Monday, March 31, 2008

11 days left to submit for IFP's Narrative Rough Cut Labs

According to Amy Dotson at The Independent Feature Project:

The 2008 IFP Narrative Rough Cut Lab will be held June 10-13th in New York City. Lead by producers Scott Macaulay and Gretchen McGowen, the four-day program brings first-time, narrative independent feature filmmakers together with one-to-one mentors and experienced professionals who offer personal guidance, feedback and advice on technical, creative and post-production issues within the films.

We are currently the only FREE Lab program in the country that is helping independent filmmakers at this critical rough cut stage to achieve the full potential of their material prior to industry exposure and entering the festival circuit. Filmmakers participate in workshops on editing, sound design, and music composition, small group sessions with sales, marketing and festival strategists, as well as programs teaching skills such as DIY distribution, web-building, social networking and promotion.

Free? Well, almost. There is the small matter of a $30 submission fee and I'm guessing you have to get yourself to New York. And probably pay for lodging. I have an email into Amy, I'll let you know what she says.

Submit to IFP's Rough Cut Narrative Lab here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ann Arbor FF distribution panel - afterwards

Ann Arbor Film Festival

The panel went remarkably well, and I'll do a better writeup when it's not 3 in the morning. The room was packed, somewhere between 75-100 people in a standing-room only crowd, about a third of whom identified themselves as filmmakers.

If you're visiting the blog based on your attendance at the fest, the relevant links are listed below (in the entry just prior to this one) as promised. I'll have some links to the other panelists' work and some other resources in the next few days once I return to Austin.

Ann Arbor's a great town and the festival is amazing. I sleep now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ann Arbor Distribution Panel Links

I'm going to refer to some particular links during today's panel, so I thought I'd link to them here so when panel attendees want to read about them there's an easy way to find them. So here they are:

Don Hertzfeldt's Bitter Films

Dr Tran (Lone Sausage films)

1000 True Fans (Kevin Kelly)

Better Than Free (Kevin Kelly)


I'm sure there will be more links as I think of them but these are the ones I plan on referencing now. Soon I will also provide some context for those who won't be able to make the panel.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ann Arbor Film Festival Panel - with me!


If you're in the Ann Arbor area you can come see me speak on a panel tomorrow, "Multiplying Eyes: Film Distribution."

For all your filmmakers who want to get your work seen, this panel serves up several richly knowledgeable experts in the world of film distribution, festivals and exhibition: Bob Alexander of IndiePix, Christopher Holland of B-Side, Mitch Levine of The Film Festival Group, and Brooke Keesling whose short animation Boobie Girl toured the world at over 70 film festivals.

There are more opportunities available to filmmakers than ever before and thus many more hazards to navigate. Panelists will highlight some of the most effective strategies out there and likely embark on some lively debate. The one-and-only Debra Miller will serve as our congenial instigator/moderator!

Read more, hope to see you there.

Monday, March 24, 2008

These days, some indies just can't read all about it

The importance of good press to a film's distribution chances cannot be understated. While I try not to dwell too much on distribution issues on this blog, sometimes a matter of distribution cannot be ignored. This is just the latest in a string of articles about the decline of traditional film criticism and what it means for indies and for cinema in general.

An increasing number of films aren't getting reviewed in key U.S. outlets, damaging their slim chances at the boxoffice. If the trend continues, it could even make it more difficult for smaller indie films to secure a release.

Reviews from established media outlets are the only reason many low-budget films make it to theaters today, because they trigger word-of-mouth and DVD-ready quotes vital to the indies' true profit source: home video.


...perhaps Darwinian principles will win out, and the indie world will have to learn how to live without some of the print attention it's relied on in the past. "The only complaints we've gotten [on not running some reviews] are from publicists and distributors," says the Post's Lumenick. "Not a single one from readers."

Read These days, some indies just can't read all about it.

See also the Hartford Courant piece The Decline Of The Critic, in which Matt Eagan examines the rapid fade of the local newspaper critic.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Six essential things to do after a film festival

Rolodex. Old school.

South by Southwest 2008 is now over. In my mind's eye I can see the last stragglers shuffling their feet at the Austin airport today to board their departing flights and nurse the last vestiges of their carefully cultivated hangovers. As a filmmaker returning home in the afterglow of a festival, you should check the following items off your to-do list before "real" life reclaims your attention.

1. Organize and digitize those business cards. If you were following the series of filmmaker prep tips, you not only printed and gave away your own business cards, but you collected those of the people you met. Dig them out of your bag or wallet or wherever you stashed them and get that data out of the physical realm and into the digital. Whatever you use for storing contact data is fine, just make sure it's accessible and synced up with your email client when you need it. If you have some way of tagging or grouping the contacts by festival, you'll have a ready-to-go contact list that you can ping if you plan to go back next year. Better yet, ask everyone you met to sign up for your film's mailing list.

Once you've got your business cards digitized, save the physical cards in a way that is meaningful to you. I have a Rolodex (pictured above) and I file the cards by company or film name, handwriting notes on the cards if necessary. I just staple the business cards to the rolodex cards and I'm done. Rarely do I gaze into the Rolodex, but it's nice to know that if I ever lose my electronic version, I have the paper cards for a reference.

As an aside, there were a shocking number of people -- mostly filmmakers -- who arrived at SxSW without business cards. When I asked for one, most of them shrugged their shoulders and agreed that printing business cards was something they wished they'd done.

2. Go back over your notes and follow up on to-do items. Hopefully you took good notes and you have a list of tasks to do, whether it's sending screeners to distributors and journalists or simply following up on the previous work of a filmmaker whose feature you enjoyed. Complete these in the first week after you get back so they don't slip through the cracks.

3. Send follow-up and thank-you emails. Dedicate a block of time to just email every single person you met. Whether they're "it was good to meet you" emails, thank-you notes, or follow-ups on specific inquiries, touch base one more time with everyone. In particular you should follow up with journalists; offer to answer any further questions they might have as a polite way of reminding them that you're expecting some coverage.

4. Update your web site. One of the keys to encouraging repeat visits to your web site is to post new content, and a festival trip is a great excuse to update. Post pictures from your screenings and a quick blog entry or two about the festival, the people you met, and the films you saw. Giving good "press" to other films is a good way of encouraging links back. Once the updates are complete, send a message to your mailing list subscribers inviting them to come back and check out the new stuff.

5. Set up Google alerts for press and blog mentions of your film. Both Google and Yahoo offer email alerts that let you know when a phrase or word combination of your choosing appear in the press. I suggest starting with your film's title in quotes. If that results in too many unrelated results, use the director's name to narrow things down a bit. Consider setting up a specific alert with the name of the film festival included to make it easier to break down coverage by festival.

6. Plan for your next festival. If you're fortunate enough to have a dance card with more festivals on it already, review the roster of films and panels for the upcoming festival. If you spot anyone you know from a previous festival, get in touch. At the very least you can set up a time for a drink to compare notes; with some planning you can share resources to cross-promote your films or just get tips on the best ways to promote your own film locally at the upcoming festival. At times other filmmakers will know more about an upcoming festival than you do or even live in that town -- you might even be able to score some free lodging if you play your cards right.

By now it should be apparent that a run on the film festival circuit is not a series of discrete events but an ongoing process. One festival flows into another, building up your media portfolio and buzz (both personal and film-specific) to the point that you sell your film or embark on another project. Not that beginning a new project absolves you of promoting your past projects; your films are your children, and you owe it to them and to yourself to devote time to ensuring long, happy lives for each of them.

Friday, March 14, 2008

How to nail your post-screening Q&A

Zellner Brothers' Q&A during SxSW 2008.

Over the last week or so during SxSW 2008 I've seen a number of Q&A sessions with filmmakers. Some were good, some were not so good, but all of them were educational when it comes to the things that make for a positive Q&A experience. The Q&A is an important opportunity to sell yourself and your film, so follow these tips to get it right.

» Accept the fact that people are going to walk out before the Q&A. There's little you can do about this other than to make your ending credits as short as possible, but even so people will scoot out the door as soon as the film is over. Don't take it personally; there are many reasons for bolting out of a screening at the end, not least of which is to run a few blocks to make it to another screening. Just think: people are leaving other filmmakers' Q&As to make it in time for your screening too. Of course there are also people running off to the bathroom, which is less flattering. In any case, the people left are the ones who really liked your film and want to hear what you have to say. Those are the ones you wanted to stick around.

» Get everyone from your film up to the front. Particularly the cast (people enjoy seeing on-screen characters in the flesh), but don't leave crew members out either. The more people you can have with you up there the better, particularly since the audience will ask them questions too and take some of the heat off of you.

» Bring an expert. When showing her doc Election Day during the Atlanta Film Festival in 2007, director Katy Chevigny brought along the director of a local voting rights organization to answer tricky questions about the elections process. Not only can a local expert lend credibility to your Q&A, but they can also help you market your screenings by reaching out to the members of local organizations withan interest in your film's subject matter. This is as important for narrative films as it is for documentaries -- if your film involves any kind of special interest then you can get the local members of that special interest involved.

» Have some opening remarks ready, or get the theater manager to lob you the first question. Often the questions won't really get going until someone breaks the ice. If you're not good at riffing off a story at the beginning of the Q&A, get the person who introduces you to get things rolling with a prepared question. You'll want to arrange this ahead of time, of course.

» Let someone else pick the audience members. If you're having trouble making out members of the audience due to lighting or the size of the venue, get a festival volunteer to pick the raised hands out of the crowd for you. You have enough to think about, and the volunteer will have a better sense of when it's time to wrap up.

» Repeat the question before you answer. Even if you can hear the question, don't assume the audience can. This is particularly important in large venues or if the q&a is being recorded by the festival; you want there to be some context for your answer. It also gives you a few extra seconds to formulate your answer.

» Practice your answers to the most common questions. Over the course of your festival run you're going to hear these questions a zillion times, so have the answers down pat before you have to answer them.

  • Where did you get the idea for the film?
  • How much was your budget?
  • What did you shoot on?
  • How did you find the cast?
  • When and where did you shoot?
  • Who did the music/cinematography/makeup/costumes/whatever?

In addition, decide ahead of time the questions that you will and won't answer if there are topics that your cast or crew might find sensitive.

» Above all, try to relax and appear as if you're enjoying yourself. The audience will forgive nervousness, but you really don't have that much to be nervous about. You've just had a great screening and the people who hated your film left before the Q&A. Right?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Random Film Festival Tip: Volunteers Rock.

You know them -- they're the ones in the matching t-shirts herding the crowds into screening rooms, asking for your audience award ballots, blocking your way into that hot party.

They're also a great resource for promoting your film. As official reps of the film festival, volunteers get asked for film recommendations constantly. Make sure they know who you are and everything about your film. Make friends with them, give them promotional swag (buttons are always good), and just generally charm the socks off of them. Your attendance numbers will thank you.

More soon.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Random Film Festival Tip: Be Kind To Your Feet

SxSW 2008

I'm jotting down film festival tips as they occur to me during SxSW, so expect little entries like this one over the next few days.

If you're doing things right, you're going to a lot of parties and having a lot of conversations -- usually while standing up. Then there's the walking from venue to venue and back again. Not to mention the standing in line for movies. After of several days of this your feet will feel like they've been through a meat grinder. So be sure to:

» Wear comfy shoes. Ladies, a lightweight pair of shoes you can slip on between venues could be just the thing -- you can change back into your heels when you get there and tuck the walkers back in your bag.

» Take advantage of opportunities to sit down.

» Minimize wasted trips between venues. Arriving early is the best way to get into a popular screening, so you won't have to make alternate plans and do yet more walking.

» Support the local pedicab industry. These helpful folks will pedal you to your next stop and can offer the best advice about everything in downtown Austin without adding to your carbon footprint. Try Roadkill Pedicab at 512-563-2437 or Capital Pedicabs at 512-448-2227.

Coming soon: more tips, pictures from SxSW, and the 'Bama Girl case study.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

SxSW: last minute tips part 4 - when in Austin

In part one we covered some SxSW and film promotion basics.

Part two highlighted the importance of a web site for your film.

Part three discussed some general organizational and travel tips that will make your trip easier so you can think about promoting yourself and your movie.

In part three I mentioned that filmmakers who want to work in the industry for a living should think of a film festival as a career fair, and it is: your peers and potential employers are there, looking to connect with one another. The difference is that it all takes place in a much less organized environment, where screenings and parties and general chaos provide a reason for gathering but occasionally get in the way of conducting business. The challenge lies in connecting to the right people and having the right conversations in the midst of all this, and if you don't prepare then you're relying almost entirely on chance to make this happen. Not that great conversations don't happen by chance, but you don't want that to be your entire plan.

So while you're on the ground at SxSW (or any film festival), do the following:

» Set discrete, measurable, attainable goals. Of course you should think about what your overall goals are for your film and your career, but for the purposes of any one event you need to write down the bite-sized goals that you can accomplish while you're there. "Find a distributor" is not a bite-sized goal. "Talk to ten distributors and establish contact with an acquisition rep at each" is more reasonable.

Put these goals in the front of your notebook (you did buy a notebook, right?) and refer back to them each day so you can stay focused. Check each one off as you finish it for that warm, fuzzy feeling of accomplishment.

» Do groundwork before you arrive in Austin so you don't waste time just getting up to speed. That means reaching out to the press and setting up interviews beforehand as discussed in part 3. Check out the trade show floor map and write down a list of the companies with whom you want to talk. You don't have to have every minute of every day mapped out, but you don't want to spend time in Austin making phone calls or writing emails when you could be enjoying the festival or talking to journalists and other filmmakers.

pic» Take advantage of panels and screenings. In addition to South by Southwest's official site, there are a proliferation of tools designed to help you build a schedule of things to do. (Like this. Or this one. Or this one.) Keep a detailed calendar so you always have options if you're not actively promoting your film. During the first weekend you should stick close to the convention center to squeeze in as many interviews and marketing activities as possible, but when you're not doing those things the conference has more panels than you could possibly attend, each one stuffed with useful information. Even the occasional clunker will have some interesting people at the front of the room, so stick around afterwards and introduce yourself. With journalists and industry types alike, the phrase "I have a film in the festival this year" is the perfect icebreaker: it identifies you as someone with talent and of potential interest. Use it to your advantage.

The same goes for screenings; after the Q&A, approach the filmmakers and introduce yourself. Be sure to say something nice about the film and ask about their experiences at the festival so far. Chances are good that other filmmakers have met journalists who haven't found you yet, or have learned lessons about the festival experience that could benefit you. You want that knowledge. Be polite about this, and always present it as an exchange of information rather than an information dump. When you find someone who seems particularly well-informed, offer to buy the next round. The collected wisdom of the other filmmakers at SxSW is well worth the price of a few drinks.

» Talk to the press. When Kissing on the Mouth played SxSW in 2005, Joe Swanberg wrote a travelogue with a nice set of tips for filmmakers about the festival. You should read it in its entirety, but I like this passage:
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, but the right place was almost always somewhere near the Press Lounge.

picThe press have a job to do: present the most interesting news to their audience before their competitors do. In order to make sure you get good coverage, you need to make their job as easy as possible. That's where your web site comes in, and, if you're particularly prepared, an electronic press kit (EPK). An EPK is just a CD-ROM with the basic facts about your film (press releases, cast lists, one-sheet, etc) and some supporting media -- high-resolution stills, trailers in Quicktime format, etc. A good EPK should let a journalist get a good sense of your film in a few minutes just by popping it into her laptop. EPKs have an advantage over web sites in that they work when the laptop isn't connected to the internet, so if you still have time consider putting one together and burning a dozen or so copies to carry with you. (Put them in paper sleeves to save on weight and bulk.)

One last word on the press: do not be intimidated. They are there to cover the festival, and you're part of the festival. So if you present yourself politely and provide compelling reasons that your film should be part of their festival coverage, the average member of the press will give you serious consideration. That's not to say that the media doesn't house its share of schmucks, or that anyone owes you coverage, but you have a right to conduct business the same as anyone else. Have your screeners and your flyers ready, and go get 'em.

» Stay tuned to the festival news. Subscribe to the newsletters and the SMS updates and read some of the third-party coverage of the festival as a whole. You want to get a sense of where the action is and what events are likely to draw crowds. Most especially you want to be aware of last-minute schedule changes and additions -- things can change in the middle of a festival and you can't make intelligent choices about how to spend your time if you aren't in the know.

» Go to the parties. There are some of you out there who need to be told to do this. When it comes to film festivals, parties are where a lot of business relationships begin. You don't need to stay to the bitter end of every party, nor do you need to go everywhere you're invited, but get out and engage in the art of the schmooze. If your schmoozing skills are rusty, ask for advice from the schmooziest person you know. Be sure to pass out those flyers when the opportunity presents itself. Don't forget to ask for business cards from the interesting people you meet, and try to take it easy on the open bar.

» Visit the trade show floor. Wander the booths. Pick up some swag. SxSW has a trade show for the Interactive and Film conferences where you'll find a little bit of everything. Some companies will be instantly familiar, and others will be of little interest. Still others will be utterly incomprehensible. Get out there among them and soak up some knowledge, have a few conversations. You might just make some good connections, or at least pick up some free t-shirts.

pic» Take good notes. I mentioned this in passing back in part 3, but it bears repeating here. You don't need to scribble out every word you hear verbatim, but you should get in the habit of jotting down a note or two after each conversation you have. Make sure you take note of the person's name (even if you got their business card) and what the main points of the conversation were. Don't rely on your memory; it will fail you when you most need it. This is particularly important when it comes to encounters with the press -- a few weeks after the festival you'll want to go back over the contacts you made and see which of them actually wrote something about you. Someone who particularly enjoyed your film may be a good contact for other festivals or later works.

Notes are also important for remembering promises you made. If you owe someone a screener or a callback, you don't want to forget. Make a special symbol in your notes for to-do items -- a check box, an asterisk, whatever works for you -- so you'll recognize uncompleted tasks when scanning over your back notes.

» Keep in mind the overall goal of building your career and reputation, not just selling the film at hand. Too many filmmakers blunder onto the festival circuit with unrealistic hopes of a big paycheck and a distribution deal waiting for them right after their premieres. (I call it Weinstein Syndrome.) Watch the Q&As at the screenings you go to and you're bound to see it -- the cast and crew in attendance with eyes just a little too wide and smiles just a little too big. A serious examination of the state of independent film distribution today reveals that very few films get sold at film festivals, and independent pictures in general have a hard road ahead of them when seeking an audience. The good news is that film festivals are the front lines of indie film, and careers really do get built between panels and parties. Opportunity is there, but you have to know where to look and grab it when it shows its face.

» Have fun! I'm sure this all sounds like the least fun you could possibly have at a film festival, but try to balance your business activities with some play. There's no reason you can't do both at the same time. You just need to retain some awareness of you're doing and saying and what it might do for your future as a filmmaker.

My intention was to write an additional entry (on the art of the Q&A and other screening and promo tips) before SxSW begins, but given all the other activity going on I'm not sure I'll make it. I have a few other entries in the hopper for posting in the next day or so and I'll be covering films from different perspectives here and over at Slackerwood as the festival progresses. If you'd like some coverage for your film please feel free to send me some email at chris at filmfestivalsecrets dot com, or come by the B-Side Entertainment booth at the trade show and introduce yourself.

See you in the aisles at South by Southwest!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tom Quinn: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Festivals

Tom Quinn's feature The New Year Parade took the Grand Jury prize at Slamdance in January. His writeup of some of the more challenging aspects of the experience should be required reading for any filmmaker making the festival rounds. While not everyone makes a film good enough to take top honors at Slamdance, the positive attitude and level-headedness Quinn exhibits are an example that anyone can emulate.
I had several meetings, including a breakfast with a respected distributor. What I learned over the course of this half hour was how quickly you can begin to second guess yourself, even when a deal is obviously wrong for you. The executives were very nice and offered a standard deal: Full rights for seven years, no advance, 60/40 split on the back end. For this I would get 1 or 2 day theatrical in a major market, possibly NY, and all other outlets (DVD, broadcast, VOD) were contingent on performance and reviews. Upon pressing, I found that this distributor did not have set theaters in place, nor did they have set avenues for the other markets. The rationale was that a screening in NY could get me major reviews, maybe Variety, and that by signing a deal in Park City I would raise my exposure – all true.

While this is a standard deal, I feel things are changing where we don’t necessarily have to take the 'standard.' Because I did not spend beyond my means before Slamdance I am free to find the right deal for me. Fortunately, other distributors were already knocking. Even better, by the end of the week we had all three of the components of the deal: A ton of press due to the grand jury prize, a glowing Variety review, and a screening of the winning films at the IFC Center in NYC.

I like the fact that Quinn didn't immediately jump for the first offer extended, especially since it was (as he says) the standard draconian deal by which very, very few filmmakers ever get paid -- especially since the home video release is contingent upon a decent performance on one weekend's worth of box office receipts.

Read BTS - How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Festivals.

The New Year Parade plays at SxSW on March 9th, 12th, and 14th.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

SxSW: last minute tips part 3 - before you leave

In part one we covered some SxSW and film promotion basics.

Part two highlighted the importance of a web site for your film.

With less than a week left it's time to get moving on those last-minute steps you can take while you're still at home: making sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible and laying the groundwork for meetings and interviews before you set foot in Austin.

» Get organized about your travel and your appointments. Resources abound for putting your life on the road in order. Take advantage of them. The less you have to think about your itinerary and its details, the more brain space you'll have for promoting yourself and your film.

Some of my favorite travel & organizational tools:

Top Ten Austin
» If you don't know Austin very well, get a good city guide with a map of downtown and study it beforehand. I like the smaller guides that fit in a back pocket, but go with what appeals to you. Just make sure you carry it with you. You can start to get acquainted with Austin at WikiTravel's entry for the city. Over at Slackerwood (the other blog I write for), there's a great guide to the venues of SxSW, which is helpful for a number of reasons. Not least among those reasons is the fact that it gives you a good sense of which venues are within easy walking distance and which are not.

SxSWBaby has an excellent "where to eat during SxSW" guide complete with a custom Google Map. (Allow me to throw in my own endorsements of Torchy's Tacos, Roaring Fork, Go Bites, and the 1886 Café.)

» Get a good pocket notebook and a couple of pens, and carry them with you. If you're a filmmaker and you want to make movies for a living, it's time to start thinking of film festivals as career fairs. Since a cornerstone of any good business is impeccable record-keeping, you should always have the means to take notes. I like the Moleskine Reporter, but a 99-cent memo pad will contain writing just as effectively. Your notebook should be the record of the people you met (you're going to lose one or two business cards along the way), the things you learned, and the promises you made. It sounds corny but I promise you'll get more out of SxSW if you write a few things down.

» If you have a pocket camera, bring it along. This is probably the wrong time to be lugging your DSLR and its thousand-dollar lens, but there are lots of amazing things to see at the festival and around Austin in general. You're bound to want to take one or two pictures along the way (like the crowd at your screening?), and if you rely on your camera phone you'll be sorry. When you get home, make sure to upload those pix to your web site.

» Go mobile when at all possible. Make sure you're taking advantage of all of the features of your cell phone. Lugging a laptop around gets old in a hurry, so why do it when you could just as easily check mail from your phone? Make sure you do have a way to check your email regularly, though -- a lack of attention to your mail is a great way to miss out on press coverage and other opportunities. If you've shelled out the money for an iPhone or Blackberry, now is the time to milk the usefulness out of it. Don't buy a new phone just before you leave, though -- when in unfamiliar surroundings, you want a familiar device.

Similarly, every web service out there seems to have a mobile component, so learn how to configure and use them before you leave. If you try and figure these things out after you get to Austin, you'll probably waste time and just end up frustrated. Shameless plug: For example, B-Side's guide to SxSW provides schedule information by SMS -- just send the service a text message in the correct format and it will reply with the correct schedule info.

Speaking of SMS, if you've never used text messaging before, now might be the time to learn how. Voice and data networks will groan under the weight of the traffic generated by the thousands of attendees at SxSW. Your best bet for communication may well be squirting single, lightweight lines of text up to the cell towers.

And one more mobile tip: bring a lightweight charger that you can carry with you during the day. Take advantage of random electrical outlets when sitting in panels or waiting in line. You probably won't get back to your hotel room until the wee hours of the morning, and by that time your mobile phone battery may be as worn out as you are. You don't want to contend with a dead cell phone when you're half-drunk in a strange city at 3am. Trust me.

» Make as many media contacts as you can to line up those interviews prior to your arrival in Austin. There are scores of media outlets covering the film festival portion of SxSW alone, from humble bloggers like yours truly to national film publications like Variety. Some Googling ought to reveal who these people are and nearly every byline these days is accompanied by an email address. Write up a quick cover letter with a description of your film and mention your availability for interviews. Don't be discouraged by a lack of immediate results; everyone is ridiculously busy during SxSW. The keys are to cast a wide net and to be persistent.

» Use the SxSW Registrant Directory to identify good contacts at the conference. Every conference registrant (and if you have a badge, that should include you) has access to the directory, and every registrant is listed there. You can use the directory to search for other people by job description, name, home state -- you name it. This is a great way to find contacts, and you can even build a list of those contacts and send them personal messages. Use it.

In part 4 (to be posted Monday or Tuesday) I'll talk about setting your goals for the festival and what to do with your days and nights during the big event itself. Stay tuned.

Get SxSW 2008 panel and film schedule info by SMS

SxSW 2008 schedule info by text message / SMS - from Film Threat and B-SideNow you can use your cell phone's SMS features to get SXSW 2008 schedule information on the go and even rate the movies you see from your seat!

Just text your commands to this number: 47647

1. To set your phone to SxSW, send: bside fe sxsw2008

(You only have to do this once. You will get a confirmation message.)

2. To get showtimes, you can just text: bside show now

or, you can get showtimes for a specific day and time, like this: bside show fri 9pm

» To see showtimes by title, send: bside show title

ex: bside show woodpecker

» "Title" may also be any part of a film's title -- no need to punch in the whole thing. For example, you could see the showtimes for "'Bama Girl" by sending: bside show bama

» Film and interactive panels are also contained in the schedule. To see the showtime for the panel "Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Great Design Hurts," you could send: bside show design hurts

3. To rate a film you've seen on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent), send: bside rate title rating

For example, you could rate "Dear Zachary" as excellent by sending: bside rate zachary 5

» When you're home in front of a computer, log in to and create an account. Enter your cell phone number into your profile and your phone ratings will automatically be associated with your SxSW B-Side account.

Send bside help for even more commands!

(Disclosure: I work for B-Side Entertainment.)

SxSW free film events at the Carver Center

Don't have two nickels to rub together? Feeling left out of the SxSw film festival love? Not to worry, just block off the afternoon & evening of Sunday March 9th and get your sorry butt over to the George Washington Carver Center for some free cinema love.

Learn more on the official SxSW site, and hop on over to SxSWBaby for a list of even more SxSW-related events that are free and open to the public.

Variety: Frustrated indies seek web distribution

Once filmmakers make the mental leap that Hollywood isn't going to offer them a $2 million minimum guarantee, they have plenty of other distribution options, from cable and self-distribution to the Internet. The problem lies in getting the word out to sufficient viewers to convince them to download, stream or pay-per-view the pic.

"We're in the transitional post-major studio pre-Internet era," says Emerging Pictures CEO Ira Deutchman. "Models will be clear in the future. We're still heading toward Web 2.0."

Filmmakers need to get past the romance of a theatrical release, says Cinetic Media's John Sloss. "People are so disproportionately preoccupied with getting their movies released in theaters that they're not interested in alternatives. You make more money and get more exposure and promotion on HBO."

Read Frustrated indies seek web distribution.

POV: Why films need websites

If you've already discovered Lance Weiler's Workbook Project, then you know it's a great resource for filmmakers looking beyond the traditional models of exhibition and distribution. Lance (director of The Last Broadcast and Head Trauma) has been adding new voices to the site, the latest of which belongs to Zachary Mortensen. Mortensen is the creator of Space:Unicorn, a web shop for indie filmmakers. I've already written about the importance of a web site for your film, but Zachary has additional advice you should read. Whether you hire someone like Zachary to create your web site or build it yourself, this article makes some great points.
Right now is the first time that this outreach and awareness has been within our reach. Filmmakers need to harness these tools and be smart about it. You will spend a lot of time and money creating the film. Don’t forget to build and take care of a home for your film as well.

Read POV: Why films need websites.