In February, the stars of New Amsterdam, SEAL Team, and more flocked to Atlanta, Ga., for the Savannah College of Art and Design’s aTVfest. Now in its seventh year, the festival is a celebration of the best in the television industry and offers students access to both onscreen and behind-the-scenes talent. Entertainment Weekly served as the festival’s first-ever official media partner this year and was on the ground capturing exclusive content and leading lively discussions with talent.
Over the course of three days, TV’s brightest stars participated in several lively panels, from The Other Two co-creator Chris Kelly sharing how they persuaded Justin Theroux to approve a running bit about his singular taste in home décor in a recent episode to Ricky Whittle and Orlando Jones previewing American Gods’ “acid trip”-like second season. Robin Givens (Riverdale), Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek: Discovery), Melissa Roxburgh (Manifest), and Heléne Yorke (The Other Two) reflected on their journeys to stardom for EW’s Wonder Women: Acting for Television panel.
In the between the star-studded panels, SCAD — which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year — also presented several awards. David Boreanaz (SEAL Team) received the inaugural Maverick Award to honor his 20-plus years on TV, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Ellie Kemper took home the Spotlight Award, and the affable ensemble of NBC’s New Amsterdam accepted the Outstanding Cast Award.
“I’m always floored by the talent that takes the stage for our celebration of all things television,” said SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace. “Another year of aTVfest, another year of wow moments!”
Below, Wallace looks back on the many highs of this year’s aTVfest, what it means to the city and students, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you feel about the festival’s impact on the industry?
PAULA WALLACE: I saw many layers to this year’s festival, layers springing from a wide array of audiences joining in — especially industry professionals. Students were in a position to rub shoulders with professionals from every side of television production: below-the-line editors, producers, entire casts. We’re celebrating our 40th anniversary at SCAD and I was struck by how, four decades ago, our university was a just dream and events like this were unheard of. Now, our alumni are revolutionizing the industry, and they’re constantly coming back to SCAD and giving back to their SCAD family. It’s profoundly touching to witness that.
We brought in panels about every level of the industry, from casting agents to reality stars. I saw so many of our own graduates starring in reality television, so this year we had a special focus on reality TV. We brought in alumni who have been on shows like American Idol, American Grit, Southern Charm, Bride by Design, Project Runway, and Showtime at the Apollo.
Anupam Kher, one of the lead actors in New Amsterdam, participated in a panel with the cast. A student summoned up her courage and asked him to be in her class production, and he said, “You do it, I’ll be in it.” Wow. Talk about aTVfest’s direct effect on the industry and SCAD students. What a magnificent opportunity for that student, since Anupam has been in over 400 film and TV productions!
Why is it important to have talent at these events, and how do they give back?
SCAD aTVfest creates interactions between students and visiting professionals through masterclasses, in conversations, and keynote speeches. Like Anupam, these selfless luminaries spend their time visiting with students, sharing insights, and reviewing portfolios. This year alone, we hosted more than six masterclasses and 19 panels.
Actor Manish Dayal offered a masterclass with producer Juliet Blake. They worked together in The Hundred-Foot Journey, and Manish’s performance is just phenomenal. Now he’s starring in Fox’s series The Resident. After sharing his expertise at the masterclass, he agreed to be in another brave student’s film! Everyone who has come to visit has been so generous with their time.
Why is a TV festival for young creatives important for Atlanta?
SCAD aTVfest underscores the booming entertainment industry in Atlanta. In fact, in [fiscal year] 2017, a total of 455 movie and TV projects were filmed in Georgia for an economic impact of $9.5 billion, much of which is concentrated in Atlanta.
One SCAD Atlanta student and her mom sat right behind me for a screening. They tapped me on the shoulder and said to me that two years earlier, they met me at another screening at aTVfest, and how that night solidified the student’s intention to pursue television production as a profession. Another important thing about that interaction was that coming to aTVfest let the mother know that television production is truly a career her daughter could pursue and end up with a “real job.”
We always invite educators from high schools as well, because it’s beneficial for them to see students just a few years older than the ones they teach performing in these professions. SCAD aTVfest shows them real career paths out there, which is vital, because sometimes they don’t encourage students to pursue television or film. They think it’s not practical, or that it’s too competitive, without any opportunities. The festival exemplifies the absolute need for the booming TV production industry in Georgia.
What was your favorite panel or event?
With 19 panels and 21 screenings to choose from, how could I ever pick a favorite? I always wish that I could go to every panel because I haven’t been to a single one which wasn’t absolutely fascinating.
I loved the panel we did on the science of Grey’s Anatomy storytelling. One of our former students, Michael Metzner, is a medical advisor on Grey’s Anatomy, and he was determined to shake things up at his panel. He brought an operating gurney from the show, prop surgical instruments — he set the stage during a panel, and then he had students come up and perform!
Joining Michael was Fred Einesman, executive producer and M.D. They’re both board-certified surgeons, too. Even still, everybody was on the edge of their seats when they asked a student to lie on the operating table. They had another student recite lines as a medical resident. When yet another student filmed with a GoPro, the panel actually became a demo! That’s the surprise element of SCAD. Learning here always takes new and unexpected turns.
What are you most proud of from this year’s festival?
I adore seeing the brilliance of our SCAD alumni. The SCAD Gets Real panel enlivened the festival with tales from reality TV from several of our alumni. It was fascinating to hear their stories — reality TV is a totally different animal!
What’s neat is that reality TV has served as a jumping-off point for some, like American Idol winner Candice Glover, and for others, it’s one gem in a long list of accolades. For example, Michael Wilson Morgan started off on American Grit, but now he lives in New York, he’s worked on Broadway, and I actually had the privilege of casting him in a play I wrote a few years back. I always tell our students they never have to limit themselves to one specialty — try everything! You never know when you’ll discover a hidden talent.
What has partnering with EW done for the festival?
We’re honored to call them our media partner. Entertainment Weekly covers a perfect cross-section of what SCAD offers in entertainment arts, from sound design to dramatic writing to acting for the camera. Their sagacious professionals moderated insightful panels, and their next-level event coverage ensured millions knew of the preeminent SCAD aTVfest.
EW helps SCAD to present our panels on a professional level. For example, leaders at MGM might see Entertainment Weekly is our partner and want to be involved with aTVfest or SCADFILM, because they know the readership and the exposure as well as the quality of coverage they’d receive.
We always like to put our students in direct contact with industry professionals, and there’s no better source for those in-the-know professionals than Entertainment Weekly. Students also experience how to interact with journalists — the people who know how to ask the right questions. I saw students interacting with EW staff at the aTVfest receptions, running through tips on how to get to know people and interview well — stellar benefits for our students.