This story starts a few months back when Richard Linklater (director of Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, and the Austin Film Society) called a meeting of the board of directors of the Film Society, on which I sit. Over the last decade, the Film Society has programmed over 50 different programs, bringing films by everyone from Yasujiro Ozu to Sam Fuller to Rainer Werner Fassbinder to Jean-Luc Godard. A major project for the next few years, Linklater suggested, was to start a fund to give small grants to regional filmmakers. There is no better way than cash to help a struggling filmmaker, and this seemed the inspired next step for the Film Society, especially given Austin's growing prominence as a center for independent filmmaking.
One of the obvious ways to raise money was through premiere screenings with special guests. The Austin Film Society, in conjunction with the Chronicle, had successfully done events like this in the past, presenting Linklater introducing Quentin Tarantino introducing Pulp Fiction, and Linklater with actor Ethan Hawke introducing Before Sunrise.
The next benefit/premiere would be Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn starring George Clooney and Tarantino, and with a script by Tarantino. Rodriguez had already promised Linklater the Film Society could have the film; the tricky part would be to navigate the releasing schedule of the studio (Dimension/Miramax). The film was set to be released in late February, then late January.
On Thursday, January 4, Elizabeth Peters from the Film Society called to say that From Dusk Till Dawn was being released on January 19, and would we co-sponsor a screening at the Paramount Theatre on Thursday, January 18 with Linklater introducing Tarantino and Rodriguez? Yes. We booked a two-third page ad in the Chronicle.
The problem was that we had already set up a free screening with the White Rabbit (where tickets would be distributed), Fox KTBC-TV channel 7, and KLBJ-FM. No problem -- everyone came on board. That Thursday and Friday, there was some discussion with the studio as to how many tickets would be sold, but everything seemed okay. On Monday, we began hearing the screening might be either Monday 15 or Thursday 18. Then, the word was that the screening might happen, but it might not happen. Every time either Jerry Johnson or Elizabeth Peters from the Film Society called, or Linklater's assistant Amy Lowrey contacted us, something changed. Somewhere in there, the Chronicle's marketing director Laura Pruter asked Roy Holley if we could host a party at his Hang 'Em High Saloon afterwards, though we weren't sure what day and if it was going to happen. Hang 'Em High was the perfect room, big enough to handle the crowd but with an intimate feel. Remarkably, Holley said yes, keep him posted.
Monday, the screening was still on and we were told not to worry, that Rodriguez would grab Tarantino and bring him.
On Tuesday, the screening was taken off the Thursday date because there was already a party slated for the film in Los Angeles that night. Tarantino's office said not to worry, he would drag Rodriguez down and they would come on Monday, the only other possible day.
On Wednesday, it became definite that Rodriguez couldn't come because he was shooting a ZZ Top video (the band had written a song especially for the soundtrack) on that day, and though in touch with his office, we heard nothing from Tarantino. Everyone reluctantly decided that the screening was not going to happen and it was canceled. The Chronicle went to press without the ad.
Thursday morning, Johnson called to say Tarantino had called and of course he was coming, he would be there for the now-dead screening on Monday night and he thought he could even drag George Clooney with him. News on Thursday about a screening the coming Monday is news that will never be news in an issue of the Chronicle. Johnson asked if I thought the word could be gotten out in such a short time. Sighing, because the news could be gotten out, though not in the Chronicle, I said I knew we could get support from the Statesman's fine new film critic, Ann Hornaday, who has been extremely supportive of the local scene, as well as from local radio. Thursday, it was decided to go ahead. The benefit screening would indeed be Monday night, the free screening (co-sponsored still by White Rabbit, KLBJ-FM, KTBC-TV channel 7, and the Chronicle) would be Tuesday.
On Friday, Hornaday had an item in the Statesman about the benefit. KLBJ-FM and KGSR-FM both supported the event and helped promote it. Friday evening, 40 minutes after the tickets went on sale, they were sold out.
Still, every time Peters or Johnson called for the next few days, I was sure they were calling to say it was off. Sunday night, the night before the screening Elizabeth called me at home. I froze, but she was just calling to invite me out for drinks with Linklater and Tarantino (who was now in town) and friends. During the evening, Tarantino told how he and Rodriguez had talked about this screening in Austin while they made the film. Rodriguez really wanted to be here but his schedule was just too full. After drinks at Güero's, we went over to listen to Junior Brown at the Continental Club. Tarantino couldn't believe his good fortune that he got to hear Brown live.
Monday night, at the Paramount, to a packed house, I introduced Linklater by telling pretty much the above story and pointing out how this sold-out screening happened because these filmmakers were so devoted to making it happen. Linklater talked about the Austin Film Society and its programming, including the current Tenth Anniversary Tuesday night free retrospective at the Union Theater at UT (the Sixties Experimental Program on January 23, and D.W. Griffith's Intolerance on January 30).
Tarantino talked about how much Rodriguez wanted to be here and how this was the very first public screening of From Dusk Till Dawn anywhere in the country. He introduced the film by inviting us to imagine we were at a drive-in and the kung fu movie had just ended. "Pretend you're at a grindhouse," he exhorted the crowd. Then they showed the movie.
Afterwards there was a great gathering at Hang 'Em High Saloon, and catered by Jazz. The screening happened because Rodriguez, Linklater, and Tarantino wanted it to happen both to help the Film Society present the film to Austin and because they thought it would be a hell of a party. It was.
The deadline is near for both the Music Poll (see p.15) and the Musicians Register, co-sponsored by 107.1 KGSR-FM (p.39). You must be in the Musicians Register to qualify for the free 7th annual musicians appreciation dinner at Threadgill's (p.47), co-sponsored by Threadgill's, KLBJ-FM, the Chronicle, and the Austin Music Network.