Emily Banks Gipson’s pioneering ATX Television Festival celebrates the small screen.
by Rachel Stowe Master
Emily Banks Gipson co-founded the only festival dedicated to television. (courtesy photo)
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Topics: how i got here
by Rachel Stowe Master
When Emily Banks Gipson ’04 and Caitlin McFarland were assistants at the Los Angeles office of 20th Century Fox in 2005, they hated Mondays. Gipson and her friend joked that when they launched their own company, they would never work on Mondays.
In 2011, while both women were walking different paths through the entertainment industry, McFarland shared an interesting notion. “She had this seedling of an idea for a television festival,” Gipson said. “We started talking about it and within a week decided this was something we should explore together.”
The timing was perfect, she said. “We talk about the ‘summer of 2011,’ and that was the first summer people were talking more about what was on their DVR than what was at the box office.”
No Mondays Productions became their parent company, and the new entrepreneurs surveyed festivals in other industries. Then they launched a Kickstarter campaign. In June 2012, they hosted the inaugural ATX Television Festival. They chose Austin as the host city, Gipson said, because the Texas capital is an accessible tourist destination in a state with a long history of television production.
Focused exclusively on television, the festival hosts screenings, question-and-answer sessions, industry-related panel discussions, parties, live music, happy hours and social media events.
Gipson describes the first year as small and grass roots. “The line we had for our panelists was, ‘If you actually work in television, you are invited to come and speak on a panel’ — so it was anyone we knew who actually had a legitimate TV job.”
As attendees and panelists spread the word, the festival grew steadily from about 700 the first year to 1,000 the next year and 1,250 in year three.
“Then year four we did a ‘Gilmore Girls’ reunion — and had no idea of the fan fervor surrounding ‘Gilmore Girls.’ That doubled us in size and we went to about 2,250 attendees.”
“As we grow, the biggest challenge is making sure we have that small, community feel.”Emily Banks Gipson
A report from the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau and Tourism Economics said the 2016 festival, which brought a total of 2,500 attendees for about 75 screenings and panels over four days, had a $4.5 million economic impact on the city.
But bigger crowds brought bigger issues, Gipson said. “As we grow, the biggest challenge is making sure we have that small, community feel,” she said. “We want to make a big impact for the shows … but we want to maintain our small feel. We never want to be in a convention room.”
Festival venues have capacities from 70 to 400 attendees, though organizers booked the 1,200-seat Paramount Theatre a couple of times, including for the “Gilmore Girls” reunion.
“We don’t like to have velvet ropes,” Gipson said. “We don’t separate our panelists from our attendees. Everyone hangs out together. So everyone can feel like they are the same community. Our panelists love going to our other panels just as much as our attendees do.”
Emily Banks Gipson poses with Henry Winkler at the ATX Festival. (courtesy photo)
While Gipson wants the in-person festival vibe to remain small, she plans a larger overall reach. “We are trying to grow an online presence,” she said. “We have a three-year deal with Entertainment Weekly, so we are working with them to expand our voice in print and digitally, which has been incredible for us.”
Outside the festival season, Gipson and McFarland are working on their development arm of No Mondays Productions. “We both started in the business line to be creative, and wanting to make actual movies and TV shows,” Gipson said. “Now that we have formed all these great relationships and have gotten to know the industry so well, we are starting to develop shows on our own. It’s still the beginning point of that, but it’s been a fun new adventure. Our ultimate goal would be to get a show on air that we could promote at the festival.”
With two companies to manage, the former industry assistants are still working hard on Mondays, Gipson admitted with a laugh. “The ironic thing is that when you own your own company, you work every day. So Mondays don’t actually exist anymore.
“In other words, ‘no Mondays’ did not work out very well for us.,” she said. “But the good thing is we’ve created something we love doing, so there’s no dread when it comes to Mondays anymore.”
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