When video enthusiasts and filmmakers are planning travel for the year, a few big events spring to mind. NAB in Vegas and IBC in Amsterdam are no-brainers. For the creative minded, Sundance, Cannes, and the Toronto Film Festival are obvious choices as well. What about SXSW? Most people seem to associate SXSW with music and technology, but for 20 years it’s also been a prominent film festival. In fact, film is now a larger segment of the show than music.
Walking downtown Austin, however, you’d hardly know it. Perhaps it’s because the music is so loud, or because music fans can be much more rowdy, tossing down libations while rocking out to their favorite indie bands. Film fans meanwhile, are watching movies in dark, quiet seclusion. Film badge registration has reached upwards of 20,000 attendees, however, so clearly there’s major appeal. If you’ve ever thought about attending but didn’t know what to expect, here’s the breakdown.
SXSW for Movie Fans
SXSW is certainly a place to go and have fun. The place is swarming with filmmakers, and there are way too many film screenings to count. Herein lies the problem. There are so many films screening, that fans have no chance of even coming close to seeing them all. We’re talking about feature length films, so attending a single screening will eat into a minimum of an hour and a half of your day. After considering the queue and post-film Q&A with the director, you can plan on spending two to three hours or more at every screening.
Movie buffs will be in heaven. It’s not often you’ll get to watch five or six theatrical films in a row, all accompanied by director Q&A, then go see several live bands and enjoy free food and drink courtesy of a major corporate sponsor. SXSW can be a very fun experience if you’re only there for pleasure.
SXSW for Filmmakers and Up-and-Comers
Even though we all love movies, this is what the most of us are all interested in, right? You want to make movies and you want to know if you should go to SXSW. First, I’ll say that if you’re considering going to SXSW as a career move, you’ll still have lots of fun. All the benefits enjoyed by fans are available to you as well. That said, there are a few specific opportunities you shouldn’t pass up.
Network and Learn From the Pros
SXSW has several events you should take part in. The most obvious for budding filmmakers are the meetups. There are several planned get-togethers for people looking to meet and converse with others with similar interests. They essentially come in two forms: mentor sessions and traditional meetups. A traditional meetup is not much more than a group of people getting together to network. These can be great if you’re interested in the topics they’re meeting on. However, they tend to be pretty specific. If you just want to meet filmmakers in general, you can get away with just talking to anyone with a film badge.
A mentor session on the other hand, is when a small group of working pros take appointments to chat. As an example, this year they had a mentor session featuring documentary filmmakers. As a film attendee you can sign up to talk with one of seven working documentarians one-on-one. Even considering the high price of admission to SXSW, attending these mentor sessions may make your entire trip worth the cost.
The second type of session offered is a panel of experts talking on a specific subject. For an hour, these professionals discuss a specific topic and answer questions from the audience. Topics include anything from film financing, to marketing, to audio post-production. Not only are these sessions great for gaining professional insight, but they’re also good opportunities to chat with others in attendance and swap contact info.
If you’ve got work you feel confident in, don’t be afraid to submit it to the festival. SXSW doesn’t only accept feature films, they also do screenings for shorts and music videos. And don’t think that just because your project didn’t come out of Hollywood that you don’t stand a chance. Long time Videomaker reader and director, Taylor Engel’s music video Stroker’s Row earned an official selection of SXSW 2013.
“The budget for my music video Stroker's Row was only $200,” said Engel. “The goal though is to always add as much production value as possible - we want to make a $70,000 video for $50 whenever possible.”
Engel said he and his crew used all pre-owned and borrowed gear, including a Canon 5D and 7D, and spent the majority of their $200 budget on renting small, on camera LED lights, which they put on stands. His entire cast and crew was made up of people he met in college who donated their time.
“We shot the whole thing in two days.”
Two days on set and now Taylor Engel and his crew can put “Official SXSW Selection” on their demo reels.
So Should You Go?
It’s not a cheap trip. SXSW is in Austin, Texas, so most will have to fly in. Combine that with inflated hotel prices and a badge that’ll set you back a few Benjamins, and you’re facing a tough decision. If you’re willing to work hard, however, and take advantage of everything available to you, you can consider the trip an investment in your career.
As for Taylor Engel and Stroker’s Row, check out the music here to see what kind of chops it takes to get accepted into SXSW.