Surviving Fantastic Fest: Seasoned Veteran’s Edition

By  · Published on September 19th, 2012

It’s September again, kiddies, and by this point we shouldn’t even have to remind you what that means. Don’t recall? We’ll give you a hint, it rhymes with “Fantastic Fest.”

Over the years, it’s been my great honor to be a part of the Film School Rejects Fantastic Fest Death Squad. Years ago, seems nearer to a century, I was charged with whipping a ragtag group of noobs into shape for their very first fest; giving them a series of tips and tricks as to how to handle the grueling eight-day geek gauntlet. To my delight, and frankly my utter shock, we lost not one man that year. The Death Squad’s sophomore outing presented new challenges for the now novice crew. Yet with a little help from a second batch of advice, we were once again victorious.

It’s been two years since that second assault, and the squadron has settled into comfortable ease with Fantastic Fest’s demanding grind. They now navigate the week as seasoned veterans. However, there are advisements that even a veteran would do well to heed.

Even if you similarly count yourself in this old salt category, you too may find merit in these prescriptions.

Standby Is Your Friend

The new Fantastic Fest ticketing system, new being a relative term seeing as how this service has been utilized over the last few fests, has introduced to the proceedings both a host of new advantages and cause for much anxiety. Being able to see the apparent status of each of the next day’s screenings in advance, where it should be a blessing, has given rise to the absolutist reasoning that if one is not able to secure an early ticket to a given film, there is no possibility of obtaining admittance to that screening.

The reality is that the frenzy of all those hoping to avoid this self-imposed despair often takes precedence over careful consideration of their own schedules. People are so desperate not to get “locked out” of a screening that they end up reserving tickets to films they then may not even attend. This is where the standby line becomes your friend. The best kept secret of Fantastic Fest is that a vast majority of those in the standby lines will be admitted to their designated, supposedly sold out screening.

Last year there were even secret screenings, often the most popular events of the festival, which not only let in all in the standby line, but had additional seats available beyond that. Don’t panic, standby.

The Pendulum Swings Both Ways

You’ve attended enough Fantastic Fests to know that its primary function, the thing we love most about it, is the discovery of genre gems from all over the world.

Without the fest, the viewing of some of these films would offer arduous challenge. As much as there is noble pursuit in seeking out these gems and spreading the good word of their seemingly clandestine existence, there is a danger in subscribing solely to this charge. We can sometimes get a little dismissive of the mainstream studio titles that play the fest, and thereby do ourselves a great disservice.

Just because Fantastic Fest is not the only opportunity we have to see films like Dredd or Red Dawn, there’s a reason these films are here and there is something to be said for viewing even a potentially bad movie surrounded by friends in a festival environment. At any rate, it pays to have a diverse festival dance card, if only to enhance your frame of reference.

Put an Entire Time Slot Between Your Big Meal and the Midnight Movie

We all love the food at the Drafthouse, and by now many of us have compiled mental registers of our favorite menu offerings.

We’ve learned to, largely, avoid the temptation of ordering heaps of food during every single screening on our daily itinerary; a fattening and expensive enterprise. However, we must now balance what we know of moderating quantity with a concern for meal timing.

Say you’ve held out all day, ordered not but a Fanta and a small popcorn since the first time slot, and now you’ve decided to treat yourself to a feast during the 10 o’clock movie. With a lead ball of chicken strips, soft pretzels, and Guinness milkshakes in your stomach, you may find it difficult to fend off slumber during the midnight movie. This can prove disastrous as midnight tends to be when the most interesting and sought-after titles are featured. Instead, work that big meal into the 6–7 o’clock slot and give yourself time to digest.

Venture Off Site

This may seem a sacrilegious notion. The Drafthouse is a temple of geek worship and to suggest one may grow weary of its luxuries is outlandish, right? But it is human nature to seek out change of venues, especially when, by now, you’ve spent so much time in this one location with so, so many people.

Sure, The Highball offers plenty of diversions, but it’s not unheard of that you may start to feel confined to the boundaries of that South Lamar parking lot. Whether by cab or perhaps your rental car, seek amusements in any number of nearby food trailers (Gourdough’s on S. 1st is especially delicious), local shops, and/or signature Tex Mex eateries.

It is not as if you are committing lechery toward the festival to give your senses a chance to take in new stimuli. For those covering the fest, you just may find it sparks welcome new inspiration.

Take It Slow

At Film School Rejects, our death squad has but one objective: to cover every single film at Fantastic Fest. If you are a member of the press, even if your outlet does not place so high a premium on completionism, the journalistic demands can be overwhelming.

Even if you aren’t press, the scramble to see as many movies as possible, to view every film on our must-see list, can accelerate these glorious eight-days to a perceived blink of the eye. We must all remember that this is one of our favorite times of year for a reason and be prepared to savor all the magic and joy of the fest. Working hard to tackle all those reviews while utilizing the Highball’s wifi? Take a moment, close the laptop, and have a beer or two. Exploit the reprieve from work to buy a frosty beverage for a new friend. It’ll be 365 days until we get to experience the greatness of Fantastic Fest again, let’s not waste these moments.

Gird Your Loins For Fantastic Fest

Or Enjoy a Different Feature

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.