SXSW Interactive — DAY 1

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Panel Recap — Top Chef: How Transmedia is Changing TV

Bravo defines “Transmedia” as storytelling across different media platforms. Lisa Hsia, Bravo’s digital media department, said the channel employed transmedia “out of desperation” to keep their content, both on the computer screen and television screen, fresh.

Dave Serwatka, Bravo’s Vice President of Current and Cross Platform Productions, chose one of Bravo’s flagship shows, Top Chef, because he believed it was an ideal choice for Bravo’s transmedia initiative. Top Chef employed the mediums of internet webisodes (with their online show Last Chance Kitchen), responses through Twitter with assigned hashtags that were broadcasted on air, and traditional television.

Bravo’s webisode for Top Chef, called Last Chance Kitchen, allowed eliminated chefs from the show to compete for a chance to come back and compete. The chefs compete for fan approval via online voting.

Top Chef’s head judge Tom Colicchio also ensured that the shows judges have no off-camera interactions with the competing chefs. He said he loves finding out about the behind-closed-doors “Mean Girls” drama along with the fans through social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook as well as comment responses of the Top Chef website.

“If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead,” said Lisa Hsia of Bravo’s digital media department about the content on Bravo’s website. “Top Chef’s internet content from Last Chance Kitchen to social media interactions and gaming took a show that’s broadcasted one day a week to a seven-day experience.”

Solo Session Recap — Catch Me If You Can 10 Years Later: Frank Abagnale

Author of Catch Me If You Can Frank Abagnale brought many members of the crowd to tears with his moving panel at SXSW Interactive in the Austin Convention Center on Saturday afternoon. The room was packed with at least 250 people so eager to see him they gladly plopped down on the floor to hear the tales they’d seen in the movie Catch Me If You Can (based on Abagnale's book) from the man himself.

During the panel, Abagnale scooped his audience with some insider information that wasn’t in the movie or Broadway adaptation, expressed his deepest regrets and his life’s biggest treasures. Today more than 14,000 government agencies, financial institutions, and corporations use Abagnale’s fraud prevention programs.

After a county court judge ambushed him with a decision to choose which parent he would live with after their divorce, Abagnale didn’t just run away from the court room, he ran away from home. At 16, he realized he couldn’t support himself with jobs like delivery services and paper boys that were typical for boys his age in New York City.

“In the 1960s, running away was a very popular thing to do,” said Abagnale. “In order to survive, to support myself, I knew I had to be older to get jobs that could pay me better.”

And so Abagnale’s infamously clever trickery and fraud began. From ages 16 to 21, Abagnale posed as a pilot, a lawyer, a doctor and a college professor. According to Abagnale, Pan Am airlines’ research department estimated that he flew over one million miles for free to over 26 countries, but never once did he step on board a Pan American aircraft...for fear of getting caught, of course.

At 18, Abagnale quit his career as a pilot because the FBI issued a John Doe warrant against him. Abagnale moved to Atlanta and took on the role of a pediatrician living in a swanky apartment building full of singles, none of whom had kids. In Atlanta, he became Dr. Frank Williams.

Eventually Abagnale was arrested in France where he served time in prison, and then was sent to serve time in Sweden, and then eventually came back to the US to serve more prison time. Abagnale was released from prison early on the condition that he work for the FBI. This year, he is celebrating his thirty-sixth year with the FBI.

“I know that I will always work for the FBI, to continue to give back because no matter how many years I work, it will never equal what I took from this country,” Abagnale admitted solemnly.

When an audience member asked Abagnale if he could go back in time and do it everything all over again, would he change anything, Abagnale said “yes” without the slightest hesitation.

“I live with the burden of what I did everyday,” He said. “People are so fascinated by my life but what they don’t realize is that it was a very lonely life, I was always alone on birthdays, Christmases, and when I was sick, there was no one to take care of me.”

“My friends were all 10 years older than me and thought I was someone completely different than who I was. They were not even peers,” Abagnale said.

Abagnale now lives with his wife in Charleston, SC. He has three sons. A single glance over the faces of the panel’s audience revealed how moving Abagnale’s description of what his family means to him was evidence that he’d unexpectedly pulled at the heartstrings of the crowd.

“My single greatest treasure in life is my family,” Abagnale said. “The love I have for my wife makes me want to be the best man I can be, and I want to make all of my sons as proud as they have made me.”

Abagnale said he still gets emails from people from age eight to 80 who call him a genius and refer to him as brilliant.” To these praises, Abagnale had a very surprising response.

“If I had really been a genius or brilliant, I wouldn’t have broken the law,” Abagnale said.

Facts about Catch Me If You Can:
• In the movie, Abagnale reunited with his father. In real life, Abagnale never once saw his father after he fled the courtroom where he was supposed to choose a parent to live with when he was 16.

• In the movie, Abagnale’s mother remarried. In real life, she did not.

• In the movie, Abagnale took 2 weeks to study for the bar exam in Louisiana (which he passed both on and off screen). However, in real life, he took a two-month long prep course to study.

• Abagnale was not allowed by the FBI to be a part of any part of the creation of both the film and Broadway adaptation of his life, nor did he make any money off of either.

• Abagnale is the only person to ever have a Broadway adaptation of his life during his lifetime.