a weekend in outer space
a report on FedCon 10 by Sonja Horstmann
It's a much-too-early Saturday morning. The elevator doors open and admit two people in perfect Star Trek Voyager uniforms. I am beginning to wonder why on earth the door doesn't say "swooosh". One of the two uniformed men touches his communicator and says "Computer, ground floor, please." which at this point seems perfectly normal to me...
but let's start this story at the beginning...
Bonn,Friday, May 10th, 2002
We are arriving at the Bonn Maritim Hotel around 10.30 a.m.. Parking space? Don't ask. The hotel is located near all those ministries, most parking lots are only for the people working there. So we find a place far away from the hotel's entrance, behind a car with a bumper sticker saying "I brake for Klingons". Seems we are finally there.
Inside the hotel, we discover that the line in which we are supposed to pick up our con badge and packet is empty, while the other one is crowded. Our "fan club table papers" admit us to the otherwise still restricted convention area. We are going up to the first floor and start setting up the A-Team Fan Society table. Lots of nice people are already there. Frank volunteers to get the rest of our stuff out of the car - and he's the one to spot Dirk for the first time, on his way to a press conference.
As soon as the convention opens, people keep appearing at our table. I am beginning to wonder if 120 business cards will be enough... Someone claims Dirk is now outside and writing autographs, looking "much older than expected". (Later I found out she only knew him from Battlestar Galactica - so he does look different today.)
We decide to enter the autograph line to have a look and get some items signed. Here, many of the fans encounter their first shock. Every single autograph is charged with 20 Euros, which is almost 20 US Dollars. Even if this is something that seems to be normal these days, many of the Fed Con guests are angry because the price last year was the same in DM, which was about half the price.
Some of the stars charge less if you let them sign an item you have brought along.
Two hours later, we finally approach the first tables. Several stars sit in a long line, there are our three Galacticans, Herb Jefferson (Boomer), Richard Hatch (Apollo) and of course Dirk Benedict (Starbuck - Face). Besides that, there are Judson Scott, Richard Biggs, BarBara Luna and Erin Gray and some other Star Trek actors. Dirk's table is almost at the end of the line.
During the two hours, I have decided what to do with my brought-along autograph items. I am positive I would like to have an autograph in my old first edition Kamikaze Cowboy book and on a poster which Dwight signed years ago. In addition, I have a very old picture of Richard out of an official Battlestar Galactica Fan Club kit which I would like to have signed. Frank buys another Dirk picture with a nice black and white shot of "Faceman" for me as a gift. Thanks again!!! I don't really know what to do with Boomer though...20 Euros are 20 Euros.
Richard is very friendly, I hand over the small viper in glass I 've had made for him and he is very interested in it. (In fact, it was on his table for the rest of the three days...) He immediately agrees on a quick picture. The line is moving very slowly. Herb is standing up and leaving for his panel just three people in front of me. So this is my decision - no signed item from Herb, at least not today. Finally, we are at Dirk's table. The lady sitting next to him takes my money and asks for a paper with my name written on it so Dirk would spell the signature right. (Before you could talk to the stars, there was always one from the Fedcon staff to sell pictures, take the money and prearrange the items.)
I take off my ATFS badge with my name and hand it over together with the book and the poster. When Dirk looks up, I introduce myself and he immediately knows who I am. We've been in contact a few times before the convention and he asked me to just come up and say hello as he wouldn't be able to seek me out. He says "Hey, you're Sonja, this is Sonja. Isn't it strange to finally meet after all these years?"
I tell him that the waiting time at our humble ATFS table was much shorter and that he should visit it sometime if time permitted. I also give him the 3D glass viper with his name and the ATFS logo lasered inside and he is quite impressed. He signs the book, the poster and the picture, all with different nice dedications. (In fact, I haven't seen two items autographed by Dirk on this weekend which had the same words on them - and we did compare a lot of them...) When security people try to move me on, he simply stands up to do a picture together and leaves his table. First, he asks for the location of our table and wants to go there, then he decides to take a quick picture right now and here. He 's really very nice. Sure enough, he has to return to his table and the ever growing autograph line.
We leave the autograph area and go back to our table. On this evening, we also meet the first members - Dewi and Bianka are sharing our table at dinner, coincidence! Some time later, we also get to know Ute (J.) in person as well as Melanie and Nina. It 's a real nice evening. Around 12 p.m. we decide to call it a day. At this time, Dirk is still sitting at the bar, engaged in conversations and he also dances a lot according to other members and himself.
Saturday,May 11th, 2002
Same struggle to find a parking space as yesterday. On the way to the hotel, I go into a drugstore to buy some more rolls of film. Only when I 'm outside again, I realize that my Colonial Warrior jacket must have been the reason for those strange looks other people gave me... You just forget this does have to look strange if you 've already spent a whole day amongst Klingons, Cylons and other folks.
We set up our table and notice that Dirk today is signing just next door! So many people wanted to have an autograph the day before that the other stars had too much waiting time. He gets his own room and line on this day. He looks very tired, nevertheless he's very nice again. I look into his room and tell him that we're just next door. A few minutes later, he appears at our table and has a look at the magazines and the illuminated A-Team glass picture there. We talk a little bit about his journey to Germany, the ATFS and take another set of pictures. The room suddenly is crowded... I don't know who else has got me & Dirk & the table on film - if you do, let me know :-). As it's already 10 a.m., duty is waiting and Dirk has to leave for another day of signing.
During the day, more members visit, including Dennis, Achim, Ute L., Benjamin, Mathias and many more. There are also some people who sign up for the club immediately. Most of us take a picture together on Saturday evening.
The afternoon features Dirk's first panel. He appears on stage smoking a cigar just like Starbuck, still looking very tired. He says that he has been smoking cigars for 40 years and that smoking is good for you, something that another fan would pick up on on the next day.
He announces that he is going to give away two books: One for the rudest question and one for the most intelligent one. He refers to Einstein being a very intelligent German and that his brain has been kept in a jar ever since he passed away. There is a theory that intelligence depends on the size and weight of your brain and as Dirk had heard this in his childhood, he admits he tried to weigh his head on a scale when he was little.
During the next minutes, he talks about the last eight years which he has spent "working to become non-famous". He says that Montana is like Bavaria without people and goes on to describe his living conditions in a small 900 square feet cabin together with his boys, cooking on a woodstove. After the divorce from his wife Toni, he had to sell three houses and the plane - but got the two boys, George and Roland. They are 12 and 14 years old and are now allowed to watch TV. They grew up without this kind of media until last year. Dirk currently is building a "real" house like his sons call it.
He also tells the guests about the movie "Cahoots", which is currently shown at the Cannes film festival. Dirk wrote the script for this many years ago and was now able to produce the movie after raising two million dollars.
Being in Germany, he also talks about his ancestors, which are German on both sides. Dirk's real name is Niewöhner as many of you will probably already know. On his mother's side, the family name was Metzger and there have still to be some relatives around in the area of Cologne. He adds that four years ago, he found a 28-year old man standing on his doorstep who turned out to be his son. Though they hadn't met before, there are a lot of similarities like they are both eating the same food. "He is a lot like me." concluded Dirk.
Then a woman asks a question about the A-Team and wants to know if Dirk is still in contact with Mr. T and Dwight (which he still is). He also says that George already was not feeling good at the end of the show. (George died in 1994.) He briefly adds that Mr. T has been suffering from cancer. Someone then wants to know if it was Dirk who appeared in Walker Texas Ranger some years ago. Dirk tells him that he was invited to take a part in an episode of this series as the producer was someone who had already worked at the A-Team.
Another (very open) question is where Dirk sees differences and or similarities between the A-Team and Galactica. He replies that both shows died early and that in the beginning, the networks refused to hire him. Battlestar was killed by the egos of networks. He also mentions the episode "Return of Starbuck", being an episode of the not much loved BG '80 series. There were only 3 actors, one of them being a Cylon. Dirk calls it a great script (and this is to my knowledge really the only BG 80 episode which is liked by all fans). He also remembers Fred Astaire, with whom he did a lot of rehearsing. Fred Astaire played Starbuck's father in "The Man with Nine Lives".
Then someone wants to know what the best part of playing Starbuck was, to which Dirk replied "getting a paycheck every week! - No, Richard got all the money and I got all the girls!" He says that he didn't know he was sexy until he did that show. "It was great!" It gave him an insight in celebrity. He adds that in former times, before TV, you had to be dead to become famous and he also mentions Curt Cobain and Elvis as a modern example for that. He tells us about the idea for a script, the story is taking place in the future and everyone finally has his or her own Television Show, except one person. All people are craving for rates and try to make other people watch their shows. The story focusses on the only person left on this planet not being famous.
Then one person in the audience speaks up: "Mr. Benedict, you're talking too long and too much." Dirk reacts by saying that this remark actually might get him the book for the rudest question. "If you come and get it, I'll step on your hand!"
The last question is asked by a woman who says one of her other all-time favorite series was "The Love Boat". (Dirk had a guest role in that series twice.) There is a short talk about the first Kamikaze Cowboy Cruise and the planned second one - then the panel is over.
The rest of the day, Dirk spends in his room signing photographs and other items. I spot him at the party early in the evening, but he calls it a day soon.
Sunday,May 12th, 2002
Sunday again starts much too early. The party on Saturday night was fantastic, ever seen dancing Stromtroopers and Klingons together? So we arrive at the Maritim considerably tired. Dirk gets another table of his own in the hall today (so the line can be even longer?) On 11 a.m., the panel with the Galactian dream team is due. Dirk, Richard and Herb appear on stage and seem to enjoy themselves a lot. They ask the audience to name some scenes from Galactica and they would try to replay them. The first wish is to see a viper launching sequence. Without hesitation, Dirk is placed on a chair Richard manages to find. The three go through the whole launching procedure and Richard then pushes Dirk on the chair across the stage. We are all really having a good time.
The three actors tell stories from the time back on the Galactica set, when they used to live in Motorhomes on the Universal backlot and practically never left the set. Richard remembers the macrobiotic meals Dirk used to cook and that they spotted Hitchcock some time. Those were 18 hour working days and they had no home life at all.
At this point, a woman who started reading "Confessions" the previous night, asks how being on a macrobiotic diet and smoking cigars fit together, smoking being not healthy at all. Dirk replies that "all truth is buried in paradox" and that really you'd be "better off smoking a cigar than drinking a pepsi". Richard concludes that what he meant to say was "smoke, don't eat".
Another question dealing with the A-Team's 5th season follows. Dirk says that they've made the mistake of adding characters instead of developing the original ones. He adds that Dwight and him have been the only ones who really cared about the show, they've twisted the dialogues and put many of their own ideas in it. With the 5th season, they were trying to take the show away from them. Then one day the whole team was told that this was going to be the last episode and week of the show. Five days later, they were all out of work. There was no party, no real ending.
Then another suggestion for a scene comes up. There's one episode of Galactica, where a mothership is attacked. The actors say, no, they can't do that since it is mother's day and you just can't attack a mother ship on this day.
The next question is if the three of them are rather friends or workmates. The answer is that even if the three haven't seen each other for about ten years, it's like you've never been apart.
Then someone wants to know if Dwight is really crazy. (Strange question...) Dirk replies that Dwight is a very eccentric person, but also funny and smart and that it was great fun to work with him. To stress that he is quite eccentric, he tells us that Mr. Schultz has subscribed to a magazine dealing with auto-surgery, people doing surgery on themselves.
Richard talks a bit about the "Battlestar Galactica - The Second Coming" project. (The trailer has been shown twice during the weekend.) The idea is to bring back old stars together with a new generation born in space. The trailer really is impressing and I would love to see a movie coming together with that concept. After this, the three of them burst into an anti-cylon scene (see picture).
Another fan asks if there were any favorite location shots on Galactica. They remember the main bridge set piece as most amazing. Richard starts to tell a story on "The young Lords", the episode with the unicorns, where "Starbuck once again crashes his viper" on a planet. It was taking place on the Universal backlot and involved a lake which "had been there since Spartacus". Dirk got ringworm from being in the lake, he had to take medication later. The poor guy wearing the cylon costume who had to follow him stumbled and fell. He was almost drowning, but all actors were laughing so hard, no one could do something. It took quite some time until someone went in to help the man. They also say that they used to glue cylons to the ground as they couldn't see their feet, then go on to call then and watch them fall. Another episode they mention is "The magnificent warriors", which showed those pig-people riding into the town, attacking it. The last rider had lost his mask and tried to look like a pig instead, which all three of them seem to remember vividly.
The next subject coming up is the A-Team movie. It's naturally Dirk who says that the scripts for that movie keep getting worse. The network people thought and still think that this series was a success because of the car crashes and the action. He adds that "even Stephen J. Cannell, being a great writer and all, doesn't know what that show was about".
One of the last questions is if any of the three has ever been saved from an awkward situation because of being an actor. It 's Richard who remembers that he was once stopped by a cop because he had violated the speed limit - again. It would have been the ticket which would have made him lose his liscense. The cop did regognize him though and said "Don't worry, Captain Apollo".
Dirk also talks a bit about his sons in the end and says that his son George is a big science fiction fan and reads books by Bradbury and other well-known sci-fi authors.
There are probably a lot of more things to say, but this is what I can still gather from my notes. I hope I remember all of it right and haven't made too many mistakes.
As Sunday goes on, we spend some time at our table again, find a few new members and meet a lot of nice people. Dirk spends the day again signing, signing, signing... appearently, he gets tired of writing Starbuck and just uses a star and a $ instead. I also have the opportunity to talk to Herb briefly and hand over his small viper. He is quite touched and asks me if I would like to take a picture together. In the end, I also have the "Boomer" autograph I didn't get on Friday.
In the evening, we all say good-bye to Dirk and go into a short discussion about our collar pins (which all look a bit different). We check with Dirk's pictures, but none is so close you really can have a good look at the pins. (I've checked at home and - hey - mine are the right ones...:-))
Dirk tries to give away some of his sugar containing presents, but there's no one who wants them. Then he leaves, the closing ceremony is about to begin. Also leaving for the ceremony, I notice a "Starbuck was here" on the tablecloth.:-)
At the ceremony, all stars appear once again and say something nice - at least they are trying to. Robert Beltran doesn't really succeed - again - assuming Mozart was born in Germany and then trying to save it by adding that Austria should belong to Germany anyway...
Dirk though says that even if he doesn't get abroad much, he can die happy now as he's probably written the most (I think) autographs during the weekend. He carries a pineapple and claims this to be the award for it. When the other actors appear on stage for a second and third time, I can't spot him anymore.
We continue to pack our things in the fanclub room and then say a lot of good-byes to a lot of nice people. I guess we all kind of feel at this point that a weekend like this, meeting all three Galactica stars and so many ATFS members won't be likely to happen again.
Back in the car, driving home, Frank and me are totally positive we wouldn't have wanted to miss this weekend. If you need to forget your daily routine for a few days, a convention like this is the place to go.
You'll find many more pictures in the FedConX Gallery Photoalbum which will follow very soon. Stay tuned!!! Just check the Dirk links on our page.
Read the complete report containing more pictures and a few words by Dirk himself in the next Baracus News summer issue!!!