Last year, I attempted to write about my experiences at the ATX Festival in Austin but only got through Friday and some of Saturday. My bad. This year, I’m going to strike while the iron is hot and write about this past weekend while my brain is still full of the details. I can tell you right now, this post is going to be super long.
If you aren’t familiar with ATX Fest, it’s “A Television eXperience” – essentially like a mini-SXSW or ComicCon, focused solely on TV and it brings actors, writers, showrunners, press and fans to Austin for screenings and panels of specific shows and larger discussions about the TV industry. This is a much smaller festival than the massive conferences I mentioned above. I would guess that there were between 500-750 attendees, not including the press, staff or ‘talent’. Overall, maybe 1,000? Spread out over 3 locations: Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, Stephen F. Austin (SFA) hotel and State Theater.
Before I jump into my day by day breakdown of the fest, let me give some overall thoughts and lessons learned:
- I felt less frustrated this year than last in the registration and planning process. There was more advanced notice about the programming and schedules; they were clear about start dates and times so I was able to securely book travel without missing anything. I am grateful for that.
- I sweat more this year than last. It was hot. Thank God for my hand fan.
- I was disappointed in the amount of people who were publicized as being there who canceled early or who pulled out at the last minute including but not limited to: Amy Sherman-Palladino, CHRIS PRATT, Treat Williams, Emily Van Camp, Christa Allen and Paul Scheer.
- I was happy with the surprise guests like Lauren Graham, Peter Krause and Guerillmo del Toro.
- It’s hard to know that you’re missing things because they schedule everything at the same time.
- I think we need press passes next year. The press people got into the good parties and got to sit down for interviews with the ‘talent’. Can I get a gig freelance writing before next year?
- I preface this all by being straight up and saying that I can’t pretend like I’m not excited to see famous people. I live in Ohio. This is not an everyday occurrence. It’s awesome to be close enough to touch and take pictures with people that you watch on TV every week. It just is. And this event is still small enough that you get chances like this without facing crowds and mega lines. On top of that, you get to hear from really creative people – showrunners, writers, directors, people in the industry … and as a TV nerd and someone who is interested in pop culture and writing and behind the scenes things, that’s fascinating.
The event kicked off Thursday evening, with a screening of a new TNT show Legends. I had 0% interest in that so even though I was in town, I skipped trying to get into that. We debated going to Maggie Mae’s for the opening night party but Melissa’s flight came in late and we were both starving so we ate migas instead and that was a smart choice. Mmmmm migas.
We went to the hotel early to pick up our badges and kick off the fest. While it was a hard decision, I skipped the Orange is the New Black panel and chose Franklin & Bash instead. (Melissa went to OITNB. She highly recommended it. The actresses that play Big Boo, Taystee and Crazy Eyes were there and they showed the first episode, the day the new season was released to Netflix. Having just finished binging the 2nd season yesterday, it’s awesome how that show treats the ensemble cast and gives them all such rich storylines and flashbacks.)
I do not watch Franklin & Bash. But I love Breckin Meyer from Clueless, Josie & the Pussycats, his tiny part in Can’t Hardly Wait and a million other things over the years. Also … Zack freakin’ Morris, people!
Sweet hair, Morris.
I ended up in the 3rd row for the Franklin & Bash panel – we had good seats for just about everything this year. They showed an episode and it made me realize how much that show strikes me as something that should be on USA rather than TNT. It’s a light hearted lawyer show with a lot of broad comedy – it reminded me of Psych or maybe Castle. The show was described during the panel as sherbet and I think that’s fitting. It’s fluffy, background kind of TV – not appointment or DVR worthy.
While the show was not something I’d set out to watch again, the panel was awesome.
Breckin Meyer is a big ball of charm. MPG didn’t seem quite as excited but he was in a better mood than others throughout the festival (I’m looking at you, Chris Parnell… more about that later.) The creators of the show were also there and the structure of the panel with most questions from the moderator, with a few from the audience, worked out well. Robyn Ross was a strong moderator.
My favorite moments from the panel:
- Breckin Meyer looked into the crowd and noticed a girl wearing a SBTB t-shirt. “Is that a Saved by the Bell shirt? I don’t know how to tell you this but (whispers and points to Zack Morris)… he was on that show!”
- Breckin’s take on MPG’s Twitter conversations with Mario Lopez: #muscles #dimples #muscles #dimples #muscles #dimples #blessed (winky face emoticon)
- Someone in the audience had this picture of Breckin via the Clueless years and MPG held it up for all to see, explaining that picture comes up on his phone whenever Breckin calls.
After our panels wrapped up, Melissa and I went for lunch at Old School, which is kitty corner from the Alamo Drafthouse. Food was fine, not phenomenal but the sangria was a good choice. We hopped in line for Archer after lunch.
At this point, I should explain their ‘Fast Pass’ system. Last year, each badge holder had up to 3 reservations per day – up to 9 total. These guarantee you a seat and allow you to be seated first. This year, they cut down the Fast Passes to 3 total that you could spread out however you wanted. I didn’t have any Fast Passes on Friday; Melissa used one of hers to get into OITNB.
A dedicated group of Archer fans had Fast Passes and there was concern that we wouldn’t get in, standing in the regular line. While in line, I caught Melissa up to speed since she’s seen maybe about 5 episodes ever.
We made it in and found spots in the very last row of the smaller Alamo theater. Every seat was taken and a woman was actually sitting on the floor next to me on the stairs.
The head of FX was there to introduce the panel, with the Archer recapper from the AV Club acting as the moderator. The cast was seated in the row in front of us and you could hear some of them laughing throughout the screening. They showed the last episode of the most recent season and then answered a few questions.
Matt Thompson (Writer/EP), Cast: H. Jon Benjamin (Archer), Chris Parnell (Cyril), Lucky Yates (Dr. Krieger), moderator Sonya Saraiya (AV Club)
I was most excited to go to the Archer panel to see Chris Parnell. I loved him on SNL and 30 Rock and thought he just seemed like he would be so nice and funny … and he was mostly quiet and seemed not super into it. I saw him outside of the theater and he was giving off major, “Don’t talk to me” vibes.
Oh well. He wasn’t an asshole or mean or anything, just feeling like he was being forced to be there. The other two cast members were funny though and I would have tried to stay and talk to them after but I went immediately from Archer at 1:30 to Revenge at 2:30. Thankfully in the same building, just moved from the small theater at the Alamo to the big theater.
The panel lineup for Revenge was confusing because they had been promoting the Everwood reunion saying that Emily Van Camp would be there but not listing her among the actors present for the Revenge panel, even though she’s the lead. Ultimately, she wasn’t there for either but at least sent a video for the Everwood reunion. No mention of her at the Revenge panel. And no mention of Christa B. Allen, who was also supposed to be there. I wanted to geek out on her about 13 Going on 30.
They showed the second to last episode of this season of Revenge and then talked with 2 writers and Nick Wechsler (Jack). It was an insightful look into the writing of such a crazy bananas show. I mean, seriously, every episode there is something new and ridiculous. And I love it. It’s so campy and fun.
While I was in the Revenge panel, Melissa went to a discussion with casting directors, which she said was mostly bitching about the networks and how casting is very much all about who you know. I would have been interested to go to that, considering I really enjoyed watching the doc Casting By. But you have to divide and conquer sometimes, which was the strategy we took this year.
After Revenge, we met back at the SFA hotel and decided that we should just take advantage of the $99 2015 weekend badge deal offered to attendees during the fest. We paid double for our 2014 badges because we waited. And they allow sales/transfers up to a month before so if something changes and we can’t/don’t want to go, we can sell them. We walked up to the registration table, I got out my wallet to pay, and…. my credit card wasn’t there.
We booked it back to the restaurant where we had lunch and I tried not to panic, hoping that the wait staff weren’t crooked thieves. Thankfully, the bartender was just waiting for me to return and gave me my card back, safe and sound.
With a sense of relief and time to kill, we decided it was time to drink. We went to “The Library” bar, where the walls are stacked high with books and where we each had 4 mixed drinks and the bill was $24. Happy hour deal, I guess? Not complaining, it was awesome. I didn’t realize how tipsy the Dimetapp tasting grape vodka and Sprites were making me until we stood up to leave. Whooo that was a long walk up a hill back to our hotel.
Friday night, my cousin and her wife picked us up and we went to dinner on S Congress. Food was good, more drinks were consumed and after dinner, we did some window shopping. Isn’t this shirt just the best?
yeah he does.
We went to their house to meet their dog and 3 kitties. Always nice to have pet cuddle time, especially since I was really missing CB. We also discovered that their cat Parker looks like the actor Ron Perlman.
“Your cat looks like an actor from Sons of Anarchy.” – something by best friend actually said and was accepted and validated.
On the way back to the hotel, we passed the bat bridge. One of these years, I’ll do the full tourist thing and see more of Austin then the couple of blocks around the Capitol building and 6th street.
As we got ready for bed, I realized my alcohol intake for the day was way higher than my usual limits and I was feeling it. I knew I was going to hurt in the morning.
… oh, and I did hurt. Suffice it to say, it was a rough morning.
After rallying, we made our way to our first panel of the day which was honoring Henry Winkler. We both had made that a Fast Pass because who doesn’t love The Fonz?
He was honored with the first Achievement in Television Excellence Award and we ended up 2nd row, center. The event started with a clip reel of some of his TV work and shortly after welcoming him to the stage, they showed a video message from Garry Marshall.
The bulk of the time was a conversation between Henry Winkler and his friend, Royal Pains’ executive producer Michael Rauch. It was interesting to hear his perspective on his career and life and I learned a lot. Henry is dyslexic and has a series of kids books with a main character who is dyslexic; he had a rough relationship with his parents, who called him stupid; he didn’t act for nearly 8 years after Happy Days ended because no one would hire him so he kept busy producing and directing during that time. He was a charismatic speaker and I’m surprised he hasn’t written a memoir yet.
After Fonzie was done, we waited outside for awhile, hoping he would come out to take pictures. He was kept in doing a press conference after the panel so after about 5 minutes, we decided instead to get in the Fast Pass line for the Everwood reunion, which was already wrapped around the building.
Last year at ATX, they held a reunion every day of the fest: Boy Meets World on Friday, My So-Called Life on Saturday and American Dreams on Sunday. I had to miss BMW because of my flight schedule; I would only go to the MSCL reunion if Claire Danes or Jared Leto were going to be there (obvi they weren’t) but I did go to the American Dreams reunion and it was awesome and might have made me a little teary eyed.
This year, they had the same set-up for reunions, with one every day.
Hey Dude was on Friday and was unfortunately at the same time as Archer and Revenge, so I had to miss it… that was a tough call. I had a crush on David Lascher since he was on every show in the 90s and Christine Taylor (aka Mrs. Ben Stiller) actually showed up so that would have been cool. I feel like I made up for it though because we later saw David Lascher walking out of the hotel as we were walking in. I smiled and probably did fan face and he smiled and said, “Hey”.
(Get it? Hey Dude?! Haha, puns.)
The day 2 reunion was Everwood, which was what made us buy a ticket and decide to come to the fest again this year. I loved that show. When they initially announced the reunion, the full cast was coming but as time went by, people starting dropping off the list. By the festival, the cast was minus Treat Williams, Chris Pratt, Emily Van Camp, Scott Wolff and Merrilyn Gann. I was most sad about missing Chris Pratt because… CHRIS PRATT. Team Captain of Dreamboat USA.
He will always be Bright Abbott in my heart.
But the cast that was there was fantastic. Creator Greg Berlanti, writer Rina Mimoun and former WB Executive Jordan Levin were also there and had some interesting insights. The actors who played Irv and Edna were adorable; Delia is all grown up and was wearing these cute printed pants and a crop top – super stylish; Dr. Abbott was hilarious. Sarah Drew was one of my favorite characters in later seasons – Hannah and Bright were so great together. In person, her hair is like shampoo commercial, Connie Britton style amazing. A little grainy from my phone but seriously, check this out:
Rina Mimoun said that she kept something from the set and moved her hair to better show that she was wearing the necklace that Ephram gave to Amy on the show. Before she even said anything, there was a gasp of excitement from the audience when they realized what it was. That was probably my favorite part.
Oh wait, no! My favorite part was moderator/writer David Hudgins Face Timing with Chris Pratt:
I got a little teary when Vivien Cardone, who played the young daughter Delia, starting crying when she remembered that Treat Williams, who played her dad, told her that on set she could be his temporary daughter and he would be her temporary dad since they often had to be away from their own families while filming. I laughed when Tom Amandes revealed that he auditioned for the lead role that eventually went to Treat Williams – “I was Billboard Dad! I can be this guy!” (Add that Olsen twins connection to the vault for playing six degrees of Kevin Bacon.) I loved watching the cast awkwardly laugh when one of the writers/creators (maybe Greg Berlanti) made some comment about love triangles and people dating on and off set – we all know you’re talking about when Amy and Bright Abbott were dating in real life, guys. Overall, it was an awesome panel. We were psyched to meet Gregory Smith (Ephram) outside of the theater afterwards too:
After the excitement of Everwood, we were planning on having some down time to eat and relax before the evening event. Those plans changed late the night before though when we were browsing the #atxfestival and #season3 hashtags on Twitter and Instagram to see what else was happening at the fest and spotted a pic of a volunteer posing with Lauren Graham, a totally unscheduled guest. We knew there was only one reason that person would have seen her and it must mean that she was a surprise addition to the Parenthood panel that day.
We had not planned to go to Parenthood originally. We went to a Parenthood panel last year, with a lot of the young cast members, solely because we liked the actors and the timing was right – it wasn’t blocked against anything else interesting. Neither of us regularly watch the show and the only listed guests this year were the creator of the show Jason Katims and Ray Romano. Not enough of a draw. BUT. Lauren Graham is a whole other story. LORELAI GILMORE. We decided we had to try to go see her so we hopped in line.
The problem is that Parenthood is a super popular show. There’s a die hard fan base. People used their Fast Pass to get in to this and the non-FP line was long. We didn’t make the cut. The place was packed and they couldn’t let anyone else in. Bummer.
Instead, we went to grab some lunch. I ate an entire pizza at a shitty bar on 6th and when we were done, we went back to stand outside of the Alamo to wait for the Parenthood panel to finish and see if we could catch a glimpse of her walking out. While we were waiting and talking, walking down 6th, there was the absolutely gorgeous in real life Uzo Aduba – “Crazy Eyes” from Orange is the New Black – walking with a friend. She was wearing sunglasses but we recognized her hair and smile and asked her for a picture. She very kindly obliged. I don’t think she gets stopped much since she looks SO different on the show.
A few minutes after she left and we were done freaking out, the doors to the Alamo opened and out walked Ray Romano, Lauren Graham and Peter Krause. They were moving pretty quickly so we couldn’t stop for a picture with her but Melissa did shake her hand and say it was nice to meet her and I got this awesome crowd shot:
I love that girl behind her, totally emoting what I was feeling: OMG! Also, Peter Krause’s head in the background, going by totally undisturbed.
As they walked away and crossed the street, holding hands (super cute couple IRL), I think we both felt like… we have already completely gotten our money’s worth out of this trip and we still had a day and a half to go.
Saturday night was a double feature of FX shows Fargo and The Strain. To be honest, I had never watched an episode of the Fargo TV show and the poster alone for The Strain looked horrible and made me want to skip it completely. We went because:
- This was the big closing night event and it was a cool opportunity.
- The cast in attendance for The Strain included Sean Astin (RUDY! The Goonies!) and Corey Stoll (Peter Russo on House of Cards)
- There was a party afterwards and the party last year was probably the highlight of the whole weekend.
As we walked up to get in line, we saw the mini-red carpet they had set up for the stars of the show and walked right past actors getting their picture taken. The line was very long and the staff told us several times that it was likely we might not get in. We squeaked in and ended up right in the middle of the theater and it was great. It definitely made me want to catch up on Fargo. The episode was awesome. Allison Tolman plays one of the main characters on the show, against big names like Billy Bob Thorton and she kicks ass. As a human, she seems very funny and she’s a curvy normal sized woman, which is refreshing. Key and Peele play characters on the show and it gave me the chance to introduce Melissa to one of my favorite silly things ever that she hadn’t seen before:
After Fargo and the panel discussion (which also included Keith Carradine), they showed the premiere of new FX show The Strain. This is not my kind of show at all. It’s scary; there are violent vampires; worms crawl into people’s eyes and skin and …. gahhhhh.
But, oh man. Corey Stoll. He was the best thing on season 1 of House of Cards and I appreciated this guy as an actor but dang. Something about seeing him in person made me realize wowza – this guy is hot. And not my usual type at all. Bald guys are not generally on my radar. There’s a scene in The Strain where he strips down to put on a hazmat suit (I won’t get into the plot, it’s beyond me) and his body is ridiculous. Let me just say, I am a happily married woman but Corey Stoll can. get. it. It’s cool. Andy understands.
His fake hair in The Strain is pretty bad, though. It was much better in Midnight in Paris.
The panel for The Strain was very interesting, outside of my imaginary boyfriend Corey. Other major cast members Sean Astin, Kevin Durand and Mia Maestro were there too, along with Carlton Cuse (who co-created Lost) and Guillermo Del Toro. That’s a big freaking deal. That guy is a weirdo director genius. It was fascinating listening to him talk. The biggest revelation for me since I have no connection to his work was that he loves home and garden and real estate magazines. Ha. But it was a cool event, even though The Strain isn’t my cup of tea.
After the screenings and panel discussions, we went to the SFA bar for the closing night party. This year it was much clearer, the distinction between ‘talent’ and attendees. There were private parties and VIP rooms every night for all panelists, staff, sponsors and press and that was completely separated from attendees. If that was happening last year, it was not made as crystal clear to attendees as it was this year. It went from feeling very inclusive to very us vs. them. As Ryan McGee rightly points out, there’s not a venue big enough to hold everyone at the same time so in some respects, that makes sense. But as I saw from feedback on Twitter and felt in the room myself on Saturday night – the closing night “party” wasn’t really a party for everyone. It was an after the after party for all higher level people. So, as all attendees showed up to a mostly empty hotel bar, expecting the same kind of vibe and crowd from last year, it was a bit of a bummer. After about an hour, more people started showing up and it was the fun kind of party where you could mingle in the same room as celebs as it was last year. I did wish that we all had access to that photobooth, though. That would have been fun. I heard that there were similar separate parties for Thursday and Friday nights as well but I can’t speak to those personally.
My other takeaway from Saturday night was that volunteers needed to be better trained. The closing night party last year required a wrist band to enter. This year, homeless looking drugged out dudes wandered in (X Games refugees?), as well as an entire wedding party from a reception happening in the ballroom next door. That was poor planning on the part of the SFA. But I blame the people “working the door” for not actually working the door and letting in randoms.
As it got closer to midnight, the crowd picked up and we spotted the cast of Roswell reuniting in one corner – including Jason Behr, who was a “surprise” guest; Dr. Abott (Tom Amandes) and his mom Edna (Debra Mooney) having a drink and heart to heart talk on the balcony; and my imaginary Hollywood boyfriend Corey Stoll walked right in front of us and I was too chicken to say hi. Mostly, we just watched the drunk wedding guests, looked people at the party up on IMDB (like this chick and Gio from Ugly Betty) and played six degrees of separation – connect Sarah Drew to Sean Astin and we’d see who could do it in less steps. Maybe that can be an icebreaker next year to talk to famous people: “Hey, I’m trying to connect you to Breckin Meyer. Have you ever worked together?”
The final day of the fest started with the Pitch Competition at 10 AM. I went to the Pitch Competition last year and it was so interesting to hear people get up and in 3 minutes, try to sell an idea for a TV show. The winner gets paired up with a mentor from the judges panel and the chance to pitch to real networks and studios. We talked briefly with one of the guys who won last year and he said that it didn’t really go anywhere – their show I Made America (which is also an awesome web series) had similar elements to Drunk History so Comedy Central would never pick it up; it didn’t seem to fit at other networks.
This year, we heard 10 pitches, mostly comedies. There was one drama pitch that was cool called ‘Velvet Valley’ about a brothel in Nevada and all the drama surrounding legal prostitution – I could totally see that either sexed up, on Starz or Cinemax or toned down, paired with a show like Dallas on TNT or something. The winner this year was a woman with an Arrested Development style comedy, set with a fictionalized version of the Royal Family. The characters were really developed and you could picture them based on her descriptions – the prince prepares for every possible disaster by keeping a book of pre-written speeches for various scenarios; the Queen falls asleep around the castle and likes to play dead to freak out the guards.
We debated booking it from the Pitch Competition over to Roswell but by the time it was over, we would have had no chance of getting in. Many people saved their Fast Passes specifically for the Roswell reunion – it was a huge draw of the weekend. I didn’t watch the show myself, although I saw a few episodes because my mom really liked it. We felt like we had seen the cast the night before at the party and we ended up seeing many of them at the hotel later as well so I’m not too heartbroken about missing it. The only thing that would have been amazingly random about being there is the fact that SNOOKI from Jersey Shore is apparently a crazy huge Roswell fan and she and her best friend flew in to attend. She asked the last question to the panel and none of them recognized/acknowledged that they knew who she was. To be fair, she looks totally different now than when she was originally on Jersey Shore – also, I understand not everyone in the world is up to date on reality TV celebrities. But man, a picture with Snooks would have put the cherry on top of the weekend. Hahaha.
Instead of Roswell, we decided to just chill in the SFA hotel lobby. SFA is where all of the panelists stayed and was ATX Fest HQ so it was a safe place to sit in air conditioning and people watch. While hanging in the lobby, we noticed that our fave Edna from Everwood was sitting across from us but she was reading and we left her alone. When she left, I had to move my feet to let her out and she said she liked my sandals and I thanked her for coming. She said that the cast had such a wonderful time and they were so excited to be together again and thanked us for attending the panel. That was pretty great.
I also spotted my comedy crush John Mulaney at the hotel. He was upstairs, doing press while Melissa and I sat downstairs so I would just kinda sneak glances at him and hoped he would walk through the lobby eventually. As it turns out, his showrunner sat on the couch right next to us so he came over to talk to him and had to walk past me to do it. I worked up the nerve to stop him and tell him I was a big fan and that we were going to the screening of his new show. He was very sweet and posed for a picture with me.
If you don’t know his stand-up, you should definitely check it out. His special “New in Town” is on Netflix streaming. He also loves Law & Order and does this fantastic bit about Jerry Orbach:
He used to write for SNL (he and Bill Hader wrote Stefon together) and he’s also just generally adorable on Instagram (his dog with his fiancée has her own Instagram account) and in life. He’s hilarious and I really like him which is why this next part is a super bummer…
His new show might be terrible. The episode we saw was ROUGH. It was like a parody of a bad sitcom. Elliott Gould plays an effeminate neighbor who is wacky and like, literally has a limp wrist. Martin Short is Martin Short and over the top. There’s a live studio audience that laughs at everything, even things that aren’t supposed to be funny. There was a dog wearing a rasta wig on a skateboard. I mean… I just can’t imagine that this is actually the show he wanted to make and put his name on. He’s so good at creating characters and he admits that he’s not a good actor – why make this a show about a fictional version of you that is not a successful comedian but is a warm-up guy/assistant to a TV game show host? Why not just play someone else then? Why does he have to be named John Mulaney? I am sad because Nasim Pedrad is funny, John is funny… This was just not enjoyable for me. I hope that the series gets better because I want to support him but I do not know if I can watch that week to week.
Mulaney was the last event of the weekend and wrapped up ATX Fest for us. Melissa’s flight left Sunday night and I crashed in the hotel, binged on OITNB and left Monday morning. Of course, I couldn’t leave Texas without eating BBQ so I ate brisket for brunch at the airport Monday and it was glorious.
We already bought passes to attend for next year so I’m looking forward to 2015. I feel like next year will be the year for the Gilmore Girls reunion! Amy Sherman-Palladino and Lauren Graham are now both connected to the fest… let’s make it happen, ATX Fest ladies 🙂