Keeping Austin Weird At SXSW
Austin has a particular motto that rings like a mantra everywhere you go: “Keep Austin Weird.”
And with Legion M’s first appearance at the world-famous South-by-Southwest Film Festival (SXSW), we did just that as we stampeded to Texas to take part in our first ever SXSW!
The SXSW Conference and Festivals celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film and music industries. We were there to take part in the film festival as Executive Producer of official SXSW Midnight film Field Guide to Evil produced by Ant Timpson and Tim League (also both known for the ABCs of Death).
According to this cool Entertainment Weekly article with an exclusive clip, The Field Guide to Evil is a dark folklore anthology featuring creepy tales of possession, curses, love, lust, and envy, from the respective countries of the movie’s filmmakers. The impressive lineup of directors includes Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy), Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy), Agnieszka Smoczynska (The Lure), Katrin Gebbe (Nothing Bad Can Happen), Can Evrenol (Baskin and the upcoming Housewife), Calvin Reeder (The Rambler), Ashim Ahluwalia (Miss Lovely), and Yannis Veslemes (Norway).
This film means a lot to us, as it was equity crowdfunded just like Legion M! It’s a perfect example of the power fans can have if we band together to make something magical. And boy, did I get goosebumps when I saw the Legion M logo in the main credits!
The film received positive reviews, including J. Hurtado at Screen Anarchy who said of the film, “The results are wonderfully bizarre and diverse and proof that there are still stories out there left to tell.”
While Field Guide to Evil was the highlight of our festival, we were there to take SXSW by storm in more ways than one!
Our trip started with a generous offer from Legion M investor and Christmas ornament guru John Biscardi, who offered to pick David and I up from the airport and give us a ride to our hotel.
We are continuously blown away by the generosity and spirit of our members, and can’t begin to express our gratitude and happiness at knowing all of you! While we didn't take John up on his offer (he would have had to endure rush hour traffic on a Friday, and we felt that wasn’t fair), we were certainly pleased to see him at our BBQ… but more on that later!
Arriving on the evening of Friday, March 9, David Baxter and I kicked off our festival weekend by meeting fellow Legion M member and professional novelist and screenwriter Susie Basso McCauley, who stayed at the same hotel and offered to be our ride for the entire weekend! Her generosity and willingness to tag along helped us get to where we needed to go on time and on budget. Susie got to see the inside lives of tired entertainment execs working a festival and always kept us active and engaged, even when she was as exhausted as we were!
Our first task in Austin was to head downtown for a dinner meeting with the Art Buyer of a national cinema chain. She saw and loved MANDY at Sundance, and we wanted to get to know her better and see how we could work together to bring MANDY to the big screen (near you, hopefully)! After a successful meeting, we headed back to the hotel to wait for Terri Pinon’s arrival from NYC, which finally happened around 1:30 a.m. It was our first late night!
The next afternoon, David, Terri P., Susie and I met our fellow Legion M members and investors for a BBQ lunch at Terry Black's.
We got to catch up with Jonathan McMahon, Debbie Cerda, John and Lisa Biscardi, Hunter Wayne, Joseph Xavior Patterson, Thomas Hearherly, Debra and Jeff Gutjahr, Trisha Flemming and others!
As the consummate Legion M advisor, Austin native Kerry O’Quinn saw a young guy wearing a Star Wars t-shirt at the table next to us and struck up a conversation. He and his two friends just happened to be film students from Michigan, about to graduate and move to LA! David and I encouraged them to follow their dreams, and I gave them my card and told them to call me when they arrived. Very few people follow up, but I was pleased when one of them did several days later. I will definitely remember him when he gets to LA (hint, hint for everyone else chasing dreams out there – don’t let fear stop you)!
Our BBQ lunch was awesome. Great food, amazing conversation and the ability to meet wonderful people with interesting lives… this is my favorite part about our community, and I wish I could have spent more time with each person who came.
The bad news about having so much fun at lunch was that we ran out of time for our planned mini golf extravaganza! We’ll have to put that on the list for “next time.”
Later Saturday afternoon, Legion M’s PR Advisor Lisa Taback recommended we attend the premiere of the feature film Fast Color starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Lorraine Toussaint. We only had enough tickets for the four of us, and we were very happy that Jonathan McMahon was also able to get into the screening (we saved him a seat, just in case)!
The film was written and directed by Julia Hart and co-written by her husband (and producer of La La Land) Jordan Hororwitz. The film was about a woman who is forced to go on the run when her superhuman abilities are discovered. Years after having abandoned her family, the only place she has left to hide is home. We enjoyed the film and hope to hear good things as it starts its distribution search.
Later that night, we met up with another Legion M Advisor, Leonard Maltin and his daughter Jessie, and their friend and awesomely funny lady Grae Drake Sr. Editor of Rotten Tomatoes for dinner, where we discussed food, film and film critique and learned the nuances of viral videos.
Sunday morning started out very early as my best friend lives in Austin and I wanted to spend some time with her and her beautiful boys. After my first breakfast, we headed to a second breakfast – just like a Hobbit – at Arturo’s Underground Café (and yes, it was literally underground) with Legion M members and investors John McMahon, Susie Basso McCauley, Bailey Rushing, Brent Bartholemew, Debra Gutjahr, and John Hale. Again, it was fantastic to hang out with everyone, answer their questions about Legion M and to also hear what they are up to!
Our next stop was Field Guide To Evil producer Tim League’s house for an Evil Pig Roast with the cast and crew (at least some of them from all over the world) of Field Guide to Evil (or as we like to call it, FGTE)!
Tim valiantly roasted two whole pigs for the occasion, and despite the chilly grey day, everyone enjoyed mingling – especially his pet chickens, who were the life of the party!
I was ecstatic to finally to meet some of the producers, filmmakers and actors from FGTE who came from all over the world for the premier later that night. I had the privilege to interview them on two separate Facebook Livestreams during the party and learned more about how they made their segments, why they chose their subject matter, and what their most challenging moments were! Please check out the interviews and let us know what you think!
My favorite moment of the party was running into Sundance hit Hereditary director Ari Aster, whom I met at Legion M’s Sundance Lounge in January. He brought two of his best friends with him – both PhDs – one was a researcher of ants and the other was a neurobiologist. Dr. Ant and Dr. Brain were super interesting, and I left the party feeling smarter – that doesn’t often happen in Hollywood!
David left the party with Lisa Taback to attend a panel entitled “Wakanda and Beyond,” where he met Jordon Horowitz and his wife (and panelist) Julia Hart. The panel discussion focused on diversification in Hollywood, with a post-mortem on the Oscars, prospects for women filmmakers, and the future of People of Color and how marginalized communities are portrayed on film and in TV.
After the party, we met my good friend (and fellow Legion M investor) for drinks with several professionals who work in the Virtual Reality space.
Ready for my small world stories of the trip? Here you go…
Upon meeting the extremely tall VR director and creator, he said to me, “I’m the only 6 foot 8 David you’ll ever meet.” To that boast, I laughed heartily and replied, “I’d like to introduce you to my friend and colleague, David Baxter,” who approached the other David and said, “And I’m 6 foot 8!” I laughed so hard, I had tears coming out of my eyeballs.
And another even crazier small world story? Houston native Susie Basso McCauley was with us, and when we approached the table to join my friend and her guests, she yelled out, “No Way!” She ran over to a man sitting at the end of the table and gave him a huge hug! It turns out he was Susie’s preschool boyfriend and they hadn’t seen each other for years. Their reunion was super sweet and amazingly poignant – it’s fantastic to see people reconnecting through our mutual love of the arts!
Although we were all exhausted and really wanting naps Sunday afternoon, we didn’t have a moment to waste. We headed back downtown, grabbed some coffee, and then trudged out to the IFC party where our friend and Mandy partner Elijah Wood was DJ. He was pleased to see us and even recorded our crazy dancing as we sipped on chocolate milkshakes while zombiefied waiters served others drinks. Yes, zombiefied waiters. And even more important, chocolate milkshakes. Someone in Austin knows how to throw a party. Holla!
Finally, it was time for the midnight premiere of Field Guide to Evil. Unfortunately, Ready Player One had a surprise premiere right before ours, so our midnight screening got pushed back to 12:40 a.m. So, so late. So late. Can’t we do midnight screenings at 10 p.m. instead? It would be so much more civilized.
Although exhausted, we rallied, happy to finally premiere this terrific film! It was fantastic to see how the filmmakers reacted to each other’s segments for the first time, and of course, the delicious Alamo Drafthouse buttered popcorn helped keep us awake. The fact that the film was a hit and even better on the big screen than we could have imagined helped too!
We stumbled back to the hotel around 3 a.m., bleary-eyed and sad to know we’d be heading home the next morning, but happy for a successful outing at SXSW.
To those of you we visited over the weekend, thank you for your hospitality and time. We genuinely enjoyed seeing you and are already planning on returning for Fantastic Fest in September. For those we missed, we hope to see you next time!
As we left Austin behind, we all smiled in not-so-secret satisfaction, knowing the truth. We kept Austin weird.
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