With the ATX Television Festival about two weeks away, I thought I’d offer up some thoughts as to what one might expect should one find oneself in Austin for the fest. Man, that’s a lot of hypotheticals already. We’re off to a bad start here.
Nonetheless, I figured I’d offer up some thoughts for those who are going for the first time or are thinking about ways to vary past experiences. Let’s break this down, FAQ style.
Who the hell are you to tell us how to enjoy the festival?
Well, that’s kind of a rude way to ask. But I’ve been to one whole festival and therefore an expert on not only all things ATX but also all things Austin as well.
So this is a bravado thing you’re doing?
But seriously: What are the basics?
The basics are laid out on the festival’s website: it’s a four-day festival with events starting the evening of Thursday June 5 and ending in the afternoon of June 8. There are two primary types of events: panels, which feature a group of industry people talking about a particular topic, and screenings, in which an episode is shown before a Q&A with creative associates with the shows.
Which is more fun?
I have no way to answer that. It comes down to personal preference. Last year, I only attended one screening as an audience member, and that was for a show that hadn’t even aired yet: “Enlisted.” I was pretty much a panel guy last year, but this year, a lot of the screenings look interesting so I am switching up my fest game. I’m flexible like that. OK, I’ll probably pull something trying to switch gears. But I’m almost 40. Shut up.
Why are the screenings more appealing this year?
It’s not really about the quality of the shows per se, but rather than ATX learned from last year that showing people episodes that haven’t aired yet is far more exciting and also makes the fest more of a must-attend event. I mean, I love “Scandal,” but didn’t need to sit through an episode I’d already seen. The fest is way too packed with way too many interesting things, and I had to make a judgment call. But this time around, fans of shows like “Fargo” get to see episodes slightly ahead of time, and certain shows that won’t air until the Fall get to screen pilots and get buzz.
Will I get to see everything I want at the fest?
Probably not, but that speaks to the number of events more than anything else. What I would say is that the chance to have a wholly unique festival from anyone else there is really high. There were people last year that I knew personally but barely saw, since their interests and mine were so divergent. To wit: This year, the “Everwood” panel will probably be huge. But I’m not really a fan of that show, or “Roswell,” another show that has a lot of my Twitter feed excited. But that’s OK! ATX supports those that want to watch that, and panels like one in which Kyle Killen (“Lone Star,” “Awake,” and “Mind Games”) will lead a panel discussion about the intersections of TV ratings, Twitter buzz, and weekly reviews. You may not see everything you want due to scheduling overlaps or other practical manners, but you’ll still get a lot of value out of whatever you can attend. The fact that ATX can support many different types of TV fans is a total strength.
How comfortable should my shoes be?
Very! You’ll be waiting in a lot of lines, although I didn’t see anything personally last year that involved the fest’s infrastructure holding things up any longer than need be. It’s just the nature of the festival beast. If you can’t handle a few lines, you probably shouldn’t be in the same place as 1,000+ rabid TV fans.
There are three basic areas for events: The hotel has two smallish rooms (especially the SFA Assembly Room, which would have trouble assembling the Avengers all at once) for panels, and often has the most congestion. You’ll have to arrive early, but on the plus side, you’ll be indoors. (Shameless plug alert: Here’s me moderating a panel last year inside the SFA Assembly Room.)
The Alamo Drafthouse is just a few blocks away, and has two theatres available for events. Alamo 1 is HUGE, and Alamo 2 is still bigger than anything in the hotel. Waiting here is outside, and it’ll be June in Texas. So dress appropriately. (Shameless plug 2: Here I am moderating a screening of “The Riches” last year in Alamo 2.)
The State Theatre is by far the biggest venue, and while waiting is also outside, there’s a good chance of you getting a seat even if you didn’t get a Fast Pass. That’s why events like “Orange Is The New Black” and “Everwood” are there. Those will be huge events.
So even if I don’t attend, I’ll be able to see everything later on YouTube?
Indeed, although those sometimes take a few months to get online. But it’s a good service all the same.
I still have nightmares about the PreKindle Plus Sign. What can I do to stop these?
Just think of the plus as being a positive. The Plus Sign does not wish to hurt us. It wants to live in peace among us. Pay no attention to its lizard-like form just beneath the surface.
Which panel should I absolutely not miss?
Well, that’s entirely up to you. But I’d also say this, with all respect to ATX: The panels are almost besides the point. Yes, they are fun, and often high-quality, and worth attending. But most of my memories from last year happened outside the actual festival and involved getting to know Austin, people I’d only known on Twitter, or people who were just TV fans. Attending a panel is a passive experience. Drinking beers and talking TV with other people is an active one, and it’s impossible to run out of things to do in downtown Austin.
But seriously: Is there one thing I should do?
The Friday night outdoor screening of a “Friday Night Lights” episode is a pretty fun event. Not only does a lot of the show’s cast/creative show up, but it’s also a spectacle unto itself. It’s also the night that I fell in love with Austin, as the 15-minute or so walk to the event from downtown gave me my first glimpse into the city’s true vibe. A friend of mine, a native Austinite, also helped me discovered a secluded poolside bar nearby this event. We even saw a couple get engaged at this pool, and I think I took literally the only photo of this event that exists in the world. You’ll see it over there on the right. True story! So I didn’t even see the episode itself, but rather drank beer and listened to it while surrounded by bamboo and good company. Given how often you’re indoors at ATX, it’s important to also get outside and soak in the city’s atmosphere. Find a small spot and make it your own, even if it’s only for a few hours.
Can I meet you in Austin?
Oh dear God no. All that stuff about meeting people two questions ago was a bluff. You called me on it.
Nah. While I’m increasingly introverted as the years go on, I enjoyed meeting people last year and look forward to doing so again. I tend to make myself extremely stalkable when in Austin, so it should be easy to know where I am. Mostly that involves me stating my whereabouts on Twitter (@TVMcGee), so that’s a surefire way to know where I’m drinking at any given moment. Being 6’5’’ and bald also means that you need only look up and search for a blinding glare: That’ll be me. I’m literally the human equivalent of my Twitter avatar. Stare at it and admire the truly uncanny valley.
What’s the easiest way to find you?
I’ll be moderating three screenings this year: “Enlisted,” “Review,” and “The Goldbergs.” So I’ll be onstage for those. As for other panels, I’ll be attending “A Conversation With Carlton Cuse,” the aforementioned Killen panel, the “Orange Is The New Black” panel, and some others. This is a work trip as much as a personal trip for me, so I’ll be writing things up and conducting interviews while there. But I’ll be doing that while eating my body weight in brisket, so it’s not like it’ll be a HUGE vocational burden.
Is there a Tinder-like app where I can locate ATX attendees who have the same favorite show as mine?
No, but there SHOULD be, no? If you build one, let me know so I can more easily find my “Sleepy Hollow” peeps on 6th Street.
Hope to see you in Austin!