by Heidi Z (@PWNNY)
One of us! One of us! One of us!
Congrats on making the list for BNAT! I bet you have a lot of questions! I’ve been collecting suggestions to share with first-timers who have no clue about the awesome that they are soon to experience at Butt-Numb-A-Thon (BNAT). Even if you’re from Austin and/or have attended BNAT before, you may find some helpful tips.
These guidelines were provided by many experienced BNATers (and AICN talkbackers) including Harry, The Abtruse One, Nordling, Saffy, Rae, Darren, Pam, Ubershauna, Bob Loblaw, Mercury318, footnotegirl, Grendy, Smallerdemon, Massawrym, Morgana lafey, la_zumo, and myself (@pwnny). BNAT started before Twitter or Facebook, and while the MySpace forum doesn’t seem to exist anymore, you can still check out the Livejournal archives.
One important note: even if you aren’t on the list you can still try standby. The names are picked at random, so you won’t have to get in line and camp-out the night before. Harry will announce details closer to the date how things will work this year. In previous years I knew a few people that had to cancel, so those spots opened up. Someone also got in on standby after about 7 hours in – sometimes someone will come present their film and can’t stay the whole night.
There is definitely a lot to consider when attending Butt-Numb-A-Thon. It could be fun just to go in blind and encounter everything like anyone did at BNAT1. But, if you have some questions, these recommendations come from people who have been to multiple BNATs and learned things the hard way. Some of it is going to sound a bit overbearing (don’t eat too much, don’t drink the night before, etc.) so take it or leave it. However, some of it is non-negotiable (no cell phones, tip your server, don’t be a douche, etc.)
Over the next month Harry will post and tweet updates so keep an eye out on his Twitter and on AICN. Some things do change each year (like start times) and new procedures may be introduced so definitely check those sites as the event approaches.
But for now, here are some FAQ we put together:
So where do I go?
BNAT is back at the new-and-improved Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.
How do I know where I’m sitting?
There are assigned seats. Your seat number will be on your badge when you check in Saturday morning. You may be in the front row, but you will love it!
When do we know what films we will see?
It’s a surprise! The films are introduced one-by-one. Sometimes you won’t know until you see the title on screen. Every year Harry will post a fake list based on his line-up, but it will still be difficult to guess. For example the first film for BNAT12 was the Coen Bros. True Grit and on the fake list Harry put Superman: The Movie, so good luck trying to get inside that head of his. It’s his birthday, he’s going to play what he wants, just sit back an enjoy!
What Should I Bring?
- A pillow. It’s called Butt-Numb-a-Thon for a reason, people! Since BNAT is now at one of the newer Drafhouse locations the seats are pretty comfy (stadium seating, high backs), but having something to sit on or support your back or neck is a good idea. If you’re in the front row your neck will thank you. Or maybe you want to be uncomfortable to stay awake, up to you!
- Blanket (or Snuggie). It gets both cold and warm. You will want to dress in layers and a blanket is a quick fix for extra warmth. For something less bulky, just a scarf and/or toque/hat works, too.
- Don’t think you will be sleeping, however! This is where caffeine comes in. You can bring Penguin mints or caffeinated gum (you will want some kind of gum). Also, the Drafthouse has a bottomless cup of coffee/Coke to keep you going, it’s around $11 for the full 24hrs. They also have Red Bull (regular and sugar-free). You shouldn’t bring in outside food or drink but if you don’t do caffeine, vitamin supplements are good like Emergen-C or Redoxin.
- Spare socks. So nice at the half-way point. You will have your new BNAT shirt to change into as well. Some people bring slippers, but comfy shoes are also a must.
- Extra Cigarettes. If you’re a smoker, you’ll want them. Running out at 4AM will kill you. There are usually 10-15 minute breaks every few hours, but not necessarily after every film. One year there were no breaks just to be able to fit all of the films in so you had to run and pee during the credits.
- Essential toiletries. No one will look down on you for staying clean and fresh. You won’t be alone. A toothbrush is recommended (gum just doesn’t cut it) as well as deodorant. However, please avoid heavy perfumes/colognes so people sensitive to fragrance won’t have to leave this amazing event (yes, even the Sex Panther from the swag bag, save it for a hot date, or not). Wet-Ones are good for a quick face wash or to get rid of that not-so-fresh feeling. This may be obvious, but don’t forget to bring any medications you normally take, plus OTC meds you might need, just in case. It’s nice to have some pain killers handy if you end up with a headache at 3am. If you have to take medications at a certain time, bring a watch to set a timer for that. And ladies, you know what else you might need… (Don’t worry, you may not be the only woman with a breast pump in the washroom between films.)
- If you have contacts, then bring your contacts kit, and glasses for back-up. Lens cleaner or a good cloth to clean the smudges is a good idea, too. You don’t want these great films to be blurry! Also, there might be a 3-D film, so consider contacts for that rather than putting those 3-D lenses over your glasses. Sunglasses will help the morning glare, so at least keep those in your car. After being in 24hrs of darkness the cones in your eyes will be freaking out.
- You will receive a yearbook with everyone’s photo. Don’t put that in the car, bring it in! You can have people sign it or just write the list of the films and shorts you are seeing and other memories. So bring a pen.
- If you are coming from out of town, be sure to leave room in your luggage. You will be getting a T-shirt and poster, and sometimes there are other goodies that you will want to be able to bring back with you. Past years loot has been an Atari Flashback, HD-DVD player, and probably 10 hardcover books, plus DVDs, T-shirts, toys, etc.
- Earplugs! The Drafthouse has a superb sound system. Again, don’t plan on sleeping, but your ears will thank you. I know I wish I’d had them at BNATX during the 80’s soundtrack over Metropolis and the 3 hours of gunshots during Che.
- A toolbox?! As Leigh mentioned in the comments, “If you’re among the 5ft crowd like I am, you may want to consider bringing something for your feet. Last year I used a plastic toolbox which acted as my backpack/ottoman. My feet can’t reach the floor while sitting all the way back in the seat, so it really helps with knee strain.”
What CAN’T I Bring?
Do not use any electronics – no cameras, video recorders, cell phones, iPads, etc. There are usually a few premieres and some come with their own security detail. Don’t slow down the searches by trying to sneak that stuff in (and even if you do get it in you will be slapped upside the head by the people around you that see you using it). Also, if Harry sees a tweet from inside BNAT, you could be banned from BNAT and the Drafthouse. Don’t go to your car between movies and be the first to spill the beans. Even if you just simply start following the director or make a cryptic tweet, others can figure it out (it’s happened before). Listen to the warnings that Harry gives about films we can and can’t talk about. This is serious. When a tweet was sent about a BNAT13 film that was supposed to be secret, it meant the studio didn’t offer another premiere for BNAT14. Over 1000 people apply every year so you are very lucky to be there. Some of the films we get to see are before their “official” premieres, and are being screened essentially as a private event. Do not spoil the fun, you will get called out for it. Besides, you should be 100% immersed in the BNAT experience, not texting/tweeting/facebooking people all night.
Also, no outside food or drink. The Alamo has an awesome menu, don’t worry.
There seems to be a lot to bring, how much room do we have?
You can bring in a bag, however, limit it to a regular sized backpack. There is room to store it under your seat but I still recommend bringing as little as possible (your pillow, blanket, hoodie you will be using so those don’t really need to fit in your bag). You will also want something that is easily searchable. If you don’t have anywhere local or a hotel or car to keep the essentials in, you are going to need to make friends. There are people that do drive and store excess in their TRUNK.
Since the amount of swag has gotten larger every year you don’t want to have 3 bags under your seat, and the staff needs to be able to walk around to bring you your food so you can’t have it in the aisle or anything. That said, don’t count on being able to go out to your car to get anything or check messages. The breaks are short and technically there are no in/out privileges besides to the patio for fresh air.
How Do I Stay Awake?
If you’re happy with endless caffeine, then you can skip this bit. But here’s a little extra nutrition and exercise advice. The Drafthouse has great food, but don’t go overboard and get a big meal. A bunch of food in your tummy will make you sleepy (or you may miss an awesome scene in a film having to spend extra time in the bathroom, maybe TMI but someone has to remind you about these things!). Go kind of light for dinner – have a salad or maybe split something with your neighbour. You will be far less drowsy in the long run. Also, just because you got the bottomless Coke doesn’t mean you need to drink it non-stop. Go easy on the soft drinks and sugars/simple carbs. And if you prefer coffee, drink it with food. Unless you have a strong stomach you will be aching by 2am. Antacid may be a good thing to pack, or the Drafthouse has peppermint tea. Another tip, if you normally drink a lot of caffeine try to abstain for the week prior to BNAT (at least the week). That first bit at BNAT will hit you hard then. (There also may or may not be someone with an electric tennis racket or similar toy to wake up anyone who is caught sleeping)
BNATer Lola offers 6 quick tips for eating right to stay awake.
Another tip: stay loose. Even though you aren’t doing anything, just sitting in a seat and staring at a screen will give you serious aches when this is all over. Take advantage of ALL of the breaks by standing up, walking around, and stretching out. Gotta keep the blood flowing and the stress at bay. If you’re prone to neck, back, and/or shoulder strain, bring some of those self-heating pads, like Thermacare. Not only will it keep you warm in the Alamo, but also help soothe away any discomfort.
It’s definitely possible to stay awake the whole time. Something that helps me is I don’t check the time. Don’t think about how long you’ve been awake and your body won’t react as much.
What Is There to Eat During BNAT?
I recommend eating breakfast before arriving at the Drafthouse since you will need to arrive about 10:30am to pick up your loot bag and get things sorted. But if you never eat breakfast anyway (shame on you) you can just wait until noon and order as soon as you are in your seat. The Drafthouse does serve breakfast food early in the day on weekends, so you will have both breakfast and lunch items from which to choose. Throughout the event you may want to watch a bit of the film before ordering, if it’s a gory horror flick (or anal surgery) you may lose your appetite!
The Alamo Drafthouse Menu for the South Lamar location is here.
The kitchen offers a large variety of items, including many gluten-free and vegan options. Prices are listed on the menu so you can budget before you go, you could probably estimate spending $60 per person. In the past we’ve had to leave quickly around 9am to move to the IMAX theatre. I suggest ordering some food by 8am so that you will be able to make it through the last couple films if that happens again.
**Don’t forget to TIP your waitstaff! Those guys actively try not to step on your toes while holding plates of spaghetti and buckets of beer. Cheers to them! You will go through 3 or 4 different servers and just run a tab for each. You can pay by credit card or cash. Detailed ordering instructions are listed on the top of the menu, and your server will give you the run down when you first order.
For recommendations on what to eat before/after BNAT, see the restaurant list a little further down.
I Can’t Wait! Is it Like an MST3K Episode?
NO. We are all film geeks and BNAT is about the love of film. Please show that screen your respect. And you aren’t as funny as you think you are anyway, as Tim League will warn you at the beginning. However, there is a group dynamic in the theatre, it’s the best audience to watch a film with. You will laugh, cry, probably groan at some points. It’s okay not to like a film, just don’t yell jokes at the screen.
While we’re on the subject of etiquette…
Harry has a lot of cool friends. Many of them work in the film industry. You might have seen them on TV or in films or maybe they were behind the camera. At BNAT, they are just film geeks like you and me, and they are just there to have a good time. Many come back year after year because they enjoy the experience of being part of the crowd, not singled out. The general rule of approach is to be considerate and keep it casual, don’t go all fanboy on them.
Another general rule is to not hang out in the lobby during a film. Harry carefully chooses each film for a reason. As another reminder, you got into BNAT and many other people didn’t. The “bad” ones are just as much a part of the experience as the good ones (and are often the most talked-about ones so don’t miss out!).
How do I Connect With Others Attending?
The first BNAT was in 1999, when all we really had was the AICN talkbacks. Then some BNATers created a MySpace group and a Livejournal Community. Now the Facebook group is the most active. Harry may create a Twitter list for those that provided IDs on the application. And you can definitely find other BNATers on Twitter searching the #BNAT16 tag. Introduce yourself! There has been a gift exchange and mix CD exchange in past years (check out the FB group for info). I usually make a mix CD of my favourite Canadian music, bring me one to trade! Even if you applied with a friend, BNAT really is a social event. This is the best group of fairly like-minded film geeks you will encounter. Go to the party on Friday night and mingle. However, don’t go too crazy on the alcohol or stay until last call. You will be sorry you didn’t get every minute of sleep you could before enduring 24hrs of BNAT. Once you arrive at BNAT, introduce yourself to your neighbour. You will be sitting with them the entire time and sharing some great moments. (Harry also might have put you next to each other for a reason, talk about your application answers!)
For more info, fellow BNATer Stunt Rocker (named after BNAT’s favourite trailer) put together this brief summary of events.
How Much Does it Cost?
The ticket price for BNAT depends on the costs of the prints and other variables, it’s different each year (for BNAT16 it was $125USD). It’s for a good cause, it funds a year’s worth of free films for the Saturday Morning Film Club. In return you get a T-shirt, yearbook, lots of swag, and most importantly an incredible experience. In the week before BNAT you will receive info on how to pay, last year we paid at the box office with cash, credit card, or Drafthouse gift cards. For food, look at the menu above and budget for your meals. I usually get an appetizer, dinner, dessert, and breakfast and the bottomless Coke and I think I’ve managed to do that for about $60. Outside of BNAT I find the Austin restaurant prices quite reasonable.
For those from outside Austin, most people will tell you to book a hotel Friday-Monday. Some hotels may require that you book the Saturday night, but if you can afford it, it’s worth having a place to leave most of your things and where you know you can come right back to and sleep on Sunday afternoon. There are youth hostels as well if you are on your own. If there are two or more of you, book a hotel. You can find something for under $100 incl tax/night for sure. Try Hotwire for great hotel deals (choose the “Downtown Austin and Town Lake” neighborhood). I used to be a travel agent and use this website myself. You won’t know the name of the hotel until you pay, but they are all really nice and you can see the star-rating in advance. Or Airbnb is a thing now.
Where Should I Stay?
If you want to be able to pick your exact location, and stay at a hotel where other BNATers will likely be, here are some recommendations:
- The Austin Motel (charming decor, great location-on the South Congress shopping strip and across from Amy’s Ice Cream! Could take a bus a few minutes down Congress to get near The Ritz)
- Extended Stay Downtown (great downtown location, walking distance to Ritz, fair price and the rooms have a kitchenette)
- Omni Southpark (Just off 35, nice rooms, about $100USD per night, with indoor/outdoor pool! You’ll want a rental car or bring cash for taxis)
- Super 8 Airport South (This is by the airport so you will definitely need a car. But the family that runs it is super nice, they have extra’s like not only a free breakfast with waffles but also an evening dessert bar.)
- The Radisson (If you can afford $150-$250 per night, it’s a great downtown location on the river, walking distance to The Ritz)
- Heart of Texas Motel (Family run, good price, probably want a rental car)
When Should I Plan to Arrive and Leave Austin?
There is a Friday night meet-and-greet, a great time to meet other BNATers. It is at a different location each year but usually starts in the evening about 8pm. When BNAT ends at about noon on Sunday some people choose to head to the airport, others will go back to the hotel for a nap (make sure you get early check-in or book Saturday night). Then there are a few groups that go out to dinner and hang out all night discussing the films we just saw and our favourite moments. I highly recommend you arrive at least Friday morning or afternoon and stay until Monday for the full BNAT experience. Plus, you’ll be grateful for a bit of sleep before flying home the next day. If you need to leave Sunday book a late flight. Even though it’s supposed to finish at noon there are sometimes other things at the end and it could be 1pm or 2pm before it’s officially over. The last films for BNAT12 and 13 were at the IMAX theatre so we took a field trip, and it was around 2pm when the bus brings you back to the Drafthouse. Harry then opens his birthday presents, so the fun could go on until 4pm.
How Can I Get Around Austin?
It’s worth renting a car if you plan to do some exploring. The Friday night party is usually at Pinballz which is North of downtown and far from the BNAT venue. The Sunday night gathering is usually on the North side as well.
You’ll meet some great people at this event, so you’ll likely be able to carpool if money’s really tight. Another reason to get on Facebook and Twitter and start introducing yourself!
That said, Austin does have one of the most accessible and affordable transit systems, for the downtown area anyway. The bus website is located at http://www.capmetro.org/ and has schedules, info, etc. It also has a trip planner where you can plug in where you’re at, where you’re going, and what time you’re leaving or when you’ll need to be there and it’ll spit a schedule back at you.
It’s also very simple, as there’s no transfers and the Day Pass is only $2.50 payable at the bus itself (a good deal since a single ride is $1.25). Put in your money (in coins, no pennies, or a dollar bill as no change is available unless a kind soul on the bus is willing to break your five for you), it spits out a little card with a magnetic stripe that’s good for the next 24 hours to the minute. The buses are usually on time within 5 minutes or so, and you can get to most of the city using them.
Cabs are a bit pricey, depending what you’re used to, but it wouldn’t be too bad if you split it with others. It’s $2.50 for the first 1/6 of a mile, $.40 for each 1/6 thereafter with an additional charge for wait times (such as red lights, being stuck in traffic, or having them wait while you run into the store real fast). If you need to take a cab, you should call them (Austin Yellow Cab: 512 452 9999). Response times are usually between 10 and 30 minutes depending where you are in the city once you call, but don’t expect to flag down a cab at random unless you’re downtown or on the drag.
The city is also fairly bike-friendly and there are a lot of trails.
Is Austin warm in December?
I’ve lived near the Great Lakes my entire life so I’m accustomed to the cold, but the past few years I’ve worn my Toronto winter gear which is a wool peacoat and toque. Then again, about 4 years ago I remember wearing a tank-top during the day. Again, layers are key. An average weather forecast would be a low of 5C/41F and high of 20C/70F. So it can be warm during the day but cold at night.
I’m Coming in Early/Staying Longer. What is There to do in Austin?
LOTS! Unfortunately December isn’t roller derby season but there are many other things to do and see.
When you’re here, grab our free alternative weekly newspaper The Austin Chronicle. It has a list of events going on (including all two or three hundred concerts for the week…not exaggerating either), restaurant guides, screening listings, etc.
There’s also a lot of free touristy stuff to do. The bats under the South Congress bridge have already migrated down to Mexico, but there’s always touring the State Capital, the UT Tower, the Greenbelts, the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, or the HOPE Outdoor Gallery.
Last call in Austin is at 2 AM, and no smoking in bars and restaurants.
A popular strip for music/food is 6th Street, however it’s also crowded with tourists. But if you’re in the area, The Ritz movie theatre is at 320 E 6th St.
Check out the East Side King trailers owned by Top Chef winner Paul Qui. There are also convenient trailer eateries right across the street from the Alamo Drafthouse on S. Lamar. However, the killer (literally) doughnut vendor called Gourdough’s has moved a bit further down the street and opened a full restaurant – now you can enjoy a “flying pig” with a beer or cocktail!
South First Trailer Park & Eatery originated the trailer craze. It’s home to the original Torchy’s Tacos, the BEST tacos in town. Not cheap, but one will fill you up and leave you wanting more. They have a number of other locations, as well. Also on South Congress, Homeslice Pizza serves up the BEST pizza in town and has the best service, too. Wash down that pizza with a local brew, Fireman’s #4. Delicious! If you want to get a little off the beaten path (you’ll need a car or to cab it), head to Hoovers on Manor Rd, just east of UT. Down-home cooking that’s part southern, part soul, and all coma-inducing. Probably best to hit up if you want to sleep well Friday or Sunday night.
Just a few great restaurants around town are: Threadgills, Amy’s Ice Cream, Guero’s (made famous by QT in Grindhouse), Magnolia, Trudy’s or Chuy’s for real TexMex and Curra’s for real Mexican food (and yes, there’s a difference). For meat-lovers, BNATer Anglea also recommends: Frank, Bacon, Way South Philly, Noble Pig, and for burgers Hopdoddy is a necessary experience.
For BBQ, Franklin Barbecue is one of the most popular spots in town (and highly recommended) (Ed. Note by Jason: The lineups are crazy, and the food runs out by 1pm. Get there early Friday morning [between 9 an 10am] if you can to avoid too much of a wait. Last year we ran into fellow BNATers making the same journey, and we all agreed this is some of the finest BBQ in the world. I’ve spent the last 12 months drooling at the thought of returning to this mecca of smoked meats, it’s a must visit if you’re a fan of eating animals. Make sure you try the turkey – I wasn’t going to bother, yet it was so damn good, it felt like we had discovered a new species, a magical, smokey species landed from another planet just to make my belly feel sated).
@johnmaddening swears by the Green Mesquite (and I had the best Catfish of my life there last year). Stubbs is okay, too. And if you want fantastic BBQ and to experience the Hill Country, take a drive out to the Salt Lick. Get the family style, all-you-can-eat plate because you’ll want to try it all. It is a bit out of town, so if you can’t make the jaunt they do also have an airport location. Yes, even the Airport food in Austin is sublime.
(Ed. Note by Jason: Tim League (@timalamo) spoke very highly of J Mueler BBQ – apparently, this is the guy that taught Franklin’s their tricks. The fact that their truck is located right near another Gourdough’s location is a very, very dangerous thing for me) BNATer Angela also notes they have great beef ribs, which is something Franklin BBQ lacks.
As a vegetarian my absolute favourite place for breakfast or lunch/dinner is Kerbey Lane. They have vegan items and gingerbread pancake mix I bring home every year, and also normal menu items for meat-eaters. Then Mr. Natural is a 100% vegetarian restaurant and Counter Culture has amazing vegan comfort food.
More great restaurants are listed on the Fantastic Fest website.
Where Are the Great Shopping Areas and Stores?
For the best in comics – generally considered one of the better comic shops in the states – check out AUSTIN BOOKS. They have a HUGE selection of back-issues and is located on North Lamar. Over on Burnet Rd is another comic shop called Dragon’s Lair that doesn’t have as many toys and no back issues, but has a ton of games and RPGs.
Waterloo Records is one of the more famous record stores in the word, no surprise given the SXSW festival that descends on this city every year. They have a huge selection of local music, with loads of other releases on CD and Vinyl, and a really knowledgeable staff as well that can point out some obscure stuff you might not know about. They also have a tonne of movies, many of them delightfully obscure or rare imports, and are well worth checking out.
There’s an amazing second hand video game store in Austin called Game Over Videogames and is near North Lamar and US 183.
One local recommends a trip to Toy Joy at 29th and Guadelupe, which is easy to get to by bus if you’re staying downtown.
South Congress is a good strip for shopping, including some cool vintage stores (and restaurants). Start at about the 1100 block and you can go door to door for hours. But the more hidden, cooler places (like Secret Oktober) are on South First about half a mile west.
That’s all I’ve got! If something wasn’t answered, just ask! Send out a tweet or join the Facebook group! See you in December!
(EDIT: last updated for 2016, sorry in advance if any of this information goes out of date and stores/restaurants have closed/moved.)