This weekend, from June 1-3rd I will be in Austin, Texas to attend the inaugural ATX Television Festival. The ATX Festival is a celebration of things television, for both TV fans and the industry professionals that produce the programs. I interviewed the founders of the festival, Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson, on what to expect at the event. ATX Television Festival website
How did you come up with the idea behind the ATX Television Festival and why did you create it?
Caitlin: We’d both worked in film and television for the better part of a decade, but I ended up on a festival circuit (Sundance, Tribeca, TED, Doha Tribeca) and fell in love with the community that festivals created around film, music and ideas. I started looking for a television festival to go work for and when there wasn’t one…
Emily: Whether you spend an episode, a season, or even ten with a group of characters, you grow attached to them in a different way than film. It’s such a significant part of pop culture, yet it’s really only enjoyed in your living room. At the same time, people love talking about their favorite TV shows. We wanted to create a place for fans to come and watch their favorite shows together on the big screen, then talk about them with each other and the people responsible for making them.
How long did it take from the inception of the idea to actualization?
Caitlin: The idea came sometime in April of last year, but we started planning in May, so 13 months.
How does it feel to see your idea come to fruition??
Caitlin: I’ll tell you June 4.
Emily: I know all the work that has gone into it, but it’s really the people who have jumped on board and agreed to be part of the first year that puts me a little bit in awe. These are people that I’ve looked up to and are responsible for shows that I personally love. It’s a really a cool feeling knowing they’re now coming to be part of something we’ve created.
Do you have any media sponsors or investors, besides Kickstarter, backing ATX?
Caitlin: No Title sponsors, but we have sponsor support that range from USA Network and HBO to the Texas Association of Film Commissions. In addition to media sponsors like The CW Austin and KXAN (NBC affiliate in Austin).
Emily: Basically, if we hadn’t had our Kickstarter supporters we wouldn’t have been able to do this.
Do you foresee making this an annual event or is doing this just once all you need?
Emily: The goal is to have the festival be an annual event, then branching out to year round programming.
If ATX does become an annual event, do you foresee making it bigger or keeping it the same size? Also, do you think you’ll add in other vehicles in the entertainment world or will you strictly stay in the realm of TV (because you are also including webisodes and webseries in your panels)?
Emily: We’re not really sure how the festival will grow in size. Our hope for this year is that our attendees will get to interact with the panelists and each other in ways that they wouldn’t in larger settings. Of course, we’d love for more people to experience the festival, but ultimately it will be a balance between growing in attendees, yet keeping the intimate atmosphere that people are looking forward to this year.
Caitlin: We consider webisodes and webseries television. That’s the thing, people think if you don’t watch TV on a TV or live, somehow it doesn’t count as television. Whether you watch it on your computer or your phone, TV or streaming on a DVD player – it’s all still television.
The festival has wide range of shows it is featuring, what shows do you want to feature in future festivals?
Emily: I feel every conversation we have, with each other and with strangers, we’re adding to the list of shows we’d like to have. Everyone has a favorite TV show.
Caitlin: We hope to continue to feature series that are favorites from the past, this year we have Firefly and Friday Night Lights as featured favorites. There are a slew of favorites to include in future years: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Friends, My So Called Life, the list will go on forever.
Who are you most excited to see at panel?
Emily: So many, but Jason Katims is very high on our list.
Who would be your ultimate/dream guests?
Caitlin: JJ Abrams or Marta Kaufman/David Crane
Emily: Joss Whedon, Tina Fey, and Shonda Rhimes – I could keep going for a while.
What show(s) are you most looking forward to showcasing at the festival?
Emily: Friday Night Lights.
You are obviously fans of TV, what are your favorite programs right now?
Caitlin: Parenthood, Homeland, Girls.
Emily: Parenthood, Revenge, The Vampire Diaries.
Do you guys have a past or present TV guilty pleasure?
Caitlin: I try not to feel guilty about any of my TV watching. It all fills a different need, depending on my mood and what I need at that moment. I like everything from Mad Men, Scandal and Girls to Bethenny Ever After and The Voice.
Emily: I watched, and loved, all nine seasons of One Tree Hill. I’m also a fan of ABC Family’s The Lying Game and Pretty Little Liars; but I don’t feel guilty for any of it!
Have you gone to other festivals like ComicCon or DragonCon?
Caitlin: We both went to ComicCon last year and in fact, we’re having a panel that was inspired by one we saw last summer – Children’s Hospital and NTSF:SD:SUV with Adult Swim and the Alamo Drafthouse.
Emily: We’ve been to a large number of film and music festivals, but as far as the “fan” cons like ComicCon and DragonCon, we haven’t made that circuit besides last year.
What has been your most surprising experience that has happened on your journey in bring ATX to life?
Caitlin: Overall how supportive people have been – everyone is a fan, whether that is someone we found on Twitter, HBO or Jane Espenson.
Emily: I don’t know if there’s been anything surprising, but definitely exciting. For a whileit felt like most of programming was in this state of limbo waiting on final approvals, but once the first few things secured, everything started falling into place. I think people like Julie Plec, Liz Tigelaar, and Jane Espenson agreeing to be part of the Festival at such early stages gave us the confidence that we should be doing this.