I’ll be returning to Austin this fall for the Austin Film Festival and I’m super stoked. The first time I’d ever been to Austin was at last October’s festival when I was there representing Steel City so I only had a couple days in town to figure out the lay of the town, jump through promotional hopes, attend half a dozen parties and mixers, baby-sit the break-out star (and soon to be Emmy winner) of that fall’s TV season who was in town to support the film, and even make time to see a couple movies. Like all the festivals we took the film to last year, it was pretty whirlwind without a lot of time to relax and really appreciate the city (in a slight I’m still kicking myself over, I never did get any Texas BBQ) so when I’d proposed to my boss we finance a trip this year for me to head back for “research and development” it was about 10% business and 90% vacation.
Here’s where things get interesting. Right around the time my boss agree to pony up the money for the trip, my good friend Linnea (she being the overworked conference coordinator at AFF) asked me apropos of nothing if I’d be interested in flying down to the festival and moderate a couple panels during the festival’s screenwriter conference. I don’t do much public speaking and I’m fairly certain there’s a reason for that but the gig comes with a complimentary All-Access Pass (retail value around $600) and will force me to interact with filmmakers way more successful than myself so, fully aware of the shit pile I was likely stepping into, I agreed. So now my trip would be closer to 30% business, 70% vacation.
While all this was happening a film my company was helping to produce called On the Doll had applied and been accepted to play the festival. It’s been argued our friendly relationship with AFF helped tip things in the film’s favor so maybe this was all destined to happen, but all of a sudden now all anyone wants to talk about is flying to Texas for the festival. I’m taking meetings and drawing up schedules and being called upon for my expertise which if you get right down to it is still pretty touristy in nature.
I feel like oil was just discovered under the cabin I’d planned on using for quiet solitude. It’s not a simply a case of more familiar faces joining me on my trip south. Now I’m being rolled into the agenda of shameless self promotion and talent managing which is a full-time job often spent wearing a false smile and living and breathing at the end of a cell phone. It’s the ugly side of producing and I hadn’t anticipated doing much of it on this trip. Basically my trip’s now a coin flip business and pleasure.
There are upsides, of course, to all this. For starters I probably won’t have to pick up a tab the entire time I’m down there between my boss and the director and producer of On the Doll, which considering how much I drink while I’m on the road is a big plus for me. There’s also the “I’m with the film” factor, which I suspect is more impressive sounding than “I’m with the festival.” The thing is, now I’m accountable to people so I’ll have to be a lot more discrete with my goofing off.
The most immediate bit of discretion will be what screenings I attend and when. I’d sold my boss on a plan to seek out distribution-less darlings on the fringes of the festival with the not so modest intentions of acquiring them. Not that we have the money or infrastructure to do so mind you, but he’d worked out some fantasy a while back that we were going to be the next Miramax or something. It was a fool-proof plan, or so I’d thought: I tell my boss I went to see a bunch of no-budget, no-tripod-using DV-shot junkers that just didn’t quit fit the bill, while secretly sneaking off to see, say, the new Coens film at a gala premiere (this by the way is strictly conjecture on my part; I am not privy to any advance info regarding what films are playing AFF this year and if No Country for Old Men is in fact playing this will merely have been an educated guess proving correct)*. Now I’m not sure how I’m gonna swing this. Yeah, I know festivals are supposed to be about discovering unpolished gems and championing little films. So sue me, I know what I like.
Even with company interference, I’m still anticipating a great time in the Lone Star State. Austin sets a fine example for what all film festivals should aspire to live up to, specifically the sense of community it cultivates between filmmakers and festival attendees. There’s a real chummy, pull up a seat vibe to the after-parties. No pretense or velvet rope bullshit. A far cry from snobby, starfucker driven fests like Sundance. It’s the sort of place where all it takes to make friends is to buy someone a drink or offer a cigarette. Writers and talent are frequently roaming around and open to chat. Last year when I was being sexiled from my hotel room (long story) I ended up hanging out with the writers of When a Stranger Called and The Hitcher till 2 in the morning just talking about what a barren wasteland the horror genre had become (give me credit for holding my tongue and not stating the obvious).
The schedule should be announced in the next couple weeks so I’ll have a better idea of what’s in store for me then. I won’t be heading back to Sundance any time soon and obviously I’m not at Toronto so this will be my big, immersive film festival experience of the year and I intend on making the most of it.
*Nope, No Country won't be playing AFF because that would be too perfect. I really am going to have to wait till November to see this fucking movie.