Alien Encounters – 25 Years of Aliens Convention Report

Posted by Corporal Hicks on October 13, 2011 (Updated: 23-Jun-2015)

First off I’d like to apologize for the delay in getting this report to you all. As you’ll know Aliens – Infestation came out recently and a lot of my attention has been on content revolving around that game. However, without further ado let’s get onto my report, shall we? I’d just like to preface that this report will be a personal report told entirely from my point of view and how everything happened for me.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention Report

Alien Encounters – 25 Years of Aliens Convention Report.

If you’ve been visiting the website at all recently you will be extremely aware of an Aliens convention taking place in the United Kingdom. I certainly hope you were, I was doing as much plugging as I possibly could. The event took place on the 24th and 25th of September at the National Space Centre in Leicester.

It was organized by the extremely dedicated Andrew David Clark, the man behind the Aliens Encounter – Superior Fan Power documentary and Darren Kemp, who we should all know from being the producer, director, writer, actor, etc of the upcoming fanfilm Aliens Epilogue.

There were, of course, many others responsible for the convention. The United Kingdom Colonial Marines acted as convention staff throughout the weekend and Coolwater Productions helped provide the guests. And Andrew had kindly asked me to come down as a guest to talk on the Prometheus speculation panel.

Saturday, 24th September 2011.

I had intended to try and stay in bed as long as I could, suffice to say I was extremely excited and immensely nervous at the idea of doing the panel and couldn’t sleep. To be completely honest, my mind was all but occupied by the notion of the panel. I hadn’t ever done anything like that before.

I’d never been to an Aliens specific event before. In fact, I don’t think there has been an Aliens-only event since the early 1990s. I’ve done a few Stargate weekends and I’ve been to one Collectormania event so I’m pretty new to the whole convention scene.

I jumped in the car and set off on my hour journey down to the National Space Centre. Outside I met up with Johnny Gore and tinyeyes, two of our X-Box 360 game night players and proceeded onwards only to be met by heavily armed Colonial Marines. I think that was a strong indication we were in the right place. After that we moved off inside. I’d not been to the Space Center so we wandered around, finding ourselves in the midst of the Aliens themed stalls.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention Report

It had the traditional setup I’d expect from the few conventions I’d been to. Tables for autographs, a fantastic artist had a stand for selling his work, there was the Q&A desk and of course, Harry Harris’ amazing collection. Oddly enough we also saw a stand for Aaron Percival from AvPGalaxy & Christian Fowler from Alien Prequel News. To be fair, I never sat there as I was too busy experiencing the convention for myself but I do wish I’d have took a photo.

I didn’t have much time to look around as I had to do the Prometheus panel at 10. I managed to find my way to Darren and ADC who took me to the green room to meet some of the other guests. I found myself introduced to Ian Nathan, Charles de Lauzirika, Christian Fowler, Chrissie Overs and Chris Trice.

Almost immediately Charles was on me, vengeance in his eyes. If you’ve been reading the forum you’ll have seen me mention the banter that ensued during the weekend between Charles and I due to a poorly worded comment in my recent Alien Vault review. That’ll teach me to be more careful during my reviews but it was an absolute pleasure meeting one of the men behind the fantastic DVD and Blu-ray sets that set a standard somewhat too high for the other DVDs I’d ever purchase.

And off Ian, Christian and I went downstairs to the Shuttle Suite to take to the stage. Andrew chaired it and off we went. Thanks for an anonymous contributor there was a number of new photos to display on the projector, the bulk of them being various shots of what we assume to be a Space Jockey.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportFrom left to right: Ian Nathan, Christian Fowler,  Aaron Percival (Me!) & Andrew David Clark. Photo by Richard Daborn

The panel was a speculation board, discussing the various rumors, leaks and what we expected from Prometheus. Thankfully my nerves eased up as we all progressed, flowing between each other and our expectations. We discussed the Egyptian influences, Christian bringing up Eric Van Danikan and the Chariot of the Gods, and the Prometheus myth. We also discussed rating concerns, possibility of a Director’s Cut. The panel flew by before we knew it and it was time for us to step down.

Next up was the Aliens and AvP special effects panel with Chrissie Overs and Chris Trice with Chris chairing it. Chrissie worked on Aliens and AvP and Chris worked on AvP. The discussion panel focused on these specific projects which Chrissie and Chris had worked on which included the molding of the Queen, the foreground miniature during the marines incursion into the hive. She also talked about her task of designing the practical flamethrower and a very amusing story of how the texturing around the gas canister is just wrappers off Mr Kipling’s cakes.

During this first session Chris talked about the debate regarding CGI vs practical effects which is always an interesting discussion. He talked more about his part in the franchise on the second day.

Then it was time for Charles De Lauzirika’s panel on the Aliens Anthology, this one being chaired by Ian Nathan. As someone who isn’t often seen, despite his enormous contributions to the franchise, it was really interesting to see him up on stage talking. The issue of Alien 3 was brought up. We all know how much Fincher hates his participation in the film and Charles talked about trying to get him involved in the Quadrilogy and Anthology sets.

Charles spoke of having to chase Fincher down, eventually getting a fellow filmmaker to get Fincher to give Charles a ring, leaving a message which consisted of “Err…Hi, this is David Fincher…I was asked to give you a call about Alien 3….so….yeah….”

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportFrom left to right: Charles De Lauzirika & Ian Nathan. Photo by me.

The Assembly Cut had taken them around 9 months (if I’m remembering rightly) of work to complete but unfortunately there wasn’t budget to ADR some of the poorer quality dialog the first time round. However, this was able to be done for the Anthology release.

Charles also talked about how he started in the business. He had actually been talking to Ridley Scott and recommended to Scott he should do this “DVD thing”, Scott in turn asked him to handle it. This was all regarding a specific film but I can’t remember which. This set Charles off on the course that has led to him being a well known name in the DVD/Blu-ray industry. For those that aren’t aware yet, Charles is also working on the Prometheus set but he was unable to talk about it, unfortunately.

Questions were posed to the floor, most of them being asked by me and Ian labeling me a “trouble-maker” due to this and one question I asked. Now I remembered a report that came out around the time of the Anthology set in which Jean-Pierre Jeunet was reported as claiming he had no involvement in the Anthology set. I asked Charles about this and he said that it wasn’t true, that Junet had been involved. I’ll try and find the link to that report to hopefully back me up. But as I told Charles, “I’ll just shut my mouth then”.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportPhoto by Richard Daborn

Charles did talk about some of the issues he had regarding meeting the cast and crew from France during his work on the Alien Resurrection segments. His assistant would schedule interviews in Paris and then several hours later he’d be expected to be back in the UK for someone else. Apparently his assistant didn’t realise the travel time.

I also asked about what sort of freedom Charles has on the sets of the films he is covering. He spoke about taking the “fly-on-the-wall” approach to his documentaries, trying to get the crew to forget he is even there. Charles felt that was when you got the honest moments but that it was also vital to be respectful with the footage you get.

Ian Nathan had also touched on Charles’ new film, Crave, and Charles explained that he would like to continue making films and how he still dabbled his hands in the behind-the-scenes stuff for his own feature.

I really enjoyed listening to his talk and would love to see him talk more about his involvement in the franchise. It was wonderful to see the passion and love that fuels the man that has helped put out the best home releases for this franchise

The last panel of day one was the cast panel which was the only panel you had to pay for. And it cost an absolutely wallet-breaking £1. I must admit I was somewhat worried we’d just be repeating the same old stories but I was thankfully surprised. I think my favorite story had to be the pen mission. We all know that as part of their role, the majority of the marines took part in military training. Weapons handling, marching and etc.

Ricco Ross told a story where their instructor had the actors put their training to use and they had to infiltrate the Pinewood offices. The actors had to retrieve a pen in one of the offices, unbeknown to the Pinewood staff, and had to sneak their way in, holding formation, covering and etc and then they burst into the office and claimed the pen to the surprise of the poor workers.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportFrom left to right: Daniel Kash, Cynthia Scott, Ricco Ross, Trevor Steedman & Harry Harris. Photo by Richard Daborn

Daniel Kash talked about working with Al Mathews and his genuine military training. He recalled an incident in which Mathews had shouted at Kash for improper trigger discipline.

When asked about James Remar, Ross had seemed honestly shocked that that was known knowledge. The cast then went to talk about the differences between how Remar and Biehn’s portrayal of Hicks. Remar’s had been much more harsher and mean. They also mentioned that the rest of the cast wasn’t even told about the change in actors and had been wondering who this guy was.

Cynthia Scott talked about her death scene as well. She performed the first half of the stunt and actually fired the flamethrower herself. During the preparation for the stunt, the stunt actor in the Alien suit was cracking some very inappropriate jokes into her ear.

The flamethrower was talked about a fair bit. The actors had chance to use the practical weapons and they recalled the initial build being a very large flame that had to be dialed back. On a side note, this was also an issue during the shooting of Alien and their practical flamethrower which almost resulted in a fiery death for Ridley Scott.

James Cameron’s legendary attitude was also touched on briefly. While it wasn’t talked about in too much detail, they had recalled a day in which the entire cast and crew (Weaver included) had walked out off the set following Cameron having a temper tantrum.

The discussion turned towards set limitation at one point and the familiar story of the mirrors during the cryo-chamber scene was brought up. However, Daniel Kash, brought up something additional about the use of mirrors during Aliens that I wasn’t aware of. According to Kash a mirror was used to simulate two power-loaders during the dock scene as they had only constructed one. Kash also commented on how much difficulty he had while wearing the suit.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportThe guests laughing as Cynthia Scott tells a story. Photo by Richard Daborn

The group also briefly talked about other roles they had auditioned for and other small stories from their time on the set. Kash hadn’t been interested in Aliens at all as he disliked science-fiction which he feels helped him get the role. Cynthia Scott had originally auditioned for the role of Vasquez. Collette Hiller was also Carrie Henn’s acting coach.

Ricco Ross had mentioned that when he was auditioning for Aliens he had also been auditioned and been offered a role in Full Metal Jacket. He had intended to try and do both but was ultimately forced to choose one or the other. Cameron tried to persuade him by giving him additional lines (which as I recall were actually Wierzbowski’s originally) and he eventually accepted the job offer.

I thoroughly enjoyed the cast session and was pleasantly surprised at some of the stories. After this it was the last attraction of the day and that was a screening of Andrew David Clark’s Aliens Encounters – Superior Fan Power documentary. It was an earlier cut done before we even knew about Prometheus.

I really enjoyed it and found it to be a very personal documentary. It focused on some very interesting members of the Aliens community, including costuming through Abe T. Alien, the United Kingdom Colonial Marines, the couple who made Alien-style EVA suits (sorry, I can’t remember their names). It also included Darren Kemp and others that discussed fanfilms.

It then went onto talk about the Alien Legacy Gold Awards which is a community created award that the website gives to those involved in the franchise. This is where I think it kind of dragged. The thought and actions behind the awards are absolutely wonderful but in terms of the documentary, I think there’s only so many ways you can show the cast and crew’s reactions to the award so I feel ADC might want to look at condensing this section somehow.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportThanks to ADC for kindly providing the screen capture.

Trevor Steedman, who played Wierzbowski in Aliens, also narrated the documentary and he did a fantastic job with it. He really helped move the piece along and coupled with some fantastic green screen work it really brought a smile to my face. To think that all the segments with Trevor were filmed in ADC’s front room in front of a green screen is amazing. You’ll see what I mean when you see the documentary.

Unfortunately during this time a lot of photographic activity was going on including a guest photo which would have included me but I was hidden away watching the documentary so I was disappointed I missed out on this.

But stepping into the light and seeing all those Aliens and Colonial Marines gathered outside in one location was great. We all had a few snaps and poses and I received a very smelly and creepy hug from the every charming Abe the Alien before tinyeyes, Johnny Gore and I parted ways. Tinyeyes and I headed back to our hotel to get changed and ready for the anniversary dinner later on in the evening.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention Report

From the sounds of it, the dinner is traditionally an event for the Alien Legacy boys but tinyeyes and I had purchased tickets and were kindly put on a table with fellow guests Chrissie Overs, Chris Trice, Charles de Lauzirika and organizers ADC, Darren Kemp and Harry Harris. It took place back at the Space Center in the canteen under the rockets. I’m not really a fan of fancy dinners so the food wasn’t a fuss to me.

What I really enjoyed the entertainment. They had managed to secure a pretty funny stand-up comedian that brought a tear to my eye at one point and then we moved onto the charity auction. There was all sorts of stuff put up for auction including signed copies of Alien Vault, guest signed posters, a crew Prometheus gym-bag, an AvPR SFX t-shirt (size humongous which was a shame as I collect Alien/Predator t-shirts) and etc. It was a good session made hilarious by Harry Harris’ role as the “lovely assistant”.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportHarry Harris modeling for the crowd.

I just wish I’d have had the nerves to get up and move around the table to talk to everyone. Tiny and I spent most of the night talking to Chris as we struggled to hear across the table.

And to wrap up the night Chrissie Overs and Collette Hiller were presented with Alien Legacy Gold Awards. All the stars were thanked and given additional gifts for coming. It was a lovely moment and I was really impressed with seeing the love that the guests were given for their role in the franchise we were all there to celebrate. I think the Alien Legacy board deserve a huge thank you themselves for returning the love to the cast and crew.

Sunday, 25th September 2011.

It wasn’t a good night sleep. Our neighbors had decided they would engage in numerous, vigorous and loud exercise throughout the night. It woke us up quite a few times. Tinyeyes and I parted way in the morning, tinyeye heading back home and I headed back to the National Space Centre for day two. I met up with Johnny Gore again and headed in.

The Prometheus panel had been rescheduled as the Aliens SFX panel had been extremely popular and was asked to be put on for a second day. I certainly didn’t mind, I agreed it was good and very interesting. So Johnny and I headed back down to watch. It recapped several points from the Saturday for those that weren’t there.

Chris talked a fair bit more about his roles in Alien vs. Predator. He discussed the construction of the satellite dish seen at the start of the movie, the lenses on the satellite seen during the very opening scenes and about the ice-breaker segments.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportFrom left to right: Chris Trice & Chrissie Overs. Photo by Richard Daborn

He spoke of an occasion during filming in which he’d been collared as everyone was leaving for dinner and asked to ask up the ice-breaker for filming straight after lunch. Quite a lot of technical aspects of model making and logistics were discussed when it was opened to the floor. It was another interesting panel from Chrissie and Chris.

Next up was Terry English’s panel hosted by Harry Harris. Prior to the panel I didn’t really know too much about Terry. He was an armourer on the film and constructed the Colonial Marine’s armor. I didn’t know how much of a character he was. He was so passionate and funny.

He spoke about how he got involved in Aliens, Jim Cameron having been extremely disappointed with the previous sets of armour that were built for him so he went to Terry English, knowing his reputation. He only had a short period of time to construct a large amount of sets though.

Terry touched upon the construction methods and material used in his armour and he branched out to talk about his work on other films as well. It was all very interesting but unfortunately I can’t remember the specifics of the panel.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportLeft to right: Terry English & Harry Harris. Appologies for the poor quality. My camera isn’t fantastic.

After Terry’s panel was Charles Sunday panel. Johnny and I only had time to stay for the first ten minutes as we still had quite a few things to get through before the end of the day. We managed to catch a story in which Charles had been getting lunch for the team not far from their office when they had been working on the Alien 3 Assembly Cut. Who did he see while queuing? David Fincher, of course.

He told how he’d wanted to go up to him and ask him to come back to the office to check it out but he bottled. He’d got the food, gone back to the office and told his team…who promptly persuaded him to go back down to the cafe and invite him up. Unfortunately, David wasn’t there.

If my memory holds up after that we went for signatures first. Being the poverty stricken 9-5 worker that I am I could only really afford two autographs due to the fantastic art copies that I brought from Terry English’s stand. He was selling copies of the production designs for the Colonial Marines armour done by James Cameron. As well as that he was also selling his own art on the W-Y Commando’s (or Dog Handlers as I prefer to nickname them) which I picked up for a very reasonable price.

The autograph tables were arranged around several moderately sized spaces near the rest of the main convention attractions. You brought your tickets from a table before them all and then moved off to get things sized. I brought autographs from Ricco Ross and Trevor Steedman and had them both sign my Aliens UMD cover.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportLeft: Trevor Steedman. Right: Ricco Ross.

It was very relaxed, you were able to talk to the guests and not be rushed through as I’ve experienced at other conventions. They kindly indulged me with a photo at the table. There was also the option for professional shoots earlier in the days.

It wasn’t long before we had to bow out and get in the queue for the Aliens Encounter event. For those that aren’t aware, the event is a live action attraction similar in many ways to the Aliens War event in London in the early 1990s. You’re led through the location and sets by actors, playing roles in a story until you leave the sets.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportIn the Aliens Encounter you are led through a Weyland-Yutani bio-research facility as part of a tour for its benefactors, you. The event takes place in the mission controller simulation suite of the National Space Centre and it did a great job to look the part. The lead researcher takes us into the control room where he gives us a brief overview of the facility and the research before alarms start to flash and marines burst in. It turns out the Xenomorphs have escaped.

Then we’re quickly ushered out into a nearby corridor but the marines keep us back, there’s an egg in the corridor…It’s quickly taken care of and we start to move forward as a scientist behind us is dragged off into the dark. As we approach an airlock the Aliens appear and we’re shouted at to move into the doorway…

I wont spoil the rest of it for you because everyone will have the chance to experience this event. The Aliens Encounter event usually takes place at the film conventions that take place at the National Space Centre and I’m sure we’ll be seeing this as a regular feature of any future Aliens conventions done by ADC and Darren Kemp. It was also including in the Aliens Encounter documentary so you will be able to see it on there.

I wish I had have gone on it twice as to be honest, I was a little too distracted by checking out all the little bits such as the W-Y displays on the screen, the W-Y notepads and energy drinks and etc. Once I saw one, I was hunting the rest down. I must admit, I was also trying to make sure I didn’t let myself get scared. Next time I get chance I’ll be going through again and turn off the critical eye.

I really enjoyed it. It had me smiling, all the little things added to the immersion and I must admit I was surprised at how decent the actors were.

After this I quickly had to make my way to the Prometheus panel. Oopps, I was a little bit late due to the event. Ian Nathan wasn’t in for the second day so it was just Christian, myself and ADC hosting. Again, it was a speculative panel and we covered the Space Jockey inclusion amongst other things. My memory falters here but this next thing I remember well and fondly.

At some point during the event ADC put questions to the audience and a lovely old lady chirped up asking why we weren’t part of the film crew and how she disappointed with us. Apparently someone didn’t realize it was a speculative discussion panel. The person next to her eventually told us all that he’d heard her muttering to her husband about how she didn’t have a clue what this convention was and when asked if she’d seen Ridley Scott’s Alien she said no.

It doesn’t stop there! As we were talking about Space Jockeys and the new pictures, the lovely woman could be heard muttering “Jockeys? I see no horses.” I really enjoyed both of these panels and we had good reception (aside from the hilarious old woman) from the audience.

The last panel of the day was a second cast talk but Johnny and I still had the Harry Harris and UKCM displays to see so we opted to miss Sunday’s talk out. Harry Harris’ collection consists of a large amount of screen-used props and costumes. He’s been collecting for some years now and it really shows.

The UKCM also had a good display of replica props and collectables as well. I can’t really describe them all to you so I’ll just point you to my pictures of the displays which you can find in the gallery on page 5.

  Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportThe Hudson display from Harry Harris’ Aliens Archive.

And to the end day was a screening of Darren Kemp’s Aliens Epilogue. I should imagine most of you will know of the film from our podcast with Darren. As with Andrew’s documentary, it wasn’t a complete cut with some very early stage CG shots and one placeholder from Aliens. That said, the movie opened with a fantastic CG shot of Gateway, it was great to see the location from a not-so-flat perspective.

I wont go into too much detail as Darren is still working on the movie and I don’t want to spoil it all but I’ll give a brief overview of my impressions.

When I spoke with Darren for our podcast he remarked on making use of what you’ve got access to and Darren had quite a lot of access. The movie is shot on several impressive looking locations such as the mission control simulator at the National Space Centre, several industrial locations and even the cockpit of a helicopter so the film looks good and the locations look appropriate.

Darren had also remarked how none of them were actors but it worked well because everyone was a character in their own right. Everyone seemed to be playing themselves with their own real quirks which helped get over the lack of acting experience. I could see the similarities from what I’d seen of the people over the course of the weekend. It was another really good case of making use of what you’ve got.

The score was of good quality too. There was enough of Horner’s Aliens in there but there was the new style and feel of the new composer, Daniel Hildreth, coming through as well. It felt Aliens but it felt appropriately new.

 Alien Encounters - 25 Years of Aliens Convention ReportPromotional Image for Aliens Epilogue. Kindly provided by Darren Kemp.

I do feel the inclusion of the three factions could be cleared up slightly as somewhere along the line I did get confused as to who was on what side and why they were doing this so this might be something Darren wants to look at for future edits.

I was also slightly disappointed at the lack of Aliens in it. With having access to the fantastic suits I would have liked to have seen more of them, even if it was more shots of them stalking in the shadows. However, I am conscious that Darren may not have wanted to use them too much but it would have been nice to see a little more.

All things considered I did really enjoy the movie and it was of a great quality, up there with the best of them but I feel with time and when Darren gets some of the CGI sorted it’ll be well liked within the community.

So that ended the convention. I hung around to say some goodbyes before I headed off home into the websitey chaos that has been the past few weeks.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself over the weekend. It was fantastic to get to meet up with fellow fans who I’d only heard their voices and seen the avatars. These kind of events are great for putting names to faces and I hope I might get chance to meet more of our members over the coming years.

Andrew David Clark and Darren Kemp did an absolutely fantastic job organizing this event. It was large enough to have plenty to do but small enough to be very intimate, I could almost feel the family-bonds that spread between the UKCM organizers and the Alien Legacy crew.

The panels were organized so you had no huge long waits between events which I’ve fond to be a serious problem at the other conventions I have attended. Nothing sucks more than waits so long you just lose interest. I think perhaps we could have done with one or two longer gaps to allow people to get to experience the other exhibits and Alien Encounters live action event without having to sacrifice other panels but I can’t really complain about that.

I really want the group to organize another event, maybe something encompassing the entire franchise including the movies, comics, books, games and etc. I think there’s enough out there to try and make a yearly event out of it if they can get the variety of guests.

Videos of all the guest panels will be made available in the coming months. To close I’d like to thank Andrew for inviting me down as a guest and congratulate everyone involved in making an extremely successful weekend. I hope to see more events from you!

Here you’ll find an assortment of the photos I took over the course of the weekend, of the Harry Harris Aliens Archive, of the UKCM display, the charity dinner and etc. All the following pictures were taken by myself using my camera so some of them may not be of the best quality. I hope you enjoy.

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