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TheTF.net interviews Auto Assembly lead organisor Simon Plumbe

Written by Duh_Prez on October 23, 2009 | Interviews,News |

Some lucky members of theft.net recently had the opportunity to pose questions to Auto Assembly head organiser Simon Plumbe. The questions range from recapping the greatest weekend in history (well probably) to an exciting revelation about AA2010… that’s right, read on to see who our first guest of honour is!

So Simon AA2009 was pretty awesome – what did you think of it?

I have to be honest and say that I’m incredibly proud of what was achieved with the convention. When I first started talking about Auto Assembly 2009 a year ago, I knew it was a big gamble trying to do a two day event, and I felt that I was really putting my neck on the line saying that we wanted to try to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Transformers in style… but after seeing all of the emotional videos on Youtube afterwards, I’m glad to say that I think we did it.

If you could’ve changed / improved anything, what would it be?

The one thing I would have changed was time – I really needed more time with the new team so we could have planned and prepared more. We really rushed a lot of things near the end and I think behind the scenes we struggled at times to hold things together.

There were quite a few things that we did improve for 2009 that didn’t quite work out how I had planned although these have already been fixed for 2010, but if I’m honest, as an organiser I’m never going to be fully happy with it and if I’m given enough time I’ll keep picking holes at every part of the convention and I’ll make it sound like the worst event that ever happened!

You always look really stressed at the events, do you find time to enjoy
as much as everyone else or is too much like work?

Sadly not. Every year I miss so much of the convention – from the guest talks to the dealers, looking at the displays and even just having the chance to sit down and just chat and catch up with friends that I usually only talk to online. A lot of years, I only usually get to see the guest talks after the convention if someone managed to film them and some I don’t even have the chance to talk to! I remember when Simon Williams made his debut in 2004, we didn’t actually get to talk until weeks after the convention when we caught up to talk about Auto Assembly 2005!

Would you consider offering free beer, in order to tempt Lagerlot to the event?

It’s very rare that anyone buys me a drink (subtle hint there guys!) so I don’t think we’re quite ready to offer anyone else drinks for coming along yet…! lol

Would you ever consider doing more than one event in a year, perhaps at different venues. An AA roadshow, if you will?

It was an idea I toyed with at one point, even to the extent that I had worked out some rough ideas and planned some things out for how it would all work but personally I don’t think I could handle being involved in more than one large-scale event each year and I want to devote myself completely to giving fans the best convention possible.

The only way a second event could be possible is if it was a smaller scale collector’s fair type of event but to be honest looking at how things have come on with Auto Assembly, I really don’t think it would do the name justice.

Organizing an event that continues to grow each year must be difficult. Do you find it difficult to predict how popular each new event will be? Do you ever think that the event could have been bigger, considering the amount that turn up, or is the formula just right?

I think we can continue to grow as I have found that there are people who still keep coming forward saying that they have only just heard about us or who regret not coming along to Auto Assembly 2009 and want to for Auto Assembly 2010, so I think we’re going to set a new attendance record again next year. We’ve also reached the point now with the convention running for longer where we’re starting to attract more fans from outside of the UK so I see a lot more potential for growth still.

What was your favourite and least favourite aspect of this year’s convention?

The least favourite part for me was the behind the scenes stress that I was under. We lost money on the convention this year because we had a couple of late unexpected expenses hit us and a few other sources of income that fell through which screwed us quite a bit. We also had issues that left us with far more work to do than we really needed and with a new committee in place, I was in far more demand over the convention weekend than normal so I barely spent any time with my wife or daughter who were at their first Auto Assembly and having spent most of the previous six months or so supporting me with the convention and then barely seeing me for the weekend, it placed an incredible strain on our marriage.

Favourite part – the atmosphere and fun. Meeting Gregg and Ian was just wonderful and seeing a hall full of people sing along to Next Of Kin when they played “The Touch” during the Saturday night party was just one of those magical moments I will never forget. There were times when I got very emotional over the weekend and it made me realise just why I do these conventions.

The programme overran quite noticeably – why was this? Do you think we can fix it this year?

I’ve been attending conventions of one form or another for 20 years now and running events of varying scales for the same amount of time and to be honest, they never run on time – programmes change, items over-run, get moves, run late etc and these things are always unavoidable and are usually completely beyond the control of the organisers.

Things were a lot harder this year though – the convention was being run on a much larger scale than ever before, with a completely new team that had been brought together at the last minute and there was a very steep learning curve for all of us working together. Now we’ve got past that, we all know what we are doing, we have worked out how to avoid all of the problems that we did encounter behind the scenes that were controllable and we are going to have a couple of us working between now and next August on coming up with a fairly tight programme of events but at the same time allowing plenty of time for items that need it.

I really enjoyed the cosplay and would love to take make my own costume next year… is there a competition or do I need a special form?

There was actually a competition for Auto Assembly 2009 but no-one entered it! We will be doing it as a competition again for 2010 but we’ll be running it a bit differently and probably run something as part of the programme during the Saturday evening. We’ll have an entry form for people to take part, although people will be able to enter on the day but we’re possibly looking at some form of costume show during the Saturday night.

Are you looking at getting some more autographs for the charity auction this year? Any G1 actors?

We’re definitely going to have a lot more artwork again and I know that is being worked on right now, but we are trying to get a lot of autographs from voice actors from all eras of Transformers from G1 right up to the live action movie. Some have already been donated but this year we are hoping to do something a little special with the autographs, and the charity auction itself will be done a little differently too and will definitely look and feel a lot better!

Do you have a personal budget when buying/bidding or is it decided by a look from the wife (as it seemed at AA09)?

Not really. For general merchandise I do have a set spending limit which is based on how much is in the wallet so that helps. When it comes to the auction, I usually only bid on artwork, specifically the pieces commissioned for the convention magazine / postcards and I don’t really set myself and upper limit on these – I’m determined to go home with these and ensure that the collection remains intact and so far I’ve managed to do it no matter what the cost has been!

What type of guests are you looking at getting for 2010

Really I just try to listen to what the attendees want each year – through running surveys, reading what people say on forums and watching videos on Youtube – and take on board ideas, comments and suggestions and take it from there. I do want to try to have a balanced mix between actors and comic guests but for Auto Assembly 2010 we want our guests to have more of a “hands-on” role so we want guests who will be more interactive with attendees – guests that people WANT to see, will have something to contribute to the convention, whether it is on stage during a panel or at other times and really add something to the weekend.

Without naming names, someone could be one of the “lesser” names on our lineup, but they could be a fantastic guest because of what they say and do and they are the sort of people that I want.

How do you find guests? Do they come to you or do you approach them?

It’s a combination really – some have heard about the reputation that Auto Assembly has and have got in touch with me and asked if they could attend (which is how we got Gregg Berger for Auto Assembly 2009!), others have been recommended to us by other actors and others I have actively sought out after fans have asked for them and I’ve either tracked them down through agents or any other sources I can try!

I’ve probably told this story 100 times already, but our first voice actor back in 2004 – Wally Wingert (RiD Sideburn) was completely by chance. I contacted him through his website to see if he could donate some photos for our charity auction, and we quickly became friends. He mentioned that he had never been to the UK and while RiD wasn’t as popular as the other TF shows, I knew from Wally’s versatility and other work that he would make a good guest. I talked to someone I knew who was interested in sponsoring most of Wally’s costs and we made it happen.

So, how many voice actors are you in talks with exactly?

I always try to keep my options open with voice actors as you never know what will happen with anyone – some may have to cancel because of personal reasons, others may decide at the last minute to make demands that you can’t afford as a convention so you never really know what you can / can’t do so I try to talk to as many actors as possible. I don’t really know how many guys I have contact details for now but this year alone I’ve invited or at least got costs from about seven or eight actors to enable us to take things forward and that covers EVERY show from G1 right up to the live action movies!

Who’s your dream guest?

I don’t really have a “dream” guest as such – I’m really interested in meeting guests who are going to be entertaining, have something interesting to say and who want to be at Auto Assembly for the right reason – the fans! Think the one I was the most nervous about was David Kaye a few years ago. Beast Wars is the show that got me into Transformers so there I was bringing David over to the UK – I was in fanboy heaven!

Come on, no backing out! If you could invite any NEW guest in the world, either from comics, cartoons or movies, who would it be and why?

The clichéd response you would expect from me would be Peter Cullen but knowing how much he charges to appear at conventions I’m really not sure that he attends for the right reasons so – no matter how much of a draw he might be – I don’t think he would want to be at the convention for the right reasons.

In terms of anyone new… it’s really difficult for me to answer this one without possibly revealing names of people I may – or may not be talking to! lol I think Michael Bay could be interesting, although I don’t think he would receive the warmest of welcomes and he might be in for a bit of an eye-opener with the criticism he’d come in for! I think the European audience may be a bit harsher on him than he might be used to!

On a personal level, I’d love to see more of the Beast Wars cast or creative team – Scott McNeill, Bob Forward, Susan Blu, Jim Byrnes etc. and I’d be pretty happy meeting any of them!

So then, onto the big news story… Garry Chalk! How did you manage to pull this one off and what can we expect from him?

Well, people have been asking me if we could bring Garry over for several years and to be honest I have been trying to track him down for some time, not just to look into the possibility of inviting him to join us, but to see if he would be interested in supporting us for the charity action….

Anyway, after Auto Assembly 2009, I got back into my usual guest-searching routine and managed to trace contact details for a lot of actors across a range of shows who I hadn’t been in touch with before – G1, Beast Wars, RiD, Armada, Animated and even the live action movies and Garry just happened to be one of those. Being a big Beast Wars fan, I couldn’t pass on the chance to see if he was initially interested in coming over at some point. When he said that he’d love to, we started to talk costs and the rest is history!

With regards to what Garry will be doing, it will be pretty much the same as most of our voice actors. Garry will be taking to the stage for a Q&A session at some point during the weekend (we don’t know what day yet), he’ll be involved in another main programme item on the other day of the convention, he’ll be around signing autographs all weekend, and he’ll be on stage on Saturday night in our script reading taking part in another original Simon Furman tale…!

Any other guests in the works? Can you give us a hint? ;)

Well, including Garry we now have six guests – Garry, Simon Furman, Guido Guidi, Simon Williams, Liam Shalloo, and Kris Carter but we are still in talks with more and are planning on announcing more very soon.

As I said earlier, we wanted to give fans something special for Auto Assembly 2009 as we were celebrating 25 years of Transformers, but as 2010 is Auto Assembly’s 10th birthday year we’re going to do something pretty special again and we want to make the convention bigger and better once more and we think our guests will reflect this! We are planning on adding TWO more guests of honour to the line-up. We’re not saying much else right now, but what we will say right now is this… for 2010, don’t automatically assume that guest of honour = voice actor! We will be bringing some big name guests along to the convention this year and we are going to be bringing in some sponsors to make it happen!

On the comic side of things, I am waiting for confirmation from at least three more comic guests and I should be announcing the first of these in the near future. With regards to the announcements, it’s my intention to announce at least one more guest of honour before Christmas if possible.

Massive thanks to Simon for answering our questions. If you have any others you’d like answering, why not pop into our forum, which he often frequents!