UT alumnus chronicles Austin’s era of public access television with documentary


Thomas Boswell

UT alumnus John Moore’s documentary “When We Were Live” looks to chronicle the age before webshows, vlogs and Vines, when Austinites used public access television to show off characters from all walks of life.  

During the ’80s and ’90s — what Moore called the “golden age” of public access — Austinites hoping to be on TV or promote activism looked to community television stations as a medium for expression. By using old footage and focusing on key characters, Moore hopes to show Austin’s contribution to public access television.    

“We say it’s a film about Austin, but Austin is a microcosm,” Moore said. “By fanning this one town, we really see what the heart of this generation and this medium was.”

Before the digital age, Moore said it was much more difficult for people to express themselves to a large audience, but now everyone has a camera and the ability to upload videos to the Internet.

“We live in a film generation. Everybody is a filmmaker these days,” Moore said. “It’s really important to know where those roots began, and I also think [our footage] is hilarious.”

Moore aims to showcase Austin’s role in foreshadowing today’s viral video culture. He said Austin’s “weirdness” during the public access era is significant because people around the world used to be much more reserved.

“Today, people are encouraged to make weird videos, to broadcast themselves dumping ice on their heads — things like that,” Moore said. “I don’t think, in the ’80s and ’90s, people were as open to that. But there was something about Austin that encouraged people to be extreme and be themselves, which I think was really ahead of its time.”

Moore bases a majority of his film on archival footage supplemented by his interviews with former public access stars. He hopes to frame his story by focusing on characters that represented the Austin community at the time such as drag queen Carmen Banana and talk show host Livia Squires.

“I’m not trying to cram 42 years of Austin access history into two hours,” Moore said. “I listen to their stories and then hunt down the individual footage for what they are saying.”

To cover production costs, Moore and Theresa Claiborne, his marketing producer, launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $16,000 by Sunday. With fewer than 72 hours to go, the campaign has raised more than $13,000.

“We have choices — we could go the route of looking for corporate sponsorship,” Claiborne said. “But honestly, there is a balance we have to strike. We are trying to tell a story about independent and creative people, and the sponsors we are getting through Kickstarter share that value set.”

Moore said the most rewarding part of the project has been connecting with former public-access stars and helping them re-live their years on television. Regardless of the Kickstarter campaign’s outcome, they plan on completing the film and sharing these stories with a new generation.

“All the cogs are in place — everybody is ready to help me,” Moore said. “I plan on making this movie no matter what, but the universe is kinda aligned right now.”