SXSW 2013: Diary of an SXSW Virgin

It began with getting lost six times in 10 minutes and ended with my wallet getting stolen on Rainey Street (I blame this, and everything else that goes wrong in the world, on the Music festival) but in between I experienced the most fun film festival I've ever attended, a week in the magical land of destination BBQ, breakfast tacos, legendary milkshakes, great movies and even better people. As this was my first time not only to SXSW and Austin, but also to an out of state festival, I was three times a noob, and t to document the first 90 of my 168 hours in attendance, if only so others might learn from my mistakes. Drunk bonding with filmmakers, strange "only at SXSW" sightings and the 18 movies I caught, it's all here.


5:00 P.M. After settling into the Hyatt Regency, where I will be rooming with Erin McCarthy of Mental Floss and Eugene Novikov of Film Blather, I decide to begin my journey into downtown. The Regency is over the bridge, which is about a 15-minute walk to the convention center, or if you can get a cab, a three-minute drive. I am armed with multiple electronics and a detailed binder. I feel prepared for whatever comes my way!

5:31 P.M. It quickly becomes apparent that I am not at all prepared for whatever comes my way. Or even the things that are vaguely near my way. Outside of the labyrinthine Convention Center I make not one, not two, not three, not even four or five, but six wrong turns before figuring out where I'm supposed to go. Neither my phone nor iPad seems to understand the geography of Austin (seriously, you'd need one of those tracker orbs from "Prometheus" to find your way around the Convention Center) and this binder is way too heavy. I think I'm doing it wrong.

6:04 P.M. I stumble into the Target Lounge to catch my breath, where I find Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze about to perform. This would probably be more exciting if it weren't the first time that I'm learning of either Glenn Tilbrook or Squeeze..

6:05 P.M. Just as I leave the Target party, Tilbrook starts singing "Tempted" and I realize I totally know who Squeeze is! Victory! Also, I'm drunk. Was I even drinking!? Austin is very sneaky ...

6:15 P.M. In line for my first movie, the documentary about Improv Everywhere, "We Cause Scenes", at the Vimeo Theater, which is located on the first floor of the Austin Convention Center. I'm about 10th in line.

6:17 P.M. The line behind me is suddenly enormous. Noted.

8:50 P.M. I am thrilled with my first choice of movie. "We Cause Scenes" is a joyous detailing of Improv Everywhere's history that touches on the impact of technology, the nature of art and the definition of success.  During the Q&A, the director invites the entire audience to come drink with him. I have a feeling I'm going to like this festival.

9:10 P.M. I notice that the throne from "Game of Thrones" is stationed beside the Vimeo Theater, and unlike at Comic-Con or Wondercon, no one seems to care. I make a mental note to make sure I come back and pose in it before the week is up. Like all of my mental notes, it will soon be completely obliterated by alcohol.

9:15 P.M. I run off to meet up with one of my SXSW partners in crime, Coco Quinn, and run into the entirety of the "Much Ado About Nothing" crew fresh off their Arty Bus. Joss Whedon and his cast are perfectly happy to chat with me like we go way back, because they are the nicest.

9:35 P.M. A random guy on the street offers me pot brownies. I reluctantly decline.

9:50 P.M. We arrive to the premiere party of "A Teacher", held at an actual public school in East Austin. There's a ton of food, free drinks, and ruler giveaways that say "Hot For Teacher" on them.


10:50 P.M. Head out of the party, figuring I can easily catch a cab and make it over to the Topfer theater for "V/H/S/2" by 11pm. I am sorely mistaken.

11:23 P.M. A nice girl agrees to pedicab me over there for a discount. I'm not sure if she realizes how far away the Topfer theater is. I start to worry this pedicab ride will kill her.

11:48 P.M. Pedicab girl lives! (for now). She drops me at the theater, a performance space rocking a temporary screen for the duration of the fest. I grab a queue card, and eventually Erin and I are settled in for "V/H/S/2."

1:25 A.M. The audience bursts into applause after Gareth Evan's "V/H/S/2" sequence. Holy crap.

1:50 A.M. During the Q&A, the filmmakers and Scott Weinberg start having a fun back and forth. I decide to introduce myself to Twitter friend Weinberg after the Q&A but then chicken out for no discernible reason. This will prove to be a SXSW trend. Next year, Weinberg. Next year.

2:15 A.M. Due to lack of a car and a 90-minute wait for a cab, Erin and I decide to walk back to Hyatt. On the long walk, which involves  going under a terrifying bridge, I comment to Erin that it's like we're starring in our own "V/H/S" right now! Erin does not like this.

2:26 A.M. A pedicab driver appears out of nowhere and insists that I high five him. I oblige. He murders neither Erin nor myself. This is good.

2:45 A.M. We make it back safe and sound, our faces eaten by zero drugged up mutants, and meet our roommate Eugene. At 2:45 in the morning. What up, SXSW!


9:00 A.M. My plan to wake up and go to the Samsung Brunch fails miserably as I couldn't fall asleep till 6 in the morning, haunted by the disturbing imagery of last night's Midnighter. I proceed to hit my alarm every ten minutes for the next two hours.

12:13 P.M. I finally head back downtown and share a free Chevy with a bunch of kids from Interactive. Turns out the Hyatt is filled with mostly Interactive folks, as their programming is all across the street at the Long Center. The girl in the car specializes in front loading software or something. The guys are super impressed and they all throw about a bunch of technical terms I couldn't even begin to decipher. I suddenly feel like I'm LARPing "The Social Network." They ask what I'm there for and when I say Film, they stare at me blankly and continue talking tech. No yeah cool, I'll just see myself out.

12:53 P.M. I see Erin at "Much Ado About Nothing" and she tells me about how she just saw a Gorilla break dancing outside. Naturally.


3:37 P.M. After "Much Ado About Nothing", both the darkest and most accessible adaptation of the play I've ever seen, there is a 45-minute panel with almost the entire cast, which you can read about here. One moment that didn't make the cut? When a high school teacher thanked Whedon for making this movie.

4:13 P.M. Have a meeting with a future co-worker. Accidentally get drunk. That keeps happening.

6:00 P.M. Erin and I begin our party hopping for the evening. First up: Awsomeist Journalist Party, wherein we take our first photo booth pics of SXSW together.

6:15 P.M. We meet the CEO of Indie Go Go. We think he is kidding. He is not kidding. He promises us branded sweatbands if we come to their party Sunday. Spoiler Alert: As tempting as branded sweatbands are, we do not attend said party.

7:32 P.M. On the corner of Congress and Fifth, the center of it all, we encounter a werewolf playing the fiddle.

7:45 P.M. We walk into the WBTV Chuck Lorre cocktail party to discover Amanda Palmer performing, husband Neil Gaiman watching off to the side. She closes with a cover of Radiohead's "Creep." Everything is awesome. We drink.

8:00 P.M. Filmmaker/Actor Todd Berger ("It's a Disaster") enters the party. We all hop into the ball pit and then Todd and Erin randomly star in some guy's sketch video. All in a day's work.

8:55 P.M. I am the 169th person to get into line for "Before Midnight" at the Paramount, and I eat my first meal of the day - an energy bar.

9:15 P.M. I make my first line friends! The producer of "Burma" and three Austin locals. The nice producer man invites me to their premiere party Sunday night. Nothing says "party!" like Burma.

10:10 P.M. The Paramount is enormous and I start to doubt I will be able to see the screen from my seats perched high atop the 1000+ seater.


10:30 P.M. The movie starts 45 minutes behind schedule. But I care not. It's "Before Midnight", people. I've waited nine years for this, I can handle an extra few minutes.

12:15 A.M. Oh my god "Before Midnight". I can't stop crying. I notice the notes I took throughout are exclusively quotes from the film. And exclusively smudged with tears. Helpful! 

12:20 A.M. The sky opens up and tries to drown us all.

12:50 A.M. My high emotions from "Before Midnight" coupled with the raging thunderstorm and knowledge that I have to be up early help me decide to head back to the hotel, rather than drink. I can't find a cab, so I walk. 40 minutes. In a thunderstorm.

2:00 A.M. It becomes 3am. Good one, daylight savings. I begin to accept the inevitable reality that there is no such thing as a decent night of sleep at SXSW.


10:15 A.M. I Arrive at the Violet Crown theater for "Haunter." This will prove to be my favorite theater of the festival. Although the theaters are on the smaller side, they have a bar, food (ghost pepper cake balls!?) and coffee, and once you pick up your queue card, you can wait to be called in the lounge, instead of lining up. I've been warned that the venue's queue system can feel like "Battle Royale," but it doesn't even feel like "The Hunger Games". I am SO EXCITED because I love Vincenzo Natali!

12:37 P.M. I love Vincenzo Natali. I do not love "Haunter". Great concept, bizarre execution. Damn. Will Goss' review absolutely nails it.

1:15 P.M. Arrive at Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar Iron Cactus for the "Short Term 12" Breakfast Taco reception. Run into a bunch of friends, make a bunch more new friends, walk away with an awesome "Short Term 12" shirt and perhaps most importantly, eat my first non-energy bar meal of the trip: A breakfast taco. In that moment it is the greatest thing I have ever eaten.

3:08 P.M. I wander into the Exhibit Hall and immediately spot Shaquille O'Neal. I'm not entirely sure what he's doing here, but given the fact that he's 87 feet tall and towers over many of the booths, the dude's not exactly Waldo.


3:30 P.M. On the fourth floor of the convention center there are tons of rooms housing panels and lounges. In the hallways leading to these rooms are lockers with phone chargers inside, so attendees can lock away their phones for free to charge while they pop into a panel or relax in a lounge. I attend a discussion on the MPAA, which you can read about here.

5:30 P.M.  I meet a friend from L.A. who is attending as part of Interactive in the giant food truck lot next to the Revolution tent. Here, ten of Austin's best food trucks, curated by Top Chef winner Paul Qui, line a giant lot, in the center of which are picnic tables and a phone charging station.

6:15 P.M.  I have just come face to (giant) face with an enormous 3D rendering of Ian Somerhalder's face, in front of which naturally stands the real Ian Somderhalder.

6:56 P.M. We discover that there are shirts with Somerhalder's 3D face on them. I obviously take two. That guy's face is everywhere. He might even be a fraction (of a fraction) as ubiquitous as Grumpy Gat.

7:00 P.M. Ian Somerhalder leaves before we can talk to him. Most likely to go meet Grumpy Cat. 

7:45 P.M. We realize if we don't leave soon we may not make it to "Coldwater" on time. It is screening at the theater at the Long Center, all the way across the bridge near our hotel. We need to stop at our hotel first and getting cabs has been next to impossible. We are beginning to panic.

7:55 P.M. We exit the party and lo and behold an available cab pulls up right next to us. This is the only time this will happen the entire week.

10:30 P.M. After "Coldwater", which featured some of the strongest acting of the festival, Erin and I catch a shuttle downtown to hit the "Burma" premiere party. Although this shuttle is technically only accessible by those with an Interactive badge, the driver takes pity on our freezing asses and allows us safe passage. It's a SXSW miracle!

11:05 P.M. The "Burma" party is being held at a salon. Hair washing stations line the space and rather than serving out of an official bar, two hipsters have converted the salon's kitchenette into a mixing station, where they are offering a variety of spirits, including our pick, Sweet Tea Vodka.

11:25 P.M. I am wasted. Please try to contain your surprise.

1:15 A.M. Have a lengthy, legitimate, completely non-ironic conversation about the merits of Wes Anderson with Dan Bittner, stand out actor from "Burma", the film that would go on to win an ensemble acting award from the narrative grand jury. I was not thanked in his speech for my scintillating conversation. That ungrateful swine.



12 P.M. Agree to share a cab with a lady who is headed near the Violet Crown where I am going to see "Short Term 12" Before we get in, I realize I don't have cash and tell her I have to go to an ATM, so she can have my cab solo. She says she wouldn't have a cab at all if I hasn't agreed to share it, and offers to split it with me, but pay for it on her own. Nice way to start the day. Also a nice way to start a "V/H/S" segment ... wait, no, let's not think that way.

1:10 P.M. The person sitting next to me for "Short Term 12" is sitting next to Oliver Platt (a producer on the film), and recommends "Milo" to him. Platt takes this advice very seriously. FYI, "Milo" is a movie about a murderous demon who lives in Ken Marino's colon.

1:17 P.M. The want to see is so major for this movie, Platt and his fellow producers on the movie decide to give their seats up for those with queue cards.

2:53 P.M. "Short Term 12" is beautiful. I has a cry.

2:54 P.M. Skip the Q&A to grab a "Burma" queue card then eat a movie theater fajita. Cause. Austin. It is my second time (of four) eating real food at the festival.

5:30 P.M. Post "Burma", I chat with the star, Christopher Abbott and filmmaker, Carlos Puga, which you can read about here.

9:07 P.M. Erin and I arrive at what she refers to as a "Boots Party." It is in fact a store in East Austin that is housing the launch of a new line of men's boots. To celebrate, there is cold beer, fresh coffee, and a performance by the singer from the band Dream Boat.

9:45 P.M. Someone brags about being a friend of a friend of Bruce Springsteen's keyboard tech and we decide it's time to go. Maybe out of the country.

10:05 P.M. On our way to the next party, we run into a group of bluegrass busker on the street and watch them for a few minutes. Our faith in humanity is saved (for now).

10:13 P.M. We arrive at Cheer Up Charlie's, where at least three movies are celebrating their premiere parties. The space is enormous, a yard with picnic tables in front, inside bar in the middle, and sprawling back area with four separate sections, featuring a second bar, a stage, food trucks and more.

10:34 P.M. Meet filmmaker Jonathan Lisecki whose film "Gayby" I saw and adored at last year's L.A. Film Fest. He is every bit as congenial and hilarious as I've been told.

10:38 P.M I enter into a conversation about how attractive the cast of "Coldwater" is. No but really.

11:14 P.M. I'm introduced to FilmCritHulk. He's very nice. I get the feeling that I would like him even when he's angry.

11:57 P.M. We're chatting with actor Rami Malek? After he leaves, someone comes up to us and asks what movie he was from. I say "Twilight", while Erin and Coco immediately, incredulously and simultaneously counter me with "The Master." I lose.

12:25 A.M. John Gallagher Jr and his "Short Term 12" director Destin Cretton arrive. I am elated when Cretton gives me a "Short Term 12" button, a feeling only to be matched days later when "Zero Charisma"'s Katie Graham gives me her twenty sided die pin. Why yes, I am a swag hoarder. I'm not proud, but I am happy.

12:46 A.M. As I head inside to find a bathroom, I run into "The Spectacular Now" star Miles Teller and give him a high five. Surely, he will remember this for the rest of his life.

2:28 A.M. We arrive at the karaoke RV known as the RVIP to encounter bloggerati members Jen Yamato, Nick Rob, Devin Faraci, Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League and more. It is pretty much the greatest thing ever. There is singing. There is more whisky.

3:45 A.M. Erin and I head back to the hotel. I have no recollection as to how we got there. Probably on a people-mover made out of fermented beer, or something. I dunno. SXSW.

The next three and a half days of my SXSW adventure would involve tons more movies, including favorites "Good Night" and "Zero Charisma", but significantly fewer werwolves, breakdancing gorillas and dragons. As the fest shifted from film into music, the vibe shifted from "happiest place on Earth" to "please stop stealing my things." The girls' hair became shorter, the boys' hair became longer, and I longed for the days of 36 hours prior when bloggers, tech nerds and cinephiles ruled the land. Still, there is no doubt this noob has fallen in love with the city of Austin, the excitement of discovering fantastic independent cinema, and the summer camp sensibility that bonds attendees instantly and intensely. See you next year, SXSW.

Latest News