SXSW Tips For Filmmakers (Travel)
(When To Arrive) (Lodging) (Eating) (Distributors)
If you are lucky enough to have a film in the
SXSW Film Festival, you are definitely going
to want to attend. Not only is the town of Austin
incredible, but the Festival experience can't
be beat. This is true for short filmmakers as
much as it is for feature filmmakers, as the
perks are the same for both. Here are some things
that we learned from our experience
the most of this Festival.
Travel - SXSW does not
pay for any travel or lodging expenses, so you
want to be smart about
the way you get there, and where you stay. You
will find out you are in the Festival with plenty
of time to get a cheap flight through Southwest
or one of the online booking places. If you decide
you're traveling this way, and your
and budget are flexible, go ahead and book your
trip for as long as possible. Internet tickets
aren't very flexible, and charge you a lot of
money to change them. I say this, because as
soon as you're in Austin, you're going to want
to stay as long as you can, and you will kick
yourself if you book a return flight for any
sooner than you absolutely have to leave.
If you decide to drive, like we did, you should
know that free parking was pretty difficult to
find in downtown Austin. There were garages,
and the average cost was about $5, but a car
quickly becomes a pain. Some hotels have free
parking, and if you're within 15 blocks of downtown,
it's best to leave the car at the hotel and just
walk everywhere. If you're at the Dobie, you
can drive to your screenings because there's
a free garage with validation.
When To Arrive -
The earlier the better, but probably no more
than a day before the Festival
officially starts. If you beat everyone to town,
you have more opportunities to put your posters
and postcards in prime locations, and you can
also start arranging some on the spot publicity
for your screenings by calling local radio stations
and newspapers and seeing if they have time to
do interviews. It seems like a lot of morning
shows are looking for filmmakers to talk to,
so be prepared to wake up early every day if
you want to take advantage of this. Some of the
shows will let you call in, that way you don't
have to be at the studio at 6 or 7AM. Get the
press list from the Festival and don't be afraid
to call people.
Lodging - We split our time between a hotel
for the first weekend, and a friend's house for
the rest of the week. We decided to pay for the
hotel during the first weekend, because we wanted
to be close to the action. It allowed us to get
into town earlier each day, and stay out later,
without bothering our hosts. I got a suite, and
we crammed between 6 and 8 people in, depending
on the night, which lowered the cost per-person.
If you don't have a friend in Austin that will
put you up, another great option is to post something
on Craig's List saying that you are a filmmaker
and you are looking for a place to stay. There
are a lot of nice people in Austin who are looking
to help out filmmakers and musicians, and might
offer you an extra bed in their home for a fraction
of the cost of a hotel. You might even find that
someone has already posted something on Craig's
List advertising that they have an extra bed
during the Festival.
Eating - Free food is abundant during the Festival,
and if you play your cards right, you might not
have to pay for food or drinks the entire week.
We didn't know soon enough, and ate at restaurants
the first few days, until we discovered that
if we got food from the Filmmaker Lounge in the
morning, and were able to hold off until about
8 or 9PM, we didn't have to spend any money.
It's probably not the healthiest way to live,
but there are bagels in the morning (get there
early, everything is usually gone by 11AM) and
there is finger food and sometimes more at night
(once again, get there right as parties are starting).
On some days there are even afternoon parties.
Once we had this method down, we were good to
go, and just dealt with rumbling tummies during
the afternoon when we skipped lunch.
You will get a packet when you check in that
will have all the times and locations of the
official parties. These parties will almost always
have good food and free drinks. Then there are
other unofficial parties that may have more food
and drinks, if you know where they are. Keep
your ears open and ask around.
It's important to note that when the film portion
of the Festival ends and the music portion starts,
the filmmaker lounge closes, and there are no
more official film parties with free food. You'll
either have to pony up and buy food at this
you can do what we did, and sneak into the Embassy
Suites, where they have free breakfast for people
staying in the hotel. They check for your room
card if you try and get eggs or pancakes from
the line, but if you are OK eating muffins and
bagels and fruit from the cold bar, you can usually
get in, sit down for breakfast, and take some
snacks for the road without anyone giving you
a hard time. Since we actually stayed at the
Embassy Suites for 5 nights, which cost over
$1,000, we felt OK taking some extra breakfast
while we were in town. Breakfast is only served
until 9AM, so you have to get up early. You should
be able to find music parties to attend in the
evenings, where you can score free food.
Distributors - It seemed like most of the distributors
attend the nightly parties, especially if they
are representing the film that the party is being
thrown for. If you want to talk to these people,
it's a good idea to know what they look like.
Browse through IndieWIRE's "On
The Scene" section
looking for iPop entries. You'll find a lot of
the indie distributors in these pictures.
It's important to note that almost all the distributors
leave town after the awards are announced, so
if you really want someone to see your film,
don't invite them to your final screening, because
they will probably be gone. Everyone is very
laid back and approachable at
so talk to them on the first
or second night and let them know when your film
is screening. If they are interested, they will
try and make it, or perhaps they will ask that
you send them a screener if they can't make it
to one of your screenings.
Press - There are plenty of opportunities to
get press at SXSW, especially with so many blogs
and online publications. Don't be afraid to send
out screeners and get in touch with people before
the Festival. Talk to other filmmakers and ask
them what they did that day, and see if they
know of radio shows or public access TV shows
that are looking for guests.
It's not a bad idea to spend a few afternoons
hanging around the Filmmaker Lounge, which is
conveniently located very near the Press Lounge.
Stay visible, and spend some time walking between
the two places, seeing who you can bump into.
Sometimes press will be conducting interviews
with other filmmakers in the Press Lounge, and
you can piggyback and do an interview after they
are finished. We got some good coverage just
from being in the right place at the right time,
the right place was almost always somewhere near
the Press Lounge.
The Filmmaker's Lounge has a few computers with
internet access, so you can keep up with email
and try and arrange coverage from there, but
keep in mind that there are a lot of filmmakers
all trying to use only 2 computers, so don't
think you can sit on there all day. Use it to
your advantage, but try to be considerate.
you are concerned about getting press coverage,
you shouldn't plan on seeing very many films
during the first half of the Festival while the
Filmmakers Lounge and Press Lounge are operating.
Spend that time to arrange interviews and talk
to other filmmakers. During the second half of
the Festival, when the music takes over, you
will have plenty of time to catch up and see
lots of movies, but during the first weekend
especially, you should hustle to get attention
while you still can.
Always have plenty of postcards
with you at all times, because you never know
when you might come across a good place to set
some down. Also, make sure to have some DVDs
of your film with you, because you might run
into a critic who doesn't have time to attend
one of your screenings, but still wants to see
your film. It's good to have some copies, just
in case you need them.