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TV Activations Return to SXSW — and Why They Should Never Leave

The year is 2296. The place is Filly, the post-apocalyptic “vault” where Lucy (Ella Purnell) must fight to survive in a world already on the edge of extinction. The place is filled with scavengers, ne’er-do-wells, and rules you can’t learn until you’ve broken them.

The place is actually Hotel San Jose in Austin, Texas — but it’s an impressive disguise.

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TV and film activations once again took over South by Southwest in March, inviting fans and curious visitors into the world of shows like “Fallout,” “Star Trek: Discovery,” “Halo,” “3 Body Problem,” and more. For better or worse, the small screen is getting smaller. For every 80-inch TV mounted on a wall, there’s someone downloading their favorite shows to watch on a phone while commuting. TV and film activations offer scale — the 3D version of high-profile directors encouraging viewers to go to theaters, and compelling people to watch these projects on the biggest screen possible once they leave.

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 07: General view of atmosphere during the "Fallout" @ SXSW party on March 07, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Prime Video)
A billboard (and Nuka Cola ad) welcoming visitors to Filly, the “Fallout” activation by Prime Video at South by Southwest.Matt Hayward/Getty Images for Prime Video
A junkyard featuring a large humanoid robot inspired by "Fallout"
Filly’s set design had the feel of a post-apocalyptic junkyard.Indiewire/Proma Khosla
AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 07: General view of atmosphere during the "Fallout" @ SXSW party on March 07, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Prime Video)
A piece of the “Fallout” activation at SXSW in Austin, Texas.Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Prime Video

At a preview for the “Fallout” popup on March 8, the show’s creative team agreed that it was a lot like walking on set without the cameras; so while it might be just a day at the office for Walton Goggins, that presents an opportunity for any “Fallout” fan to be part of the show’s world in a way they can’t find anywhere else. As someone who isn’t familiar with the game, I still found myself hunting for objects to collect on the activation’s scavenger app, enjoying a Nuka-Cola (Victory – peach mango), and munching on some kind of jerky that was presented to me as a “piece of ass” by the vendor. The space was filled with engaged, committed actors who inspired visitors to play along — and actual pieces of the show’s set, which star Walton Goggins described as “the fucking thunder dome.”

Showrunner Geneva Robertson-Dworet expressed how meaningful it was for her to see fans excitedly let loose in an environment that has become a “monumental” part of her life in four years of conceiving “Fallout.” Prime Video teamed up with KIlter Films for the series but also for the activation, inspired by Howard Cummings’ production design.

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 08: A view of the atmosphere during Paramount+'s The Lodge press preview at SXSW 2024 at The Clive Bar on March 08, 2024 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for Paramount+)
A visitor gets an airbrush tattoo at Paramount+’s The Lodge, located at the Clive Bar.Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for Paramount+
IndieWire’s Proma Khosla takes command of the U.S.S Discovery at Paramount+’s The Lodge.<cite>Courtesy of Paramount+’s The Lodge</cite>
IndieWire’s Proma Khosla takes command of the U.S.S Discovery at Paramount+’s The Lodge.Courtesy of Paramount+’s The Lodge
AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 08: A view of the atmosphere during Paramount+'s The Lodge press preview at SXSW 2024 at The Clive Bar on March 08, 2024 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for Paramount+)
A Survivor setup complete with greenery, cameras, and a place to write notes for confessionals.Getty Images for Paramount+

At The Lodge by Paramount+, visitors could grab a “Mean Girls” cocktail or record “Survivor” confessions, even sit in the captain’s chair of the U.S.S. Discovery. The photo opps, themed cocktails, custom merch and temporary tattoos are all unique for the streamer’s existing and potential audience, who can’t exactly request “The Deputy Marshal” (Maker’s Mark, lemon juice, honey, angostura bitters, ginger beer) at a local bar. Even with so much TV and so many ways to consume stories, there’s nothing like stepping into your favorite series live in person.

To celebrate the premiere of “3 Body Problem,” Netflix promised a “projection” on the corner of 4th and Congress on the night of March 8. A group of excited fans (many of them drawn to actors John Bradley and Liam Cunningham, who share a “Game of Thrones” filmography with showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) gathered on the uncharacteristically cold Austin evening while red light and eerie fog filled the corner, eventually met with a projected countdown that started at ten minutes. When the clock ran out, a figured appeared threatening to kill scientists, invade the solar system, and “teach you how to fear again.” To round it all off, there was an eye in sky, menacingly darting around and seemingly taking in its surroundings.

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MARCH 08: (L-R) David Benioff, Liam Cunningham, Eiza González, John Bradley, Zine Tseng, Rosalind Chao, Alexander Woo, Jess Hong, Jovan Adepo, Alex Sharp, D. B. Weiss, Derek Tsang, and Benedict Wong attend the 3 Body Problem World Premiere at SXSW on March 08, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for Netflix)
The cast and creative team of “3 Body Problem” at their downtown Austin projection; L-R David Benioff, Liam Cunningham, Eiza González, John Bradley, Zine Tseng, Rosalind Chao, Alexander Woo, Jess Hong, Jovan Adepo, Alex Sharp, D. B. Weiss, Derek Tsang, and Benedict Wong.Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for Netflix

Ominous though it was (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this terrified the Uber driver I met later in the night), the display undeniably provoked intrigue for the Netflix series which premieres March 21. In a streaming climate so dense and competitive, anything that can help set a show apart makes a difference — sometimes through more conventional means.

“I just want to point out that there’s a bar here,” Goggins leaned in to tell me at the “Fallout” activation. “A working bar. With alcohol.”

Executive producer Jonathan Nolan seemed to echo the sentiment — in different words.

“This is the fun part,” he said. “Making a show is hard — all of this stuff, this is where we get to celebrate.”

Presented in partnership with Paramount+. From the Mountain to Rainey St, fans can step into Paramount+’s The Lodge at SXSW 2024 to experience immersive activations inspired by their favorite films and shows including Halo, Star Trek: Discovery, Lawmen: Bass Reeves, and many more. SXSW badge holders are also invited to The Trailblazing Journey to the Fifth and Final Season Featured Panel Session, ahead of the Star Trek: Discovery final season premiere on April 4, exclusively on Paramount+.

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