‘Sup gang?! So this last weekend I headed down to Austin for the first ever ATX Festival. I think I ended up being the only OCTV person there but next year that all changes. I can’t glare at y’all and telepathically bend you to my will through a computer but just imagine that’s what I’m doing. Look further on, I’m going to get into some criticisms (& one major bitch moment) because this review is about the festival, not news on specific shows (though I’ve got a little of that). But I want to be absolutely clear that the festival was absolutely worth going to. I’ll be going every year from here on out and I would highly encourage y’all to go as well.
So let’s start with why ATX Festival is different from other TV festivals. I don’t know if any of you have been to say Comic Con or Dragon Con or smaller versions of such cons or show specific cons but they work a little different. The focus is very much from a celebrity fan and promotional perspective. Meaning that any actor panels tend to be about learning more personal stuff about the actors and show panels are about promoting new episodes. It can be a great thing but for major TV fans, there’s often the feeling that something is lacking. While they are by no means excluding these traditional fans, the atmosphere is clear that this isn’t really for people who are solely fans of an actor or press dominating conversations. It’s a chance to interact with all of the people behind a show and in fact embrace shows with another show’s cast and crew. Not only is that environment clear among the attendees, but also among the actors.
Which leads me to the great thing about ATX. The show panels are full of writers, directors, and producers. So you get the chance to not just learn spoilers but to understand why writers make specific story choices or how a director chooses to frame a scene. The actor panels as well gave attendees the chance to ask about the process and past work, not just an upcoming season. But even more enjoyable was the way panels allowed the cast and crew of shows to get excited about shows. Instead of focusing on promoting themselves, Cougar Town stars are popping in on other comedy panels and Parenthood actors geek out over Friday night Lights. There’s a very intimate, insider feel to the inaugural year. Speaking of the intimate feel of this year’s festival, the other thing the organizers have done is make it clear that this is an event for TV lovers. It’s a lot of fun and the ATX Festival should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished.
In terms of running the festival, there are a lot of good things and one very frustrating aspect. The staff and volunteers were clearly well-informed about the event. They knew where panels were held (there were multiple sites) and the hotel and cinema staff also knew what was going on. I’ve been to festivals where no one has a clue so this was refreshing. The swag bags (while fairly swag-less, at least for weekend badge holders and below) are still a nice touch and appreciated. I mean hello, I like free shit. Even if it is just a water bottle and Nutella sample. And until Saturday night, I had no complaints about the running of the festival. But oh did I ever end up with a big one. ATX Fest had shuttles to drive attendees back and forth between all panels and when I went to the Friday Night Lights screening, I asked if there was a shuttle for it. I was told yes. So I rode the shuttle to the hotel (a couple miles away) along with several other industry peeps. (I did get to talk with Britt Robertson who is possibly one of the sweetest people ever. So that part of it was fun). However after the screening was over, people started to disburse. I looked EVERYWHERE for the shuttles. Being big-ass white busses, they’re hard to miss but I couldn’t find any. So I hunted down an ATX staffer and asked. And was told that there were no shuttles back for the end of the event and everyone was expected to get back on their own.
Here’s my two issues. First, it was not easy to find said staffer anyway. The festival staff disappeared as fast as the attendees and I do not think that’s appropriate. There need to be people around that you can ask questions of as an event is ending. Second, I was (and am) pissed about the lack of shuttle and even more importantly the lack of information. Nothing in the festival guides indicated a time when the shuttles would stop running or that they would not be returning guests to the hotel after the Friday Night Lights screening. For those guests who came with friends, not such a big deal. After all no one really notices walking a few miles when you’re with friends. But not every festival attendee travels with friends. And to be alone, at night, in a strange city with no idea how to get back to your hotel is a scary thing. I found a bus that got me back (and yes taxis were an option) eventually. But it kind of ruined the rest of my night. I also learned that I wasn’t the only person with this problem. You just can’t do that to attendees. In fact every other festival I’ve been to has had shuttles for at least an hour after the final event of the night ends. It creates a major safety concern for attendees traveling alone and absolutely needs to be addressed for future panels.
But enough grouching. Back to the events. To clarify, there were quite a few panels so I chose to attend the Vampire Diaries, Book to TV series, OTH, and Cougar Town panels on Saturday. And of course the Friday Night Lights screening in the evening. As for Sunday, I was only able to go to the Actors Roundtable. I meant to attend the Once Upon a Time panel but was told by a friend that it ended up just being a screening of two episodes and very little panel. If spoilers are what you’re looking for, @ATXFestival has been retweeting reviews and articles so you should be able to find scoop on all of the panels.
Saturday morning for me started out with the Vampire Diaries panel featuring Julie Plec, Jose Molina, and Arielle Kebbel with Robyn Ross of TV Guide moderating. The panel screened 162 Candles and I have two things to say. 1) Watching the Vampire Diaries on the big screen was so incredibly epic. 2) I’m actually really glad it was a S1 episode. It was fascinating to watch how the show has changed over the last couple years and see how the characters developed. As for the panel itself, Robyn did a great job asking questions of all three panel participants. The difficulty of course is in allowing Arielle to share, even though her character isn’t involved anymore. But the questions let Arielle talk in ways that showed how Lexi still matters to the show as a whole,while still giving hints of what’s to come. I definitely enjoyed Arielle sharing how much thought she put into Lexi’s backstory. That made it clear why everyone fell in love with the character. Jose shared a cool filming tidbit about how you can tell where a show is filmed because of the light. He said the climate, smog, etc of different places affects how a scene looks on camera so it adds extra distinction to a show. As for spoilers, there weren’t a ton. The big episodes of the season have been figured out but that’s about it. Julie said they aren’t sure yet how long Klaus will remain in Tyler’s body but it doesn’t sound like it will be for too long. There was a mention that eventually in the SERIES, Matt and Caroline will probably have another moment (I totally squealed over this) and that Caroline & Stefan’s friendship will be more prominent in S4. Julie noted that since Stefan & Damon will have differing ideas on how to help Elena as a vampire, Caroline will come into play more since Stefan helped her and that will lead to nice moments between the two of them.
The Book to TV series panel was really cool, though I would have loved to see even more people on the panel. In particular, the Game of Thrones showrunners would be really fun. Regardless, the panel had Julie Plec, Michael Rauch (Love Monkey) and Bob Levy (Alloy Executive). Levy talked a lot about how books get to the screen. He noted that The Vampire Diaries was actually a rarity in that it worked out on the first try. Pretty Little Liars was attempted 3 times, as a movie, for the CW, and finally found success on ABC Family. Rauch talked about how his story was a bit different because it was from a single book so the story is finished. It creates a different struggle to keep the audience interested while not dragging out plot lines. Plec had quite a bit of insight running a show that has devoted book fans who aren’t actually part of the show’s target demographic. She also made an excellent point when asked about fans who are more vocal about what they want. Plec noted that for every 10 fans who scream Team Damon, there are 10 others screaming Team Stefan. And she pointed out that while online fans are a very loud group, they aren’t the largest. The largest viewer base are the people who watch the show and can’t imagine spending hours discussing it or creating fan videos or anything else. And because of that, the show also has to target all these people in the middle, who provide the bulk of ratings. It was a very subtle reminder that just because twitter/tumblr/etc fans talk a lot, doesn’t mean their opinions are the ones that matter most.
On to the One Tree Hill panel. This one featured James Lafferty (totally cute in person too. Shut up.), Lindsey McKeon (Taylor James), Mark Schwahn and was moderated by Jordan Levin. I was really looking forward to this particular panel. OTH isn’t the type of show to normally appear at cons so the chance to learn more and celebrate the end seemed appealing. Instead it turned into a bitter bitch fest between Mark & Jordan against every “injustice” ever done to them or One Tree Hill. I want to minimize how much I talk about this simply because I have no interest in giving more time to such bitterness. But it should be noted how disappointing it was. James didn’t get much opportunity to talk (though his stories were fun and cheerful) and it was clear that most people came for him. I do hope that ATX Festival won’t bring back Mr. Levin as a moderator. He kept things focused far too much on himself and had very few questions prepared for the panel. But the unprofessional attitudes and bitterness astounded me. There was outright name calling, referring to other executives as “evil bitches”, and bashing former stars of the show. It was all in very bad taste and completely unnecessary.
The Cougar Town panel however made everything better. Seriously I don’t care what you have to give up, you need to be at one of these panels. It was an absolute blast. Bill Lawrence, Kevin Biegel, Ian Gomez, Brian Van Holt, and Neil Flynn all showed up for it. A lot of stuff was over my head because I’ve never seen Scrubs and most of these guys worked together there first. Brian went around pouring drinks for the audience and then Bill decided to just pay for an open bar tab for anyone over 21 in attendance. I didn’t see too many people take advantage though, out of courtesy. There were a lot of older show tidbits shared which I didn’t get but it didn’t matter. Everyone was laughing, drinking, and having a good time. Something I found most interesting was that a fan asked about least favorite shows and another asked about bad experiences in the industry. In direct contrast to the OTH panel, each of these guys talked about how it was a chance to learn and to grow and to appreciate styles that are not your own. Bill Lawrence actually brought up the time he worked on Boy Meets World (I know right? Crazy!). Anyway, he said he was young and kind of full of himself and thought the sweet sappy nature of the show was kind of stupid. But he wrote an episode and had a line where Cory talks about how he never thought he would hurt his dad. Bill noted that he wrote the line as sarcastic but it was played very sweet. He said he went in and threw a fit about it and was promptly “shit-canned”. The difference is that Bill went on to say that he deserved to be fired. He wasn’t doing his job and learning from people with experience. He just had attitude about the whole thing and it wasn’t merited. That sentiment of learning from the past instead of being bitter about it was prevalent throughout the panel. One last thought mentioned was the way shows aren’t allowed to find their footing anymore. It used to be that a show got a few episodes to figure themselves out, change things that didn’t work, etc. Now you make it or break it on one episode which is a very tough world. Great insight from this eclectic panel. Plus they ended it by giving away free penny cans, shirts, and DVDs to fans who answered trivia questions.
Whew this is getting long. Luckily I’ve only got two events left. The Friday Night Lights screening was an absolute blast. A good number of the cast was there and they were taking pictures, signing autographs and visiting with fans left and right. Seriously you would be hard put to find a classier cast (though the Parenthood cast could give them a run for their money). Jesse Plemons, Madison Burge, and Alicia Witt were all on hand with their respective bands to provide live music before the screening. Due to the sun and noise restrictions, only the finale could be shown. I hadn’t watched the finale yet (I’ve been in denial) so this was my first time seeing it. It was also Scott Porter’s first time watching the finale as he had the same denial issues. Maybe I’m being silly, but there was something really special about ending my Friday Night Lights journey in Austin, Texas, with the cast there to watch it end as well. Plus it is an experience like no other. So many of the other actors and writers came out for the event, many decked out in Panther shirts. I really hope this becomes a regular event at ATX Festival. I will say though that the pilot might be a better screening choice in the future because it gives newbies a chance to enjoy the fun without being confused as to the story. Still, a great experience. Texas Forever.
On to Sunday! Again, this was a quiet day for me as I was packing up and heading out of town. I moved to Texas this weekend so my brain was a little unfocused on the festival on Sunday. I only made it to the Actors Roundtable, a hilarious and informative event. It featured Scott Porter, Matt Lauria, Shiri Appleby, and Arielle Kebbel. Poor Shiri seemed a bit out of place at the panel but I think that was because the others knew each other so well. Matt & Arielle have been friends since childhood and Scott is good friends with both so it was just an odd dynamic for her. Anyway, the panel offered the chance for fans to spend more time asking about the business itself than about their particular shows. Shiri noted that she’s moved into directing and producing because it gives her the feeling of a bit more control over her career. The other three said they’ve just reached a point where you do your best and you just have to let things go. Scott Porter demonstrated his ability to do sound effects, making the noise of an electric guitar and throwing out a little beat-boxing for the crowd. So fun! Matt Lauria waxed philosophical for a while about the world of acting. (No seriously, the boy talks more than Lorelai Gilmore). I’m really hoping that next year has an actors roundtable on both days of the festival to allow for more actors to participate. It was one of the most enjoyable and informative panels of the entire event.
Alright so now that this is super long, let’s sum up. I heard a lot of great things about the panels I wasn’t able to attend. It wasn’t just fans who got to celebrate TV and their favorite shows, it was actors and writers and producers as well. Or really, those in the industry were able to be fans as well. Austin is the perfect city to hold such a festival. There’s plenty to do, it’s easy to get around a centralized area and if you pay attention, you can end up hanging out with some of your favorite celebs. Sure there were some issues in the inaugural year but overall this was one of the best festivals I’ve been to. I absolutely think any TV lover should make the effort to attend next year. The only regret will be that you didn’t attend the first time around.