The founder of Australia’s biggest pop culture expo gives us a glimpse behind the scenes.
This month with the help of Stage and Screen travel services, Supanova Pop Culture Expo sweeps into Sydney and Perth, on the second leg of its annual Australian tour.
Since founder and director Daniel Zachariou started the expo as ComicFest in 2000, he has seen it grow into the country’s biggest celebration of pop culture, where creators, fans and stars gather under one roof. In 2015, Supanova attracted 187,770 visitors nationwide. In Sydney alone, 47,000 flocked through the doors at Olympic Park.
The year-round timetable and geographical spread of events mean that Zachariou and his team are almost constantly working on the next incarnation of Supanova’s galaxy of superheroes, Vikings, werewolves, aliens, vampires, witches, wizards, zombies and fantasy characters from across the world’s most popular TV shows, movies, fiction and comic books.
Making it all happen is a military-scale job. Zachariou has a core team of 60, who fly around the country to each event, plus 300-500 local volunteers in every city.
“The team work across areas including ticketing, security, event managing,” he says. “My own role these days is mainly as troubleshooter, liaising with guests and management.”
Crucial to Supanova’s success is the line-up of talent, from actors to writers, animators and designers, and Zachariou spends most of his time securing big name acts. The process begins with a talent agency or individual’s management, then negotiations about fees and requirements, and if all sides are satisfied, a booking.
Zachariou’s hard work is evident; this year the bill features 70-plus guests includes 30 major international names. Big draw cards are Travis Fimmel (Vikings); Shannen Doherty (Charmed); James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel); Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings); John Jarratt (Wolf Creek); Juliet Landau (Buffy the Vampire Slayer); Eugene Simon (Game of Thrones), and Peter Facinelli (Twilight Saga, Supergirl).
According to Zachariou's dealing with talent can be a nerve-wracking process. “One of the biggest curve balls is the standard clause in talent contracts allowing a guest to cancel at the last minute if required for work,” he says.
"One of the biggest curve balls is the standard clause in talent contracts allowing a guest to cancel at the last minute if required for work. If a star’s agent calls and tells them they need to be in LA or on Broadway immediately, they can pull out. It can happen right up to the point their bags are packed and ready to go to the airport." - Daniel Zachariou, Founder and Director - Supernova Pop Culture Expo
“If a star’s agent calls and tells them they need to be in LA or on Broadway immediately, they can pull out,” says Zachariou. “It can happen right up to the point their bags are packed and ready to go to the airport.”
And it has. This year, popular actress Gal Gadot had to pull out because of a clash with filming as Wonder Woman in Justice League: Part One. Zachariou recalls when Christopher Lloyd, AKA “Doc” Brown in Back to the Future, had to cancel at the eleventh hour.
“He was at the airport when his agent called and said he’d been offered a minimum five-episode deal for a major pilot series. He couldn’t come. We just had enough time to cancel his airfare.”
When this happens, Zachariou has to manage fans’ disappointment. “My role is to suck it up and move on,” he says.
But most stars make the trip and view Supanova as a fun working holiday. As the events are scheduled in pairs, with five days downtime in between (this month, Sydney is closely followed by Perth), international guests usually stay for a fortnight and make the most of their time Down Under. Group excursions to local attractions – wildlife parks, Rottnest Island and Sydney Opera House, for example - are a cherished part of the Supanova experience.
“They say it’s like band camp,” Zachariou laughs. “Many lasting friendships are formed.”
Zachariou admits he never gets tired of his chosen subject and Supanova has provided him with endless ‘wow’ moments, including having dinner with Sean Astin and John Rhys-Davies of Lord of the Rings fame, and with Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin.
“Mum bought me my first comic books when I was five, and I just absorbed them,” he says. That was the start of a lifelong devotion. I guess you could say Supanova is an extension of me as a 15-year-old!”
By Amy Cooper