SXSW Reporter's Notebook: Dinner With 'Hardcore Henry' and Festival Party Hopping

9:44 AM 3/12/2016

by Rebecca Ford

A running tally from the THR reporters on the ground in Austin as Obama talks technology and Pee-wee makes his return during the annual SXSW confab.

SXSW General - H 2016
Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

THR reporters Rebecca Ford and Natalie Jarvey will log their notes and observations from all the panels, premieres, concerts and comedy shows throughout the week-and-a-half long technology, film and music festival. 



  • J.J. Abrams on "Twisted Plan" for '10 Cloverfield Lane'

    Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams and The Jinx helmer Andrew Jarecki have been friends for 25 years, and revealed during a panel Monday that they first met at the Grand Canyon where the bonded over the fact that they’d both performed magic at kids’ birthday parties.

    After the pair hosted a panel called “The Eyes of Robots and Murderers," which explored the ways technology helps and can sometimes hinder filmmaking and storytelling, they spent some time at a small cocktail reception in Austin for Jarecki’s new app KnowMe.

    Abrams spoke to THR about his latest film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, which is considered a “spiritual successor” to his hit film Cloverfield. The film had a strong debut, earning $24.7 million domestically.

    “We have this very weird, twisted plan that hopefully we’ll get to see through, which is to do, on the one hand an anthology series of stories that are stand-alone and original stories but also connect them in a way that could result in something very cool,” he told THR. “But at the moment it is just these two movies and the idea was not to do Cloverfield 2, or we would have just called it Cloverfield 2.”

    When asked about the toughest part of being a producer in today’s industry, the Bad Robot producer told THR: “I’m well aware of my guilt in the reboots and remakes and sequels, but I think the lack of original storytelling is something that audiences are increasingly growing tired of. I think the talk of the golden age of television is a direct result of how many incredible, emotional, unique and original stories are being told not in cinemas. But I hope to be part of telling original stories as well as bring back things that are meaningful and worth bringing back. I just don’t think it should be one or the other.”

  • Talking Tech With 'House of Lies' Actor Ben Schwartz

    “This week is perfect for me,” says comedian Ben Schwartz. It’s the opening night of South by Southwest and the House of Lies star has just wrapped an improv show that had the audience in fits.

    Although Schwartz is in Austin under the auspices of performing at a handful of comedy shows, he’s just as excited to check out the futuristic technology on display. As a part of his Friday night appearance at the Visa Everywhere Lounge, where he performed with fellow Upright Citizens Brigade members Gil Ozeri and Lauren Lapkus, Schwartz was given a preview of the technology that the payments company is developing, including a feature that allows a car to pay for fuel by itself. “It blew my mind,” says Schwartz, likening the experience to Keanu Reeves’ 1995 flick Johnny Mnemonic. “Gil and I started pitching ideas, literally like from Shark Tank.”

    Schwartz is keeping busy in Austin, but he’s managed to take some time for himself: on Friday morning he snuck away from the SXSW crowds to see 10 Cloverfield Lane in support of producer J.J. Abrams. Schwartz has worked with Abrams on several projects, including acting as a BB-8 voice consultant with Bill Hader for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. “I wasn’t allowed to talk about it to anybody,” he says. “When the movie came out, it was like a dam bursting open. I texted everybody I knew the picture of the credit.”

    When he’s not making surprise appearances at SXSW, Schwartz is keeping busy on several projects. Showtime’s House of Lies returns for a fifth season in April, he co-stars in Sundance drama The Intervention and he’s working on another book. The actor, who played Jean-Ralphio on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, also spends a lot of time writing. He is currently working on a second draft of an untitled project with actor Seth Rogen and director Adam Mckay attached.

    “Anytime I’m not acting in something, I’m writing,” says Schwartz, adding that he became a writer during college. “I remember there was a paper I did for abnormal psychology. I didn’t do much of the research, but I wanted to make sure my paper was unique because I didn’t have all the information. I compared each abnormal psychology thing to a character in Peanuts.” His professor ended up giving him a B+ on the project. “It was then that I started to realize that was a skill that I have.”

    Like many conversations in Hollywood these days, ours inevitably turns to what TV we're watching. But while Schwartz has his favorites (he's currently enjoying The Last Man on Earth, Love and Togetherness), the techie in him is interested in the distribution method, too. "What do you think of the new platforms," he asks. "And my second question is, would you prefer them to come out one-a-week or buffet style?"

    His personal consumption habits are no different than most. "I find myself getting anxious when my DVR is full or when there are new Netflix shows that I haven't seen," he says. "I love all those streaming services because I'm on the go a lot, so I can get on my computer and watch it all." 

  • Dining With 'Hardcore Henry'

    “I’m not nervous anymore,” said Ilya Naishuller, the director of first-person action film Hardcore Henry at a small dinner before the South by Southwest screening of his film Sunday night.
    The director admitted that in Toronto, when his feature directorial debut was being seen for the first time, he had plenty of nerves. The film has a unique perspective: it’s a first-person action film told from the eyes of a cyborg who is trying to rescue his kidnaped wife.
    “We always understood that this was going to be a love or hate kind of film,” he said. “It would either be mind-blowing or a piece of shit – there was no middle ground. So I was terrified before Toronto.” 
    It landed in “mind-blowing,” and sparked a bidding war that resulted STX Entertainment buying the film in a splashy $10 million deal. Six months later, after Naishuller made some changes, he says he doesn’t feel nervous about showing it at the Austin-based festival.
    At the dinner at Sullivan’s Steakhouse, Naishuller was joined by producer Timur Bekmambetov, star Sharlto Copley, and much of the STX team, including Chairman of the Motion Picture Group Adam Fogelson, President Sophie Watts, Chief Content Officer Oren Aviv and President of Marketing Jack Pan.
    “They did The Gift, which I really loved,” Naishuller said of STX. “I felt that STX would be right. I realized they are hungry and they had stuff to prove. And this whole film was made by people who had stuff to prove -- I’d never even made a feature before.”
    After STX acquired the film, Naishuller made some adjustments to the film, upgrading the CG, tweaking the sounds and working on the color. “To me, it was like you were watching the film with shades before,” he told THR. “This is the first time anyone is seeing the final, final film.”
    As for Naishuller, he’s moved six times in the year 2016 alone, doing post work on the film in L.A. and then heading to Austin for the festival. He now considers Los Angeles his home base, and says he’s also lining up his next project. But first, he’ll get to enjoy Hardcore Henry’s wide release when STX releases it on April 8 in the U.S.
  • 'Midnight Special' in Austin

    Austin-based filmmaker Jeff Nichols had the North American premiere for his latest work, Midnight Special, on Saturday night. He brought along with him many of the stars of his Warner Bros. film, including Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton and young star Jaeden Lieberher.
    After the screening at the Paramount Theatre, the film celebrated with a lively party at the The Dogwood, a mostly outdoor bar that was a perfect venue for the warm Texas night. Among the special guests to join the party were Nichols’ Mud star Tye Sheridan and Dunst’s Fargo co-star Jesse Plemons.
    Midnight Special, a sci-fi chase movie, centers on a father (Shannon) who will do anything to protect his son (Lieberher) who has mysterious superpowers.
    “At the time, my wife and I had an eight-month-old, and he had something called a febrile seizure, it’s the body’s reaction to a spiking fever. He’s fine, but it was very scary for us. As a new father, it jolted me awake that this little person is precious and I have absolutely no control over his place in this world,” said Nichols when asked how he came up the idea for Midnight Special.
    “I started thinking about fatherhood and if I can’t control his environment, if I can’t keep him safe, I can’t control who he’s going to grow up to be, why am I here?” he said. “I started thinking that being a parent was about helping them define who they are … help them to understand who they are.”
    Nichols, whose previous films include Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud, has worked with Shannon on every one of his films. Shannon will also appear in his next film, Loving, which stars Edgerton.
    “He makes me a better writer, I know he makes me a better director,” said Nichols of Shannon. “I tried to whittle down as much of the narrative exposition as possible. I knew I’d have Mike anchoring this thing. With Mike, he’s so good between the lines, in between all the dialogue.”
    Shannon, whose other recent credits include Man of Steel and 99 Homes, said of Nichols: “I feel really at home in Jeff’s work. I feel like I can relate to it. I do other things that are very different, but I always feel like I’m coming home when I get a chance to work with Jeff.”
  • Delta Shuttle to South By

    A little turbulence didn't stop the passengers on the Delta Festival Shuttle from networking on their Friday flight from Los Angeles to Austin for South by Southwest. 

    A mix of startup founders, tech investors, filmmakers, actors and music executives hand selected by UTA were chatting in the aisles as soon as the flight departed. Among those on the plane were actor BJ Novak, Legendary Digital president Adam Rymer, Ubeam founder Meredith Perry, investor Matt Mazzeo, executives from AwesomenessTV and Snapchat and comedian Keegan-Michael Key — in Austin for the the screening of Keanu, his film about a catnapping made with collaborator Jordan Peele

    'It's exciting that the best networking event of the weekend happens at 30,000 feet," says Robyn Ward, head of new media ventures at UTA

    The flight kicked off Friday morning with brunch, which featured a tasting of Aisha Tyler's new cocktail line, Courage+Stone. And the party continued on the plane with mini bottles of tequila (and other swag) at every seat, and beers being passed around the cabin.

    The flight, one of several that UTA and Delta have sponsored to events including Sundance and Summit at Sea, is so popular that several people flew into Los Angeles just to board the plane. Among them is Urs Cete, managing partner at Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, who came from New York for the flight. 

    "Having been on last year's festival shuttle, I can say it's the ideal way to start SXSW," says Cete. "You meet a lot of interesting people on the plane that you run into throughout SXSW."

    And if a party in the sky wasn't enough, the passengers were given a presidential greeting when they landed in Austin. Air Force One was sitting on the tarmac waiting for President Barack Obama to depart after a keynote discussion and fundraising event in town that day. 

  • 'Everybody Wants Some' Premiere Party

    The party vibe of Richard Linklater’s ‘80s college baseball comedy Everybody Wants Some, which premiered as the opening night film at South by Southwest, spilled over into the afterparty at the South Congress Hotel on Friday night.

    Much of the cast, which included Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Ryan Guzman, Glen Powell, Zoey Deutch and Wyatt Russell, was in attendance and celebrating the film, which follows a college baseball team over their first wild weekend on campus (mud wrestling included).

    Linklater, who told The Hollywood Reporter that he first came up with the idea to make the “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused back in 2002, was joined at the party by his daughter, Boyhood star Lorelei Linklater. Other guests included Boyhood star Ellar Coltrane and Kurt Russell, whose son Wyatt Russell played one of the baseball players in the film.

    Linklater was especially excited when he noticed the custom Everybody Wants Some beer cans that were created by Texas brewery Austin Beerworks. 

    “We had a great young cast. They’re so talented, so funny,” said Linklater. When asked to compare Everybody Wants Some to Dazed and Confused, he said: “I think the film has that same hanging-out-with-friends vibe. I like this one more. College is more fun than high school – what can I say?”

    The party, which included a hollowed-out van that had been turned into a photobooth, had plenty of fun energy, especially when Jenner, who previously starred in Glee, broke out into a dance-off with some other co-stars.

    “I think what this movie does well, like what Dazed and Confused did, is show that styles change, music changes, fads change but growing up and being young and figuring out who you are in the world – that never changes,” said Jenner.