel posters will return also. We have so many new attendee’s I thought they might enjoy them. The best part is when I travel and see these items framed in peoples houses. It gives me a kick.
AA: NOW let’s talk about the Steampunk Chronicle’s Readers Choice Awards. Teslacon won four of those awards, voted on by people from around the world. Aside from being ecstatically happy, what is the message, and importance, that you take away from that?
EL: I think the message is clear. Be yourself and be something unique. 50,000 people went to the voting pages, I can’t even imagine that. The biggest thing is that we only have had total up to 1400 people attending. I can never thank everyone enough for the honor you have given me and the crew. I was shocked to see two characters that I created up for awards…that means they have become part of a SP lexicon. Both actors where completely surprised by it as well, and had fun poking at each other during the voting.
What is important to me is that our message, our way of doing an event is making people take notice. I love going to conventions, but after a while you have to ask yourself…what made this different? At times I cannot say because even though I had a good time, I don’t feel it was special. I think the difference is we try every time to make our event special-someway-somehow.
I don’t feel like we can rest on our laurels either. People gave us a tremendous gift, but now we have to keep it going and do better than the last time. I am never content in saying…”we are perfect” we aren’t, far from it. We make mistakes and have our moments as well, but what we do and how we do it I think resonates with the fans. It makes me think what I am doing somehow matters and that people are watching and listening, and hopefully having fun while doing it.
I have people come up every year and hug me, kiss me saying thanks. It means so much to them, and they are always so happy attending. I just truly want to make an experience for the fans that makes them believe in their fandom and how wonderful a mind of creativity can be.
AA: Are there new characters coming in future conventions?
EL: Oh yes. Many new characters, some out of books and some from films. I think the most fun is taking a well known character and making it work within our realm of creativity. Year 5 will showcase how insane things can get, but it will be fun for all. The creation of new characters is fun all the time. But for anyone who grew up in the 70’s…next year will have you in stitches.
AA: Final thoughts to share?
EL: In the end I want people to know they have a place where they can truly bring their steampunk persona to life. TeslaCon is an event, an experience and the more people realize that the better. Every year I hear stories from fans, and what it means to them. I know in some way what I do is just host a convention, but to our fans it means I am a creator a worlds for people to play in and enjoy. It never gets dull and never fails to amaze me.
It’s going to be a big year for Teslacon! Thanks, Eric, for joining us to share more about what’s coming up.
Check out the latest news, and get your tickets, at http://teslacon.com/