After three days of convention-madness the time has come to write something about it. And to make an undoubtedly long story short: I loved it! It was definetely a weekend well spent. A now for the slightly longer version…

Much has been said and written about the Fellowship Festival already, and rightly so because the lineup they brought to London for the weekend was probably the most impressive I have seen on a fan-organised event (not counting our Oscar-parties).

Bernard Hill, Karl Urban, Alan Lee, John Noble, John Howe, Bruce Hopkins, Lawrence Makoare, Jed Brophy, Craig Parker, Sandro Kopp, Cameron Rhodes, Gino Acevedo, Jarl and Jorn Benzon, Mark Ferguson and Sarah McLeod were those attending and it has been mentioned that the entire New Zealand filmindustry could take the weekend off because of their absence.

The organisers behind the Fellowship Festival have taken a leaf from the (succesfull) idea behind conventions like Ring*Con (the German one) and combined the film with the books by inviting a host of (Tolkien Society) guest speakers and featuring workshops on writing Tengwar, making your own Hobbit-feet and much, much more.

But many of the highlights of the weekend were the panels and workshops in which some of the actors participated: Sarah McLeod and Cameron Rhodes managed to make a Hobbit-dance look good, John Noble spellbounded an audience of Tolkien Society people in a very interesting discussion about his character (Denethor), Sandro Kopp discussed his drawings and sketches (Sandro is in fact a talented artist, watch some of his work on!), John Howe and Alan Lee discussed their work and had people lining up all the way throughout the hall for their autographs, Lawrence Makoare and Jed Brophy (and every now and then the occasional convention-visitor) did a highly amusing stunt demonstration and of course there was WETA‘s Gino Acevedo who turned one lucky visitor into an Orc each day during a 2+ hour makeup-session.

And as if that wasn’t enough to fill up a large room for an entire weekend there were vendors and companies that filled up the hall with stands. EA Games went all out promoting various new games, the Games Workshop-area never seemed to be empty and companies like Cards Inc. and Comminvent (a company officially licensed to produce and sell beautiful LOTR-inspired jewelry in most European countries) had plenty of space to promote their goods. Smaller spaces were reserved for, amongst others, Red Carpet Tours, Discover Middle-earth, Stansborough Fibres Ltd (the officially licensed company that made the fibre for the Elven cloaks, beautiful stuff!) and Blades Inc.

The other half of the Festival took place in the impressively large (and possibly too large) ‘Hall of Fire’ where a pretty much non-stop program of q&a’s and other forms of entertainment kept visitors entertained throughout the weekend. The organisers were smart in pairing up guests for panels which meant that Jarl and Jorn Benzon, Sandro Kopp and later Jed Brophy did theirs together as well as Bruce Hopkins, Sarah McLeod and Cameron Rhodes. Gino Acevedo and Lawrence Makoare teamed up for a talk about all of the makeup that was done for the films (with Gino admitting that the old-age Bilbo makeup was his favorite) and had a wonderful slideshow of pictures backing them up. Craig Parker and Mark Ferguson (who apart from MC-ing the event also did a few panels) did their stuff together as well, because it hardly seems possible to separate the two.

Moving on swiftly to the highlights, because they were many. Unfortunately you’ll have to do without pictures as I was stupid enough to leave my digital camera at home and the ones I made with the disposable one are still being developed. Other people took pictures though; there are a bunch here and of course Ian Smith was there so keep an eye on for his report and pictures (no rush Ian, no rush…). If you have pictures you’d like to share, please email them my way!

Now I could write books about the many panel-highlights but I won’t, partly because I’m hoping someone else will and partly because, well, this would get very long. So I’ll summarize a bit. Bernard Hill talked about how he first auditioned for Gandalf but ended up with the part of Theoden, how he ‘borrowed’ some of the smaller dead Orcs and Uruk’s that were used on the scaled down Helms Deep set and his run-in with merchandise like a bobble-head Theoden. In later panels he really got going talking about the makeup-trailer and the Christmas-decorations the cast and crew made for it.

All in all he seemed to have a good time despite admitting he didn’t really know what to expect of his first ever convention. The only possible bad reaction he got from the weekend was one question from the audience that went along the lines of: “Is it true that noone on set wanted to do a scene with you because you smell bad?” Of course this question came from Karl Urban so we might need to take a grain of salt with it.

Karl Urban was another great addition to the Festival’s lineup, and its a pity that he had to cancel the other convention-appearances he had planned for this year due to work commitments. And yes folks, don’t worry he revealed what kind of commitments: he’s been cast for a part in the upcoming movie adaptation of Doom (the videogame), you read it here first. Upcoming projects were a recurring theme this weekend, especially behind the scenes, and they should be, but more on that later.

The highlight of the day was the premiere of ‘The Lord of the Rings 4: The Return of the Towering Fellowship’, a radio play written by Mark Ferguson (and undoubtedly now available on eBay) and performed in front of a live audience by Mark (voicing Frodo), Cameron Rhodes (voicing Elrond, Sam, Gimli, Gandalf, Richard Taylor and those parts I have forgotten), Sarah McLeod (narrating and voicing Rosie Cotton and Arwen), Craig Parker (voicing various Elves, Legolas, Haldir, Peter Jackson, Gollum and Yoda) and Bruce Hopkins (responsible for the sound effects and travelling music). The story in a nutshell: Frodo got bored, reformed the Fellowship and they went on a quest to stop the evil reincarnated Haldir from killing everyone. No innuendo, possible slash-reference or ‘open door’ was left untouched in the play that kept audiences on the edge of their seats (or rolling around laughing on the floor) for nearly an hour. The second performance on Sunday reached near perfection despite Bruce still getting his sound effects mixed up. The Monday-premiere got rather silly but that was to be expeted and it was a remarkable performance that the actors managed to deliver their lines with straight faces for as long as they did.

The ‘topping’ for the night was Karl Urban who turned out to be another one of these highly amusing and extremely friendly Kiwi-actors that make most conventions as fun as they are. But with that the evening did not end. Not at all. Every night featured a special event; a karaoke sing-along on Saturday, Galadriel‘s Ball on Sunday and a quiz on Monday. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to attend those, but from what I hear they were great fun but ended too early. This was, or so I have been told, because of location guidelines.

The exception to that rule was the highly exclusive Fellowship Feast that was held every night. People who didn’t object to the high ticketprices for the feast (the 200 pounds might have been a bit steep seeing as how people also paid a lot of money for convention-tickets and autographs) were treated to a luxurious four course meal, all the wine you can drink and to top it off some great vocal performances by cast and crew. It is really depressing to see how all the talent can go to one person while some (like me) are stuck with none. Gino Acevedo for instance has a great voice, as has Sarah McLeod. And the family Howe for instance; John in an excellent artist whereas his wife has a gorgeous voice.

Oh well, moving on swiftly again! Sillyness and run roamed the last two days of the Festival. With the Radio Play of course, but other little highlights included the Charity Auction in which Craig, Mark and Karl with a little help from other cast (Lawrence Makoare‘s intimidation-techniques helped raise the prize on some items and Craig Parker helped raise money but eventually came out on the wrong end of the auction when he was talked into buying a GameCube) auctioned of a wide range of items to help raise money for ‘Beat Bullying’, a charity that helps develop anti-bullying strategies (soon the running joke became that bullying was wrong but battling was okay).

Craig Parker amused crowds with his sign-language retelling of The Lord of the Rings, John Noble was (proudly) overheard sharing the story of how his two daughters rejected the charms of Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortensen and Bruce Hopkins, Sarah McLeod and Cameron Rhodes decided to turn things around for their Sunday panel, inviting all the visitors up on stage while taking place in the hall themselves to ask them questions. On Monday their panel turned into a Cameron Rhodes directed scene from Macbeth featuring a forest of convention-visitors, a young lady whose name escaped me playing a character whose name escaped me and a hopeless Bruce Hopkins as the titlecharacter. And these were just some of the highlights…

The Monday ended with the closing ceremony and the announcements of the various contestwinners. The Fellowship Festival ran a bunch; a poetry competition (entries had been read aloud by the actors on the main stage all day, which is a very nice way of getting them out to the general public), and art-competition (judged by Alan Lee and John Howe), a filmcompetition and the almost obligatory costumecompetition. I guess I’ll never be a fan of competitions so I won’t expand too much on them.

Which brings us to the not so obligatory and slightly more interesting bit of the report, the bit where I tell you all (or; the ones that made it this far) my two cents on the weekend. And I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I loved it. In all honesty I have to say that I actually wasn’t planning on attending this event, but this was largely due to real life commitments. I am glad I did however. In the jungle of conventions that people can attend nowadays it is nice to see one that we can file under ‘quality’ instead of ‘quantity’.

Too many conventions are too much of the same, and it was refreshing to see one that went the extra distance so that visitors had more then just the usual q&a’s and autographsessions. And I think the guests; the cast and crew, enjoyed it too. Some of these guys attend up to or over 10 conventions a year so for them it must be much of the same too.

(This is also why it is nice to see and hear that most of them are looking for other things to do with their time. Bruce Hopkins is making some good progress on his Operation Read and the documentairy he is trying to make about it, Cameron Rhodes I don’t think is ever without a job and other actors were heard saying that it was time to stop doing conventions for a while and find ‘a real job’. I can only applaud this, as much as I like running into them at events like these, I’d hate for one of them to turn out as some kind of convention-dinosaur, an actor that never really found an another acting job after a memorable performance and spends his days soing conventions and writing autobiographies about his day-and-a-half on the set of Star Wars/Star Trek/Etc Etc Etc (circle as applicable). Also, I think the LOTR-convention-circuit is rapidly ‘satisfying’ itself. There is an unhealthy amount on conventions out there nowadays and at the rate we are going right now within three months every LOTR-fan that is interested in getting an autograph will have it which undoubtedly will mean that attendance numbers will be dwindling or that the actors won’t be able to sell themselves anymore because there are no buyers. My guess is everyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon of LOTR-conventions and that we’ll be spreading our own butter too thin. A handful of LOTR-only conventions a year would be a much better situation and by making yourself unique in that way and by offering features and events other conventions haven’t got you can possibly draw larger audiences and ‘bigger’ guests. But hey, I’m a doomthinker so I could be very wrong…)

Obviously the Festival had its minor glitches, but perfection cannot be reached in the first attempt. From an organising point of view some things can definitely be done better; the ticket-system was a bit of a mess and I would also recommend reviewing the prices again. A slightly higher entrance fee and free signatures forever might be more tangable for some visitors. When I am honest I would have to say that I wouldn’t pay 20 to 30 pounds for an autograph either. But on the other hand; having your guests sign for free would mean huge waiting lines and that’s not really a preferable situation either, so it’s a delicate balance that organisers have to keep in mind.

Secondly I think the location could be reviewed as well. Alexandra Palace (a huge building with a gorgeous view over London and plenty of space) was home of this years Fellowship Festival, and it was very nice but a tadbit hard to reach for those depending on public transportation. Attendance numbers were unfortunately not that high, which meant that the Hall of Fire never really filled up (though given; it would be hard to get enough people in that space to make it look crammed). And again there’s the opposite side of the coin; from a logistical point of view the location as it was set up now probably couldn’t handle more visitors. The Talan (where the Tolkien Society did their panels) couldn’t possibly hold more visitors, the passages to both halls would get really crammed if there would have been more visitors travelling from one hall to the other.

It was a pity to see that not a lot of people found their way to Alexandra Palace this time around. Maybe it was the price, maybe it was the fact that is close to other conventions or maybe it was because of reasons mentioned above. It did however give the event a lovely almost intimite feel, with actors wandering around every now and then instead of staying hidden in the green room and very few lines for signatures or food.

Nevertheless there have been some complaints, though a lot of the ones I have heard so far seem to come from people who’ve never really attended a convention before. Unfortunately this also seems to be the group of people that the Festival is anxious to reach so what do you do? I guess thats a question for the organisers to answer (though for the right fee, *wink* *wink*, *nudge* *nudge*, I’ll do some advising) and we’ll hopefully see it next year.

Because despite all the bad press they have been getting from certain corners of the internet there will be another Fellowship Festival (August 27th – 29th 2005, mark your calendars!), and rightly so. Because this year the organisers proved that they could deliver on their promises: they brought the guests, they brought the vendors, they have the contacts which means they have a tremendous potential, let’s hope they can build on that. And if they make the neccesary changes I’m sure they’ll be able to put up a show equal to this one, and probably even better.

So see you there!