(first posted at outlandercast in September 2019)
Have you ever wished that the cast of Outlander would come to a place near you? Would you like to know the backstory of an Outlander Fan Convention, what is involved in organising an event and the key players?
Meet Koko Pipkin and her team of dedicated organisers and planners. She is the long-time super-fan of all things Outlander who decided to put on her own convention in Canada. Here’s my recent conversation with Koko to learn more about how these kinds of events in general and Outlandish Vancouver in particular gets done.
First can you tell me a bit about yourself, and how you became an Outlander fan?
I grew up primarily in the United States and my background is in x-ray technology, followed by a second career as a plant/soil wetland biologist. In March 2000 I took a trip to Scotland and fell in love with the country before I knew about Outlander. The following May while travelling in Turkey, I went to an English bookstore and bought the fattest book on the shelf to read. That book was Dragonfly in Amber.
I was later surprised to learn that this was actually the SECOND book in the series and went to find more books by Diana Gabaldon. Her books had me hooked and I eagerly awaited each new release. Years later, I was thrilled to learn that my favourite book series was to become a STARZ television adaptation.
In 2014, I organized a fundraiser to take place during the Random House OutlanderFan Retreat for Diana’s latest book release, in Seattle, Washington. With Erin Conrad and others, we helped to raise more than $4,000 to donate to one of Diana’s charities, Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos. (Side note, isn’t it great how many folks associated with Outlanderdo such valuable charity work? Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, literally meaning Our little brothers and sisters, is a charitable organization that has provided a home for thousands of orphans and abandoned children since 1954. Currently NPH has homes in nine Latin American countries).
I attended as many screenings and premieres of Outlander that I could in the U.S. and later was able to make it to some conventions held in Europe (JIBLand, Highlanders,LandCon). Some smaller enjoyable events I attended in the United States include Thru the Stones (Iowa), Outlander in the City (New York), and Novel Adventures Gathering on the Ridge in North Carolina.
I understand that your Outlandish Vancouver event has grown organically from smaller beginnings? Can you describe how this came about?
Outlandish Vancouver originally started as a small number of book fans from Seattle and Canada who went to see Diana Gabaldon in Surrey, BC. It grew into a group pilgrimage to see Diana during the free book signing sponsored by the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC) after the show aired in 2014. It was then that we first had several organised activities in Surrey and New Westminster, British Columbia. After meeting and hosting Àdhamh Ó Broin (the OutlanderGaelic consultant) in Seattle, we invited him to meet more fans during the trip to Surrey in 2016. He met fans, taught them the basics of Gaelic, and we had our first “Party in the Suite” during that visit.
Koko and friends at the first ‘Party in the Suite’ with special guest Àdhamh Ó Broin
The unique and fun event grew over the years, adding more Outlander cast members as guests and more activities throughout the weekend where Outlanderfans could meet and hang out with some of their favourite actors, in addition to seeing Diana.
The event has also become structured with offerings closer to a larger convention yet keeping attendance smaller and more intimate like the original small events that our repeat attendees love. As the event grew out of Outlander book fans visiting their favourite author at the SiWC, we have always built in a block of free time during the Outlandish Vancouver weekend event for our attendees to visit Diana during the SiWC free book signing.
Each activity during the event weekend has a block of time unto itself, so one unique factor about Outlandish Vancouver is that attendees will not miss anything since there are no overlapping or concurrent activities.
At what point did you decide, yes, I can do this, and it became an Outlander convention?
It happened gradually. The first year we sold tickets to a Gaelic talk and the first “Party in the Suite.” Our special guest was Àdhamh, whom I had known and hosted previously in Seattle. The next year we added a cast member, David Berry, so we knew that we had to offer additional activities throughout the weekend, as our attendees were now coming from far and wide. We added a dinner called “Ardsmuir Prison” with the Governor Lord John Grey (David Berry), a second Suite Party, and some traditional convention activities like panel talks, professional photograph and autograph sessions, and small group meet-and-greet sessions. The next year there were supposed to be again two guests, Steven Cree and César Domboy, and the format was going to be similar to the previous year. We then had the opportunity to add two additional cast guests to our weekend and the weekend quickly grew to a full-fledged convention with attendees coming from all over the United States and four countries.
Did you have a team working with you at the start, or was it just you?
I had done much of the planning and organising on my own until recently, but have always relied on a small group of dedicated friends to help with the weekend’s activities as well as to consult with during the planning phase.
Sunday brunch with John Bell and his mother at last years event
I understand that ‘Outlander Adventures’ is a not-for-profit organisation. Does that mean that your team are all volunteers?
Yes! We just became a non-profit in Washington in June, which means that all monies go directly to producing the event. The Outlandish Vancouver team are all wonderful friends of mine who donate their time and talents all year to help plan and prepare for the weekend. This includes paying for their own travel expenses to attend and staff the event. By engaging volunteer staff, we can keep the event costs as low as possible and pass those savings on to our attendees. We do pay for the security for the event and high school students who run the A/V equipment during the panels.
Can you describe the team and the special skills or contributions they make?
All Outlandish Vancouver team members have past personal and professional experience planning, running and/or volunteering at events, as well as decades of financial and business management. Everyone on the team also has an extensive background in various customer service roles. Some roles within the team are unique, such as managing orders, inventory, and the spreadsheet; while everyone helps with completing registration, being a personal assistant, logistics, site visits, and green room management.
The team with the 2018 guests, John Bell, Steven Cree, César Domboy and Lauren Lyle – smiles all round.
I am an ideas person, I throw out ideas all year and the other team members (Samantha, Karin, Crafty, and Martine) all help me to either actualise those ideas or make suggestions to make the idea better. I am a believer in visualisation leading to actualisation and everyone makes that happen as a team. Darrin is our photographer and his specialty is weddings, so we are fortunate to have him since he is the one who provides the lasting memories of fans with the cast. This year will be our third with him and he has frequently been noted as one of the best convention photographers.
As a not-for-profit, cash flow could be a problem? How do you manage that?
As the organiser, I handle all the financial and contract items; however, I rely heavily on the team as consultants and investors of both time and money, especially in the early planning stages before tickets sales generate income.
Super fan Cathie McQuistion is known for her cool and sometimes quirky photo ops with the cast.
The paddle boat looks like fun
How do you go about engaging the guests to appear at your event?
As a frequent attendee of other fan events, my team and I have made several contacts with cast members and their management over the years. The process is usually quite straight forward. We approach the cast member’s management with an event idea, give them the dates, preliminary plan/schedule of the appearance, and see if they are interested and available. If their schedule is free and they are interested in being a guest, then we move on to the next phase of the process, which is discussing contract details, fees, requirements, etc. Both last year and this year we were extremely blessed to have had multiple cast members approach us asking if they could attend our event.
What gems of wisdom would you have for anyone else considering starting up a local Outlander event? Any sage advice or pitfalls to avoid?
I often see on social media fans responding to cast members asking them “why don’t you come to my city?” The reality is that many of the cast would love to do events — the key is that they need to be invited to come! As much as they all love their fans, this would be a paid appearance, so the offer to visit must also come with a financial agreement, which usually must include travel expenses and accommodations, an appearance fee, ground transportation at home and the host city, visas to visit the host country, security, and meals/per diem or a combination of both. If you are not able to financially cover the event expenses yourself, it is very important to line up trusted investors.
As a rule, an organiser cannot announce a cast member will be appearing at your event or sell things like photographs with them, autographs, etc., until the contracts are signed and the deposit is received by the actor or their management.
Deposits range from 10-20% of the appearance fee. Remember, too, that there are risks involved in booking actors to attend events. If their filming schedules change, they may need to cancel an announced appearance. While this is disappointing for all involved, including the actor, it could result in having to refund money for any extras bought for that actor, and/or finding last minute replacements, which could be stressful, time consuming, and expensive.
Meeting and greeting with David Berry in 2017
What will be the highlights of Outlandish Vancouver this year?
Having Diana Gabaldon join us on our Fraser River Cruise on Sunday afternoon will be the highlight and capstone experience of the weekend! Last year our attendees all loved the riverboat cruise with the cast. Her attendance is a true honour and a real treat.
A perennial favourite is always the Party in the Suite. We have limited the attendance at these parties so that no more than 10 fans will be in each suite with the cast guests to ensure the intimacy of this small group activity. Also, as an event held in Canada, we have three actors who are all Canadian and First Nations attending as guests this year. This will be their first Outlander convention and they are all looking forward to October.
A highlight of last year was celebrating John Bells’s 21st Birthday
In what ways is your event different from others?
One unique feature is that even though we have six guests coming this year, attendees will not miss anything if they choose to attend every single activity. Nothing in the schedule overlaps. While many attendees opt to purchase a package that includes multiple activities on each day of the event, we have many local fans that opt to just attend the types of activities that interest them.
Some just come for the Sunday paddleboat cruise. Some only want to be a part of the Friday Night Mix & Mingle or the Saturday Party in the Suite. Some just want to come to the panels on Saturday and/or Sunday and hear their favourite actors talk.
Guests this year are Carmen Moore, Keith Fleming, Braeden Clark, Sera-Lys McArthur, Ed Speleers and John Bell
A fan can attend only the Saturday panel for a cost of $40 USD or they can go as deep as they want to immerse themselves into each experience. There is price point for almost every budget with ticket packages and an a la carte ticket menu. While some activities are sold out, many opportunities remain to enjoy the event weekend and meet the cast. There are a few Wilderness Ticket Packages available, which includes the Fraser River Cruise with Diana in attendance. All ticket descriptions along with an event outline are available on our website: www.OutlandishVancouver.com
Thanks for your time Koko. Wishing you well for a successful Outlandish Vancouver event this year.