Celebrities bring out the crowds at South by Southwest

AUSTIN, Texas — There are dozens of reasons people travel to Austin for South by Southwest.

Some attend for the film and interactive festivals; others for the music; still more attend primarily for the workshops and panel discussions while everybody here finds ample reason to enjoy the food, drink parties and raucous Sixth Street night life.

But if you play your cards correctly — and know precisely where to look — you will find that SXSW offers a veritable feeding frenzy for celebrity sighting.

“I love coming here because you always wind up seeing the stars,” said Juliana Hauser, an attendee from Corpus Christi. “You see them in the sessions, you see them in the lounges, and sometimes you even see them on the streets. It’s really amazing how visible they are.”

Several pop icons were on hand exclusively to promote their television shows. Actresses Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams joined producers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff to publicize the upcoming seventh season of “Game of Thrones.” While the show hardly needs the coverage, the festival, Williams says, gives the cast and crew a unique opportunity to personally interact with their fans.

Likewise, the entire cast of “Veep,” led by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, also turned out to head a session entitled “Veep: A Conversation with the Cast and Showrunner,” devoted exclusively to the promotion of their show. Seth Rogen, meanwhile, was on hand promoting the second season of “Preacher,” while Bob Odenkirk hosted two panel session to publicize his hit show, “Better Call Saul.”

Others turn out to support a cause. Former Vice President Joe Biden, for example, headlined a session as part of the Connect to End Cancer Series focusing specifically on the responsibility of the Federal Government to facilitate action toward finding a cure for cancer. Entrepreneur, investor, “Shark Tank” regular and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban participated in a panel discussion on government regulation across multiple marketplaces.

But the largest treasure trove of Hollywood celebrities can be found at the SXSW Film Festival. With more than 250 movies, documentaries and pilots screened throughout the week — roughly 30 of which can be classified as major features — stars by the dozens make their way to Austin to publicize their productions, virtually all of which are making their debuts at SXSW.

At the world premiere of “The Ballad of Lefty Brown,” actor Bill Pullman said the South-By Film Festival was the absolutely perfect venue for the launch of his movie, which he described as “a traditional Hollywood Western.”

“For a movie that’s shot in Montana, what better place than South by Southwest to unveil this film?” Pullman said. “Typically though, South-By is extremely supportive of pretty much all films. The audiences here are generally knowledgeable and always appreciative. It’s fun launching movies here in Austin.”

Actor and producer James Franco was joined by his brother Dave Franco and also Rogen for the launch of “The Disaster Artist,” a hysterical film that focuses on the 2003 making of “The Room,” labeled by many as the worst Hollywood movie ever produced. As the original has enjoyed a massive rebirth as a cult film, Franco’s film is certain to spark an even greater revival. “We are so proud to be here in Austin for this premiere,” said Franco, who, along with Rogen, appears regularly at the Festival. “South by Southwest is exactly where we want to be.”

Other stars on hand to market their productions include Melissa McCarthy, Ryan Gosling, Charlize Theron, Melissa Leo, Peter Fonda, Michael Fassbender, Judd Apatow and Pierce Brosnan.

Later in the week music takes over the spotlight, with keynote speeches, panel sessions and discussion groups featuring Garth Brooks, Mick Fleetwood, Lyle Lovett and Cindy Wilson.

For those who run South by Southwest, these celebrity appearances are hardly kept quiet. Each year, the show releases — and then constantly updates — their list of attending celebrities, using those names as marketing tools to attract attendees.

Clearly, the process works. Last year, nearly 100,000 people turned out for the 10-day show; while there are no exact numbers to support this theory, better than even money can be wagered that most are not just here for the food and drink.

Steve Winter and Kenny Fried are WTOP contributors who work for Brotman|Winter|Fried, a Sage Communications Company.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.


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