Zachary Levi and David Coleman Discuss Making Nerd HQ ‘Bigger’ and ‘Cooler’ For 2014

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Zachary Levi with celebrity guests Matt Smith, Richard Madden, and Jenna Coleman at a 2013 Nerd HQ panel.

The fourth year for Nerd HQ – the popular offsite event put on by actor Zachary Levi and his geek-lifestyle company The Nerd Machine (which is actually celebrating five years at Comic-Con this year) – has been a crazy ride, and the event hasn’t even started yet. Levi and the event’s co-founder, David Coleman, talked to The San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog about how their main goal this year is to make everything just a little bigger, and a little cooler.

For the first time, Nerd HQ will be returning to a venue – Petco Park – rather than moving to a new location. Staying in the same place, as well as building on three years of experience, has allowed the team to tweak the formula just enough that they hope to make this year’s event the best ever.

“Now, it’s kind of less about what is the event, and more about how do we make it better,” Levi said.

One of the ways that they’re doing that is by focusing more on the fans. Over $330,000 was raised to help fund this year’s Nerd HQ by the fans during an Indiegogo campaign – making this year’s event not only for the fans, but partially by the fans as well. Levi and Coleman have lined up an incredible list of sponsors to fund the rest of the event, as well as give fans the best experience possible.

“We have some really amazing sponsors this year that have, that are going to bring some amazing activations, some really fun fan-focused stuff,” Coleman said.

The list of sponsors for this year’s event includes SEGA, which is bringing out a playable demo for Alien: Isolation as well as other titles that fans can get their hands on first at Nerd HQ; Internet Explorer which is offering attendees a first glimpse at its new online digital game Catan Anytime based on the popular board game The Settlers of Catan; Maker’s Studios and more. Attendees at Nerd HQ can check out everything from the gaming gallery, to photo booths, to an Instagram installation where they can take a photo to appear like they’re climbing the side of a building like Batman and Robin from the 60’s Batman television series.

Everything at Nerd HQ this year is about making the event more connected to the fans – both for those at home who can’t attend and those on the ground in San Diego. Nerd HQ is launching an app for both iOS and Android, which when combined with a personalized wristband handed out at Nerd HQ that’s integrated with RFID technology, will open up a whole new personalized experience.

“There will be towers at every activation point, so that if you take a photo at the photo booth, you can scan in, and that photo will come immediately to your smartphone, or to your e-mail account, or to wherever you decide that you want it to go,” Coleman said. “You can check in during brand activations to get special offers, you can post that you just attended a Conversation for a Cause on your Facebook page. It’s really about keeping everyone connected.”

The app will also house the panel schedule, which attendees will be able to mark for their own personal schedule, as well as maps, links to Nerd HQ’s sponsors and more.

One of the biggest changes this year is actually a small one – the team at Nerd HQ worked with Petco to rearrange last year’s panel room for the celebrity Conversations for a Cause to hold an additional 50 people. By making the stage wider and deeper, they’re able to increase the number of seats from 250 to 300, without losing the intimacy of the events, and even making the lines of sight for those attending better.

“We want people to be able to be seen and feel heard and so it’s nice to be able to bump at least 50 more tickets and accommodate some more folks because people do get a little frustrated sometimes when they’re like, ‘Aw man, I was a millisecond away from clicking on those tickets, and they were gone’,” Levi said.

The change means that each panel will raise an additional $1,000 for Operation Smile. According to Levi, that number could go up all the way to 500 seats if the group finds the right venue, to allow more people to experience the event – but “never at the expense of the intimacy of interaction”. For this year though, that number is only rising to 300 seats.

“We’re in the exact same section we were in last year, the exact same setup, we just went a little bigger and made it a little cooler,” Coleman said.

Ticket information and schedules for the Conversations schedule should start going up mid-to-late this week, with ticket sales once again going through Brown Paper Tickets. This year’s line-up is said to already include members of The Walking Dead cast, Jeff Bridges, and more.

“I think we have some of the best panels we’ve ever had this year, with some of the biggest names, that have never appeared on our stage before,” Coleman said.

As the years have gone on, finding talent for the Conversations has gotten easier. Although Levi said that there is still some favor-asking in terms of getting talent to appear, many guests, networks and studios who have been involved in the past frequently ask to return.

“Not only does that make our job easier, but it also makes it a lot more enjoyable, because I’ll say personally, and I think I can speak for Dave and the rest of the team on this, but it just makes you feel like you’re doing something right when people are coming back to you and saying hey, you’re doing something right and I’d like to be a part of it again,” Levi said.

That doesn’t mean that every part of this year’s planning has been smooth. To help fund Nerd HQ, Levi and Coleman asked fans to pitch in during a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, because without their support, the event simply wasn’t going to happen.

“I don’t ever want to have to do another crowdfunding campaign,” Levi said. “This year was just especially fragile and sensitive and we knew that if we didn’t go out and ask for help, because sometimes you just got to come hand to hand, and say look guys, we want to keep doing this, but we just do not have the ability to do it by ourselves.”

And the fans came through – raising over $330,000 and helping tremendously in making this year’s event a reality. Attendees at Nerd HQ will be able to take a photo in front of the Wall of Honor, which displays the name (or e-mail address or Twitter handle) or every person who donated. There will also be the annual, free, fan party on Thursday night, where attendees can come dance the night away with Levi and The Nerd Machine crew.

“We want to make sure [the fans] understand how much we appreciate what they did, because literally, it means everything for your fans to stand up and say you know what, guys, we believe in what you’re doing,” Coleman said. “We believe that you are trying to be as upfront and transparent as you can about what you’re doing, and we support that. So I’m really excited to meet a lot of those fans who helped us out because it’s their event.”

Ultimately, that’s all that Levi and Coleman want – to make the fans happy.

“I hope that between our gaming activations, our tech activations, our celebrity activations, and just offering fans and celebrities an oasis to chill and relax and have fun and party and dance and whatever it is that they come to and spend time with us doing, that they walk away just grinning and feeling good about life,” Levi said. “Because that’s really what we set out to do and I feel like we’ve been able to do these last three years, and hopefully year four will be no exception.”

About Kerry Dixon

Kerry Dixon is Editor-in-Chief of The San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog and the site’s resident panel guru.