In addition to the typical con activities (like autographs, photo ops, and panels) this weekend also included a Nocking Point Wine Party. These parties are run by Stephen Amell and his business partner, and they allow fans an opportunity to meet Stephen (and in this case, other cast members) while also sampling some of his winery’s delicious fares.
Overall, the weekend was impressive from start to finish, really delivering on the convention’s promises. Below, Jen, Maddie, Laura, and Mer discuss their thoughts and impressions from the convention. Join them as they chat about all things HVFF!
Q: What was your favorite thing you saw at HVFF?
Mer: My favorite aspect of the con was getting to see the actors in a different way than we normally see them. Though Stephen is a pretty accessible celebrity (posting Facebook videos and answering questions), the rest of the cast aren’t generally as “out there” with their fan interactions, so cons give the opportunity to engage with them and see who they are when they aren’t playing our favorite characters. Getting to talk to them, share our love for the show with them, ask questions and get unguarded and in the moment responses, provides another layer of engagement with the show.
Every single actor/crew member I spoke with and interacted with was lovely and invested and genuine and sincere in their appreciation of the fans. I was almost surprised by how open and chatty some of them were — willing to talk for a while about different topics (like chatting with Robbie Amell about his upcoming wedding, or with James Bamford about the protectiveness Felicity Smoak fans feel for her.) Going to a convention and interacting with the actors and crew members in this way really takes you to another level of fan engagement, where you feel much more a part of the entire show experience. It’s a totally unique opportunity.
Maddie: My favorite thing about this amazing and unforgettable experience was just the feeling that I was amongst my people. Arrow is a show with a large fanbase, but it is also very niche and I don’t have any people in my real life to fangirl about the show with. At HVFF, Arrow and its talented cast/crew were able to shine, and fans were able to interact with a love of this show tying us all together.
Laura: This kind of covers a lot, but my favorite thing was being able to see the cast interact with each other and the fans, and seeing the fans themselves interact with each other. Throughout the convention, the cast would crash each other’s panels or autograph signings with Nerf guns and silly string, and it was obvious just from this and their other interactions how well they all get along with each other. They were all also super sweet to the fans, making time to talk to and have personal interactions with everyone who came up to them. Willa Holland, for instance, spent a solid five minutes while she was supposed to quickly be signing autographs talking to me and Jen — something she did not have to do. And David Ramsey even went so far as to invite a superfan up on stage with him during his panel, clearly making her day.
Obviously, being able to see and meet up with other fans was just as amazing as seeing the actors. The great part about conventions is that everyone is there for the same reason: their love of television. Being able to talk about your favorite show with people who are just as obsessed as you is truly an amazing experience.
Jen: I think everyone has covered it for the most part! It’s a kick to see the stars of your favorite TV show not more than ten feet away, visiting with fans. Every actor I met was incredibly kind and gracious. They all took a moment to have memorable conversations with me. I was consistently impressed with each actor’s enthusiasm, genuineness, kindness, and professionalism.
For me, the star interaction is always secondary to spending time with friends and fellow Arrow fandom members. Most of us live across the country from one another, so conventions are one of the few ways we can all spend time together and share in our mutual love of this show. I love it when someone takes the time to introduce themselves. It’s a blast meeting new friends and putting faces to blog and Twitter handles.
Q: Who was your favorite celebrity to meet and why?
Mer: I’m going to have to go with Robbie Amell for this one. It was a tough choice, because every single person I spoke with and met was wonderful, and I had some lengthy conversations with more than one of the celebrity guests. But Robbie really got me with his genuine affection for fans, and the way he engaged with them as if they were just anyone he was meeting. He never made anyone feel like he was the “celebrity” and they were the “fan.” He spoke to a group of us at the Nocking Point Wine Party for quite some time, and even FaceTimed his fiancee (Italia Ricci) when he found out that some of us were huge fans of her (sadly now canceled) show, Chasing Life. Robbie also proved his sincerity when he remembered me the next day, making references to our previous conversations, and taking time to compose a really sweet message to my son. I wasn’t expecting to be so impressed with him, but I really was.
And to add to the personal interactions, Robbie’s panel with Stephen was my favorite of the weekend, mostly because of Robbie. He’s hilarious and charming and so down to earth, and watching him tease Stephen and generally act like an annoying little brother on stage in front of a thousand people was a ton of fun. I’m not really an X-Files fan (I know, I know), but I was considering watching the revival anyways because it’s a major TV event. Now, after having met Robbie and hearing how excited he is for his role in it, count me in for sure.
Maddie: This was Stephen’s con, definitely. The man was positively non-stop all weekend, yet remained so engaged and genuinely enthusiastic about each and every moment. If it was possible, I admire him so much more after this weekend. It is so clear from the panels how much he loves the show and its fans, as well as how much thought goes into his performance as Oliver Queen. I had the privilege of interacting with him twice. (Unfortunately, I was the only one amongst my group that didn’t get to talk to him at the Nocking Point mixer.)
The first time, I was kind of shy because I was a little in awe of his presence and the moment was so surreal. I may have melted a little when I made him laugh. However, it was when I got his autograph on Sunday that meant the most to me. Now, I’m about to get a little personal up in here. Arrow, and Olicity in particular, got me through a very dark time in my life last year and I need to express to Stephen how thankful I am for the fact that he gives his all to the show and to its fans. Stephen immediately leaned across the table and gave me a hug, and it meant so much. At that moment, I was filled with a sense of validation and satisfaction. Those who we admire so much and are a part of a show we care about so dearly, care about us right back. While Arrow and Stephen have been there for me metaphorically in the past, Amell was actually there for me with a simple hug and genuine thanks for me sharing my story with him.
Laura: I had met a few of the actors at previous conventions so my focus going into Heroes and Villains was to interact with those members of the Arrow cast that I hadn’t gotten to see before. Obviously, they are all absolutely amazing people who genuinely care about their fans and try to make the best experience possible for them (well, except for one but we won't discuss that).
For me, my favorite to meet at this convention had to be Willa Holland though. She was absolutely hilarious during the game of charades she played with Barrowman and McDonough, holding nothing back during the dance-off. Willa really is a firecracker, full of an energy that almost matches her on screen father’s.
Not only that, but Willa is wonderful with the fans. Jen and I had an amazing experience meeting her when taking the $20 selfies that many of the talent offered. When I complimented her on her dance moves, Willa immediately lit up and lamented the fact that no one had taken a video of it. Luckily, I had thought to do so but only caught the second half of her dance, while Jen had caught only the first half. She stood there laughing and watching our videos with us, even retweeting mine, for a solid five minutes — which I’m sure was not something they were supposed to do when a line of people was waiting to meet them. So many of these actors throughout the weekend went out of their way to give us all unforgettable personal interactions and at least for me, Willa’s will be the one from this con that I will never forget.
Jen: David Ramsey all the way. I was the most excited to meet him. My Diggle obsession runs deep. I was thoroughly impressed by his panel and his energy blew me away. David came to play. He told great (and NEW) behind-the-scenes stories, and he was hysterical in almost every response. His answers showed a deep understanding of not only Diggle but all the Arrow characters. He truly cares about the show and his fans.
When he signed my photo, David and I had a nice long talk. This was not unusual for David — he made the same effort with every fan who purchased an autograph. My husband tagged along to the con and was in the photo as well. I explained to David that I named my blog (Something To Live For) after the John Diggle quote from season one, and how happy I was to have a photo with both him and my “something to live for” (my husband). David said he thought my husband was a lucky guy (I may have swooned). Then David and my husband proceeded to tease each other about the photo. It was sort of an out-of-body experience. I complimented David on his performance in "Brotherhood" and he thanked me profusely, and then gave me an insider’s peek on the scene — James Bamford had told him to think of his son during the scene in the bar. I almost started crying right there. David was truly wonderful.
Q: What was the highlight of the weekend for you?
Mer: The highlight of the weekend was actually adjacent to the con itself, but still connected. The Nocking Point Wine Party was a really wonderful addition to the weekend’s events, and it just upped the entire experience by providing even more personal, one-on-one interaction with some of the celebrities. It was a chance to unwind and interact with them in a purely social environment, without waiting in a line and hurrying away so that the next person could get their autograph or photo. Because Stephen was involved in the planning of HVFF, it made sense for him to throw a wine party during the event. And the con advertised the party in the weeks leading up to it, as well. It definitely elevated the entire experience, and gave the opportunity to feel like you were really getting to know some of the celebrity guests. I was able to have lengthy conversations with more than one of the cast/crew, and shorter but still personalized conversations with others. HVFF promised an interactive, personal con experience, and the con on the whole delivered. But the Nocking Point party really took it to the next level.
Maddie: There are countless moments to choose from, but I will pick one of the last memorable moments I had on the trip. I cosplayed as Felicity Smoak both days and, for the most part, received an overwhelmingly positive response. It was an easy conversation starter. People love this character and enjoyed seeing her represented at the con.
However, while I was towards the front of a line for an autograph I couldn’t help but overhear and young man boldly declare that no non-blonde could ever cosplay as Felicity Smoak, and that she’d just be a girl in a tight pink dress. Internally, I was livid at this idiocy, but I let it go and turned to him with my sassiest head tilt and just replied “Oh really?” Shortly thereafter, David Ramsey, whom I am now guessing heard our exchange, loudly greeted me exclaiming with “Felicity Smoak!” When I replied by telling him not everyone recognized what I was going for with the look since I was brunette he simply remarked, “No, you’re definitely rocking the Felicity thing.” I have to say that it was a pretty perfect note to end this weekend by having Diggle himself stick up for me and show some love for my favorite fictional character.
Laura: There’s really only one way I can answer this question. My highlight of the con had to be the photo op I took with Stephen Amell and David Ramsey. I had been planning for months to cosplay for my first time ever at this con as Felicity Smoak, but last minute realized that the wig I had wasn’t going to work. Felicity has meant a lot to me though, so I still went for it, simply putting my brunette hair back in a ponytail. When thinking of ideas of what to do for my photo op with Stephen and David, it was my friend Natalie who suggested Stephen and I pose as Olicity while David looked on, shipping it.
I’m not the kind of person to normally go up to someone like Stephen Amell and ask for this, but at conventions you often do things that you never thought you’d do. So I went for it, asking Stephen if we could take a picture of us hugging while David "shipped it." They immediately understood what I meant (I’m actually kind of impressed that they knew I was Felicity since I had forgotten to put on her signature glasses before the photo op), and before I even knew what was happening, Stephen had taken my hand and pulled me close, laying his head on mine. All I could do was turn and smile at the camera, having no idea what the other two were really doing. Seeing the photo for the first time was quite an experience, as they absolutely went above and beyond what I had asked for. I went into it expecting a simple hug from Stephen, not knowing how David would respond and ended up getting quite possibly the best picture I’ve ever been a part of.
Jen: The Nocking Point party was AMAZING. I spoke with every actor and one I did not expect (HELLO ITALIA RICCI!), Neal McDonough played the harmonica, I met other Arrow fans and partied with my friends. It was a total blast.
Q: Did any of the cast/crew surprise you? Were they the same or different than you expected?
Mer: Yes! Aside from Robbie, who didn’t as much surprise as he did impress, I will say I was surprised by James Bamford (stunt coordinator and recent director for Arrow). I will admit that I had previously been not so impressed by some of Bam’s tweets about his episode and the characters/actors involved, and I had expressed that sentiment on Twitter (politely, of course.)
I’m not one to shy away from speaking my mind in person, so I approached him at the Nocking Point party to discuss some of my concerns with him. He was really open and listened to what I had to say, and responded really respectfully. We ended up having a pretty in-depth conversation, and he was receptive and engaging and funny and overall just a really nice guy. On top of that, his panel at the con where he demonstrated how he choreographs a stunt scene with Caity and David was amazing. It was interesting and dynamic, and interactive (he got audience members involved, too!) while still feeling casual and informal and fun. He totally exceeded my expectations, and surprised me in the best way possible.
Maddie: Neal McDonough was a hoot. This was his first con and it was obvious that he was so genuinely excited to be a part of the event. He was having a blast all weekend. Between Nerf gun fights with David Ramsey, epic six-minute harmonica solos at the Nocking Point party, and adorable interactions with small children, Neal was positively delightful. I’m so glad he took Barrowman’s advice and joined the con at the last minute.
Laura: No one really knew what to expect from Neal McDonough when he signed on for the convention, but I think it’s safe to say that we’re all happy that he did. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting him to be villainous like Damien Darhk, but I will say that he shares one thing in common with the character in Arrow that he portrays: he’s got an amazing way of talking to people and is incredibly personable to the point that I could easily see myself being persuaded by him to do something I normally wouldn’t do (just probably not, you know, murder). But he’s also a genuinely sweet and appreciative person, as it was clear he was overwhelmed by the love and support he received from the fans at his first convention ever. Also, watching a two-year old boy dressed as Arrow take down Neal and Barrowman might have been the most adorable thing ever.
Jen: Robbie Amell totally surprised me. He was completely down to earth, funny and probably the most accessible of all the cast at the convention. I had a hilarious conversation with him regarding my disgust over Jay Garrick moving in on Caitlin Snow far too soon after Ronnie’s death. Robbie not only shared my disgust, but gave me his full-fledged support in voicing our mutual disapproval in my Flash reviews.
When I told him of my love for his fiancee Italia Ricci and how heartbroken I was over Chasing Life being cancelled, Robbie decided to give me a thrill of a lifetime and FaceTimed her. Talk about your surprises. I was blown away. Not only did he want to surprise me and the other fans, he genuinely wanted Italia to know how adored she is. After we expressed our undying love, Italia cried because she was so overwhelmed. It was such a genuine display of Robbie’s love for his fans and his future wife. I felt honored to be apart of it. Then, Robbie really got down to business and we talked wedding details. He could not have been more fun or gracious.
Q: If there is something you would change about the con what would it be?
Mer: Make it longer? (Although not actually because I was so exhausted by the end.) I honestly can’t think of a suggestion to improve the con. It was run really well, the panels were excellent, and I did everything I wanted to do! I’m sure one of the other ladies will think of something brilliant.
Maddie: Heroes and Villains Fan Fest is a spectacularly run con. Every aspect of it was virtually perfect. My only slight qualm was the surprising lack of Arrow-themed merchandise/vendors available. In all of aspects, all things Arrow was the crown jewel of the event yet there wasn’t even a single booth where I could buy a t-shirt related to the show. However, my wallet is grateful for that.
Laura: Logistically, I know it would have been impossible for them to do any more panels and I absolutely loved the ones that we got, but it might have been nice to see a panel with the full Arrow cast. And selfishly, I would have loved a Stephen/David panel. But their aim was to give us more individual panels so that the actors weren’t overpowered by each other on stage and we could hear more from each of them. So really, my thing I would change isn’t really a thing I would change because this convention was organized and run perfectly.
Jen: Not a single complaint. I went to a Wizard World convention earlier this year, but I enjoyed HVFF more. I liked the smaller venue and you got more bang for your buck with the amount of stars in the attendance. Logistically, it was easier too. If Stephen Amell was busy — no big deal. You just went to David or Caity’s booths instead. There were a bunch more panels and they were all excellent.
Q: How great is John Barrowman though, really?
Mer: John Barrowman is as great as you expect him to be. He is 1000% uncensored, fun, wacky and engaging, and totally real. What you see is what you get. What I love about him (and a trait I think I share) is that he is the same online as he is in person. Anything he tweets or posts, he would say or do. And I respect that, immensely. Unfortunately I didn’t attend his panel because it conflicted with photo ops I had purchased, but I heard great things, and I did get to interact with him a few times otherwise. He was lovely, and I have only amazingly positive things to say.
Maddie: John Barrowman is a treasure and a pure delight. He is genuine, bonkers, a captivating storyteller, and one of the most charismatic presences I have ever come across. He made me laugh out loud countless times and gives great hugs. Also, if I may take credit for this, I had mentioned my obsession of Hamilton to him and he told me he had only heard a couple of songs from it but would give the entire show a listen. I added that he would be fantastic at playing King George III in the show and he responded by telling me to start a Twitter campaign. Therefore, readers, I call upon you all to help me make #BarrowmanForKG3 happen, pretty please.
Laura: John Barrowman is exactly how you would expect him to be, which is great because you would expect him to be amazing and unhinged. He’s basically just a big kid, and it’s clear that he thoroughly enjoys himself at these conventions. His energy is like no one else’s and he brings so much joy with him everywhere he goes. For those who are lucky enough to occasionally be in his orbit, they get to experience something truly special.
Jen: Barrowman kept his arm around me the entire time we took our group photo. Even when the photographer had to pause for a few minutes to get a new memory card. The man is perfection.
Q: Was there anything that happened that you weren’t expecting?
Mer: I don’t think I was actually expecting the con to be as interactive as it was. It was advertised as such, but I was sort of thinking “well how interactive can you get?” But I was wrong! Almost every panel I went to involved audience members, and there were activities (ziplining, bounce house) around the con that both con attendees and celebrity guests could and did partake in, making the entire thing kind of feel like a big fair. The Nocking Point party definitely added to that interactive feel, and I know that I left the weekend feeling as though I had really engaged with the celebrity guests on a personal level.
Maddie: I was not expecting John Barrowman and Neal McDonough dancing to “Turn Down For What” and stage diving. Enough said.
Laura: Pretty much all I was expecting from this con was for it to be amazing and it was. It’s all the little moments that you could never have expected that end up making these events so incredible. There’s no way I could have known that a group of us would make Italia Ricci cry when Robbie let us FaceTime with her about Chasing Life just like there’s no way I could have known that I’d run into Stephen in the hotel lobby right before leaving to catch a plane back home. All these small things that you could never have imagined happening always add up to an unforgettable experience and this con was no different.
Jen: I never go into a convention anticipating any special interaction with any of the actors, so whenever they happened it was a total surprise. What was particularly shocking was that I had a special moment with every single actor, which I certainly did not expect and couldn’t have been more overjoyed — me and Laura’s Willa Holland moment, the David Ramsey autograph chat, discussing "Brotherhood" with James Bamford, talking about the upcoming midseason finale with Neal McDonough, Paul Blackthorne calling me “darling,” snuggle time with Barrowman, talking about White Canary with Caity Lotz, everything about Robbie Amell, and even a quick chat with Stephen about spoilers.
Stage diving, charades, Amell zip-lining, Nerf gun wars, and Neal McDonough’s harmonica skills were also shockers as well.
Q: Alternately, was there anything you were expecting that didn’t happen?
Mer: Though we knew about it a few days in advance, I will say I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t an Arrow group panel with all the cast members in attendance. Willa Holland actually wasn’t on a panel at all, nor was Neal McDonough. I won’t necessarily say I’m disappointed that there wasn’t a big group panel, because those can be tough to effectively moderate so that everyone gets equal time to talk, but it was the first con I’ve heard of that didn’t have one. I know these things can be tricky to coordinate, but it did surprise me a bit that Willa and Neal didn’t have the chance to engage with fans through a panel.
Laura: I was expecting to have to wait in lines for a lot longer than I had to. Thanks to the incredible organization from the people who ran Heroes and Villains, fans were able to go out and do and see the things they wanted instead of waiting in lines for hours and hours. The autograph, photo ops, and panel lines were handled beautifully, much better than any other convention I’ve been to.
Jen: Umm... I ate on a regular basis, which is odd for a convention. I brought my husband which is how I avoided starvation. So really,s it was probably a one time thing.
Q: What tips do you have for anyone attending a Heroes and Villains Fanfest Convention?
Mer: If it’s feasible for you, get a VIP or higher ticket. It’s very much worth it, to avoid lines and just sort of “fast pass” your way through the con. Basic things like: bring snacks and water, wear comfy shoes, plan your schedule in advance but stay flexible. I would add to that — don’t be shy! Say what you want to say, ask the questions you want to ask. As long as you do so politely, and are respectful if your question goes unanswered for whatever reason, you won’t regret it.
Maddie: For the love of all things that are good in this world, if you have the opportunity to ask a question at a panel, please do not ask something a simple Google search could answer. I’d say at least half of the questions Stephen received at his solo panel could have been resolved with just a five minute internet search. Mer is right, as she often is: don’t be shy! I paid for two different Stephen Amell autographs because I was too shy to really talk to him the first time.
Laura: Cons can be a little bit overwhelming if you’re an introvert like I am, but for me they tend to be the one place that I’m more extroverted than introverted. Like Mer and Maddie said, this is your big chance to interact with these actors that you’ve watched and admired for so long. Once you’re actually at the convention, it’s pretty easy to let go of everything that usually holds you back from interacting with large groups of people and simply enjoy yourself. Take in and enjoy every moment and don’t let fears hold you back from talking to the actors — they’re all super nice, I promise.
Jen: If you have limited funds and can only choose one convention to go to, make it an HVFF. This is Stephen’s convention and I was thoroughly impressed with how it was run. Yes, the VIP tickets are great, but if you can’t afford it, don’t stress. The general admission lines were nowhere near as long as a Wizard Con because of the smaller venue. Stephen seemed to like the smaller venue and wants to keep it that way for future HVFF conventions.
Q: Any other closing thoughts?
Mer: Major kudos to the team at HVFF. The staff and volunteers are amazing. The entire convention was run impeccably. Everyone was friendly and helpful, the event was super well organized, engaging, fun, and unique, which is no easy feat when fan conventions are a dime a dozen nowadays.
Maddie: I wanted to give thanks and awesome point to all of the staff and volunteers that made this event happen. HVFF was one of the most special and unforgettable experiences of my life. I cannot even remember the last time I had this much fun in one weekend. With the exception of SDCC, I’m really not interested in a con experience from another outlet.
Laura: Like the other writers here, I was more than impressed with how wonderfully run and organized this event was. The volunteers blew me away with how helpful they were in answering any questions I had, something that is rare at these kind of conventions. The whole team that worked hard to put this event together did an amazing job and I’m already planning to attend the one in Chicago next year. If you have the means to, I highly recommend going to a Heroes and Villains event.
Jen: The HVFF staff was amazing. Everyone was kind and courteous, even when giving instructions. They went out of their way to ensure you had a nice experience. I’m type-A, and the organization was excellent. There was even food ON SITE. More than anything, it was such a wonderful weekend with friends and I have a lot of memories to treasure.