behind the scenes
The other Fantastic Fest: The less fantastic side of attending as a journalist
Another Fantastic Fest has come and gone. Perhaps a better way to phrase that would be, we are just now sifting through rubble from the yearly landfall of Hurricane Fantastic.
It's time to hang up our badges and somberly return to the land of sobriety, normal circadian cycles and only a couple of movies watched per day. Not that we would trade these eight days in September for anything, but it does take its toll on all of us in different ways. For me, the experience of attending Fantastic Fest has changed dramatically over the last few years.
I began attending the festival in 2007—not as a journalist, not even as a local, but as a wide-eyed, out-of-town movie geek thirsty for new, esoteric genre fare from countries I had barely heard of. That first festival was a haze of new friends, transcendent film discovery and bucket upon bucket of Texas-brewed beer. If I wasn’t seeing five movies daily, the maximum possible for a given day, it was only because I was drinking heavily and meeting new friends. Those slightly sloshed meetings would prove to be the foundation of some incredible friendships that ended up facilitating my move to Austin.
But in 2009, after I had moved here and was entering my third year at the festival, I began to cover Fantastic Fest for a website called Film School Rejects. This was the first site I wrote for in my still-budding career as a critic/blogger and I was excited to provide them with festival coverage. I was convinced that providing this coverage would not change my festival experience. But as the fest continued, I began to notice that, while I was still going to parties and events and building even more new friendships and business contacts, I was missing a few more films than usual due to having to write reviews late into the night.
The next year I covered the festival for two different outlets: FSR and Cinematical. Suddenly I was writing reviews and editorials not just at the close of each festival day, but in between movies as well. I began to notice more and more films slipping through the cracks of my checklist. I was seeing very few movies beyond those I was required to review. But again, I still found time to make new friends, though these opportunities were few and far between.
This year I covered Fantastic Fest for a total of four outlets in some capacity or another. Suddenly, the festival was less a weeklong celebration of movies, beer, and friends as it was a fire-breathing beast that I was determined to conquer before it devoured me alive. I spent almost entire days writing and missed scores of movies that I had been greatly looking forward to seeing. Compared to my previous years, I felt as though I hadn’t seen anything at all. I barely slept, my insomnia proving a necessary evil. I hardly made time for my returning friends, and I had no time to foster new friendships. Having recently made the jump to fulltime writer, this workload undertaking was vital to ensure financial stability.
But what I love about Fantastic Fest is that my changing experiences as an attendee continues to align perfectly with the evolution of the festival itself. Covering Fantastic Fest as a journalist is not exactly ideal in comparison to attending as a film fan, but it would be downright impossible without the press and public relations teams that have become so integral to the day-to-day fest proceedings. These people work tirelessly to set up press screenings, issue screeners where possible, even establishing a Vimeo link wherein select titles could be viewed directly from our computers (the latter a new feature this year). The fact of the matter, the painful truth I have learned, is that covering a festival as a journalist means keeping bizarre hours that don’t always conform to the five movie time slots that govern each day of the festival. Fantastic Fest continues to adopt ways to make the fest accessible to both the press and the public.
The deeper I delve into the journalistic approach to Fantastic Fest, the more I appreciate the work that goes on behind the scenes. In the end, it’s still all about the movies, but what once was a vacation for me, and I’m sure many other young bloggers covering the fest this year, has become a crash-course in film journalism. Ultimately, I hope that living eight straight days under the gun and learning to meet deadlines on the fly will serve as cross training for honing my chops as a writer. That indeed would be truly fantastic.