SXSW Panels

SXSW Panels
Photo By Gary Miller

A Conversation With Bill Paxton

Austin Convention Center, Saturday, March 10

Everyone has a favorite Bill Paxton movie. They just might not know it. The Fort Worth native gave a Q&A Saturday after being inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame the previous night. He described it as a greater honor than being nominated for a Golden Globe for his role as polygamist Bill Henrickson in HBO's Big Love. "Out there in Hollywood," he told the audience, "you're always thinking, 'Will this get me another job?' This was personal." An added bonus, he admitted, was meeting fellow inductee Ann-Margret, whom he "greatly admired, like every red-blooded male growing up in the Sixties. I mean, Carnal Knowledge, for Christ's sake!"

Paxton gave what he said was a slightly more R-rated version of his acceptance speech (he'd had to mind his language the night before because his daughter was in the audience). He touched on a career that has gone from the blockbuster (Titanic and Twister) to the critically lauded (A Simple Plan, Near Dark, and his directorial debut feature, Frailty) to the surprising (did you know he directed the video for the song "Fish Heads" by Barnes & Barnes?), as well as a gamut of memorable characters, like Hicks in Aliens and Chet in Weird Science. The directors who have called on his down-home charm is as impressive: Kathryn Bigelow, Walter Hill, Ron Howard, Sam Raimi, Robert Rodriguez, John Hughes, and, of course, James Cameron.

Yet the work he's most proud of is his golfing movie The Greatest Game Ever Played. The Disney-released movie gained critical praise but little box office. "In retrospect," he said, "it was kind of heartbreaking. They should have put it out as a prestige film, but they threw it out as a kids' movie." The poor release never dampened his pride in it. "I have always found a great esprit de corps on a film set," he added, "but this was one of those rare experiences in my life where everyone really showed up."

Paxton had some advice over worries about a lack of tax breaks discouraging Hollywood from sending bucks this way. When asked what Texas could do to get more studio movies to film here, he replied, "nothing. When I grew up, they spent a fortune building film studios at Los Colinas to attract studio projects. But it took local filmmakers to put this place on the map."

Ultimately, he remains sanguine about working in an industry where, as he put it, everyone is a day away from unemployment. "A movie's time at the box office is the shortest part of its life. If it's really art, it will stand the test of time." – Richard Whittaker

SXSW Panels
Photo By Gary Miller

A conversation with Elizabeth Avellán

Austin Convention Center, Monday, March 12

Anyone expecting an hour of tough talking, name-dropping, "let me tell you how it's done" swagger would have been disappointed. Troublemaker Studios' producer Elizabeth Avellán, the "quiet person" working behind the scenes (director Robert Rodriguez is the public of Troublemaker), came out of the shadows, both when she was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame as the first recipient of the Ann Richards Award on Friday, March 9, and Monday afternoon when she sat down with Grindhouse actor Jeff Fahey for a casual discussion about Avellán's career and how she does "things very different from the rest of Hollywood."

Avellán studied architecture at Rice University, where she dabbled in theatre. When she moved to Austin, she had an administrative position at the University of Texas at Austin. All of this, and other odd jobs, she counts as journeyman hours toward her role "producing and running an army," as Fahey described her role at Troublemaker Studios.

"I come from a family of 13 kids; that's a small army! Every job I've had has attributed to this work," she said. "Whatever you find yourself doing, even if it's not your dream job, find the skills in that job that will help you. All the jobs I've had had something that I use today to run a movie."

Avellán runs a family-friendly house. "For a while there was a joke that we were baby-maker studios because of all the kids and pregnant women," she said. As the mother of six kids, and understanding the demands that a film makes on its employees, her family-friendly approach is not just good employee relations but makes good business sense.

"[The movie set] becomes your home … when you're shooting 14 or 15 hours a day. Life intersects with the moviemaking process every day. Some studio execs don't remember that," she said, relaying a time she decided to help a production assistant leave a shoot to see a sick family member. "When the crew sees you do that for one person, everyone else feels safe."

Avellán has no illusions about how rough the film business is. Even as she moves into producing her own projects, she realizes "there's a lot more to success than being famous and making a lot of money. Were you a good daughter, a good mother?" She may be out of step with Hollywood, but success is her best defense. – Belinda Acosta

Lonelygirl15: A Case Study

Austin Convention Center, Sunday, March 11

Those unaware of the story of homeschooled teenager Bree, her friend Daniel, and her parents of questionable religious beliefs very well might after the Lonelygirl15 film is made, something its producers say they've had in mind all along.

"We thought we'd do this for a few months, generate buzz and then create a film," said Mesh Flinders, one of the three creators of Lonelygirl15. The blog ran for four months before it was revealed that Bree was an actress (20-year-old Jessica Rose) and that her life was fiction. The response was prolific and sometimes heated. Flinders and co-creators Greg Goodfried and Miles Beckett weren't sure what to expect at their SXSW panel: an angry mob, annoyed fans, or someone representing the Order (long story short: it's related to Bree's parent's religion). What they met was an audience not as concerned with the "lie" of their project as in its creative impetus and economic backbone. All for good reason. Even after the truth was revealed, what remains is creative content that is imaginatively rich, technically resourceful, and innovative in a way that TV will find hard-pressed to compete with in a time when eyes are migrating to the computer screen among others. Interesting since the original model for LG15 was reality TV.

Several networks have since courted the team, but they decided to continue doing Internet video and see LG15 as a TV/Internet hybrid. In many respects, this hybrid is the next generation of what used to be called Interactive TV. While that earlier model was preoccupied with enabling viewers to make armchair purchases of products featured during a TV program or checking stats during a sports event, what LG15 has done is expand the interactivity to allow viewers to participate in a parallel experience. The easiest way to interact is to e-mail Bree (answered in character by Goodfried's wife). Others have responded with their own video creations (accessible at the LG15 site), assuming the identities of auxiliary characters creating parallel storylines. All of this enriches the LG15 experience, giving participants an investment in the story.

But is there money to be made with this hybrid? Without parents to borrow money from or living without a steady income, the Lonelygirl15 approach is not accessible to most. But the draw of Lonelygirl15 is telling. It's only a matter of time before another like her appears. – Belinda Acosta

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