The following is an account of TSR writer Nick Allen losing his mega festival virginity to this year's South by Southwest gathering, which included seeing a lot of movies, waiting in a lot of lines, and eating and sleeping like cinema groupie. This is Part 1 of 5. Click here to read all about Nick's SXSW saga
A few hours later, Jeff arrived. We hopped into our rental car, which was a pretty darn fancy Chrysler car from Avis. I screwed up being Jeff’s iPhone navigator a couple times, but we reached our base in good time. Then a whole bunch of boring (to you, anyway) preparation stuff happened before Jeff and I rocked and rolled down to downtown Austin.
I’m not sure what I thought Austin to be like, but I never imagined it being like a less busy L.A without skyscrapers (forgive me if that comparison sounds like bullshit). The sky was clear, yet the streets were packed with bars and restaurants (often a bit fancy). And walking around Austin to the convention center, it instantly became apparent that lighter clothes would be in the forecast, along with the regret of not bringing sunglasses.
My previous thought that SXSW was like a one-street, mostly outdoor festival were thrown on its head a bit by my introduction to the goliath known as the Austin Convention Center, which would be my second SXSW home base. And the closest I’ve come to being surrounded by this many people united in one commercial cause would probably be at one of the three dog shows I’ve attended in the past few years (McCormick Place, boo-yah).
Whether I had wrapped my head around the size and business of SXSW or not, Jeff and I were on a mission to become legit – SXSW legit. Our first stop was to pick up our badges, which involved me getting my picture taken by a girl who asked what my website was about (“Uh…it’s a blog,” I idiotically retorted.) Second, we sauntered over to the “Press” booth, which supplied us with little perks like a free drink card, and a couple of pamphlets etc. that I didn’t reference once throughout my trip. With the clock ticking towards 5:15 on my first day in Austin, the two of us headed towards the press room, which was located on the “badge floor,” and featured a handful of free drinks. (I was very pleased that SXSW knew that Monster Energy Drinks are not only my vice, but my movie reviewing fuel.) During this pressroom visit, I finally met Jeff’s “Movie B.S” podcast sidekick Eric D. Snider.
Looming over these moments was our SXSW schedules, which already had Jeff and I planning on seeing movies. Jeff was going to see a documentary about the New York Times, and I was going to catch the festival’s premiere event, Source Code. Despite hearing that the lines were already pretty long for a movie starting in an hour and a half, I trudged through the unfamiliar streets of Austin, map in hand, circling the city’s Paramount Theater until I had found what looked like the back of the line – even though it had wrapped around three sides of the block.
This was the moment in which I learned something important about SXSW, which had been told to me by Jeff, but I didn’t realize until this point: lines, lines, lines. I would be wrong if I didn’t admit I was humbled by this notion, as I haven’t waited in a long, non-guaranteed line for a movie in at least a couple of years, having gotten a bit too used to my press rows, saved seats, etc. Slightly disgruntled, I chewed through a Clif bar (the unofficial sponsor of my SXSW diet) while listening to an older woman pitch her horror script to a fellow filmmaker in line (it sounded a lot of like Jennifer’s Body.) After losing my first item (my original SXSW map) and sitting on the ground for an hour or so, the line moved. Eventually, I was finally in Austin’s historic Paramount Theater …
And I scrambled, scrambled, scrambled to get a seat. I thought my requirements wer pretty easy: a seat on the first floor, one that isn’t obstructed by the overreaching parts of the theater’s construction. Perhaps it was foolish of me to try to the theaters main floor, instead of going straight to the balcony. Regardless, I dashed through the main floor, trying out seat after seat, none of them able to provide me a non-obstructed view. I then sprang up to the balcony, which gave me my first (and final) frustrating experience with idiots who do not mark chairs that they are saving.
It should be a rule of life that if you are going to save a seat, you should put something, whether it be a jacket, a coat, a shoe, a notebook, or even a goddamn hand to mark a seat. This would save both the inquisitor and the denier a great amount of time, instead of me having to ask a woman if the seat next to her was taken, only to be met by a completely doltish, “What, you think this seat is free? Weirdo,” look from her.
My quest to find a seat that is both relatively in the middle and unobstructed took me up to the nosebleed section, in which the Paramount’s screen resembled the size of my iPod screen when I hold it in my hand. For my first SXSW experience, it wasn’t bad. (And neither was the movie.)
After Source Code finished, I darted back to my specific film badge line to wait for the curious blacktino, a movie that appeared harmless from its simple email invite, and even from its quirky-sounding title.
It wasn’t. That review will come later, but this experience ended with me furiously apologizing to Jeff for making him stay (violating his “Hidalgo Rule”), while looking over my notes that had “END END END END END” written all over them. blacktino also marked my first witnessing of the art of the “walkout,” which had almost whole rows empty beside and in front of me before the movie even reached its end.
Afterward, Jeff and I decided to call it a day. He didn’t knife me when I was sleeping, and I didn’t have any nightmares about having to sit through blacktino again. Not bad for a first day.