Every year Zachary Levi and Dave Coleman team up to bring Nerd HQ to the fans at San Diego Comic-Con. Their event brings fans and creators together for one common purpose: To have fun and support charity.
When fans descend upon San Diego this weekend for Comic-Con they’ll find Nerd HQ serving up a fun, unique experience just blocks away from from the main convention center. Held at the New Children’s Museum for the second year in a row, Nerd HQ holds several exclusive panels with stars like Nathan Fillion, Stephen Amell and the cast of several shows — if their schedules allow it.
If you want to learn more about how this started check out out this article from last year that explains the entire process, and more importantly explains the charity, Operation Smile, that benefits from Nerd HQ.
A lot has changed with Nerd HQ in the past year, and we sat down with Levi and Coleman to discuss those changes and more.
Hypable: Nerd HQ has been so successful, it’s really awesome. How has this year changed from the previous few, other than venue?
Zachary Levi: For us it’s not a matter of making it physically bigger but it’s a matter of making it more [momentous] of an experience for the public, for the talent, for the people from the network. We want this weekend to be the most memorable, awesome experience that anyone coming in and out of these doors can have. What’s different? Just trying to twist all those screws and make it a little tighter, make the flow better.
Dave Coleman: We’ve actually done a lot! We’ve added a bunch of stuff to make it better for guests — we’ve added four giant air conditioning units to make it cooler, we added tiered seating in the panels so it’s more like stadium seating.
Levi: We’ll see! We do a lot to make it better and then the next year people are like, “Why’d you do that?!” We’re going to do everything we can to make people happy. We’ve got 180 stations of games, and last year we had maybe 90. This year we have Battlefield One, Titan Fall and Gears of War 4.
Our vision from the beginning was seeing places like E3 and CES that were professional [be] invite only, but knowing full well that the people that come to Comic-Con are the people who want to play a bunch of games that haven’t come out yet. I mean, that’s what I want to do so I wanted to create the one-stop shop. I want people to come in and have the Comic-Con like entertainment panels and photos but also be able to play with a bunch of cool games and tech.
Johnson and Johnson is a partner we’ve never had before. It’s a perfect partnership because they’ve already worked with Operation Smile and have worked an event in New York where [Operation Smile] benefitted through the Donate a Photo app. I was like “Hey, listen guys! We do photos for charity, you do photos for charity, why don’t we put all this together.”
Coleman: And the great thing this year is that if you can’t come to Comic-Con you can still help donate to Operation Smile by downloading the Donate a Photo app. You take a photo and you put it on the app and it’s a dollar for Operation Smile. If you do it on your own and you keep going you can donate an entire surgery on your own in 240 days.
Hypable: Something that’s been really in the forefront of fandom lately has been fan entitlement and how to handle that – what’s your take on fans that feel entitled to certain things?
When it comes to desires and wants we appreciate that people say, “Hey, we want [this] panel. We want [that] panel.” It’s like, “Guys…if you don’t think we’re not trying to get those already, I don’t know how to explain in 140 characters how to tell you [how this works].”
We’re trying to get everyone here, I’d love to have five stages here where we do panels all day long with all the favorites but it just doesn’t happen! A lot of talent doesn’t even get down to San Diego until Friday night, so we can’t book them on Thursday or Friday and by the time they do come in all their press is on Saturday and they’re out on another flight.
Fans don’t understand sometimes, and it’s really sad.
Hypable: As a fan and a creator I imagine it’s difficult for you because you have to find the balance between where they’re coming from in that mindset, and how it actually works.
Levi: I was talking to someone about this just yesterday because she just saw She Loves Me, the Broadway show I did, and we were talking about the stage door and how people get entitled and whatnot. There’s a couple of things I would say.
Number one, and I really believe this: You pay for a service you and you pay for a product, right? If I go to Starbucks and I pay for this coffee, I shouldn’t be entitled that then the barista spends an extra five minutes with me to tell me about how to make coffee, please sign something for me and take a photo. Now, if I’m really into coffee and I happen to chat up the barista and he happens to have some time to be like, “Oh, you’re into coffee? Let me talk to you about this!” Great, that’s life and that’s how life works. I can’t expect or be entitled to the barista needing to give me five more minutes because I’m in love with the latte they just made me.
The same is true with movies and television (well, TV is different because it’s free but the point remains the same). If I’m an actor and my job is to show up to work every day, they’re paying me to show up to work on time and do the very best that I can. That’s my job. I get paid to do that, and the fans are now paying to see that product and that’s the exchange. Everything beyond that, every fan appearance you do and all that, it’s all gravy. However, if you’re being paid for a convention (and a lot of conventions do this) they’re going to pay you, the actor get X amount of dollars to come do a panel, do photos and do signing. Guess what? Now that’s your job. Those actors are responsible to fulfill that, and the public that are coming have a bit of entitlement of, “Yeah, I paid for a photo and a signature and a panel.” You’ll get all those things. Beyond that you can’t expect that person to be your best friend.
I think everyone in the world deals with self-worth, and we all struggle with [it]. What happens is a lot of people put a lot of self-worth into the amount of comic books they collect, the games they play, their favorite movies and their favorite stars. So if all of a sudden there’s an opportunity where they can grab them and touch them they can now feel like they’re worth something.
We have to work on that, we have to work on something and tell [these fans] that, “You are worth something regardless of if you get to meet Tom Hiddleston or not. Tom Hiddleston is just a dude that happens to play Loki really, really well but he’s just a person. And you’re a person! And you’re worth just as much as him, he just gets to have a really cool job.” That’s what it is. I think if we can work on that route stuff then the fan entitlement stuff starts to get a little more chill. People aren’t feeling like they have to get to the front of the line.
Hypable: And that’s what you do here with Nerd HQ. You take the officialness away and you sort of bridge the gap.
Levi: This is my philosophy, this is what I always believed in. It’s part of the reason I want to do things at Nerd HQ the way I do them because I wanted to interact with fans in a super fun, off-the-cuff way that’s not too official and allow them to see me as a human being and allow me to see them where they have a voice and stand up and be seen, literally.
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