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Eight things we learned at BingeFest

Alyx Gorman

For just over 24 hours on December 17 and 18, the Sydney Opera House filled itself up with non-stop content. From an overnight Buffy marathon to The Campaign Book projecting people's hopes and dreams into the Harbour, the brand new festival dedicated to all things TV and Internet brought some left-field ideas onto the Opera House stage. Let's be real here, we didn't see Dat Boi coming, and yet, there he was, projected above the stage at a Harambe Memorial Service. 

Here's what else we learned...

1) Memes are funny because they're not

"The joke with memes is that there is no joke, and that's why they're funny." That was Rebecca Shaw's wisdom at the Harambe Memorial Service, which, it turned out, was a quasi-academic look at the year in Internet culture. 

2) People really, really want to meet Shia LaBeouf

Some people waited over four hours to participate in 'And in the End'. At midnight. Good on them.

Photograph: Prudence Upton

3) Comedy is made from crazy

What do you get when you stick four eccentric writers in a room together? Absolute madness. If Bingefest’s mock writer’s room was anything to go by, the magic behind Please Like Me, Community and Rosehaven, comes from a place of utter chaos. Celia Pacquola, Luke McGregor, Josh Thomas and Dan Harmon talked the audience through the importance of diversity in the writers' room (Thomas had an on-stage epiphany that his writer's room is subconsciously anti-heterosexual) and how the television industry has moved beyond syndication. They spoke about their unsuccessful pitches and gave insight into what their writers' rooms look like – Pacquola’s room doubles as her apartment whilst Dan Harmon’s rooms smells like mustard and is most definitely gender-balanced, thank you very much.

4) Work to fail

The audio-visionary behind Radiolab, Jad Abumrad told the room at his talk 'Gut Churn' that he's never more than 20 per cent certain of any project he works on. That means, for every 15 things he starts, four get made. That process of narrowing down, and discarding things that don't work, is how he ensures his good work is really, really good.

5) Find the gap

Dan Harmon’s ultimate advice for aspiring writers? Be personal and be imaginative; don’t pitch what you think television is, pitch what you think television is not. 

Photograph: Prudence Upton


6) Dragging things out is the death of good TV

Chicago Tribune television critic Christopher Borrelli reckons that the golden age of TV is partially because TV shows have less constraint in their run length (think Donald Glover's ten episode FX series Atlanta or Netflix and HBO's shorter seasons). This means show creators have the freedom to end stories when they make sense for the narrative – not when a 24 episode season finishes. 

Photograph: Prudence Upton


7) We've already watched a whole lot of things

When BingeFest's curator Danielle Harvey came up with the idea of a marathon pop culture festival that'd include screening back-to-back Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes, there was one website she knew she'd be calling on: the AV Club. Three editors from the Chicago-based website flew to Sydney to present an all-nighter on the genre-defining show Buffy and a Sunday panel talk titled All the TV You Should Have Watched By Now. Laura M Browning, Erik Adams and Alex McCown-Levy each presented a comedy show, followed by a 'genre' (horror, fantasy or sci-fi) show, that they argued should be considered the definitive TV series for that category. Their judge: a volunteer from the audience called Jasmine. It's possible that the AV Club trio hadn't anticipated such a fanatic crowd, as the talk wasn't so much of a to-do list of TV shows but more of a nostalgic run through of shows that 90 per cent of the audience had already devoured. Arrested Development came top of the list for comedy game-changers, after The Thick of It and Archer. The slightly more surprising picks were in the "post-Buffy" collection of shows that redefined the former B-grade genre of fantasy and science fiction. Lost creator Damon Lindelof's show The Leftovers won out over Joss Whedon's early 2000s show Firefly and the more recent NBC series Hannibal. Though the film clips and impassioned pitches made for an entertaining evening, it was a shame that the editors didn't get to run through more genres – or talk about many other TV shows. We didn't learn anything new in this talk, but it was fun to geek out on All the TV We Have Already Watched.

8) Nothing can prepare you for going viral

When Julie Snyder, the editor behind the world's biggest podcast Serial spoke, she still seemed genuinely shocked by how much people loved what she and reporter Sarah Koenig created. "We didn't see the level of obsession coming," she said of the forensic approach Redditors took to decoding the first season's true crime story. "We felt like we were losing control of the story." She says that the huge amount of attention Serial brought to the case meant they frequently had to call other media outlets to explain issues of extreme sensitivity and confidentiality, and get names or other details redacted. "American outlets were usually fine. But the British tabloids? Those guys are such dicks."

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