SXSW South By Southwest 2012
Bericht von Micah Magee (HEIMKOMMEN)
When SXSW hits Austin, the whole city changes. The festival is often likened to a tidal wave – you can surf it and have a blast but if you look around and start thinking too much you’ll probably drown in a rowdy subculture undertow. Austin’s population ups by at least 60,000 people during those nine days, most of them drinking heavily and concentrated downtown. SXSW is the city’s highest annual revenue-producing event – bringing in about $170 million. The festival is structured like a business, which is something to get used to but not necessarily negative. You mix up interactive and film screenings and conferences with thousands of up and coming bands – I think 5000 events total? And the mix makes things happen. Birthplace of Twitter – etc etc. You’ll have dinner with Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater to welcome you to the city but your most special moment might be in a dirty bar listening to transcendental underground rock. It is a great mix of glamour and grit.
The film festival staff are wonderful hosts – especially head shorts programmer Claudette Godfrey. She does a lot to make sure her people don’t get lost and that they have fun if they do. Find her early and hang onto her.
Things to keep in mind when attending SXSW:
- Be flexible about your living situation.
You’ll get a very expensive hotel offer with your accreditation from the festival. You can take it but you can also rent a house for a little less or you’ll probably be able to find people to host you if you go on couchsurfing.com or just ask around for a while. That said, Austin is totally overcrowded and if you don’t want to pay anything you won’t have much say in your space. I stayed with a friend who was also hosting a huge rowdy gender bending New Orleans crew there to sissy bounce and do dirty hip hop things – fun but understandably distracting.
- Start your press early.
There is so much going on that you’ll be hard pressed to get much attention, but at the same time there are so many journalists that you are sure to get a little. The festival sends out press lists three to four weeks in advance of the festival. They say not to spam but I actually found spamming to be pretty effective and I couldn’t be bothered to look up the more than 400 journalists online to see which ones would actually watch my film. You can send journalists a password-protected VIMEO link before everything gets going – I’d say three weeks in advance - and let them know when you’ll be available for personal and telephone interviews. Some people get back to you. Of those people you’ll meet some of them during the festival and some of them later down the road.
If you want to have a US phone while you are at the festival, you can get a prepaid TracFone card like the drug dealers on the WIRE have from Walmart and put it in your German phone – usually costs $5. You can do this online for a little more in advance and have a U.S. number to give people ahead of time.
Ask the festival staff for a music wristband. I met the composer for my next film this way. The easy access to a huge number of up-and-coming musicians is one of the most valuable things the festival has to offer a filmmaker.
There are lots of free bikes available from festival sponsors during SXSW. Make sure you get one because no one can drive a car when there are so many people in town.
Barton Springs is a beautiful, quiet, natural spring that has been partially converted into a swimming pool. Entry is $3, it is 15 minutes on a bike from downtown and you feel completely revitalized afterwards.
- Eat migas tacos.
At the Tamale House if possible.
HEIMKOMMEN had three screenings at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas The Ritz and South Lamar, both wonderful venues. The audience was packed and the Q&As were good. The screening was in the short films competion, as a four-film special screening “MEDIUM COOL”. We screened with soon-to-be-in-Berlin DAAD recipient Trevor Anderson and the Academy Award-winning animation wunderkind Don Herzfeldt, whose work I’ve been following since 1999 – aka very good company. Meeting both of them was great. The Q&A was emotional and personal on the part of the audience, who talked a lot about their own experience dealing with death and loss after watching HEIMKOMMEN.
For a short film, we got a reasonable amount of press (see some samples below). I had hoped to find IFC or the Sundance Channel and ask if they’d want to buy the film from the dffb but that connection unfortunately never happened and we probably needed to have a prize from a major US festival before it would. Lots of online and app people wanted to buy the film but that didn’t seem like a good idea so early in our festival career (HEIMKOMMEN just started the festival tour late January). The first weekend of the festival is packed with panels and one-on-one sessions with industry execs. I thought the panels were great, especially “Casting on a Budget”. I didn’t know how to use the one-on-one pitching sessions well – this was my fault more than the format, because my next project isn’t industry and German language is difficult to distribute in the States, so I had nothing particular to pitch to them except the fact that our film was playing and we’d have a new film done soon.
New SXSW contacts were very helpful for our next project. I’d contacted a musician ahead of time to see if he’d have time to meet about scoring my first feature. I saw him perform three times at SXSW and we had time to find a schedule for working together in the coming months. An initial contact was also made with our first-choice actress for the lead role, leading to further discussions with her agent and manager. We met the head of the Kickstarter film page. She is reading our script and offered us feedback for our upcoming campaign.
All in all, SXSW was a great experience and I hope we’ll be able to screen our next film there when it’s done! Thanks very much to German Films for making this possible! The downside of a festival as a for-profit business is the “pay to play” mentality - SXSW doesn’t pay travel or accomodation and we never would have been able to get over there to represent without the help of AG Kurzfilm and German Films.
HEIMKOMMEN IN SXSW PRESS
"Micah Magee’s short film Heimkommen (Coming Home) is a haunting meditation on grief, guilt and healing. Stuck in almost an omnipresent gray haze, everything feels like the aftermath of the rainstorm that was instrumental in the film’s opening tragedy. The beauty of that idea, that the storm never really moved on, plays in sync with the emotions on screen, both expressed and repressed." -- Film Threat
"A poignant and touching look at sibling tensions in the wake of a tragic accident, Heimkommen (Come Home) tells a story that is simple yet deep." -- Austin Film Society
interview with Robert Sims / "Lights Camera Austin" (Austin KOOP Radio)
interview with Nathan Cone on Texas Public Radio