The emergence of festivals as a launching pad for television is relatively new, but SCAD aTVfest, an annual celebration of the small screen, has its place as an early pioneer.The students of SCAD, the art and design university founded in Savannah, Georgia, are helping shape a festival that draws its success not from just its featured programming, but from the people who actually attend the festival.
Founded six years ago, the three-day event has become a launching pad for acclaimed series like Fox’s “Empire” and ABC’s “American Crime.” This year brought the creators of shows like “The Chi,” “Mozart in the Jungle,” “Black Lightning,” and more to Atlanta.
As opposed to Sundance, where this year’s Indie Episodics lineup was focused on shows available for acquisition, the ATVfest lineup is largely dedicated to series that already have an established network home.
However, many of the featured shows didn’t follow a conventional path to the small screen. The CBS All Access comedy “No Activity” came to be after creators Trent O’Donnell and Patrick Brammall were asked to develop an American version of their Australian series, which in turn was based on an independent pilot shot on the cheap in their garage.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for SCAD aTVfest 2018
As SCAD founder and president Paula Wallace said in an email interview, when SCAD aTVfest was originally founded in 2013, “TV festivals weren’t something you saw, yet television was becoming more compelling — with richer, deeper content and new models of consumption. We wanted to provide a forum to share and discuss the nuances of the industry.”
And the intended audience for that forum — SCAD students — brings with it a different energy than the standard festival, which Wallace said was something the festival guests enjoyed. From the very first year of the festival, she said, what they saw was “how much the industry professionals and talent enjoyed sharing their insight with a rising generation.”
Thus, many of the 8500 tickets and passes distributed for the festival went to students. “Audiences have studied the work of the writers, costume designers, and actors who deliver master classes and lead Q-and-As after screenings,” Wallace added. “Knowledge begets respect, and both the stars and the students appreciate the craft that has brought them together.”
In interviews, creators and actors IndieWire spoke with confirmed that. “They have been asking incredibly intelligent, thoughtful questions,” “Grace and Frankie” co-creator Marta Kauffman told IndieWire. “They seem very engaged — they seem passionate about what they’re doing. There’s nothing more wonderful for an old writer to see a bunch of young writers developing the passion that I have for what I do. It’s thrilling.”
During the festival, IndieWire moderated a Q&A session following the premiere of upcoming TBS animated comedy “Final Space.” While the screening took place Saturday morning at 11 a.m. (not always an easy time for college students to make) the 360-seat mainstage theater at SCAD Show was over half full. And when the audience was asked how many of them were animation students, perhaps 75 percent raised their hands.
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SCAD aTVfest 2018
“Final Space” was another series with unconventional roots, as creator Olan Rogers developed a (very short) pilot presentation with new media production company New Form before getting interest from Conan O’Brien’s production company and, eventually, TBS.
In that room, Rogers was a bit of a rock star, with fans of his animated shorts on YouTube eagerly asking questions. He and his fellow panelists (actor Coty Galloway, art director Devin Roth, and supervising producer Rosa Tran) emphasized the importance of creating your own work, a statement echoed earlier in the festival by “Ash vs. Evil Dead” star Bruce Campbell.
“It’s never been easier [to break into the business],” Campbell said during a Facebook Live interview. “You can do your own score and your own special effects and put it on a thumb drive and take it to your local theater.”
That spirit is something Kauffman sees reflected in how film and TV students are currently being educated.
“What I’ve noticed at SCAD and some other places is that they’re very project-oriented,” she said. “It’s not just learning the academics, which I think to a certain extent I had when I went to college, where you learn the academics of it. But we never made a TV show. We did plays, but we never made a TV show. So we had to learn on the job later.”
Meanwhile, SCAD not only provides students with the opportunity to make their own work, but via aTVfest and other opportunities, interact with people actively working in the industry. “I think a lot of the schools are bringing professionals to teach rather than simply professors or teachers,” Kauffman said. “These are people who are working in the business. So they have a sense of what is happening now in the business.”
Like other festivals, SCAD aTVfest presents audiences with a chance to discover new content. “Festivals also open audiences to a wide range in genre: this year SCAD aTVfest welcomed drama, comedy, horror, documentary, true crime. And across these shows you have stories being told from different viewpoints, characters expressing diverse experiences, creators innovating across sound, lighting, editing, and more,” Wallace said.
Every television festival has its differences, but SCAD aTVfest has established itself as a presence on the scene by tailoring its festival not to those looking to acquire, but those looking to learn.
SCAD aTVfest 2018 took place from February 1-3 in Atlanta, Georgia.