Per My Brother
Not too long ago, while attending the Middle Tennessee Anime Convention, I caught up with GMX Vice President and Executive Director Steven “Zot” Unverzagt for a quick preview of this year’s Geek Media Expo, which takes place November 1st through 3rd in Nashville, TN. We discuss the new additions to this year’s convention (including being mocked by Halo’s Master Chief and Cortana), possible changes for the Nashville Zombie Walk and the prospects of creating a geeky musical event at the Parthenon.
Thank you for the interview just after the Nashville Zombie Walk last year, which you helped coordinate.
– “I was delightfully surprised to be interviewed after the last Zombie Walk. Both you and a TV crew, in a span of five minutes, and I’d never done an interview before… It was fun.”
How long have you been working with the Geek Media Expo?
– “I’ve worked with this organization since ’06, ’07. I’ve been with GMX since the first one. The Maxwell House was our first show. We couldn’t draw flies, as compared to today. It was rough going, brand new, just starting out. This show is such a culmination of that evolution. I’m just really proud to be here.”
Do you forsee GMX growing?
– “I’ve always thought about the community, how to further grow it and how to push the boundaries. What is the definition of a ‘geek?’ What’s not a geek? Executive Director Holly Moore and I had a creative discussion about what MTAC should do and where GMX should go. Wherever she decides MTAC goes, GMX revolves outside that content. So, as much as MTAC can grow; we can grow infinitely, as well, and really pull in various communities.”
What kind of changes has the organization gone through?
– “The organization has gone through a pretty amazing transformation in the past six months. It’s been painful, at times. If you look at today, you see the fruits of that pain and that labor. Nothing’s worth doing unless it hurts a little bit. We’ve reorganized. It’s no longer going to be MTAC and GMX. We’ve submitted a bid for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which will give us the ability to put on other events with popular culture and education in mind. We’re hoping to get that finalized in the next couple of months.”
“Lucas Leverett is the President. He’s no longer the Con Chair of MTAC. Actually, there’s no such thing as Con Chairs. We’ve gotten rid of that idea. I’m the Executive Director and Vice President of GMX. Holly Moore is the Executive Director of MTAC. Ben Lamb is the Vice President of Administration. We’re reorganized into a structure we can really grow with, and take this somewhere. What we can do with that is limitless.”
What are you looking forward to bringing to GMX this year?
– “We’re really pushing the boundaries with the costume contests that we’re doing. This year, $1,000 cash goes to the first place of the costume contest. We’ll only take the best of the best. That’s all we ever want. We want the best to come out and show, and then educate how they did it. We want to know how those costumes are made.”
“I don’t want what I’m about to say to scare anybody from coming to our show. We will always have the roots of popular culture and comic books. We love that and we want to keep that, but we also acknowledge there’s a lot more things that are geeky out there we don’t cover. There’s a lot of sciences we don’t cover. There’s a lot of technology, application development. We want to invite that side of the geek community and become part of that show. There’s nowhere we can’t go.”
Are you bringing in new elements to GMX that you’ve seen at other shows?
– “I go to a lot of shows a year. I go to about 10 or 12 different conventions a year, just in the Southeast. We haven’t even talked about potential travel out to L.A. and New York, to see what we can learn. There’s always ideas I can garner from those shows. Foodie is the newest channel we’re going to have. We’ve got to fill that content. There’s a lot of food geeks around. That’s a big thing. It’s very popular now. We’re going to work with an executive chef and see if we can have a menu prepared. I know there’s going to be some food tastings. We’ll have a beer tasting, as well.”
“The format of the show is going change, over time. In three or four years down the line, the morning/afternoon period is going to be geared toward education. The night time is going to be the application of that knowledge. That’s when everybody comes out and shows their stuff off. That’s the time to let your hair down and express that inner geek. The Saturday Speaker Series is the early name for it, right now. We’re working with different groups around Nashville, TEDX is one of them. (Technology Entertainment and Design) They’ve had speakers from different walks of life. I’ve always been enamored with TED. Their Youtube channel is probably the second-most addictive thing on the Internet.”
Will there be any other new additions to this year’s show?
– “The Costume Contest, as I said earlier. One of the other events that Talent Relations Jeremy Miller came up with a couple of years ago was the Gaming With series. The first two years we had Ellen McLain, who did the voice of GLaDOS. You’d play Portal 2 and she’d heckle you live. Her husband would voice Wheatley for us. That was a lot of fun, but we can’t do that every year. We want to evolve. The plan looks like we’ll have Master Chief (Steve Downes) and Cortana (Jen Taylor) this year. I think this time, we’ll draw some Halo fans. I was excited when I found out we had both actors. I could go through all our programming, but we’re always going to mix it up. We’re never going to have the same show twice.”
What’s your favorite event at GMX?
– “Geek Slam has to be my favorite event. I love watching the Geek Slam. To watch two people dress up as their favorite characters, and then slam each other as those characters, is absolutely brilliant. I’m expecting other shows to start stealing it.”
How is GMX Volume 5 going to different from last year?
– “We’re doing something different: We’re partnering with another convention and trading some programming. We did the Risque Cosplay down in Chattanooga for Chattacon. We also hosted a very successful party. I don’t know how many drinks we served, but it was a blast. In exchange, they’re going to host their parties. The parties are obviously going to return. I wouldn’t do this if we had to stop. And then they’re going to do the Regional Finals of lightsaber battles. That’ll be new.”
Will special-effects company Malice in Mind be involved with GMX or the Zombie Walk this year?
– “Our relationship with Rick Prince is solid. I like working with Malice in Mind. Some of the stuff they produce is just breathtaking. His Jazz is my favorite thing. His Big Daddy from BioShock, is one of the things I really love. I would like to see them more involved in our Zombie Walk. We tried to do a partnership last year; it got a little muddled. We didn’t know, until 14 days before the last Zombie Walk, that we had to do it. There wasn’t a lot of time to plan that, and GMX was 15 days after that. So, being able to plan a Zombie Walk in 14 days and do it the way we would want to do it, didn’t happen.”
How can the Nashville Zombie Walk differentiate itself from all the rest?
– “I’d like to start bringing guests. I looked around the Zombie Walk-scape and I don’t see them doing anything other than walking — even then, they badly walk. I think it would be a lot of fun to have castmembers from some Zombie movies come out, to teach people how to walk. For me, I’d rather spend whatever it costs to bring someone like Big Tiny (Theodus Crane, from The Walking Dead). He is awesome. I met him at Days of the Dead in Atlanta, and he was fantastic. I asked him if he’d like to come to our Zombie Walk. He hadn’t really been to one before. He said that it sounded like a great idea.”
How would you change the 2013 Nashville Zombie Walk?
– “We’ll mix it up. The Zombie Walk is going to grow. I think we’re still going to do the Second Harvest Food Bank as the charity. We have a good relationship with them. I’d like to actually raise a ton and a half of food this year. We did somewhere close to three-quarters of a ton last year. If we could double that, that’d be great. If we double it, that means our attendance would be about 4,500 people. So, the Zombie Walk would get bigger than GMX is. Whatever we can do to benefit charity, we’re going to continue to push that.”
Who would be your ultimate guest for the Zombie Walk?
– “It would be great to bring Robert Kirkman. The Zombie-verse is so big… One of my favorites — always has been, always will be — is George Romero. Dawn of the Dead is my favorite. I’m a big fan. What’s funny is, I don’t think I run the Zombie Walk anymore. We’ve reorganized and Chris Lee, our Vice President of Creative Development handles our smaller events. He and his fiancee, Leia, are both incredibly awesome people. I’m excited to see what they can bring to the organization.”
What kind of events would you, personally, like to bring to Nashville?
– “I would love to see some kind of large gaming event. I’d like to go back to my roots and do a massive LAN Party. There’s been talk of doing a concert down in the Parthenon. We’ve always wanted to do a music event. We’d like to bring geek music. MTAC is very heavy in music. GMX has got a growing interest in music. Why not do a music event? We’ve got the ability to do it now. We’ve got the organization and hopefully the city will work with us. Hopefully, we can do those kind of things.”