Austin became TV world from June 7 to 10, with the seventh iteration of the ATX Television Festival. It runs like a film festival but focuses on the small screen. The festival brought together actors, writers, directors, showrunners and many other professionals involved with the creations we invite into our homes over traditional networks, cable and streaming services. Panels explored the nuances of making it in the industry, new shows premiered, and fans were treated to tributes to classics, like Thirty-Something, Felicity, Nash Bridges, and Futurama.
Festival founders Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson worked in television and the studio system for ten years. They also worked the festival and filmmaker sides of Sundance and Tribeca. About the time Breaking Bad was causing people to take a second look at the medium as a more serious outlet for creativity, they decided that TV needed its own festival. McFarland and Gipson parlayed their experience into creating A Television eXperience (ATX) and the festival was born.
The first year it was tiny. The organizers don’t even have many pictures or videos of it. Over the years they developed an advisory board which includes representatives from HBO and Disney, and professionals from shows such as House of Cards, Justified, Friday Night Lights, Fargo and more. And this is Austin, so Richard Linklater is also on the board.
This year’s festival explored a wide range of topics and genres, included several fun social events, and a special combined event with the Republic of Texas (ROT) Motorcycle Rally.
Events included tributes, reboots, original programming and others that defy genre. Take My Wife premiered its second season, focusing on lesbian stand-up comedians, and how their professional and personal lives intertwine. Condor expands the classic Robert Redford thriller Three Days of the Condor into a limited series on Audience Network. The world premiere of Mayans MC spins off from Sons of Anarchy. Members of the cast arrived for the screening on their motorcycles as part of the ROT Motorcycle Rally.
My favorite tribute event reconvened the voice talent of Futurama. The event started with an episode of the cartoon showing on the giant screen of Austin’s Paramount Theater, switched to the actors live reading the script, and ended with a lively audience Q&A. The laughter almost never stopped. Other tributes included Breaking Bad: Saul’s Origin Story with Vince Gilligan and Bob Odenkirk reminiscing, a Felicity 20 Year Reunion, and a look back at The Americans.
Parties included the ATX Trivia Night at which teams competed for prizes, and a Parks and Recreation Outdoor Screening, in a park of course, which included music, food and drinks, and ponies.
If any of the above has sparked your interest, you may want to check out the ATX podcasts. Norman Lear called the television the “modern day campfire” and the ATX Television Festival took that as inspiration for its podcast: The TV Campfire. The show explores the intricacies of television production, careers in the industry, and interviews with people having an impact on that screen with which we connect with the world and out fantasies. Podcast will include many of the panels that took place at this year’s festival.
If you are interested in writing for TV, you’ll also want to check out ATX’s related podcast, The Writers Panel. Both are available on iTunes and other podcast networks.
The festival promotes itself as a “TV camp for adults”. The staff and volunteers are friendly and helpful. One example: It was in the upper 90s in Austin and the general admission line I was standing in was in the direct sun. We were sizzling. I noticed that the fast pass line, in which no one was standing, was positioned to go around the shaded side of the building. I asked a volunteer if we could change the location of the lines. She checked with her supervisor and the line was moved. I made a lot of friends in that line.
During the welcome at the beginning of “TV camp”, Emily Gipson told us to put down our phones. “Turn to the person next to you,” she said, “and ask them what their favorite TV show is. Talk to people. Make friends. Most of all, have fun.” I did. If you have favorite TV shows, you can have fun next year.
For information about next year’s ATX Television Festival check their website.
(Featured photo by author)