With Fantastic Fest 2019 mere hours away from kicking off here in Austin, TX, the Birth.Movies.Death. team thought it might be a good opportunity to offer up some of our hard-won advice on attending our favorite film festival in the world. What follows is a crowd-sourced lists of do's and don't's, all of which will go a long ways towards you having the best possible Fantastic Fest experience.
For The Love of God, Pace Yourself and Stay Hydrated
It seems absurd that I, of all people, am gonna be the one to tell you this: but for the love of God, pace yourself and keep your body well-hydrated during Fantastic Fest. You're gonna be surrounded by friends and fellow movie nerds in a festive atmosphere, stumbling from one movie theater to another all day long and soaking in wild-ass genre films. The urge to get plastered is strong, but will absolutely wreck your experience if you start too early and don't put in the hydration work (and if you're attending as press, good fucking luck trying to file reviews or transcribe interviews the morning after while caught in the grips of a deadly hangover). Moderation and water are key.
Tip The Hell Out of Your Servers and Bartenders
It takes a small army of servers, bartenders, food runners and the like to make Fantastic Fest flow as smoothly as it does. These folks work incredibly long hours, running up and down stairs, whipping up elaborate drink orders, and serving food in very dark rooms. They deserve both our respect and admiration, but they're also working for tips, and they deserve those, too. I'll drop a few bucks on a server even if they've only brought me a Topo Chico during a screening, and I'll go buck wild on a tip if I order a full meal. Speaking as a former server/bartender, I can assure you that your generosity will be appreciated and remembered.
Be Flexible In Your Choices (Don't Be Afraid to Wild Out)
The Fantastic Fest ticketing system basically operates as a lottery, with you selecting whichever screenings you'd like a day prior to them happening. You'll get into a lot of the screenings you want, but it's inevitable that you'll get locked out of a much-desired title sooner or later; that's just the nature of the beast. When this happens, do not sweat it! Each round of screenings contains multiple titles, and you should always have a few back-ups selected just in case you don't score your #1 choice. Some of the best Fantastic Fest screenings I've ever attended were second or third choices, and I never would've had those experiences if I hadn't gone with the flow (on a similar note: talk to your fellow festival-goers, find our what they've seen and enjoyed - don't be afraid to let 'em talk you into a few movies you might not have otherwise bothered with. New perspectives are good!).
Keep Your Body in Good Working Order
This is sort of along the lines of the "Pace Yourself and Stay Hydrated" rule, but a bit more specific: keep Ibuprofen on-hand for headaches and general soreness. Stock up on allergy meds, keep 'em with you. Stay well-showered and deodorized. Remember your prescription meds, should you take them. And also, if the madness of the festival gets to be overwhelming, don't hesitate to take a field trip off property to obtain a change of scenery, check out other locations in the area (I highly recommend a bar called The Golden Goose, not five minutes away from the South Lamar Drafthouse; the food at Maria's Taco Express is also glorious), or to see Austin's famous traffic problem with your very own eyeballs (hint: stay far away from I-35 between the hours of 7AM and 10AM and 3PM til 7PM).
Respect Everyone's Personal Space, Even If You're Excited to See Them
This one's maybe a bit too niche to include on a generalized list, but since it's a big one for me and I'm the one writing this list, I'm gonna include it, anyway. Here goes: all kinds of people come to Fantastic Fest, including fans, famous filmmakers, and people you might follow on social media. If you see these folks out in the wild, absolutely say hi to them if the opportunity presents itself, but be respectful of your fellow festival-goers' personal space - don't take photos of them without permission, and don't grab 'em unnecessarily as a means for introducing yourself (That might sound crazy - who would do that?! - but a few years ago I was making a beeline to the bathroom after one screening while rushing to get to another, and midway through a throng of people I felt someone grab my shoulder and jerk me around to face them: it was somebody who followed me on Twitter, wanting to say hi. Do not be that guy).
Make Time For The Fantastic Fest Parties, They Rule
This was a lesson I didn't learn until I was three or four years into attending Fantastic Fest: make time for the cool events the Fantastic Fest team plans at nighttime. I know, I know - that movie you wanted to see is playing during that night's shindig in the Highball. But Fantastic Fest's parties are always outstanding, and attending those is where you get to socialize with other festival-goers and forge new friendships. They're also where you'll get to see some of the wildest spectacles Fantastic Fest has to offer. This year they've got a Luchadore-themed opening night party, a Sunday night drag party (with makeovers!), and a closing night party featuring an "intergalactic funk band" comprised of robots and aliens. Go to any one of these events and I guarantee you will have such a good time, you won't even be sad you saw one less movie. Trust me on this.
Get Plenty of Sleep, Ya Dingus
Speaking of late night parties, be sure to get plenty of sleep. This is the most obvious bit of advice on this list, but it's the one basically everyone forgets within 48 hours of Fantastic Fest starting. Late night FOMO and midnight screenings will keep you at it until late into the night, sometimes halfway 'til dawn, and the next day will be rough. Clearly you're not gonna go to bed at a reasonable hour every night, but try to balance every gonzo, late night throwdown you get into with one excellent night's sleep. Your body will thank you, and so will your fellow audience members, who won't have to listen to you loudly snoring throughout the next day's screenings.
Fully Explore The Alamo Drafthouse Menu
Something I'm guilty of at the Drafthouse - I tend to order the same handful of things over and over again. They're my favorites, and I like to stick with my favorites. This is a dumb policy, though, because everything on the Alamo Drafthouse menu is good as hell (they've even got Vegan options, if that's your thing). This is doubly dumb during Fantastic Fest, where you might end up eating multiple meals at the Drafthouse every day. Get the Royale with Cheese, yes. Order the pizza, for sure. But don't sleep on that Breakfast BLT, or the awesome salads, or the excellent Chili Cheese Dog. Fantastic Fest will also have a battery of Mexican-inspired dishes this year, and I hear they're wall-to-wall great. Variety's the spice of life - remember that when placing your orders.
Wouldst Thou Like to Karaoke?
The answer should be "Yes". Karaoke is a time-honored tradition at Fantastic Fest, and easy to arrange given that the Highball - the gorgeous bar right next door to the South Lamar Drafthouse - has a variety of themed karaoke rooms that can service groups both big and small. The karaoke selection at the Highball is aces, the rooms are a delight (see above; Satanists not included) and you'll have full drink service within the rooms. Some of the best times I've ever had at Fantastic Fest happened in these karaoke rooms, and I can't imagine going through Fantastic Fest without stepping foot in one. Get in there and sing your goddamn heart out, buddy, even if you can't sing - you've earned it.
Audience Members: Be a Gallant, Not a Goofus
Last but certainly not least is this: a few key basics will go a long way towards making sure you're a strong Fantastic Fest audience member. The Alamo Drafthouse's "Don't Talk/Don't Text/Don't Arrive Late" policy is in full effect during the fest, and will be enforced on an as-needed basis. If you're gonna participate in an audience Q&A, have an actual question lined up for the guests (not a comment), and ask it without going completely off the rails or asking someone to read your spec script. If you're able to, climb under the tables at Lamar rather than scooching down an entire row to go to the bathroom. If you've raised an order card and it's been a couple of minutes, don't freak out - your server will be along in short order to collect it. These are the basics, and if you follow 'em you'll do just fine as a Fantastic Fest audience member.