After a nearly two-year delay, SopranosCon is returning and taking place at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey on July 24-25. The creators are making the event bigger and better this time around, and instead of focusing on just The Sopranos, they’re expanding the convention to cover the entire mob movie genre and calling it MobMovieCon. The convention will celebrate the HBO series, as well as beloved movies like GoodFellas, The Godfather, A Bronx Tale, Donnie Brasco, and others. The convention was created with fans in mind, giving them an interactive experience with food, music, exhibits, awards shows, galleries, contests, and appearances from plenty of the genre’s biggest stars.
A delay with the venue and now a rush to get Atlantic City fully operational following COVID restrictions left the creative team with just two months to prepare for the event. But now with a bigger staff and more hands on deck than they had in 2019, they have been able to pull it all together just in time to open doors and welcome the thousands of fans they are expecting. Complex caught up with the event’s organizer Daniel Trader, who runs the popular Sopranos Instagram meme page @timeimmemorial. He told us all about the convention, his excitement to reunite with like-minded fans, why he decided to expand from SopranosCon to MobMovieCon, and how feels about the upcoming Sopranos movie The Many Saints of Newark.
Can you tell me how the planning is coming along? How are you feeling now that you can finally get together with the fans again?
There’s this huge push to get Atlantic City back open, fully functioning, and with no restrictions. Once it was approved, all of a sudden it was like, “Oh yeah, let’s do this.” But we were two months away. So we’re kind of working at 200 percent capacity now. I try to balance where I felt in 2019 when it was our first event and there were only really three of us putting the whole thing together. Now we have a much bigger staff, but there’s less time to do it. It was nine months before, now it’s two, and we do have more people that I can delegate tasks to. I’m very excited either way, but I’m naturally anxious all the time, so it’s kind of hard. It’s a lot of different stress. A lot of people don’t really know what goes into an event. It’s just so granular, but 50 steps to complete one thing. It’s exciting to know that we’re all going to be under the same roof again, finally. And COVID has put a lot of pressure on all of us. Now that we’re able to be free, so to speak, we’re all very excited to be together again. Everyone’s itching to get out.
How many people are you expecting to attend?
It’s very hard to gauge, because in 2019 we had about 15,000 people over two days, but it was closer to 18,000. And that was over two days. It was a 30,000-square-foot warehouse, essentially, and people knew that that’s a finite space and that they wanted to get their tickets early. Now that it’s Harrah’s, they know that it’s kind of unlimited capacity. So knowing that, knowing how events work, a lot of people usually wait until the final two weeks, even the day of a lot of the times. We’re definitely hoping to have somewhere in the vicinity of 5,000 to 10,000 people a day. That’s what we’re hoping for.
How many days will it be overall?
It’s two days, but we’re kicking off the weekend on Friday with HBO’s film Gotti with Armand Assante. We’re reuniting three of the cast members and we’re going to have a little panel session.
Can you tell me who is going to be there that you have already scheduled, or is it all a surprise?
A lot of it is out. So in 2019, we announced it. We didn’t know who was going to be receptive to it, so we announced who we had right away just to gauge the receptiveness of it. It was [Sopranos actors] Federico Castelluccio, who played Furio, Vincent Pastore, who played Big Pussy, and then we also, for some reason, right before the announcement came, we found the horse that played Pie-O-My. Her owner signed up right away. So we announced it with those three people, and it was something crazy, like $5,000 or $10,000 in ticket sales in that first weekend. We were like, “Hey, we’re definitely on to something here.” The way we treated those nine months was, we’re going to trickle out these announcements as we want you to know them so we can build the anticipation. So very shortly we’re going to start releasing a whole stampede of announcements. But Lorraine Bracco is probably the biggest Sopranos addition that we have this time. There are going to be some familiar faces.
What was behind the decision to turn it into MobMovieCon?
The reason why we decided to call this MobMovieCon is just so we could expand the universe a little bit. We had so many people reach out in 2019 that wanted to be a part, but we were like, “Listen, we know you were in GoodFellas, but you’re kind of taking away from the point of the event.” So we’re trying to have representation from every major mob film right now. We’re going to have A Bronx Tale represented. We’re going to have Scarface represented. There are only so many people that you can incorporate from GoodFellas and Godfather, unfortunately, without getting into ridiculous numbers. We also are expanding into other things that may not be an exact fit, but they fit enough because we know that from a fan’s perspective. There’s a big fan following for Breaking Bad, for example. So we are, wink, wink, trying to get some people from that show, also. [Ed note: Giancarlo Esposito has been confirmed.] Paul Sorvino from GoodFellas is going to be there. As I mentioned, Lorraine Bracco is obviously Sopranos, but she’s also a big role in GoodFellas. Federico (Castelluccio) is one of our partners now so he’ll be in attendance obviously. We are working on some other Sopranos cast members.
Ice-T is going to be there. He’s hosting the MobMovieAwards, actually. Saturday night, we decided instead of doing a typical awards show, why not do an awards show that encompasses all-time in terms of the mob genre and have the fans vote on these categories? Things like the Best Fight Scene, Best Beat-down, that kind of a thing. And limiting this to only about 500 people, but having some entertainment and just basically sitting down for two hours and having fun. If GoodFellas wins, for example, then maybe Christopher Serrone, who played young Henry Hill, maybe he accepts the award, or Lorraine Bracco, things of that nature. Paul Sorvino.
I can’t believe you’re putting this all together in like, two months.
It’s nuts, it really is. It really is a lot of coordination. My wife wants to kill me, let’s just put it that way. In 2019, we had 55 cast members, and since we were just fans and we obviously still are, anyone that came to us was, “Sure, you can come. We want you there.” Now we kind of have to get away from that. So what we’re focusing on is 35 to 40 recognizable faces from across the genre that you might have not been expecting to see them in something called MobMovieCon. But this is really about the gangster genre as a whole. We’re just calling it MobMovieCon.
What kind of packages are there?
We have several tiers. There are general admission passes for each day. There’s a two-day general admission pass. There’s a couple of VIP passes that are for one and two days. There are some that include the MobMovieAwards. There are some that are for two people. I think there are about five tiers of tickets, but ranging in goodies and t-shirts, autograph passes and stuff like that.
In terms of demographics, do you expect new faces, a new crowd almost?
What’s interesting is that from our analytics, what we can tell is that most of the attendees in 2019 were mid-30s, let’s say, and male predominantly. But the pandemic hit, and people were looking for new shows to binge, and it’s like, “OK, finally I can go start watching Sopranos because people have talked about it for years but it wasn’t really around when I was young.” I can tell you firsthand all of these cast members, they’re so tickled and flabbergasted really, when a fan comes up who’s like 18 years old and says, “Oh my God, Furio, I love you.” And it’s like, “How do you know who I am?” So we know that this resurgence really is a lot in part due to that, the pandemic.
There’s also The Many Saints of Newark. The trailer just got released, so we’re definitely expecting to have some younger people there. We’ve had people ask, “What’s the age restrictions? I’m 18, can I come?” And we say, “You can’t be 18 on the casino floor, but the convention is completely separate.” There are no real age restrictions, but I wouldn’t advise you to bring a two-year-old unless you want to. It’s not really an environment for them, but we’re not really restricting it to anybody.
What did you think about the Many Saints of Newark trailer?
I loved it. I’m so excited. I’ll definitely be the first one in line. I didn’t have HBO growing up, so I had to go to my friend’s house and I wasn’t even planning to watch it. I think the first episode that I watched was in Season 4 and I was like, “What is this? I’ve got to get HBO.” But I’d go to Blockbuster, I’d get the pre-viewed VHS [tapes] that you can buy for $4, $5. But then I found eBay and I bought the season DVD, so I’m now bingeing it myself on the DVD packs. I started watching it live in Season 5, and that was the first time I really had the opportunity to.
Do you plan on having people from the film’s cast there?
There are some people that we’ve spoken to that are more of extras in it that are going to be there. I don’t know that they’re going to be having booths or anything. We do have somebody, I can’t say. We can’t do too much because HBO, it’s like they want to reserve the right obviously to promote this and we don’t want to step on their toes at all. We are hoping that we can build off the hype with them and show that our fans are obviously the people that want to watch this movie. We’re hoping to do something special, but nothing’s set in stone, unfortunately.
How do you feel about going from Instagram and building this community to creating something so huge that brings people together in this way?
It’s been a roller coaster and it’s been really surreal. I grew up idolizing these guys. I actually had a Facebook page for about 10 or 12 years. And it grew, it was slowly growing, and at one point it was like 150,000 people. I’m like, “I’ve got to do something with this audience that’s more than just selling a T-Shirt.” Obviously, we all talk every day, and the page turned into a group and everyone’s interacting. I ended up going to this screening in New York for the other David Chase film called Not Fade Away that had James Gandolfini in it, and Chase was supposed to be on a panel session afterward. It turned out to be he got sick, and it turned out to be replaced with Steven Van Zandt.
I just used that weekend as an opportunity to tell people in my group, “Hey, I’m going to New York. If you guys want to come, let’s meet up and just hang out.” Once we were together it was like, “We should do something positive with this audience and give back to the fans and just celebrate this show.” I just started reaching out to people. This was in a time in my life where I was starting to just say yes to every opportunity that came my way. Then once I started talking to people, I met someone in Long Island, his name is Joe. I met someone in Rhode Island whose name is Michael. I had the audience, Joe had the event experience, and Mike had the marketing experience, so we all just combined forces. We did plan to call it SopranosCon from the beginning, we just didn’t think it was going to be that big. But it’s turned into this thing now where Vincent Curatola will text me on my son’s birthday. Tony Darrow will say, “How’s the baby,” because I have a 10-month-old.
Being able to call these people and text them and communicate with them is more than enough for me, but it’s not something that I ever anticipated because I put them on this pedestal when I was younger, that they were untouchable, you’re never going to meet them. Having a personal relationship with a lot of these people is just very surreal.
The show has been around for 21 years now. What do you think it is about the show that has made it have such a deep impact on our culture?
It gets credit to be the first mainstream show that the protagonist is also a villain. There’s that angle where it transformed what other TV shows could be, even Mad Men and The Shield, even The Wire, all these shows probably wouldn’t exist without it. But I think the biggest difference between that show and everything else, even the Breaking Bads and the Game of Thrones, et cetera, is that there’s not this slow boil. There is not this grand reveal. There are no cliffhangers. It just captures day-to-day life. And you might have seen the episode 20 times, but you might not always know exactly what happens in that episode from storyline to storyline, because there’s not this big grand hierarchy of a story that is a roller coaster. It’s not this cyclical thing where it’s like when something good happens, then they expect something bad to happen right away. Or when something bad happens, something good happens.
The Breaking Bads are kind of that, and I mean no disrespect to that series because I love it, too. It’s just that it’s not formulaic. That’s what I think makes it unique; a lot of people can relate to it from a personal daily life perspective without the mafia angle. I think the mafia angle makes it cool. But it also is something that’s more relatable than a lot of these shows that you see, so you don’t really have to suspend belief the way you do for a fantasy show or buying that someone is going from a chemistry—I hate to keep referencing this because I love the show—but a chemistry teacher turning into Scarface. That’s a lot different than what this show brings to the table. There’s a lot of replay value, the shelf-life is extraordinary.
I feel like that’s what makes a show great, or even a movie, when you can go back to it time and time again and it never feels old. I have to ask you also, what would it mean to you if James Gandolfini could see this and what you’ve created?
I hope that he would take it as, “look, we’re fans.” Not everybody understands what memes are and sometimes people can take it as a form of disrespect, frankly. But really, there’s so much comedy in this show that the well of material is almost never-ending because the show was ahead of its time in certain perspectives. There’s always something in daily pop culture that can apply to the show or that the show can apply to it. I never anticipated that this fan group or this page could even really last this long. I was like, “Let’s do this while we can,” and here we are 13 years later now, going strong. I do have days where I wake up and I’m like, “What am I doing?”
I’m making memes, this is not what I went to school for. But then I realized it’s like something else happens in pop culture where Mike Pence has the fly on his head. And all I’ve got to do is add a picture of Federico with the, “You’ve got a bee in your hat,” without even putting the caption everyone knows exactly why I did it. And being able to connect with a fan that way, I hope that someone like James would see this as a love letter to the series that has impacted us so deeply. A lot of us have been alone watching the show, dark points in our lives and everything. And that show has been the one consistent that doesn’t have the same effect as a Sons of Anarchy might have on them. So the long and short of it is that I deeply love the show and it’s on every day in my house. So it’s just one of those things where I would hope that he would take it as a form of respect, that we’re paying respect to the greatest show of all time.
You really are making a difference just by entertaining people. It’s one of those things, when you really love something and you find someone else who loves it too you’re like, “Oh, now we have a bond.”
Now we’re best friends. Yeah, that’s what SopranosCon was. It’s like “everyone’s coming”—we have people come from Japan, Australia, and England, and Europe. When you’re all together, it’s like you love Sopranos, I love Sopranos, we’re best friends this weekend. And that’s really how it just turned into this giant networking event. We’ve made so many connections and friends and just lasting relationships that I’m hoping that I can say in 10 years I’m still friends with. That’s what’s powerful about this whole show. People have found themselves through the show.
I used to think that they had a teenager in the writers’ room for AJ. And I met Robert Iler’s mom on my Facebook group leading up to this event a year or two before that. I don’t know how much truth there is to it, but this is from her mouth, she had said David Chase had given him a lot of freedom to tell them what teenagers would be doing. And he, I hate to admit this, but a lot of times it felt like he was holding a mirror up at me. I was never the spoiled kid, but there were things about him that were like, “Wow, that is just so accurate.” Being able to pinpoint certain things in a teenager’s life when people just hate that character so much, and I feel he’s probably the most misunderstood character and also probably the most underrated actor on the whole series, too.
They see themselves a little bit in him.
That too. As an adult, you might be looking back at your teen years and being like, “Wow, I was a little shit.” Because he showed me something I did. I have four kids of my own and I’m seeing little pieces. Being able to watch the show now as a father, it gives me a [different] lens [compared to] when I was a teenager in college watching the show. There are parts of me where I felt I connected with him the most at times, but there are elements of Tony that I think everybody can relate to. And speaking of the women in the show, I have never seen so many tracksuits in my life in one building. Girls were wearing the leopard skin jackets and the leopard skin pants as an ode to Adriana. There were a couple of people dressed up as Carmela, too.
I think a lot of people can relate to her. I think a lot of people can at least say, “Oh, I can see pieces of my mom or my grandmother in her, my sister.” That’s what’s so special about the show, is just very real characters. We can’t relate to the mob element, but we can relate to the family element. And that is what the show is about.
That’s the reason why I think people have reacted and continue to react to it.
Yeah. Some people have said before, “Oh, why couldn’t they make AJ the heir to the throne and make him a bad-ass like Tony?” I’m like, “Well, then it’d be every other show.” It’s almost having a show with no drama, what’s the point of watching it? There has to be something that keeps you almost mad to a certain extent, but you keep watching because you’re waiting for something to unfold. But what’s different. That’s what the difference is between what’s out there and popular and Sopranos, is just more of a realistic depiction of a family fabric dysfunction. It’s just unlike anything else. So the fact that you’re able to continuously rewatch this show over and over again and still feel that way is just something very special. I’m happy to see that they’re doing something with Many Saints, because that also opens the door for more memes, frankly.
Exactly, you’re going to have a whole new content pool to choose from.
I’m being transparent, I wish that they had turned it into a series. We had talked as a group for many, many years. Like, wouldn’t it be cool to have a prequel series with all new characters and representations that might answer some of the loose ends that we have in the show? Now, my one worry about the movie is that it ties up too many loose ends. I don’t know what they plan to address, but a lot of the ambiguity in the show is like the beauty of daily life, where you don’t have concrete closure on everything. People talk about the Russian (from the “Pine Barrens” episode), for example, and how it infuriates them. What makes it good, though, is that you don’t know. And you don’t always get answers in real life. So that’s the reflection that I see. So I’m hoping that there aren’t too many. There might be some nice Easter eggs that they plant in there where it’s like, “Oh, they just referenced the show.” But I’m hoping they don’t tie up too much. That’s my only real concern.
I loved hearing Tony’s voice in the beginning.
That was like, wow. I had chills. I must have watched that 50 times yesterday.