Where you line up, I will follow: ATX TV Fest 2015 (Part 2)

Read Part One here.

Saturday

After eating a very quick grab and go breakfast on Friday (we grabbed a banana/muffin from a coffee shop and ate it on the way there), we decided to sit down and get breakfast on Saturday at a crepe place. My crepe can be described as … meh… but it was nice to relax in the morning. That wasn’t our original plan at all. We wanted to go to the Coffee with Amy Sherman-Palladino panel that was Saturday morning but we didn’t even try to make it in because it was scheduled in the smallest room at the hotel and we heard some rumblings that the line was going to be ridiculous. Oh, it was. We saw on Twitter that people started lining up at 5 AM for the 10 AM panel. Not worth it to me, especially when we planned to see her Saturday night at the reunion.

We debated whether we should go to the Empire: The Creatives panel or the discussion about niche audiences vs. ratings and decided on Empire. Totally the right choice! First, the line for the niche audience panel was out the door and around the corner of the hotel. There were plenty of seats for Empire and we didn’t even wait in line – we showed up as they were letting people into the theater about 30 minutes in advance. Danny Strong (Doyle from Gilmore Girls) came up with the original idea for the show and helps run it so he was in attendance, along with writer Wendy Calhoun. Jarrett from Buzzfeed was the moderator again and it was such a great discussion. It made me want to watch more episodes – I’ve only seen the pilot and the finale of season 1. I need to catch up on Hulu. They were both hilarious and insightful and the audience asked amazing questions.

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So glad we went to that. After it let out, Danny Strong was taking pictures with fans outside and we were the last ones to snag him on the street. We introduced ourselves as Melissa and Melissa and he said, “Hi Melissas” very sweetly and it made me kind of giggle, mid picture. Hence the wacky smile on my face.

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(Also, he was standing on a step and we were not because dude is short.)

After Empire, we went to P.Terry’s for lunch (yummmm burgers) and got it to go. We ate on the sidewalk, waiting for the line to form for the Dawson’s Creek Writers Room. Thankfully, we were in the shade for that line and ended up in a decent spot in the non-Fast Pass line. We passed the time in line (about an hour, maybe 90 minutes) by playing Heads Up and drinking a lot of water.

The DC Writers Room group was really interesting. So many writers from that show went on to run their own shows – Rob Thomas was a writer season one and went on to create Veronica Mars and Party Down and iZombie. The woman who moderated the panel was Julie Plec, who created Vampire Diaries. She is a friend of Kevin Williamson and was there for some of the writing of the show in the early seasons and watched as a fan later on so she offered a very cool perspective – inside and outside viewpoints.

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We left during the audience Q&A so we could go to the bathroom, charge my phone and get ready for the Gilmore Girls line. We knew it was going to be insanity. We saw people starting to loiter for the GG line early in the morning and heard rumors of people buying tickets on Craigslist for $1,000. Bananas.

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I had a Fast Pass for the Gilmore Girls reunion. Melissa didn’t. Melissa decided to start loitering with the crowd around 4:30 PM – we were told that no lines could be formed until 5:00 PM and if any lines were formed prior to that, they would not be honored. Many people did what Melissa decided to do and started congregating around the building in the 4 o’clock hour. I waited at the SFA hotel and charged my phone until a few minutes to 5 PM. Even though I had a Fast Pass, I knew the line was going to be long and wanted to try and get a decent spot. I got to the line about 4:58 and it was already wrapped far around the building. There was a huge cluster right at the front and crowds of people lined up like 4-5 deep across, spilling into the street. Fest volunteers were yelling at the crowd to move and get out of the street and it was just a mass of bodies.

My spot in line was near an alley on the side of the building. The volunteer/line coordinator decided that they needed to declutter the crowd up front so their solution was to have everyone in the Fast Pass line move back to accommodate straightening out that cluster. While a good idea in theory, I suppose… in practice, not so much. They started telling everyone near the front and middle of the line to move back before they got to the back of the line. Hard to move back if no one else is moving back. No volunteers had walkie-talkies or each other’s cell phone numbers apparently so people were physically running back and forth and there was zero communication between people working at different points. Every person told us something different. We moved back. Then moved forward. Moved back again. And back again. Got yelled at by another volunteer who asked why we had moved back and told us to step forward 10 paces. Someone else started alerting us that we were going to move back again but then we never moved. It was sooooo hot that I honestly had to ask if that actually happened or I hallucinated it in a state of sweaty delirium. The non-Fast Pass got to stand/sit in some shade – we were not as lucky. It was direct sunlight, no break, for over two hours. We weren’t let in until after 7:00 PM. Thankfully, I had a giant water bottle and a hand fan but that only did so much. I am grateful for my morning sunscreen which I thought had sweated off but I didn’t burn too badly – only a little pink on my back. They passed out some water to the crowd and the guys from Gilmore Guys bought Pop-Tarts for some of the line, which was awesome. Generally, we were all just miserable but nice to each other. Little victories.

We spotted two girls dressed up as Rory and Lorelai from the first episode – Rory in the Chilton uniform and Lorelai in the pink shirt, short shorts and cowboy boots. We felt bad for “Rory” because she had on long sleeves and a sweater vest! I’m shocked she didn’t pass out.

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blurry cos-play Lorelai and Rory from the first episode

Speaking of… I’m pretty sure people were fainting because an ambulance came at some point while we were waiting near the front of the line. We also heard a massive car crash but didn’t see it happen. The lines were so long that they wrapped entirely around the building. Hundreds of people were in that line. Maybe even a thousand. It seemed like the volunteers were counting at some point but if they were keeping a headcount, they should have known the following:

  1. How many seats are in the theater total.
  2. How many Fast Passes were given out.
  3. How many single tickets were sold in the balcony.
  4. How many reserved seats were needed for press, cast, sponsors, etc.

While I admit that last one was probably a little flexible for them and might not been as easy to judge, they knew how many tickets and Fast Passes were distributed. Take that number, subtract it from the total seats and then do a rough guess of how many reserved seats you’ll need. What is the number left over? That number should have been counted out in line by staff/volunteers for everyone in the non-Fast Pass line.

Say the rough number was 200 and to give a little wiggle room, they rounded up to 250. Only allow that many people to line up. After that, have a volunteer at the end saying, “There will not be space in the theater for anyone past this point.” Seems simple. Pass out numbers. Pass out wrist bands. Do something to assign spaces to people who line up and then let them not stand in the sun for 2 hours and get heat stroke!

Too many people that paid good money for a weekend badge waited for a long time in a difficult line and didn’t get in. That sucks. I heard a rough estimate that about 100 people didn’t get in to the theater. Thankfully, Melissa made it in and we got seats together but they weren’t great seats at all – the first 30 rows or so were all reserved and not open to general admission seating. We ended up about 5 rows from the back and unfortunately, near some VERY annoying girls who were loudly yelling things at the stage. One girl was getting very defensive about seat saving (even though she got a seat and we were all in crappy spots) and they both were such loud, interrupting yellers that they were disturbing everyone around them. We started shushing both of them so we could hear the people on stage talk.

Before I get into the reunion, some more thoughts and hopefully constructive feedback points about the line situation and the overall management issues/crowd control throughout the weekend:

Volunteers need to be trained better. Period. We ran into this last year too. Most volunteers were friendly and I can tell the fest really values them which is great. I volunteer for various causes and events and appreciate that love is shown for volunteers. HOWEVER. There are some serious issues. Like I mentioned above, there seemed to be no communication between the staff about what was going on for the GG line. When needing to yell things to the crowd, they didn’t have a blow horn or megaphone. The lines were not roped off in any way. We were not let into the theater in time. They had some “Security” guards that looked like they were 12 years old. I witnessed them actively not doing their jobs multiple times when actors were getting bum rushed in the hotel and they were standing idly by instead of assisting them, when they clearly needed someone to help manage the crowd and tell them to chill. Crowds of volunteers would just huddle together and chat instead of directing people to the appropriate lines when at the hotel and there were often multiple lines at the same time. I found myself doing their job for them so much once on Sunday that I went up to one and had to ask her if she could please go stand in the lobby and make herself useful. Like, I shouldn’t have to be managing this and common sense should tell anyone working that you would be more efficient directing traffic at the end of the line instead of standing at the front of the line, where everyone already knows where they are. Right?

The Cleveland International Film Festival is a good example of how to manage crowd control and have a better grasp on volunteers. I have been attending and volunteering for several years and I am going to share tips from CIFF with ATX Fest if they ever send out their attendee survey.

Lines need to be clearly defined and labeled. They should be roped off somehow. Get stands with signs or have volunteers hold signs to indicate where people should be standing. If possible, the guaranteed entry (Fast Pass) line should not be standing directly next to the “stand by” line. And if you’re going to schedule things and treat non-Fast Pass holders as “stand by”, be up front and call it that. Don’t give false hope that they are likely to get in if they aren’t, when you oversell and venues can’t hold everyone that wants to go to something. If you are going to have something like the Gilmore Girls reunion that you think is going to be a packed house and people may not be able to get in, consider offering an alternative event that night to help divert some of the crowd. The review in AV Club really highlighted a lot of my other thoughts on this topic so just go read that now: avc.lu/1cKe3Uy .

OKAY. Enough of that. Let’s get into the Gilmore Girls Reunion.

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A large panel discussion with that many people is hard to manage. I think that it went well but there were some annoying and awkward audience members (some of the Q&A questions were rough). It was amazing seeing all of those people in one place at the same time – in the above photo, from left to right, are:

Jessica Shaw from Entertainment Weekly (moderator)
Amy Sherman-Palladino (show creator)
Lauren Graham (Lorelai)
Alexis Bledel (Rory)
Kelly Bishop (Emily)
Daniel Palladino (show writer/producer/maybe co-creator?)
Scott Patterson (Luke)
Milo Ventimiglia (Jess)
Keiko Agena (Lane)
Yanic Truesdale (Michel)
Liza Weil (Paris)
Matt Czuchry (Logan)
Liz Torres (Miss Patty)
Jared Padalecki (Dean)
Danny Strong (Doyle)
Jackson Douglas (Jackson)
Todd Lowe (Zack)
John Cabrera (Brian)
and an empty seat in honor of Edward Hermann (Richard)

Highlights:

  • The Edward Hermann tribute video that ASP created
  • Hearing the whole audience sing along to the theme song at the beginning of the panel
  • Rory’s love interests choosing Team Dean/Team Jess/Team Logan
  • Watching the small moments of the cast tearing up talking about Edward Hermann
  • The overwhelming love in the room and even though there were some weirdos in the audience, the majority of people were awesome and I knew like… THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! So many people around our age who grew up the same age as Rory and the show just meant a lot to them. I can relate to that and it’s nice to be in a room with people who understand that a piece of entertainment can be important and it can help shape who you are as a person and it can get you through hard times. It was just a once in a lifetime experience and I’m so glad I got to go. It made the line standing, heat exhaustion, frustration and everything else almost worth it.

After the panel, we went to the hotel bar for a drink and then tried to stalk out the official after-party at another location (which was on the way back to our Airbnb anyway). We didn’t want to be one of the weirdos standing around, waiting for autographs outside so we didn’t linger but we did almost walk right into Kevin McKidd from Grey’s Anatomy. He has blonde hair in real life, not red hair… although maybe it’s strawberry blond and just kinda looks red on TV?

Read Part 3 here. 

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2 thoughts on “Where you line up, I will follow: ATX TV Fest 2015 (Part 2)

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