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ATX Television Festival Founders Unite TV With Its Fans

Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson are the founders of the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas, now in it’s second year.  These women are heroes to me.  Not only have they created a festival for one of my favorite artistic mediums and forms of entertainment, but they did it in Austin!  I had the privilege of taking part in year one, and it was everything that I hoped it would be.  This year promises even bigger and better moments, while still keeping the integrity of the festival intact and making sure that everyone has their chance to be part of the action.

I had the opportunity to speak with these lovely ladies this week and learned a lot more about their vision for this festival, why it was started and what makes it so special.  Read on to learn more!

SI:  I really enjoyed the festival last year.  How have things changed from last year to this year?  Was there less leg work this time around?

CM/EG: As far as planning it was easier than last year.  A lot of the panelists last year joined our advisory board.  A lot of  networks that we had worked with last year pitched us shows because we really try to explain to people that we aren’t trying to be Comic-Con or SXSW.  We are trying to have a community and we want shows that fit it to that, so we try to be as blunt as possible asking, ‘Do these casts like each other, Do they like their show, Do they want to talk about it?’  We are using a different Alamo Drafthouse this year so you can walk from the Stephen F. Austin to the Drafthouse Ritz.  We are trying to do last year, but fuller.

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SI: This year you have so much more going on.  There are panels for everyone from directors to show runners to music supervisors.  How important is it for this festival to be just as useful for the industry as it is for it to be enjoyable for the fans?

CM/EG:  It is just as important to us.  When we started creating this two years ago, we really wanted a place for industry and fans to come together, because really what we believed and confirmed last year was that people who are in the television industry are really fans of it as well.  So there is a true fan factor to it. 

We didn’t really find anything out there where fans could go to tell the people who create these shows how much they love them and where the people who made the shows could interact with the fans or answer their questions or see the excitement.  To be in the screenings and hear people laugh at the jokes that they wrote was amazing to watch and as much as we can we are trying to keep that balance 50/50.

SI: That was one of my favorite things about last year; being able to sit down and talk with people in the industry about other shows that they love.  Particularly I remember a conversation between several actors that took part last year and festival attendees about LOST that got really deep.  You are acknowledging the shift in the way we watch TV in the digital age.  How will this play into future programming?  Will we see more web based and original content in future fests?

CM/EG: It is very important to us to have web series and even to grow beyond scripted series.  We want to do it in the right way so we’re starting with panels, last year we did it with Husbands and other programming and I think that what came from that was, why were these established professionals doing web series?  They had the choice, they didn’t have to, they were all working on cable TV series. 

This year we didn’t want to open the floodgates in to web, because it’s so huge.  We found with Jane Espenson coming and she really wanted to talk about husbands and the journey they have taken from web series to now moving on to the CW.  The panel “I don’t watch TV, but I do tweet…” came out of last year because as we told people what we were doing, the number of times people would say, “Oh, I don’t watch TV…..but I’ve been watching Arrested Development on Netflix.  The definition of television and the second and third screen and the question of where are you watching it, when are you watching it….this is the step to that first conversation.

I just heard a conversation of someone saying “I don’t own a TV” and then talking about the shows they watch on a computer.  If you own a computer you own a TV.  What is television?  It is so much beyond the definition of what you find if you go on Wikipedia and look it up, it has grown so far beyond that.

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SI: ATX Fest doesn’t just focus on new programming, you look back at the things that helped you fall in love with the industry with Boy Meets World and Party of Five and My So-Called Life.  Do you guys just sit around and talk about shows that you loved and then try and find those people to take part in the festival?  That’s what it feels like to me as I look over the programming.

CM/EG: (Laughing) The festival definitely started with us talking about television and thinking, ‘I wonder if people would like to do this in a larger group”.  When we started the festival we wanted to make sure it was a third past, a third current and a third future.  There is such a great library of television out there now that if you never had a chance to watch something while it was on, you can go back now and watch an entire series.  It’s just a much fun for people discovering it for the first time as it is for people who were fans of the show when they were on to relive them.  The great thing about television that we have discovered is that once you’re a fan of it, you’re a fan of it for life.

What panels or new programming are you most excited about this year?

CM/EG: As far as new stuff, people that we didn’t have a relationship with last year would be the joining of AMC.  We have spent a couple of years trying to get in touch with them and they got back to us once we found the right person and they brought to us the series Low Winter Sun thats going to paired with Breaking Bad in August.  We are so excited to be showing it here, as well as Hell on Wheels which is really big in Texas.  They are coming down in Canada just for the day and we love that they are doing that for us.  It is incredible that in the middle of production that they are willing to do that.  I’m also ecxited to build that relationship with HBO and ABC and have them coming out stronger this year.  We try not to pick favorites.

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Who has been your biggest cheerleader with regard to industry people taking part in the festival?

EG:  There have been a lot of great cheerleaders. Liz Tigelaar who created Life Unexpected was one of the first to join our advisory board and she brings people in to the festival and is great at explaining to people what the festival is and telling them about it.  Another one is Jane Espenson.  We connected with her during our Kickstarter campaign and she was a huge supporter on Kickstarter without ever having met us.  Now she is taking part in the festival two years in a row.  She has been such a wonderful advocate for us and is excited about the festival and really sees the vision in it.

CM: It was really nice for us to have these moments, we have been working in the industry for ten years as assistants and associates.  For me, Betty Thomas was my first boss in the industry.  She came last year and she is part of the Directors Guild of America.  It has been such a rewarding experience for me to go from being her assistant to her being proud of me for doing this.  Same with Peter Billingsly.  I have know him for a few years, and he came last year and over this past year he has been such a rock star and so supportive of the pitch competition and we haven’t announced our opening night yet, but when we do it is ninety percent because he put us in touch with the right people. 

There are so many, I think it is such a testament to television and that people who create it really want to celebrate it and there wasn’t a place for it.  There was a place for genre and insider, how do I break into the industry kind of stuff, but there wasn’t a place for a creator to go watch his or her show with an audience and talk about it and hear them laugh or hear them cry the way that musicians or film makers get to interact with their audiences.  So I think that is why it has less to do with us and more to do with loving your show and loving your fans.

To learn more about the ATX Television Festival, or to take part check out their website.  Find the schedule of free community events HERE. Follow my coverage on the Screen Invasion site and on Twitter @ScreenInvasion or @CatEdison and check us out on Facebook!  Featured Image Credit: Annie Ray

What would you like to see at the festival?  Share in the comments!

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The Author

Cat Edison

Cat Edison

Cat is an Austinite once removed with an affinity for film, TV, comics, graphic novels, and really anything she can read or watch. She gets emotionally invested in movie, television and literary characters, to an unhealthy degree. Cat has always had a passion for writing and there is little she loves more. Hopeful cynic and funny lady.