Austin Film Festival: Awkwardness, Onscreen and Off

Technical issues and an understandably irate filmmaker mar what should have been a triumphant hometown premiere of 'Harmony and Me'

Bob Byington
Bob Byington (by John Anderson)

Austin-made comedy Harmony and Me finally got its Austin premiere last night, and it played great to the packed audience at the Texas Spirit Theater. Where it didn’t play so great? Up on the screen.

In the film’s first few minutes, the picture froze and then appeared, well, weird after that, as if it was moving at slightly too quick a pace. Or, in producer/co-star Kristen Tucker’s own words (which she sent to AFF Film Program Director Kelly Williams):

“The screening was severely compromised technically: the picture was shaky to the point that some audience members felt nauseous, there were a few glitches that lasted a few seconds actually cutting off the ends of our scenes, and for about a third of the film, the audio was slightly off from the picture.”

But the audience seemed to love it regardless – something they collectively tried to make clear to writer/director Bob Byington as he took the stage with Tucker and co-star Alex Karpovsky for a post-film Q&A. Byington, who apparently had only stuck his head into the theatre near the end, announced that he was “livid” at the picture quality and that it looked “pixelated” to him.

The Q&A continued, but it was all downhill from there. One audience memeber asked Byington what the film was shot on, to which he responded, “That’s a stupid question.” Several audience members shouted out that they loved the movie, but Byington more or less told them they didn’t see the movie – at least not the movie as it should be seen.

Moderator Jesse Trussell, a former AFF programmer, tried to smooth things over, but the room basically descended into a deeply uncomfortable silence, with Byington fuming and the audience looking bewildered (and not a little bit wondering why it was being taken out on them). Finally, Trussell just called it a day; as the audience shuffled out, the consensus seemed to be that everyone was sympathetic to Byington’s situation (in our recent interview with him, he spent a good deal of time stressing how paramount the quality of the theatrical conditions are to him), but that he shouldn’t have shown up for the Q&A, or at least not lingered.

This afternoon Byington forwarded me the email Tucker sent to Kelly Williams, which clearly states what went wrong with the screening, both before and during, and why it was such a disappointment to have their “much-anticipated hometown premiere” botched. It’s a professional, courteous, and politic piece of writing (bless the producers, who might as well have “we clean up messes” in their job description). As for the AFF camp, Williams said in an email sent Saturday evening, “We are looking into another potential screening.”*

In any case, you can actually buy a DVD of Harmony and Me online right now. Any technical snafus then are on you. [Ed. note: This blog entry has been amended since its initial posting to include Williams' statement.]

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Bob Byington, Austin Film Festival, Harmony and Me, Kristen Tucker, Kelly Williams

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