Day 3, March 15, 2015
I was already starting to feel the toll of the midnight lifestyle by Sunday, so I decided to do something radical. Radical for “festival travel” and “business travel” and even “vacation travel”, for me, anyway. I decided not to set an alarm for Sunday morning. I ended up waking up relatively early anyway (9ish?) but the lack of pressure really helped me feel less like a person who is swimming with lead weights on. Sign #56845697 that I’m getting old: an inability to stay up until 2am for more than two nights in a row without wrecking my productivity the following day. Oh well, it’s festival life, who’s complaining?
Colin and I had a leisurely breakfast and caught up on a few emails before heading to the nearby B-Cycle station to zip down to the convention centre for our first panel, “So You Want to Make a Midnight Movie?” which included lots of useful info and a great pitch from an audience member for a slow-burn horror film called The Venison Eater. He had me at … well, The Venison Eater.
“Catching up on emails” is one of those tasks that back home, when I’m on a regular schedule and mostly on top of my work, is no big deal. While I’m away, on the other hand, it feels like a crushing avalanche of busywork that I will never be able to dig myself out from under. I have so much Birdland stuff to do, it’s unreal. Being mostly offline (except in the early mornings and late nights) doesn’t help. It means that if I respond to something at 9am and then leave the house (and its precious wifi zone) until late in the evening, any followup that might have been required at, say, 10am has to wait until the following morning. Losing entire workdays like that is very painful. When I get back, I’ll have to stuff five workdays into two. But for now, I’m in Austin, where the streets are paved with brisket, the rivers flow with beer, and it’s always summertime. Not complaining. Checking my jet-setter privilege, etc.
After the midnight movie panel, we met with Jeff Wright (here scouting for CMW‘s film programming, among other things) and scoped out the technology side of what’s currently going on at SXSW. I don’t understand the Interactive festival at all, but I know that I’m just an old grandma shaking her fist at the sky and grumbling that she doesn’t “get the twitters”. Clearly, some of the stuff being showcased in the huge interactive arena of the Austin Convention centre is a bit nutty, but much of it will just as clearly change all our lives sometime soon.
I shook hands with an amputee who was using a fully-functional 3-D printed arm (each finger could bend and move at each joint, just like a real hand) and met a pair of Swedish composers who create “audio identities” for companies and products (you know how you have a logo and letterhead … well, like that, but sounds).
After checking out the very tip of the interactive iceberg, we went to a beer tent that seemed to me like a very SXSW-ish thing, even though I’ve only been here for a few days and may not have a complete sense of this festival’s identity. The outdoor lounge was sponsored by mophie, a company that makes portable battery packs for iPhones (I use one, it’s great) and they had not only free beer, but a Saint Bernard petting zoo. Yep. A tech company sponsored a patio on which you could drink for free and play with big dogs. A+, SXSW.
From the Saint Bernards we went to a happy hour hosted by VHX, then to another happy hour hosted by the North Carolina film commission, where we drank our fill of Cheerwine and met a guy who was working on a “stripper horror” film called Peelers. Good times!
Dinner was one of those fun, impromptu events that brings together a bunch of cool people – Jeff, Zach Hagen (the producer of He Never Died, which is premiering at SXSW) and our friend Diana, who has a super cool job with a company that holds the rights to a story that takes place in a galaxy far, far away. We had steaks, we had fun, and then we had to keep ourselves peppy and awake for three hours before the midnight screening of We Are Still Here. Luckily, we had the fabulous Nick Robinson to help us with that endeavour.
I was very glad to have stayed up for the film, because the finished product was tense, had great atmosphere, a fantastic look, creepy sound design and was a really fun watch. It’s such a pleasure seeing friends get to make their dreams come true, and watching Ted get up on stage to introduce the world premiere of his film was really touching and awesome!
Some things are worth staying up late for.
Day 2, March 14, 2015
On Friday, everyone in the world is starting to descend on downtown Austin. We woke up early and decided to walk from our hosts’ home to the Convention Centre (about 40 minutes, totally enjoyable in the glorious weather, in spite of what some car-accustomed Americans led us to believe).
Once we got down to the convention centre, my first task was to figure out how ticketing works at SXSW. Turns out, it’s really not as complex as I’d been led to believe. It just involves lining up, which, for those of us who came of age in the public screening line-ups of TIFF, is no big deal.
Hard tickets exist, but they’re mostly for filmmakers and their friends. If you have one, you will get into the film, and it works just like any other ticketed event. If you are a badge holder (which most people seem to be at this fest) then the process is quite straightforward. There’s a badge holder line-up outside the venue. Show up early enough, and you’ll get in. That’s it. Of course, there are different types and levels of badges, each with their own set of benefits and perks. But the basic process is: you have a badge, you line up early enough, you get in.
If you don’t want to line up for an hour to ensure that you’ll get a seat, you’ve got one other option. At the start of each day, a certain number of “express passes” is released at the SXXPRESS Box Office in the convention centre. If you snag one of those, you go into a separate, shorter line that gets let in first.
Do you see what I’m saying about it being pretty simple? I think industry types are used to festivals like TIFF where an entire “press and industry” shadow festival allows them to breeze in and out of 90% of screenings, and when they come to a fest that expects them to line up like everyone else, they get sniffy about it. It’s actually very easy to navigate this place. The problem is not that it’s confusing. It’s that there are a thousand things happening in every time slot and it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
On the advice of a producer, we decided to check out The Boy, a film that seemed to make it onto everyone’s “must see” lists for the festival. The premise is simple enough: in the summer of 1989, 9-year-old Ted lives with his father (David Morse) in a crumbling hotel in the American West, and the boy’s darker impulses are further unleashed with the arrival of a mysterious drifter (Rainn Wilson). The finished product is a wonderfully atmospheric and creepy-as-hell portrait of a disturbed youngster, which the director apparently plans to turn into a trilogy about the boy’s life as he grows up. The film was produced by Elijah Wood’s Spectrevision label, which has been doing some pretty rad stuff, actually. They were also behind A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and last year’s Sundance hit, Cooties, which I have yet to see.
The film was playing at the Alamo Ritz location, and it took all my strength to not order everything on the menu, because the idea of eating and drinking in a theatre is still so delightfully novel to me. After the film, we contemplated getting right back into line to see another well-recommended title, A Bone in the Throat, but the desire to spend time with friends won out, and instead we went to a backyard BBQ and hung out, chatted and watched some fireworks get set off (and nearly set Colin on fire – see his video on Facebook for proof). The ribs were to die for.
We figured out how to use Austin’s very handy B-Cycle system (similar to our Bike Share program) and tooled around from theatre to residential neighbourhood across the river and felt free & easy & kind of out of shape. The service only costs $8 per day, so for us, it was heaven-sent compared to the hassle of getting cabs (it’s nearly impossible especially downtown during this festival madness) or the inconvenience of Uber (everyone loves it, but everyone is also American and not offline due to exorbitant roaming charges, whereas we are not and therefore can’t use the damn app).
After the back yard party, we hitched a ride with some friends back downtown and attended the cocktail party for Deathgasm and We Are Still Here, the two midnight titles that Dark Sky is repping here. A great opportunity to see old friends and make some new ones. I met Alejandro Brugués, who directed the Cuban zombie film Juan of the Dead, and we chatted about everything from hair colour to marriage to the benefits of working in episodic television, to being bold about the projects you work on.
After cocktails we went back to the Alamo Ritz to watch Deathgasm, where we found Deathgasm baseball caps, buttons, and free beers provided by the director. Pro-tip: when you’ve been at a cocktail party for the past two hours and someone hands you a free beer, don’t also order a margarita just for the novelty of getting it delivered to your seat at a cinema! Anyway, the film was fun but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the lead actor looked exactly like Kiera Knightly from certain angles. It’s not really visible in the picture below, but trust me. He’s the one on the left.