Kyle Killen is the biggest Ahole on the planet. He cheats on his wife so yech they had to move. He's not even allowed to travel back to LA hardly ever.
ATX Television Festival: Season 2 Wrap-Up
An annual festival dedicated to television? It exists, it’s in Austin, and it’s perfect. I attended the second annual ATX Television Festival last month, and I immediately started writing up this post … and then procrastinated for weeks. (Sorry, I am the worst.) But I have finally put the finishing touches on my wrap-up, and my apologies for my lack of timeliness. If you haven’t heard of the festival, or want to learn more, make sure to visit the official website. I already bought a weekend pass for next year, and I hear that tickets are selling fast, so you might want to get moving.
What is the ATX Television Festival? Based in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel in downtown Austin, Texas, ATX was a weekend long festival that presented dozens of panels, in three different venues. The panels ranged from screenings of current and upcoming series, to Q&A sessions and reunions for long-cancelled shows, to a pitch competition for aspiring TV writers. Panelists included writers, directors, producers, music supervisors, actors, composers, and more. For a one-sentence descriptor, try this: a tiny, far more intimate Comic-Con, focused entirely on television, with easily accessible tacos and drinks. Think cocktails and couches, instead of energy drinks and eternal lines. Seriously, we could bring our mimosas into panels, and were able to be served beer and fried pickles in the middle of screenings. Seriously.
ATX blended the fan experience with something a bit more “insider,” in my opinion. This wasn’t just for people who love to watch television, but for people interested in the industry and what goes in to making good TV—for people who get more excited spotting their favorite writers than their favorite actors. (But hey, actors, you’re swell too.) Everyone was just relaxed and having fun. And from what I could tell, it seems that the creative talent there were all having a blast too.
While the main draw was the whole TV thing, and you know that I am obsessed with my shows (UNDERSTATEMENT), let’s set that aside for a minute. First let’s talk about the setting, the atmosphere, and most importantly, the people. Over the past four years, I have cultivated friendships with TV fans around the world, mostly through Twitter. (“Cultivated”? Here I am, being the worst again.) I love you guys! I have been lucky enough to meet some of my online friends over the past four years, at PaleyFest and San Diego Comic-Con, and I’ve shockingly never been disappointed by the “real life” versions. It’s this odd experience of meeting good friends, but for the first time. The big highlight of ATX, for me, was being able to hang out with so many people from my Twitter timeline—people from all over—and give them a hug, drink together, share queso, and gab endlessly about television. My only complaint (and this goes for the whole festival) is that it was just too much, stuffed into too little. There were so many people and so many things to experience, that I really needed more time to process and connect. (Ugh, my wallet’s too small for my hundreds and my diamond shoes are too tight!) Anyway, everyone I met was so lovely, and I adore you all, and we’re all best friends now, right?
But Austin. C’mon. Seriously. Setting aside the oppressive heat, I was in love. It was more akin to Portland than Dillon. My sister Francesca, who was my travel buddy for the weekend, described it as “If Denver, Vashon, and Las Vegas had a baby.” [Vashon is a small island near Seattle, where we’re from.] Pretty much. While milling about the city at night, there were just tons of people out and about, and very few of them even knew that the ATX Fest was going on. Crowded restaurants and bars, with tons of outdoor seating, and a whole lot of atmosphere. I got into a discussion with a couple of the bartenders, who had moved to Austin from somewhere in Nebraska, and I was seriously considering what it would take to move there. Maybe I still am. (I still am.)
I would have been happy at any and every ATX panel, but I don’t have Hermione’s Time Turner, so I had to pick and choose. Read on for my diary entry about the experience—possibly the most important chapter of my future memoirs, tentatively titled “Being in the Same Room as Connie Britton’s Hair.”
Thursday, June 6:
I arrived at the Austin airport at 12:30pm, and I was so anxious to get off the plane and get the fun started that I offended the guy ahead of me, but whatever. He was on his phone, and moving slowly, and I was just so exciiiiiited! I met up with my sister Francesca at baggage claim, discussed the Game of Thrones finale (absolutely necessary conversation!), hopped in a shuttle, and headed to our hotel to drop off our bags. It was pointed out that I was inappropriately wearing black pants in 90 degree weather, but whatever. That’s what I do.
It was a bit of a hike to the badge pickup hotel, so we made a pit stop for margaritas and tacos, and really, that’s how all walks should be. I was already in love. The actual badge pickup was super easy, and they even printed our reservation tickets for us. Like, the dreamy zen version of Comic-Con. After two years in a row of SDCC, ATX felt magically easy right from the start. And right next to the badge pickup tables? The hotel bar. My new favorite place on earth. Honestly, the bar at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel was worth the trip alone. We parked ourselves on some stools, were introduced to some delightful concoctions involving elderflower (fancy!), and just gradually started meeting so many of my Twitter friends. At one point there were about eleven of us hanging out on the (super comfy) couches, and the conversation went to Gilbert Blythe, and really that’s all I can remember. Best badge pickup experience EVER.
Eventually, we headed out to find dinner with the lovely Crissy and Sarah, and happened upon a mystical beer garden, with misty sprayers, and lights in the trees, and delicious queso, and I didn’t even mind the wait for our table. Then more tacos! (Tacos were the theme of the weekend, so get ready for some repetition.) Dinner was followed by a detour to a karaoke bar, but we were too scared to sing, and then too tired, so we stumbled to our hotel. Day one was a success!
Friday, June 7:
Our first panel of the convention was Mythology, and since we had reservations, we only had to be there 20 minutes before it started. For anyone who has ever been to SDCC, you know how luxurious this is. LUXURY! We were living the dreamy vacation life. While waiting in the very short line, we got to meet more online friends (Hi, @queenkandis!), and we had our first celebrity sighting of the weekend. Lacey Chabert was outside, looking fetch.
The panel of television writers was made up of Richard Hatem, Remi Aubuchon, Jane Espenson (hero!), Dmitry Lipkin, and Winnie Holzman (hero!). The AV Club’s Todd Van Der Werff moderated. Everyone was smart, funny, and delightful. I could have listened to them for hours, and it felt way too short. I didn’t really take notes, or do much live-tweeting, because I just wanted to take it all in. One thing I remember about this panel, however, was that there wasn’t a real consensus about what “mythology” means in terms of a TV show. It was fascinating to listen to the writers analyze and discuss, and try to put together a working definition. Things like rules, continuity, and character backstory can all go into it. Ultimately, everyone agreed that regardless of mythology, the most important thing is the characters. The plot should serve to help us get to know the characters. That’s my kind of television.
Next up was Creating the Sound of the Show, another small panel, held in the same room. Since we didn’t have reservations for this one, we had to leave the room and get back in line, but it didn’t really cause too much of a problem. (It would be a different story for the more crowded panels, like Veronica Mars.) The panelists for this music-themed discussion were the great W.G. Snuffy Walden (composer extraordinaire), Lindsay Wolfington (music supervisor on such shows as One Tree Hill and Ghost Whisperer), Teddy Geiger (musician and actor), and Liz Tigelaar (writer, creator of Life Unexpected).
It was so cool to have Snuffy (yeah, I call him Snuffy now) talk about his process, and to reflect on his amazing career. He has composed scores for some of my very favorite shows, including My So-Called Life, Felicity, and Friday Night Lights. Learning more about the business involved in being a music supervisor was fascinating, as Wolfington discussed how important budgeting is to her job. I had never really thought much about the money side of it. To be honest, I didn’t know who Teddy Geiger was before this panel, but now I’m curious about the weirdly titled Love Monkey. And Liz Tigelaar was an absolute delight, bubbling with personality. I was glad to have a writer and former showrunner on the panel, to offer perspective from that side of the equation, when it comes to picking music for specific moments.
Afterwards, we met up with my long time Twitter buddy Carrie (@EvilVagenda) and headed to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, which was a few blocks down the street. This was my first time at the venue, and it was the perfect location for the My So-Called Life screening and Q&A. They showed us the pilot episode on the big screen, and I fell in love with the show all over again. Most favorite of all favorites. MSCL is one of those shows that I can marathon over and over again, and it gets better every time. It loses nothing over time. Oh, and we could order food and drinks right from our seats, so that was super exciting. Beer, pizza, and fried pickles, yum! I never wanted to leave.
After the episode, Winnie Holzman (creator and writer), Snuffy Walden (composer), Bess Armstrong (Patty Chase), Devon Gummersall (Brian Krakow), Devon Odessa (Sharon Cherski), and Wilson Cruz (Rickie!!!) came on stage. There was a brief Q&A moderated by Robyn Ross, but it was tragically short. The cast looked better than ever. Wilson pointed out how well Brian Krakow grew up, and the whole room agreed. “Look what Angela would have ended up with!” If only she had known. Devon Gummersall told a story about how Jared Leto used to help him pick up girls, and omigod I love him.
We stayed in our seats, munching on our snacks, chatting about TV, while we waited for the next panel: Falling Skies Screening and Q&A. They showed us part one of the season 3 premiere, “On Thin Ice,” and it was really good. Francesca doesn’t watch the show, but even she got into it. Then Remi Aubuchon, Sarah Carter, and Drew Roy came on stage to answer questions. Everyone was charming, and Drew Roy’s face did not offend our eyes.
Next up was Friday Night Lights Outdoor Screening. Probably the highlight of the whole weekend, but it’s hard to choose. We hiked across the bridge, to a hotel parking lot, where people had already set up folding chairs in front of a big screen. We met up with our faves, the #CreepyCondo gals, and shared a blanket with them. It was still too light out to start the screening, so we milled about, listening to music and drinking delightful lemonade-beer concoctions. Allie Gonino (Laurel on The Lying Game) is in a band called The Good Mad, and they performed live. (We loved their music, and I am convinced that one of the band members looks like Theon Greyjoy, so that was distracting.) A detour to find wine led us to a Wilson Bethel sighting, and it was all very magical.
Then the cast of Friday Night Lights showed up, and Francesca finally wore down my defenses to make us break my “Don’t ever gawk at the celebrities!” rule, and we took some pictures (see below). We were complete dorks, but completely happy dorks too. Oh, and right when the episode started, Mae Whitman and a group of her friends came and sat right next to us and proceeded to totally geek out about Friday Night Lights. Um yeah. We had a time.
Saturday, June 8:
The first panel of Saturday morning made the perfect sequel to the outdoor screening from the night before: Friday Night Lights: The Cast Diaries. Located in the State Theater, it was also the perfect setting: a beautiful venue, and serving morning mimosas. (Oh, and apparently Mae Whitman had started following us around at this point, because she and Sarah Ramos sat right in front of us in the theater.) Panelists included executive producer David Hudgins, Louanne Stephens (Grandma Saracen!), Scott Porter (Street!), Matt Lauria (Luke Cafferty!), Brad Leland (Buddy!), and Gaius Charles (Smash!), so we were like “Omigod, this is the best panel ever!” But we were totally wrong, because it was about to get infinity times infinity better, because guess who the surprise panelists were??? Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler, y’all. Coach and Tami! In the same room as us! I was sharing space with Connie Britton’s hair! And Kyle Chandler’s face! It was all too much. The entire room started spontaneously crying when we saw them. Too much. JUST TOO MUCH.
The format for the panel was really cool, because they showed us a series of clips from the show, featuring memorable moments for all of the actors and characters. Then Hudgins and the actors in the clip would discuss it, and it was all very emotional. Luke crying in the rain, Tami telling Coach that she was pregnant, Street being Street, Smash being Smash, and so much more. I can’t deny that I cried a few times. Oh, and we learned that Kyle Chandler used to cook breakfast for the crew most mornings, because of course he did. He is perfect. We got to see a hilarious commercial for Buddy Garrity’s car dealership, which had us dying. Oh, and Scott Porter was wearing a “House Porter” t-shirt, because he was vying for the “Most Charming Ever Award,” and really going for the win. At one point, Kyle Chandler referred to Scott Porter the actor as “Jason,” and Porter answered without missing a beat, and Connie Britton scolded them, and it was perfect.
Next, we headed back to the SFA Ballroom for CW Digital Block: Husbands and Stupid Hype. Jane Espenson and Brad Bell have recently made a deal with The CW to show their awesome web series, Husbands, on the network’s website. So they paired up with Wilson Bethel, who also has a web series on CWTV.com, Stupid Hype, for this webby panel. Panelists included my long-time hero Jane Espenson, Brad Bell (Cheeks!), Sean Hemeon (Brady!), and Wilson Bethel (Wade on Hart of Dixie, and web series creator). Everyone was delightful and charming and funny, and Wilson Bethel did his own AV, and it was all over too fast. After the panel was over, my body was inhabited by a crazy spirit who asked Jane if I could take a picture with her, and gushed about how I go to all her panels at Comic-Con, and basically hugged her, and I am still embarrassed. (P.S. Sean Hemeon is adorable, in case it wasn’t obvious.) Thanks to Cathy (@bluedaisy16) for capturing the moment below.
The next panel for us was Parenthood, but I hadn’t been able to get a reservation ticket, so I was worried about getting in. Luckily, the lovely Tabby (@TabbyFlatt) saved the day by giving me her extra ticket, so Francesca and I were able to snag white-couch-seats right near the front. (Woot! Living it up on luxurious white leather couches. Take that, Comic-Con!) The panelists included some familiar faces, so the Friday Night Lights theme of the day continued: David Hudgins (executive producer), Sarah Watson (writer), Mae Whitman (Amber, and Tim Riggins fan extraordinaire), Matt Lauria (Ryan and Luke Cafferty), Sarah Ramos (Haddie), and Miles Heizer (Drew). Meg Masters moderated, and did a lovely job. While I am deeply in love with Parenthood, the panel kind of turned into a lovefest for Friday Night Lights, and everyone was okay with that. This feeling was cemented at the end, when a birthday cake was wheeled out for Mae Whitman, featuring shirtless Tim Riggins pictured in the icing. Perfection.
Then we had to leave the room and get back in line for Veronica Mars. Ben Blacker (of the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast) moderated, and the two panelists were Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars creator, writer and director of the upcoming film) and Chris Lowell (Piz). Given the upcoming movie, funded by over $5 million on Kickstarter, this was a hot ticket item. We hadn’t been able to score reservations, and this was probably the longest line for the SFA Ballroom venue that weekend. Luckily, we made it back in to the room, but in the last row, and with no view of the front of the room. This is definitely something that the festival could work on in terms of the venue, as there was no screen in the room to accommodate people sitting in the back. We just listened to the panel, apparently missing out on a lot of Chris Lowell’s adorableness. Oh well.
The Veronica Mars panel was all about the upcoming movie, which was fine, but Thomas couldn’t really say much, given the Kickstarter promise to reveal all news to backers first. I am a backer, and the news had already broken that Chris Lowell would be in the movie. I would have enjoyed a little more of a retrospective on the show, with questions about the TV series, but most of the discussion dealt with the Kickstarter accomplishment (which was huge, yay, but had already been more than over-reported online), and then kind of tiptoeing around questions about what to expect in the upcoming film. One interesting reveal, however, was the fact that when the movie starts, Veronica will not have been doing any P.I. casework since high school. The movie will mark her return to working a case, which will, in turn, be accompanied by a return to voiceover. Hmmm.
Afterwards, we headed back to our favorite place. (The hotel bar, duh. Keep up.) There, we were reunited with Tash (@80RebelGirl)! We hung out with friends for a bit, and then went in search of much needed lunch/dinner/immediate food. We took one of the Melissas with us. (Fun times, @onlymystory!) Spoiler alert: more tacos. Then we ran into the #CreepyCondo girls again. Love, love, love them. And Francesca introduced me to red beer, which is beer mixed with tomato juice (or clamato) and is amazing. (I know, it sounds weird, but it was DELICIOUS.)
Next, a few of us headed back to the SFA Hotel Bar (I know, I know), where HBO was throwing a closing night party, Marilyn-themed. There had been a screening earlier for HBO’s upcoming Marilyn Monroe documentary, which we actually had reservations for, but had skipped in favor of tacos and conversation. (Sorry, Marilyn. I love you!) Anyway, somehow we got into the party, and there were free drinks, and a balcony, and it was a spectacular place for people-watching. I shook Ben Blacker’s hand (and later sung the Nerdist Writers Panel theme song to my friends, once he was hopefully out of earshot). And we even got to meet the INCREDIBLE Julie Plec, who was super gracious and even commented on my necklace. (I know, right?! What is real life anymore? I have been ruined forever.) And I was mistaken for Sarah Ramos, and posed for a photo, and why can’t every weekend be ATX??? Magical. The perfect closing night.
Sunday, June 9:
We woke up to a rainy morning, because Austin didn’t want us to leave. Sniffle. We didn’t actually have our panel schedule planned out at that point, and were still trying to decide what to do, since we had to catch our shuttle in a few hours. Breakfast tacos in hand, we asked if we could take our food into the SFA Ballroom for the Pitch Competition panel, and the volunteers said yes, and just like that our plans were solidified. Pitch Competition it was! Plus, by staying in the SFA Ballroom, we were in close proximity to mimosas, and we are really good at vacation.
It was kismet, because the Pitch Competition was easily the most fascinating panel that we attended. Like, it gave new meaning to the term “fascinating.” I’m so glad we went because it was the type of thing we’d never see anywhere else—unique to the ATX Festival experience. My good friend Ben Blacker moderated, and he was a pro, like always. The best. The judges included David Hudgins, Kyle Killen, Liz Tigelaar, Dina Hillier, Bryan Seabury, and Corey Marsh. The winner was I Made America (Mark Muszynski), a comedy about our founding fathers (as in Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, etc.) being kidnapped through time to live in a present day U.S. city, as roommates. The presentation was very theatrical and there were wigs and the audience couldn’t stop laughing. But Francesca and I both agreed that we would watch all of the shows presented. They all sounded so amazing!
It was such an entertaining and educational experience. This was magnified by the fact that afterwards we were able to chat with one of the ten finalists, Danielle Turchiano, about her pilot pitch, The It Couple. I had reviewed Turchiano’s book awhile back. Very interesting to hear a bit more about the pitch experience, and I am definitely hoping that this is not the end of The It Couple. You can read her own take on the pilot pitch experience on her blog, Made Possible by Pop Culture.
Next up was the Actor’s Roundtable, which was probably the weirdest and funniest panel that we attended. The panelists were Devon Gummersall, Lucas Neff, Nick Wechsler, Joshua Malina, Wilson Bethel, Scott Porter, and Matt Lauria (pictured above). I’m not sure that I can accurately convey what the panel was like, but it ranged from the extremes of rawly honest expressions of pain (that more properly belonged on a therapist’s couch), to wise words of experience, to hilarious stories, to Scott Porter’s living embodiment of Disneyland (the happiest place on earth has nothing on him!). I’ll leave you with one final image.
Finally, there was a Music Showcase featuring Teddy Geiger and The Good Mad in the hotel bar (I’m not an alcoholic, I promise). We said our goodbyes, and it felt way too soon, and I miss everyone, and am already counting down the days until next year. Now excuse me while I take a breath, the end.