It’s the year of cons at Head Over Feels, with three new-to-us events making an appearance on our schedule. First up: ATX, an Austin television festival that’s grown exponentially in popularity in its short history. I hit this one without Kim, though I also wasn’t the only HOF representative in town. (Oooohhhh…SUSPENSE.) ATX is a quirky con, programming-wise. And the events are staggered and in several different buildings, which alleviates the “I LIVE HERE NOW” insanity of your standard multi-day geek gathering. The eyes were clear, the hearts full, and Austin even more fantastic than I expected. Texas forever.
Queer As Folk 15th Anniversary Reunion Panel
To be perfectly honest, it was the announcement of a Queer As Folk reunion panel that got my wheels turning about ATX to begin with. QAF is the first series that I consumed entirely on DVD. (In other words: baby’s first binge watch.) Over five seasons and dozens of discs, I fell madly in love with the denizens of this fictionalized and vibrant Pittsburgh, PA; Babylon, the gay club of my dreams; and Brian Kinney: man, myth, legendary lay.
The final tally of cast members on the panel totaled less than half of the show’s main ensemble. But they were all represented by Robert when he reported that a revival of some kind has been discussed…and that each and every cast member is up for it. Petitions started circulating immediately on the internet. I don’t know how feasible a full-scale relaunch is. But at the very least, Showtime should pony up for a mini-series.
More highlights from the QAF panel!
- The panel started off with a five-minute montage of the triumphs, great loves and crushing tragedies of my beloved characters. There was much hand-waving and a few stray tears. They lived, okay?
- Scott Lowell (Ted) is currently starring in The Elephant Man on The West End and so sent an adorably dorky “hello” video from the show’s motherland. I’d been complaining to my friend Becky about Gale/Randy shippers, but then they leaned casually on each other to see the screen properly and I ate crow.
- Showrunners Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman were also in the house. They recounted the history of their involvement in the show, which began when another Showtime project fell through. They knew that they’d have to “match or exceed” the graphic content of the British version to make the remake even worth doing. I’d say they succeeded.
- Casting was a horrendous process, because the major agencies refused to send their clients in to read. Many of the cast, including Randy and Gale, were without representation at the time. Sharon Gless was the only actor considered for the role of Debbie Novotny. She flew herself in on her own dime from Chicago, where she was doing some stage work. And, as every QAF devotee must know by now, they reiterated that Peter originally read for Teddy and was asked to submit for Emmett as well.
- The production’s start date was pushed repeatedly because Ron and Dan could not find their Brian Kinney. They got a call at their office from their casting director the day that Gale came in. “He’s here. Come over right away.” I can’t imagine anyone else playing that part.
- On the day of his screen test, Peter was sent a 21-page nudity rider. Its content, paraphrased: “This is the kind of show this is. If you are not down to do this, do not take this job.” His manager got cold feet and told him to walk, but Peter couldn’t. “I’ll kill myself if I have to watch anyone else do this show.”
- When asked about how they’d considered the potential impact of the show, Randy said, “I was excited to do it, because I knew what it would mean socially and politically if it worked. And Gale: “My primary concern was not to let down friends of mine who I’d grown up with.”
- The first few days on set were weird for some, as Queer As Folk refused to play it safe, right from the start. Not for Gale. “Randy and I dove in so deep, so soon.” Peter: “Good choice of words.” Gale: “I was teaching him some wrestling moves…and that’s all.”
- Part of the process of putting the show out there was for the actors to decide if they’d go public with their own sexuality. Scott and Gale (both straight) decided to avoid the conversation, as they thought it would bring on unnecessary scrutiny. Peter thought the idea of his keeping quiet while playing such an out-and-proud character was ludicrous; “I can play coy with the best of them, but…I don’t know how Sean Hayes did it all those years.”
- Robert was in his own coming out process when the series started airing, so it was incredibly significant to him personally to join the show.
- “The first thing you need to know is that it’s all about sex,” are the first words spoken in the pilot. Ron took this opportunity to clarify Michael’s voiceover and the role sex plays in the show. It’s not an entirely surface one. “It’s about how sex relates to all of our lives.”
- Peter addressed the chilly and sometimes angry reception his character received from some of their audience. “I forgave myself for something in playing Emmett,” he said, explaining his theory that viewers’ dislike of Mr. Honeycutt’s flamboyant personality had to do with their own shame. “We stopped apologizing for the stereotypes. We started owning them and transcending them.”
- Soon after getting started, the main cast were already perfectly comfortable throwing off their clothes and rolling around in bed together. Still, some tricky situations with guest actors resulted in the enactment of a required “sex meeting” with the actors, writers, and director so concerns could be addressed before anyone got it on. The process took time to perfect. Randy: “It took them a while to figure out cock socks.”
- “Hi, I’m Peter, you’ll be blowing me.” Peter, on guest stars.
- Moderator Lesley Headland from the Hollywood Reporter asked the panel to talk about one of the show’s most difficult storylines: Justin bashing. “I have a story,” Randy began. “But you’re not going to like it.” And that’s how the conversation turned to the line of cast and crew members waiting to smack Randy Harrison in the head with a Nerf bat instead of a grave discussion of the season one finale’s social impact.
- When the topic of a revival came up, Robert championed “the Dallas approach” or the integration of a new generation of characters. It would be an efficient way of launching into some new themes, since the landscape of the LGBTQ looks a lot different 15 years later. Also, Baby Gus would be about Justin’s age in the pilot by now, which ought to strike fear into the hearts of his mothers.
- Would Brian and Justin be domestically together in that dream revival? Ron and Dan weren’t confident of that. Their goal throughout the series was to show different kinds of relationships, none less important for being non-traditional. Brian and Justin have a bond. They’ll always come back to each other, even if they’re physically apart or even with other people. To help us understand this, Ron read us Shakespeare’s 116th sonnet. Don’t look at me.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
My only complaint about the panel paralleled a complaint that many had with the series in general. Where were the lesbians? I believe that Michelle Clunie was on the panel list at some point before ATX actually rolled around, so it’s a shame we didn’t actually get her perspective on the portrayal of that relationship. But still, the male-heavy dais could have at least mentioned Lindsey and Melanie. It was an uncomfortable reminder that the ladies’ storylines were usually less compelling than the guys’ and almost always revolved around marriage, motherhood, and that one time that Lindsey turned straight. Any potential reboot needs to address this imbalance.
The Friday Night Light extras casting agency used to have a MySpace page back when that sort of thing was necessary, and I spent many an afternoon that I should have been working looking at album after album of regular humans standing next to Tim Riggins in his home jersey and pads. I really feel like I fulfilled some portion of my destiny in Austin on this night.
The show filmed in Austin and the surrounding areas throughout the course of its five seasons, so many of the actors still consider the town home. For the third year, ATX hosted a free FNL tailgate screening in the lot behind the Hotel San Jose. Leading up to the event, fans were able to vote for the episode that would be screened. The winner, by a landslide, was season one classic “Mud Bowl.” Let’s get dirty.
Cast members in attendance included Derek Phillips (Billy Riggins), Stacey Oristano (Mindy Collette Riggins), Humanoid Goddess Adrienne Palicki (Tyra Collette), Angela Rawna (Regina Howard, Vince’s mom) Katherine Willis (Joanne Street, Jason’s mom), Steven Walters (Creepy Glenn before Matt Weiner’s son was Creepy Glenn), and Louanne Stephens (GRANDMA SARACEN, THE WORLD’S BEST NAN). There were tacos and cheap beers for sale; Delta Spirit, whose “Devil Knows Your Dead” soundtracked the final montage of the series, played a few sets; and the cast gamely mingled and posed for pictures.
I do not recommend standing next to Adrienne Palicki if you can avoid it. She is sweet as anything, but who would not pale in comparison TO THE SUN? Stacey Oristano liked my dress. Derek Phillips is like, real life man handsome. Still, it was Louanne Stephens who won this round. She held court at a folding table, hugging each and every fan who came over to meet her, signing the glossy photos of her and Zach Gilford posing at a Panthers home game; and proudly displaying the #7 supporter pin that she MADE HERSELF. Grandma Saracen always reminded me a bit of my own grandmother. She passed away two summers ago, so I’m very grateful that Louanne made a sincere effort to connect with everyone she met. I needed that hug.
The muggy Texas heat just made that asphalt lot feel more like Dillon as we sat on folding chairs and blankets with beers and ice cream and watched the Panthers earn their spot at State. As if I deserved more than the privilege of an 10-foot-tall Tim Riggins, the tailgate also afforded me the opportunity to meet blog friends Molly and Traci, the hilarious ladies of Cookies & Sangria. Make sure you hop over to their site to read their recaps of the weekend (like ours, but with 200% more Gilmore Girls!) and then to subscribe, because they are the shit.
“A Kiss Is Just A Kiss” LGBTQ Representation Panel
This morning slot was a rough one for moderator Wilson Cruz who candidly admitted to closing down an Austin club the night before and then continuing the party in his room. (“‘What was your name again? Whatever, you have to go.’ Just kidding…I knew his name.”) But what better way to start the day than with a group discussion on LGBTQ representation on TV then and now? The best paaaart of waking uppppp is dialogue about the studio strictures and societal implications of Jack and Ethan’s first kiss on Dawson’s Creek in your cuuuuup.
- Our panelists for this session were Queer As Folk co-showrunners Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman, Gina Fattore who wrote the Dawson’s episode referenced above, and Peter Paige, Queer As Folk’s Emmett and executive producer of ABC Family drama The Fosters. Here’s what went down:
- One of Ron and Dan’s early collaborations was the 1985 made-for-TV movie An Early Frost. It starred Aidan Quinn as a gay lawyer living with AIDS and pulled even more viewers than Monday Night Football that week. Despite the progress suggested by the film’s huge audience, the central relationship Frost featured made Quinn’s character and his partner look more like “best friends” than lovers. The network would not allow any hint of sexual desire or activity peek through, which was right in line with Ron and Dan’s gripe that a pre-QAF entertainment industry preferred its queer characters as “eunuchs or clowns.”
- Fattore noted that a lot of Jack McPhee’s coming out story was culled from Greg Berlanti’s own coming out experience, which he shared in the writers room. It would have been nice to hear this story in his own words, but Greg was kind of too busy owning superhero television to come to ATX this year.
- “The network note was essentially, ‘this needs to be shot from across the street.'” – Fattore, on Jack and Ethan’s groundbreaking kiss. The panel noted that Will and Jack’s kiss on Will & Grace happened in the same TV season, but was played as a joke and a statement. This was the first quote-unquote “real” romantic kiss between two men on primetime network. (Though I’d argue that Will and Jack had some latent feelings for each other, I still see what they mean.)
- Regarding the US QAF‘s valiant efforts to out-bone its predecessor:
“That’s a lot of rimming.” “But not as much rimming as we brought to the American version.” “I know, I was there.”
- Wilson Cruz asked his agent why he was never called in for Queer As Folk, and he was told that it had been turned down for him. He was never told about the opportunity. Peter Paige: “Oh, is this the part where you tell us that you should have played Emmett?”
- Peter, on the first thing that appealed to him about the Queer As Folk pilot script: “Oh, shit. Here’s an effeminate gay man who likes himself.”
- Also, some poor woman who was the original (and promptly fired) QAF wardrobe supervisor was dragged all over this festival. (I could look up her name, but I won’t. Class.) Sounds like everything this woman knew about outfitting gay men was taken from East German dungeon porn and a bigoted grandfather’s dinnertime rants. She put Peter in a skirt and garden hat, and Scott in leather shorts. “He was Bruno, the Von Trapp child they never spoke of.”
- I don’t watch The Fosters, but I’m inclined to, in part because Peter Paige is such a ray of sassy sunshine. He talked about the show’s development, and how Jennifer Lopez and her production company really helped to give it wings. Peter was a latchkey kid, he says, “so everything I do is about creating family.” The Fosters presents a family that a diverse fanbase has become quite attached to, though the close-minded and backward are left out of that pool. (“Nine Moms, One Million Stamps.”)
Dawson’s Creek Writers Reunion Panel
After a lunch of chicken that we were assured was famous, we made our way to the Paramount Theater and then BACK IN TIME for the Dawson’s Creek Writers Room reunion. Doo doo doooooo doo doo doo….I DON’T WANNA WAIT.
BUT FIRST. Look who I found: It’s Head Over Feels contributor Kayti Burt! My internet friends are real, and even better in person.
Okay, continuing on. Our panel? Gina Fattore, Jenny Bicks, Rob Thomas, Anna Fricke, Paul Stupin, and Kevin Williamson, moderated by Vampire Diaries/Originals showrunner Julie Plec. Our conversation? Mostly Dawson v. Pacey. Still.
- Dawson’s is and was conceived as an autobiographical show, with the main characters expressing different sides of Williamson’s personality. When the show debuted, there were no gay characters in the ensemble. (Though Williamson remarked that Joey wasn’t given a traditionally boys name by accident.) Bicks noted that the room had been talking about introducing a gay character since early days, but began to build to it in season 2. Williamson always knew it was going to be Jack, but kept his cards to his chest until it was time to break that story.
- Williamson was a hot commodity after Scream, but the network still didn’t trust him to be fully in charge of a series. They hired a showrunner over him, leaving the writing staff understandably discombobulated. The structure didn’t last long.
- The poem really happened to Greg Berlanti. THE POEM REALLY HAPPENED.
- On the wretched Eve: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Other misfires included Pacey as stockbroker. Kevin: “I was long gone by then – how did THAT happen?” Anna: “We were really into that movie Boiler Room.”
- It was clear from the dailies of “Double Date” (“sexy extra credit”) that there was some chemistry between Pacey and Joey that had to eventually be explored. “I don’t know when this is going to happen, but it’s going to happen,” Williamson remembered.
- “I always wanted Pacey to have that Officer and a Gentlemen trajectory,” Williamson said, even though the character was originally conceived as a “John Belushi type.” A case of wine to whoever prevented that from happening.
- The finale flashed forward so that Kevin Williamson, who’d been away from the show for years, could be free to write what he wanted. And for the first half of that two-hour episode, what he wanted was Joey to end up with Dawson. He had a revelation and then called Paul and said, “I changed my mind.”
- “Maybe that’s where we started, but we evolved,” he said, and couldn’t some other showrunners learn something from that realization? “I also wanted to say something about soulmates…it’s not always romantic love.” The three of them were soulmates. A soulmate triangle. No one won or lost. (Except Pacey fans, and we’re still gloating.)
- Julie jumped in to recap a conversation she had with Kevin back when he was making this decision. In a way, Dawson’s one true love was Spielberg. Wanting to be good enough for Joey made Pacey realize he could be the kind of man he became. Both characters should both get what they worked so hard for. Caveat here: Joey is totally absent from this conversation, though hopefully not from the entire process. But…like…shouldn’t we consider what SHE wanted and needed? (Pacey, like the rest of us. But it would be nice to know WHY.)
- Williamson decided to kill off Jen, because he look at dealing with death as “one more way of coming of age…When you realize life is so precious, it forces you to make decisions.”
- An audience member asked about the portrayal of Andi’s mental illness. That storyline was conceived because the writers liked Meredith Monroe so much and wanted to keep her on the show beyond the regular duration of your standard relationship obstacle. As superfans know, an Andie scene was shot for the finale but didn’t make the final cut. It’s on the DVD.
- Another audience question was about what it’s like to live “on the bubble.” Obviously, Rob Thomas fielded that one: “Every season of my career, I live in that world…The biggest lesson I learned was not to save stuff. Or you won’t be on the air to see it happen.”
- The panel closed out with a formal Dawson/Pacey poll. 6/7 in favor of Mr. Witter. As it should be.
Orphan Black Screening and Q&A
Sunday morning, I made my way to the downtown Austin Alamo Drafthouse for a bottomless Diet Coke and a full-scale Clone Club geek-out. The festival considerately screened the episode from the night before, knowing that even a theater full of TV nerds could find way better things to do in this town on a Saturday night than bathe in the cold light of our laptops. “Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method” was a fun one to watch as a group, with the birth of Donnie/Helena: BROTP, the introduction of sweet and sad Krystal Goderich, our first glimpse of Scott’s apartment and asthmatic cat Denise, and of course, Straight Felix, who made me feel all the feelings. After the credits rolled, co-creator Graeme Manson joined Kristian Bruun (“You are very funny man, Donnie Hen-drick.”) and EW‘s Natalie Abrams on stage for a discussion.
- Manson claims that he has notes on the idea that would become Orphan Black dating from 2001. The first finished scene that his partner John Fawcett sent him was the opening of the pilot: Sarah watching Beth step in front of a moving train. Who wouldn’t want to see more?
- There were 17 executives in the room as they were auditioning for the lead. I don’t even know how anyone could have been confident that the show would work at all before knowing that Tatiana Maslany existed. The idea of starting from zero and trying to unearth that talent sounds so daunting to me.
- Kristian Bruun didn’t know until the audience did if he was actually Alison’s monitor. Even though he begged for a heads up, in the end he was glad that he couldn’t inadvertently play a hint of Donnie’s true motivation.
- The process of creating a new clone starts in the writers room. Once they know that clone’s purpose, the writers then go to Tatiana and start discussing. They try to give her ample time to develop the character. Manson recounted a story from the days that “Tat” was finding trans clone Tony. He’d often find Tony hanging out on set, cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve. Krystal was born of a character that Tatiana does “in her spare time” (HA. What are the rest of us doing with our lives?), and is based on a friend of hers.
- Bruun on his favorite clone to act with: “I mean, I love Alison, she’s my wife. But Helena is such a trip.” He told us that he and Tatiana like to start scenes early and improv into them. They did a lot of that as Donnie and Helena in the soap-making scene, and “we really learned a lot about each other.” Please, please, please put those dailies on the DVDs, BBCA.
- Manson knew that the boy clones should be versions of someone the audience had met before, so they really only had the existing male cast members to choose from. “Nobody wants to see clones of Donnie,” Bruun claimed. “That’s too much sexy on screen.” (Whatever. One of the souvenirs I took home from ATX was a new and sizable crush on Kristian Bruun, so there.) Anyway, they decided not to kill off Mark and instead cast Ari Millen as the Castor clones.
- As must be the case at any OB panel, there was much praising of Tatiana Maslany. Bruun made sure we understood everything she and her double have to handle technically at the same time that they’re acting the shit out of every scene. Each shot with multiple clones has to be done several times, obviously. They have to remember exactly where they need to be and how they’re interacting with each other and their props, down to the letter. If they don’t, the scenes won’t match in post. Bruun: “I have nothing but mind blown respect.”
- Kristian gamely twerked for us, reenacting one half of maybe the greatest scene of the series so far.
- “Scott got his own apartment! The ultimate nerd lair.”
- Manson, like the rest of us, adored the Krystal/Felix scenes. They had wanted for a while to show the decision not to tell a clone. I don’t think I was the only fan in that theater who teared up when Felix assured Krystal that she was one-of-a-kind.
- Manson’s friend is the real Cosima, and the science consultant on the show. She was the person who made sure he understood how innately pro-lady the series was (“Don’t you realize you’re playing with a feminist bomb?”) and in season 4, she’ll be a permanent fixture in the writers room. Very, very cool.
- “We’ve always had an end point in mind,” Manson said. But that makes the question when to hit that point. Do they reach the end goal and then reboot? Or add another step to the mystery? That’s what the writers ask themselves every season.
- Messing with shippers is always fun. On Delphine and Cosima: “I don’t know, you saw that kiss.” “Yeah, but right after that she fires her.” “Yeah, sorry about that, but ships are made to be sunk.”
- Early in development, BBC America did ask if British characters could be incorporated into the show. Fawcett and Manson loved the idea, and immediately knew which of their crew would get that distinction. The ex-pat thing helps make Felix and Sarah feel even more like outsiders.
- The panel ended with warnings that the finale would be a rough one. And we know now that those warnings were not at all exaggerated, and yet still somehow inadequate.
- Eat your heart out, Helena:
Dawson’s Creek Pilot Script Live-Read
Programming like this is one of the reason’s that ATX is such a unique destination for TV fans. This year, the festival presented its first live script read: the Dawson’s Creek pilot episode. The cast was kept a secret until the last minute. And, as I expected, they gender-flipped the damn thing. Mae Whitman as Dawson Leery. What a stroke of fucking genius.
The rest of the cast fleshed out as follows: Patrick J. Adams as Joey (and I’m a touch disappointed that Helena’s boyfriend Jesse didn’t make it to the OB panel); Abigail Spencer as Pacey; KERR SMITH AS JEN; Louanne Stephens as Grams; Derek Phillips as Mr. Leery; Stacey Oristano as Mrs. Leery; Arielle Kebbel as Miss Jacobs; Kristian Bruun as Nellie Olson/Bessie Potter and Nick Wechsler as Bodie/Mr. Gold. It played remarkably well, especially the part where Patrick asked Kerr if he considered himself a “size queen.”
It was a terrific idea made all the better because the cast actually seemed to have prepared for the reading. When you come to the Creek, you come correct. For more on the Dawson’s reading, check out my coverage on Bustle.
Next year, I want an Ed reunion and a live read of the “Festival of Ducks” episode. Make it happen, ATX.
Things I ate/drank: Torchy’s Tacos, Gus’s Famous Fried Chicken, Amy’s Ice Cream, and every kind of Shiner I could find.
Every Uber driver we had all weekend warned us not to go to a certain fratty part of 6th Street, so of course that’s exactly where we went. Despite the fact that neither of us are bachelorettes, we still had a blast at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar. One of the pianists knew the full choreography to “Bye, Bye, Bye”, which is all I’m looking for in my nightlife entertainment.
On Sunday evening, a group of us headed to the other Alamo Drafthouse to while away a few hours in its attached karaoke bar. And I’m moving to Austin immediately, because those private karaoke rooms are free during happy hour. What a town.
The last panel of the whole festival was for The Leftovers, a show I’ve never seen. Originally, the panelists were listed just as Damon Lindelof and Mimi Leder. But halfway through the Orphan Black panel, several people texted me because my reputation precedes me, and Christopher Ecceleston had been added to the program. As in, the Ninth Doctor. As in, never comes to cons. Well, I was discouraged by the length of The Leftovers line and attempting to locate my chill and a phone charge in the hotel lobby when the man himself was spotted. The poor girl assigned to get him into the ballroom quickly wasn’t aggressive enough to yank him away from the few of us who noticed. And Chris very graciously and enthusiastically fulfilled everyone’s request for photos and autographs. Though, when this guy asked for a photo, Chris countered with a request for a sip. Both of them got what they wanted.
It was an incredible honor to meet Eccles and worth far more than all the obscenities and rudeness directed towards me by jealous friends on social media.
And that was ATX 2015! With any luck, Kim and I will both make it back there next year. Were any of you at the festival? Leave your favorite memories in the comments!