I flew into Austin Thursday on Southwest and sat in the first row right next to Angie Dickinson, who was accepting a Texas Hall of Fame award that night for the cast and crew of Howard Hawks’ 1959 western “Rio Bravo.” It was Dickinson’s fourth movie, and she told Hawks that she had wanted to work with him as a great actors’ director, along with George Cukor. He told her, “we’re good because we do your thinking for you.”
Dickinson was one of a long line of great strong women in Hawks movies, from Lauren Bacall to Jean Arthur, inspired to some degree by his second wife Slim. Back in the day, you couldn’t just look up directors’ old films on video, online or on Netflix. You saw what happened to turn up on the likes of Million Dollar Movie. It was only later that Dickinson saw all the great Hawks movies. And she loved working with John Wayne, even if she had to stand on tip-toe to reach him.
The Texas Hall of Fame was held at the ACL Moody Theatre downtown. Held the night before SXSW, the Hall of Fame honors Texas entertainers; this year Meatloaf, Barry Corbin and Robert Rodriguez regular Danny “Machete” Trejo got award clip reels. I never knew that Meatloaf started his career as an actor in “Hair” and a regular at Joe Papp’s Shakespeare Theater. New Austin resident Matthew McConaughey did intros, and Hall of Fame awardee Charles McGrath told an hilarious story about screening “Emma” at the White House for Bill Clinton, who inhaled popcorn and fell asleep.
All the Austin regulars were there, from Rodriguez and Richard Linklater to Terrence Malick producer Sarah Green, who remains noncommittal on whether Cannes’ Thierry Fremaux will get his wish and book one of his two new films–the likeliest is the untitled Ben Affleck/Rachel McAdams film.
At my table I ignored an auction –the bidding was light on a walk-on role in the new Malick–“nobody wants to bid because they know they’ll get cut,” tweeted Devin Faraci–instead talking “John Carter” with AICN’s Harry Knowles, who is improving his health via physical therapy, and on-demand distributor Tugg with co-founder Nick Gonda, who works with the Malick team, as well Alamo’s Tim League and PR maestro Brandy Fons (Follow @timalamo, @headgeek666 and @tugginc).
On Friday I stood in very long badge lines twice–I had to break off to do an interview with Greencine’s Aaron Hillis and Moveline’s Jen Yamato to tape “The Daily Buzz with Eugene Hernandez.” (Follow @eug, @jenyamato & @cobblehillis.) Yes, we agreed, SXSW books edgy films for the young demo, has impact on launching and marketing commercial movies for that demo (read: “Cabin in the Woods” and “21 Jump Street”) and is a place for talent discovery. I disagreed with Hillis that more strong indies come out of SXSW than Sundance. Not by a long shot. What’s great about South By is the way the Interactive and Film programs intersect.
I holed up Friday in the Hilton Bar as a storm raged outside, and finally ventured over to the Convention Center for “The Future of Entertainment: Viewer Becomes User” panel, which was packed. Jared Hecht of GroupMe, Kimber Myers of GetGlue, Mike Scogin of MTV Networks, Paul Chang of Showtime and moderator Tim Thai of BlueFin Labs talked about how to use social media to push content out into a larger conversation, and how to embed advertising so it engages rather than annoys the consumer. They could do more work on that.
MTV exec Scogin got started with social media early, and talked about how the scale of huge events like the SuperBowl and the Grammys will keep growing year on year. MTV editorial runs a lot of the network’s social networking, not marketing. This year 170,000 Oscar watchers checked into Get Glue, the biggest number to date. MTV has a DVR app which records tweets and conversations so you can time shift and participate. A more focused conversation is better, Myers said, than having to plow through all the spoilers on Twitter.
I then sloshed over to the rain-soaked opening night premiere at the Paramount of the long-delayed Joss Whedon-produced “Cabin in the Woods” which fell victim to the MGM bankruptcy and was saved by Lionsgate. “It’s our 19th year, my fourth, nine days of film, ten venues,” said festival director Janet Pierson. “You’re about to have a good time.”
Yes, the movie is as funny, outrageous and genre-deconstructing as many critics had promised, and well worth waiting for. But Sami Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” also played like gangbusters to this crowd. Is it too smart to be a hit? Lionsgate knows how to handle a movie like this, which allows the audience to enjoy its sexy, exploitative, subversive E-ride through horror monsters past (and some demented new creations as well) as it sends up all the cliches of the genre.
The archetypes are there: the athletic hunk, the blonde slut, the brainy academic, the pot head joker and the brunette virgin. Who gets killed off first? Who survives? Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins are part of a mad-scientist plot orchestrating the situation from afar. What the hell is going on? Whedon and co-writer and director Drew Goddard begged us all not to give too much away.
At the Q and A, Whedon said he and Goddard wrote together holed up in a cabin in the woods, basically, to write their fantasy horror send-up, 15 pages each a day, in three days of fevered creation that was joyous and fun. “It was not easy escept that it was the easiest thing I’ve ever done,” said Whedon. “Clearly on one level it’s about being a writer. We picked these two guys to be us, manipulating people. Write what you know.” The movie itself “was hard to make, actually.”
Goddard insists that the movie “comes from a place of love…and ‘fuck it.’ If we could do what we wanted to do, we prayed somebody would let us make it. We just enjoyed doing it. It seems to have worked out.”
Next up was a screening packed with acquisitions executives of the slapstick comedy “The Babymakers,” based on a promising premise of a guy with lazy sperm who wants to get back his once-potent donations to a sperm bank so he can impregnate his wife. Well, Paul Schneider is a gifted and likable actor and even though the movie was badly executed and reaction was tepid, someone will buy it.