Introducing new feature Reel to Real
With all the amazing film-related events and talent in Austin, it felt selfish to keep knowledge of it all to myself. Therefore I created Reel to Real. In this weekly journal, I will be giving you a firsthand, behind-the-scenes account of some of the amazing movie-centric happenings here in the Texas capital. I’ll be talking to critics, screenwriters, directors, actors, visual effects artists, and anyone else who has left their indelible mark on the film culture of this incredible city. We’ll be traveling through miles of wide-open celluloid highway noting all the fascinating mile markers, from the legacy of the Hewitt family to the local eighteen-year-old wunderkind director making a splash in the world of independent film. It may be hot as the sun, we may end up consuming lots of beer and barbeque, and I can’t promise there won’t be some gunplay, but by the end, I hope you’ll have a better grasp on why this city means the world to me. This is not just my Texas film wonderland anymore: it’s yours.
But who the heck am I and how did I get here?
As far back as I can remember I’ve always been a movie geek. There are some things that are just ingrained in you from birth and I definitely inherited my father’s cinematic passion and curiosity. At a very early age, he introduced me to the name that would forever change the way I looked at film: John Carpenter. He would talk at length about his favorite scenes in Assault on Precinct 13 and, even as a sprat, my family would gather every October 31st to watch Halloween. As I got older, I ran through the remaining catalog of films my father had spent his whole life praising and celebrating. But I was living in Indiana at the time, so my access to anything outside of the universally well known was starkly limited.
Then came 2007, the year that forever altered the direction of my life. I was living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with my fiancé when a college buddy of mine began sending me emails about a movie theater in Austin, Texas. He seemed really jazzed about a theater that let you drink beer while you watched films, but I couldn’t imagine how this Alamo Drafthouse was otherwise all that different from any other multiplex; especially incredulous because it meant venturing into Texas. Then I began researching and delving into the types of films they spotlighted as well as their commitment to the unspoiled movie-going experience. Suddenly I was intrigued, and an Austin excursion was scheduled for that summer.
It’s safe to say I was in love with Austin from the moment I walked through the doors of the original, and now sadly defunct, Alamo Drafthouse on Colorado Street. The energy in the room, the conversations blooming all around us, the atmosphere of total, indiscriminate reverence for all things cinema was dizzying. We were there for a double feature of films by a man I’d never heard of, named Herschell Gordon Lewis. We sat and, spurred into adventurously widening our horizons by the electricity of the room, welcomed into our consciousness our first real exploitation experience—it was a moment that opened the floodgates of curiosity and instilled in us an unquenchable thirst for more fringe cinema.
So when we heard, on our way out of town, that this Alamo Drafthouse held its own film festival in September, we made a pact right then and there to return. That festival was called Fantastic Fest, and it marked a major turning point in our lives. That buzz in the room for the H.G. Lewis double feature the previous summer had grown into a thundering roar of communal cinephilia. We were caught up in the fervor, the welcomed exposure to genre films from around the world, and the film-loving community that kept its arms perpetually open to anyone who shared their passion. The decision was made, and in the summer of 2008, my wife, friend and I moved to Austin.
Did I really uproot my life and move to a completely new place just to be closer to a movie theater?
Partially, but what really created the magnetic attraction to Austin for us was its overall film culture. It wasn’t just a place with a theater that showed dusty b-movies to which no sane person would give the time of day. Austin was a thriving, booming Mecca of film appreciation, film scholarship and criticism, and even film production. Thanks to the aforementioned openness of its established film community, I made a great many friends in several different facets of that culture. I even began a paltry film journal, taking a page out of the playbook of my critic friends and writing about as many different movies as I could. I would write about any and all films I saw at Drafthouse events, promo screenings, and subsequent Fantastic Fests. These efforts found their way to the eyeballs of the right people and soon I had a writing gig for a major online movie site, and then another, and then another. Before I knew it, I was a professional film critic for an ever-expanding web of outlets. So not only had Austin inspired a change of venue for me, but a new vocation as well.