My very first trip to Texas was quite overwhelming and SXSW Film and Interactive has been such a great experience and this is why I am going again. I’m flying from London rather than Birmingham this time around and do watch this space for my 2010 SXSW experiences.
I’m most looking forward to seeing the Midlands crew rocking Austin and meeting up with the rest of the British contingency from London and Bristol over there. Of course, I’m also excited about meeting some very interesting people from around the world, since it feels like almost every country is represented at the festival.
This time, I’m staying longer to get a feel of SXSW Music, so expect margaritas and steak stories from time to time.
Having fought off the jet lag, it was time to pack my bags and return home. The Britbash party the night before meant that I didn’t get back to the hotel until 2am and still had to pack. I was quite worried I would miss the alarm and so I didn’t really get to sleep well, but thought that I have all the time to snooze during the flight back.
I did have all the time to sleep – our flight was so delayed we had missed our connecting flight to Birmingham. All in all it took 24 hours for us to get back and was just shattered. But was all the hassle worth it? Yes, indeed. The experiences I had in Austin were both educational and fun. Going to SXSW was a form of continuing professional development. It was great to meet so many people from different parts of the world and backgrounds. And of course, going to a new place is a great cultural experience. I would definitely miss the IHOP breakfasts, tacos, cheesy guacamole and rootbeer.
Most of all, it was nice to have spent some time with the West Midland contingent, because it was good bonding time. The connections made there, I feel, would just strengthen working relationships further.
I’m already looking forward to my next trip there and hopefully next year, I will be joined by the rest of the gang for some good ‘ol Texan fun!
Day 5 has come so quickly and today has been very busy, so what better way to start the day than to head over to IHOP for breakfast. Ruth (@ruthward) and I were joined by Helga (@helgahenry) before venturing off to the Austin Convention Center for my 10am talk – Quality: The Next Online Video Opportunity, which was with Hulu CTO Eric Feng. He talked about Hulu’s approach and how online video has now become a viable market – online video ads has grown 45 per cent in 2009, so there’s a marketplace for premium content.
I then went on to Building Strong Online Communities. Chaired by Ars Technica’s Editor in Chief, Ken Fisher, the panel consisted of:
- Alexis Ohanian, reddit.com
- Drew Curtis, fark.com
- Erin Kotecki Vest, BlogHer Inc
They discussed ways of maintaining a self-sustaining community as well as lessons learned from their own experiences. The main points I have learnt were:
- Communities are a circle and although you have to listen to them, you need to be a benevolent dictator to be able to implement certain rules
- There should be stringent community guidelines so members feel safe to comment without being harrassed in cyberspace
- Let members of the community know about the changes and get their input, so they feel part of the change.
Without much time for lunch, I just grabbed a giant salad box and water and ate at the Adobe Day Stage Cafe. After that, I went straight to Managing Your Expectations: Indie Film Realities. Speakers were:
- Chris Gore, Chair, Nerdlebrity
- Todd Sklaar, Range Life Entertainment
- Ry Russo-Young, Writer/Director
The main thing that I’ve learnt from this is that you need to put money aside for marketing your film. They couldn’t emphasise how important it is to hire a publicist especially if you’re trying to get the press to write your film a review. They’ve also recognised the importance of engaging the audience beyond the film and this is where a good social media strategy could help or having webisodes / outtakes / podcasts could help sustain interest for your film.
After a bit of a break, the next session was Surviving the Festival Circuit. This had an all-male panel, which consisted of filmmakers and festival programmers:
- Bryan Poyser, Chair, Austin Film Society
- Trevor Groth, Sr Programmer, Sundance/Cinevegas
- Christian Gaines, Dir of Festivals, IMDB.com
- Jeff Nichols, Shotgun Stories
- Alex Holdrige, Midnight Kiss Inc
- Joe Swanberg, Alexander the Last
The panel discussed the ups and downs of today’s film festival circuit. The main point is that don’t lose hope if you get rejected or don’t be too cocky if you get into one either. The most important thing is to persevere and believe in your own projects because there is so much rejection in film in general.
Programmers were advising filmmakers to research who’s who and what’s what before they get to festivals and must have a concise press pack with them. It’s important to know what you want to say about you or your film because you are likely to be interviewed, so that is another issue that needs to be addressed before attending the festival.
And then for my last panel of the conference, Rawking SXSW Year Round: Staying Inspired was about how to continue the buzz and make further links with people from the festival. It was such a fun session because they were chucking sweets at people and had a confetti bazooka, which was going off every 10 minutes or so. It was quite a creative way of getting feedback from attendees and it was a great end to the day. The panelists were:
- Kevin Smokler, Chair, BookTour.com
- Silona Bonewald, League of Technical Voters
- Corey Denis, reapandsow
- Kevin Lawver, Music Intelligence Solutions
- Clarence Smith Jr, Do You KNOW Clarence?
So, after this, I met Becky at the infamous meeting place – the Lego Pit and headed off to Iron Cactus for some food and margarita’s and we partied the night away to celebrate our last night in Austin.
Day 4 was a fairly long day, so I will divide it into several different posts and give some highlights for now.
This morning, Ruth, Becky and I felt more adventurous and went to Magnolia’s in South Congress, which was a nice diner. As usual, we had a ginormous breakfast, which we could hardly finish. Took a taxi back to the Austin Convention Center. Session 1 for me was Shift Happens: Moving from Words to Pictures. The panel consisted of:
- Sunni Brown, graphic designer, Brightspot
- Tom Crawford, CEO, Vizthink
- Dave Gray, Chairman, XPLANE
- Lee LeFever, Principal, Common Craft
- Dan Roam, President, Dan Roam International
This session was all about the importance of visualisation when conveying a message. It was helpful because at work (Aquila TV), we are all about visuals. It was a good set of talks from all the panellists and there were a lot of laughs. A great start to the day, so headed off to the next one: How to Protect Your Brand Without Being a Jerk. The panel consisted of:
- Twanna A Hines, Writer/Editor, Blogger
- Oren Bitan, Attorney, HIQI Media
- Elena Paul, Executive Director, VLA
- Danny O’Brien, eff.org
- Eric Steuer, Creative Director, Creative Commons
It was quite useful but the session really applied more to those who are here in the US. What is interesting though is that if you have your work online, there is definitely a fine line between being overprotective that you have a small reach or too laid back about it that your work is getting ripped off. It definitely made me think about refreshing my knowledge of copyright laws in the UK and Europe.
Had a bit of a gap in between before the Curiosity Marketing talk. Ruth and I thought we would go back to South Congress to have lunch. Ended up asking the cab driver where to go and he said that Threadgill’s was good, so upon his recommendation, we headed there for some chicken fried steak. We got outside and it almost looked like one of those scenes in films like The Hills Have Eyes / Wrong Turn. It looked like we were going to be the only people in there but as we got in, it was huge and had lots of families having a bit of a lunchtime treat.
We sat down and decided we’d share a steak. It was nice and it was yummy. We actually thought we were having chicken when the driver said chicken fried steak but it’s actually steak fried like fried chicken. Very unusual but nice. With lunch washed down with a glass of cold rootbeer, we visited a couple of shops and then headed back downtown.
Ruth and I went into this dinky room packed with people. We were there for a good few minutes (enough time to make Ruth’s leg to fall asleep) when I decided to ask the girl beside me the title of the session we are in. It was not the right one and so upon realising that, Ruth subtly tried to wake her sleeping leg up and we squeezed past people (including the speaker) to leave. It turned out that the talk we wanted to get to was full, so we quickly decided to go to another talk. We both agreed we’d go to Social Media Sustainability. It was about your carbon footprint in relation to your social media strategy. Not quite what we thought it was i.e. we understood it as something that was about maintaining the strategy.
At this point, the day was not going according to plan, so we made our way to the Mozilla Party, which had lots of food and drink. I was feeling rather unadventurous and went for water. It was a very hot day, so it was just nice to quench that thirst after walking under the Texan heat.
I’ve really looked forward to The BBC, Six To Start and ARG: Bringing TV to the Web session. It has a few people I know in the panel:
Claire (@minkette), Dan (@danhon) and Adrian (@adrianhon), who are all from Six To Start. The rest of the panellists were Roo Reynolds and Jo Twist, who are both from BBC Vision.
Dan made a good point about how TV online is done now and we just need to move on to the next one. He emphasised that although there is no solid means of monetising online projects, the potential is huge.
Off to the next session, which was a talk SXSW Year Round, which was run by Alex Jones from Refresh Austin. It was useful in a sense that it confirmed that what we are doing is right and also picked up an idea or two that I think are quite fresh. It was all about maintaining that SXSW buzz out of Austin and how to organise group meetings.
I was off to Roy’s to meet the rest of the WM posse and had really good sushi and BBQ wings. Got given a virgin margarita, which was nice but a bit on the sour side. The partying started at a rather packed The Shakespeare pub where most of the Brits congregated, then across to Maggie Mae’s and then the night was finished with a giant slice of pizza.
It’s the end of Day 1 of SXSW.
Got registered fairly quickly and so Becky and I went to IHOP for breakfast. I had pancake and scrambled eggs and Becs went for blueberry pancake. The portions were huge, so we were better off sharing as one meal could feed two people. We both headed back to the Austin Convention Center again and parted ways to do our chosen sessions. Session 1 for me was Getting the Most Out of SXSW Film.
I went because I wanted to get tips from SXSW Film veterans about how to tackle this bit of the festival. As a fresher, I wasn’t exactly sure what the ettiquette is, so I just wanted to make sure I was doing it the right way. The panel consisted of:
Agnes Varnum, Chair, Austin Film Society
Amy Dotson, Producer and Managing Director, IFP
Kevin Kelly, blogger
PJ Raval, Cinematographer
Michael Lerman, programmer for the Woodstock Film Festival
- Make sure you visit The Paramount and The Alamo even if you’re not watching any of the films being premiered
- Try not to go for the big screenings because the queues will just be so long
- Go to the SXSW Block Party
- Anything that is being organised by Voodoo Cowboy is cool
- Visit sxswfree.com for any free stuff you might want
- The mini meetings are great because it gives you the chance to get access to the film industry’s elite
- Check out the first time filmmaker films and ‘Midnight Madness’ horrors
- Take advantage of the free shuttle open to film badge holders
So, with these in mind, I waited for the next session, which was How to Rawk SXSW. This one is more of a general talk about the whole festival. The panelists had a really cool rock and roll intros and they consisted of:
- Glenda Bautista, Chair, Agendacide
- Ernie Hsiung, blogger
- Baratunde Thurston, comedian and web editor of The Onion
- John Styn, hugnation.com
- Zadi Diaz, Smashface
They were doing the session as the swigged on a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. They were even more informal than the first lot and seemed like a really fun bunch. They’ve been going to SXSW for years and their tips were:
- Deepen the conversation – don’t be so blatantly obvious about networking – be subtle and have more meaningful conversations, so you establish a relationship
- Visit the various SXSW sites – my.sxsw.com, sched.org, sxsw.ning.com, pepsicozeitgeist.com and upcoming.yahoo.com/tag/sxswi
- Make sure you try a breakfast burrito
- Get out of the convention centre and make connections when you’re out to breakfast, lunch or dinner and of course, the socials/parties
After this, the West Midlands contingent went to a Mexican restaurant on 6th Street. I had one of my favourites – tacos. We then went the Soho Lounge, which was a bit dark for me and then went to Coyote Ugly, which was quite cool, because I absolutely loved the film. Becky and I said goodbye to the rest of the squad and pedicabbed it to her hotel where I got a taxi back to mine.
This concludes Day 1 of SXSW.