James and Eric are The Walker Stalkers - The best thing about Walker Stalker is that these two guys have turned being superfans into more than a hobby. They were gracious enough to take some time to chat with me about what spurred them to create a wildly successful convention about everyone's favorite TV show about the zombie apocalypse, and what it means to really give back to the fans.
You started your podcast in 2012 after an impromptu visit to the Woodbury set (Season 3) Tell me about what got you started podcasting?
Eric: We came back from our visit [to the Woodbury set] and I posted a bunch of photos to my legal blog, photos of the set, and some of the cast members, and had 8,000 people check out that page in one day. Eric had also made a video, and that had a bunch of hits on YouTube, so Eric and I thought that we should start a podcast and talk about it. Within eight episodes in we were on with Greg Nicotero, and twenty-seven episodes after that we had a guest from The Walking Dead on every single episode, it was an amazing experience.
It's really cool when you can leverage the power of cable's number one television show, and we realized that first of all, that we weren't alone, and that we were incredibly surrounded by some of the most amazing fans of this show that we all loved. And the genre of horror and zombie, which we didn't actually know - I'm not a zombie expert or a horror expert, I wasn't attracted to that part of it necessarily, I was drawn to the stories and the apocalyptic theme and stories. As soon as we started watching it together in James' basement [they're neighbors!] it was just a blast to go check out the set and meet these amazing actors and check out all the locations, we had the most amazing day, and that's how the podcast was born.
What is it about TWD that has drawn you in SO far?
Eric: We have gone pretty far into this thing, way farther than I ever would have imagined. For me, it was the end times, apocalyptic, what happens at the end of the world, type theme that attracted me. James has been a big driver of all of this.
James: We love The Walking Dead, its one of our favorite shows, but what we wanted to create with the podcast was an opportunity for fans to interact with the cast and crew. And then it turned into a Finale Party in Georgia, Melissa McBride (Carol) came, Daniel Thomas May (Allen), E. Roger Mitchell, and it was this awesome experience and that we wanted to do it again for a premiere... But then at some point I attended a convention with Daniel Thomas May and said to him, "we could do this on a bigger scale" - and to us, a bigger scale was 1,500 people. So we started putting the event together and it just kinda snowballing into this massive thing, bigger than we ever anticipated. It's really driven because we've always had the goal of just creating more fan interaction with the cast and crew and other horror and zombie films as well - but really focusing on The Walking Dead and always trying to make it feel like a unique and intimate experience where people feel that they're learning about the show and the actors.
We're only going to do the next show if the fans support it. We're only going to go with this as long as everyone is enjoying the show and wants to attend one of these.
Tell me about your convention Kickstarter (2013) - what made you want it this badly? Did you get any advice from other convention organizers?
Eric: It was an amazing and incredibly scary experience. We felt like we had enough fans through our podcast to get the word out through our social media that we had been doing - at the time we had about 4,000 followers, and FB was about 1,000 - but we felt that with the podcast and social media activity we could make a dent in the cost and give it a go. To be honest, about halfway through the campaign, we only had about $3,000 raised and we were freaking out. I thought for sure that we were pushing it too far. Sure enough, about a week later, during the campaign, Norman Reedus and a few other big names signed on, and 2 days of the campaign ending we hit our 15k goal. We were pretty psyched.
James: There was only one other convention at that time utilizing kickstarter to do a convention - so in the convention community, people were like "What the Hell are these people doing?! You don't kickstart for a convention, you either have the money or you don't!" we were getting all sorts of negative feedback even on our kickstarter page. And even in the community of management for these actors, they were really sketchy getting on board because they weren't sure it was going to happen - but if it didn't get funded, we were going to throw in our own money on that first 15 to get it going - thank god we didn't end up having to do it. We were able to drive social media, we restructured some of the benefits that people received - some of the actors, Melissa McBride in particular, started putting things out to support the kickstarter, and we made it.
The kickstarter was a real confidence boost for us that we had enough people behind us that believed in it, and it really turned into us gaining some of our best and key volunteers.
You started with one city and it's now grown to four separate venues across the country, and even one overseas!
Eric: Atlanta is where The Walking Dead is filmed, and we didn't go in with any indication that we would do another city - maybe we'd do Atlanta again in 2015. In November 2013, we never made any promises that we would do it again, but we had so much fun that we booked for Chicago.
James: We'd like to go to Texas, but beyond that, I don't ever see us going beyond that many events. We're trying to bring it as close as we can to everybody, we don't want to over saturate it, and we really are honored that the cast and crew attend these things, so we don't want to feel like we're taking advantage of it. That's not what this is ever intended to be.
You've expanded the convention to include horror and other zombie film guests as well as TWD, can you tell us about that?
James: Going into it, we really wanted people to experience other films and some of the original Romero films, and even last year we tried to get someone from World War Z to come, but it didn't work out. The natural flow of the con is to bring in some other horror guests - Kane Hodder (Jason), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Danielle Harris (Halloween), we kind of played with it a bit in Chicago this year, we brought in Stephen Amell from Arrow, and Gwendolyn Christie (Brienne of Tarth) from Game of Thrones, and it didn't quite work out AS well - so we decided to stick to our roots, and that's the zombie/horror with a twist of sci-fi when it's right.
We've learned what our identity is for this event, we aren't permitted to do a The Walking Dead cast only event - AMC frowns on that - that's considered a "Walking Dead event" but we loved bringing in [actors like] Judith O'Day (Night of the Living Dead), Eugene Clark (Land of the Dead), Kane Hodder. We want people to have a great time and maybe get exposed to some stuff that they are just learning about with with their new love of [The Walking Dead](series:201193).
It's clear that you're both fans of the show, but have you expanded your love of the show to the other incarnations of the branding? Comics, etc?
Eric: Oh yeah! Definitely! We're into the comics, the video game, the books (novels) that Jay Bonansinga and Robert Kirkman have written.
James: I REALLY want to play the video games, my plan is to play them on my iPad when I finally get to take a vacation some day. I'm holding off on playing those because I want to play them straight through.
So what happens when it's all over? Season 5…still alive...
Eric: It's never gonna end! What are you talking about! (laughs) I think we have another 2 or 3, 4 seasons of The Walking Dead and then the offshoot stand alone series launching next year - I don't know the brand just keeps expanding. I think this has longevity even after the show is over for sure.
James: I think ideally what we'd hope is that when the show ends, that interest will wane, and that we won't be able to do the Chicago, Boston and San Francisco events, but I think we'd love to keep Atlanta as an annual event and somewhere that the Walker Stalkers can come back together and enjoy and relive - kinda like Trekkies and Star Wars people do.
Not many conventions have a charity attached, but I love the one you've chosen - can you tell us about it? What makes it special for you?
Eric: We have always been big supporters of St. Jude personally, this charity means a lot to us, it's something I grew up being a part of whether donating to or being involved in what we see on TV over the years - it is a big part of our hearts and it's a big part of our background. This show is all about giving to the fans and what we can give to one another, it's about what we can give back. We always want to keep the spirit of that alive, and hopefully that's infectious and will permeate throughout the entire con.
James: We had talked about giving back before we really dove into the charity, and St. Jude's reached out to us, when they approached us it just felt like a natural fit. They have a lot of fun, and they have great ways to raise money - cake dives, weird photos, games. People just really have a blast, and it's all going toward the charity. That's how we've always ran the Walker Stalkers - at Christmas we helped over 50 children get gifts for Christmas, we raised $6,000 for a young boy to get his van modified to accommodate his wheelchair so he could go to school; and that's what we want to continue to do. This is fan funded, so we want to give back and a lot of those people we were able to help at xmas were listeners, and some were attendees in Atlanta so it's just important to us to continue to keep that sense of community.
Serious question time - The apocalypse has happened, and you have to leave your house to head to a safe location. You've been tasked with bringing ONE item of your former life with you to entertain the survivors - what would it be and why?
James: I have a collection of over 3,000 unique and antique finger puppets [long pause] So, I would make sure that they would all come out their displays and boxes and I would bring those along and we would have puppet shows.
Eric: I can't top that.
If you to pick one zombie movie to watch forever, what would it be?
Eric: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
James: Yup, it's my earliest memory of zombies, and it's the one that freaks me out the most - it's something about the black and white. The newer zombie films stray away from what a zombie really is...I think it was true to what zombies could be it's not hokey at all.
You can experience Walker Stalker for yourself in cities across the USA - get your tickets and check out the guests on their website!
Boston - June 13th to 15th - features a Friday the 13th reunion, the 15th anniversary celebration of Boondock Saints and all the Walking Dead you can handle!
Atlanta - October 17th - 19th, 2014
Paris, France (yes, FRANCE) - December 6th & 7th
San Francisco - January 31st & February 1st, 2015
Chicago - February 21st & 22nd, 2015
James and Eric tell you what you can expect at Walker Stalker Boston:
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