As Danny Filson and his colleagues at SCAD (the Savannah College of Art and Design) were envisioning their first television festival in Atlanta, they looked around to see what else similar was out there — and saw virtually nothing. It was then that they realized the festival, which debuted last year, had the potential to be a groundbreaking industry event.
The second annual aTVfest: a Digital Media Experience, running February 6–8 at SCAD Atlanta, features three days of panels, instruction, awards presentations, screenings and high-wattage talent. Industry bigwigs will be heavily involved — networks participating include ABC Entertainment, AMC Networks, Cartoon Network, Discovery Channel, HGTV, National Geographic Television, Nickelodeon, TBS, TNT, HBO and The Weather Channel — to discuss broadcast television, cable, web programming, advertising, social media, music videos and more. Passes are available for the entire festival, for an entire day or for individual sessions.
As well as serving as the executive director of aTVfest, Filson is the long-time executive director of the Savannah Film Festival, also sponsored by SCAD. He is hoping to bring the same crowds and national spotlight to the Atlanta event that he has done year after year with his film festival.
Having the festival in Atlanta makes perfect sense. The city has a “long history” in media production and is now near the forefront of the industry due to local developments in the TV/film world, the likes of SCAD Atlanta being in the area and “an infusion of incredibly talented artists,” Filson says. He doesn’t regard this is an East Coast or a West Coast festival. “It’s a cross section of the industry; the industry as a whole,” he says.
The major difference in 2014 will be the scope of the event. Activities will be spread over the SCAD Atlanta campus, SCAD Atlanta’s Digital Media Center and the recently acquired SCADshow — formerly known as the 14th Street Playhouse. With that new addition, the festival has considerably more room. “It’s a premiere venue,” Filson says. Last year more than 3,000 people attended, but with the new space SCAD spokeswoman Allyson Hughes expects three times as many this year.
Two major awards will be handed out. Receiving this year’s Icon Award is Connie Britton, a four-time Emmy nominee. Filson — a big fan of the actress’ work, from Nashville and Friday Night Lights to American Horror Story, even back to early appearances on The West Wing — cites her longevity and versatility as a factor. Last year, that same honor went to Phylicia Rashad. Actress Megan Boone, of NBC’s The Blacklist, will receive the Rising Star Award alongside Britton at a 7:30 p.m. ceremony on February 8.
Panel discussions during aTVfest cover such territory as “Building a Loyal Audience: A Chat With YouTube Creators”; “The Rise of the Web Series”; “It’s Unscripted: Reality TV Today”; and “Demystifying the Development Process.” Among the highlights are a closing-night screening of the Atlanta-filmed The Walking Dead, complete with some of the local cast and crew, and a special sneak peek of TBS’ new series CeeLo Green’s The Good Life, followed by a Q&A with Green.
Other events include screenings of the FX series Justified, Archer and The Americans; the third season premiere of TNT’s Dallas; HBO’s gay drama Looking; the SCAD Atlanta Student Showcase; Fox’s Gang Related; the CW’s The Vampire Diaries; and two upcoming HBO offerings, the series Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman and the documentary One Last Hug: Three Days At Grief Camp.
Filson is happy to be bringing in talent from many of those programs. Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Matt McGorry and Samira Wiley, all castmates from Orange Is the New Black, will discuss their Netflix cult sensation of last summer. Others on tap are Josh Henderson and Emma Bell from Dallas; Carson Kressley of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy; Murray Bartlett, Jonathan Groff and Frankie Alvarez from Looking; and Tamara Tunie, Allie Gonino and Kiowa Gordon, along with executive producer Sarah Condon, from the new Sundance Channel thriller The Red Road.
SCAD Atlanta opened in 2005, offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in areas such as film and television, television producing, visual effects and animation. During the three-day aTVFest, visiting panelists will be working directly alongside SCAD staff and students. The positive reception incoming guests have shown to the festival is a testament to the event itself, Filson says. “They’re all coming in for the students. It’s a great way to showcase us and our students. Many of them will be going into TV right after graduation.”
Having been in the festival business for so long, Filson has learned not to make predictions or forecasts of what the buzz events will be. He does expect The Walking Dead and Orange Is the New Black panels to be extremely popular, but beyond that he’ll wait and see what the biggest draws turn out to be.