Archive for the ‘SXSW’ Category

Film Festivals, Energy Drinks and Playing the Odds

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Attending a film festival is exhausting. You race around town to screenings and stand in lines throughout the day. Then at night you run around town to parties, sometimes several of them.

I’m not about to complain. Leading a life in film is an immense privilege and I try to remind myself of it all the time. But there’s no question that festival-going can take its toll on your body. On more than one occasion at SXSW, I thought that there should be festival volunteers on 6th Street handing off Gatorade to badge holders. Kinda like a marathon, only minus the running.

Instead, in reality, the sponsors of film festivals are always trying to ply you with massive amounts of incredibly unhealthy stuff. Among the free “refreshments” offered at SXSW this year were cigarettes, fried fish, inordinate amounts of beer, whiskey and tequila, and an “energy” drink with so much caffeine that its container cautions to “limit intake to maximum one bottle per 4 hours.”

I’m not saying I didn’t partake of some of this stuff. I’m just… well, I’m the son of a nutritionist. I think about these things.

I also think about the health of film festivals and the filmmakers that they host. Seeing the long lines and sitting in (or being shut out of) the many sell-out screenings in Austin certainly confirmed that SXSW has a healthy prognosis.

For filmmakers, though, I’m less certain.

As the barriers to making a film continue to be lowered, I fully expect submissions to SXSW to double within three or four years. Assuming the number of films being programmed remains the same, the acceptance rate will drop to something like .5% or even lower. That’s not a typo. That’s half of one percent. SXSW is not alone in this; other, similarly prestigious festivals will have roughly the same odds of acceptance.

I grant you, the odds of getting your film into SXSW (1% this year) are better than, say, the odds of winning the Powerball Jackpot (1 in 195,249,054). But, then again, the cost to play is higher for festivals. I’m not just talking about festival entry fees. First you’ve got to make your film.

Similarly, the payout ratio for the Powerball ($1 for a chance at +/- $350,000,000) is far better than that of making a movie. Most filmmakers and their investors would love to just double their money. As we all know, many films don’t make their money back at all.

This isn’t an argument for quitting film and instead playing Powerball. Most people making films at this level aren’t solely in it for the money — they’re in it because they have stories to tell. At least, that’s why I’m in it.

But considering financial sustainability has to be part of the equation too. If it’s not, well… it’s not sustainable.

And part of that means that filmmakers these days need to ask tough questions both of themselves and of film festivals:

    When you consider the costs of festival entry fees, festival travel and lodging (if not provided), food, and promotion (posters, etc), how much are you paying, per head, for each audience member that saw your film?

    How much are you paying for each review or blog post that fest screenings generate about your film?

    If your film sells out a screening, where does that money go? Will you see a penny of it?

    Are you comfortable paying for people to pay others to see your film?

    In the final cost-benefit analysis, are festivals worth it?

    What do you get out of the deal?

I mean, of course, in addition to the free cigarettes, beer, and energy drinks.

We’ve known this for a while, of course, but it bears repeating: For the independent filmmaker, festivals used to be the answer. Now they’re the question.

SXSW Observations, Pt 1

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

The Year SXSW Got Big. While I don’t agree with David Lowery that it’s (yet) in danger of becoming Sundance, attendance swelled this year. The growing pains were sometimes apparent, especially with sell-outs and long lines.

From my perspective, I think sell out screenings are good, both for the fest and for the filmmakers. But more than a few noteworthy films were only programmed once during the main festival (Fri – Tues) and others were booked at venues that were far too small for the demand. In previous years, these issues wouldn’t have been a problem. This year, though, even with a Gold Badge, if one hoped to attend a screening it meant standing in line for more than an hour. Needless to say, all that time spent in line cut down on the films one could see. I took it in stride, in part because my badge was complimentary for moderating the Cinematography for Improv panel. It wasn’t hard, however, to hear the grumbling of others standing in line. As long as I’ve been attending, SXSW has been well-run, so I’m hoping that this is just a hiccup and I’m optimistic that festival organizers are looking for solutions for next year.

Two Highlights. Of the films I did get to see, the highlights were Justin Molotnikov’s Crying With Laughter and Jukka Karkkainen’s The Living Room of the Nation, both of which stand a good chance of making my Top 20 list at year’s end. The former is a Scottish thriller set against the backdrop of stand-up comedy. The centerpiece of the film is a tour-de-force performance by Stephen McCole. Living Room, on the other hand, is a deadpan chronicle of the lives of ordinary Finnish citizens in their homes. Shot with an almost entirely static camera, the film has a mix of comedy and desperation that is hard to shake.

A Few Disappointments. When I come to SXSW I especially seek out the regionally-produced independent narrative films. In the past this has been, for me at least, one of SXSW’s most distinctive areas. This year the handful I caught were somewhat disappointing. My policy on this blog is not to write negative reviews — particularly for small movies that need all the help they can get just to be noticed by audiences — so I won’t name names. That said, I was surprised that the low points of the festival were all centered in this area. Perhaps it was just an off year, or maybe I just saw the wrong films?

Did I mention I missed a lot of films? With a fest this big, it’s easy to miss movies you really want to see and this year I missed more movies than I saw. I missed some, as previously mentioned, because of sell-outs. Others I missed because of time conflicts with other movies, or conflicts with my panel. Regardless of the reason, here are some films I’ll be eager to see in the coming year: Audrey the Trainwreck,Cold Weather, And Everything is Going Fine, Myth of the American Sleepover, Lovers of Hate, Tiny Furniture, and World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements. That’s a lot to look forward to.

Cinematography for Improvisation: Post-Panel Links

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

The Cinematography for Improvisation panel that I moderated was a blast — and, while I felt like it was a success, the one hour we had to dig in flew by. I personally could have listened to Andrew Reed, Allison Bohl, and Justin Molotnikov talk shop for another couple of hours. There were easily 100 people in the crowd on a Monday afternoon and the feedback after the panel was very positive.

Here are the links, as promised:

Justin Molotnikov

 

Crying With Laughter — Justin showed clips from this film, which had its North American Premiere at SXSW.

Synchronicity Films is Claire Mundell and Justin Molotnikov’s production company. For those of you that attended the panel, Claire sat near the front of the room and shared some thoughts from the audience.

Finally, the improv film webisodes from the Wickerman Music festival that Justin briefly mentioned can be found at www.wickerman.tv.

Allison Bohl

“Blessed Be, Honey Bee” — This is the music video that we saw behind-the-scenes stills for, but which we didn’t have a chance to screen during the panel. Allison directed and shot this video.

Allison’s reel is also on Vimeo. The reel features, among other things, selected shots/scenes from “People of Earth” the feature that Allison showed a clip from on the panel.

I Always Do My Collars First – website for Allison’s first documentary

Andrew Reed

Quiet City — Andrew showed a clip from this film, which had its World Premiere at SXSW in 2007.

Cold Weather is the new film by Aaron Katz, shot by Andrew Reed. The trailer can be found here.

Paul Harrill (moderator)

Obviously, if you are here, you have found my blog. Information about my own work as a filmmaker can be found here.

Cinematography for Improvisation – SXSW 2010 Panel

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010


If you’ve not heard already, I’m happy to announce that the panel that I proposed for South by Southwest 2010, Cinematography for Improvisation — Lighting the Unknown, was selected. Thanks to everyone who voted in support of the idea via SXSW’s PanelPicker!

Though this will be my third SXSW as a panelist/moderator, this was the first time that I’ve ever proposed a panel. Selecting the panelists was a collaboration between me and the SXSW organizers, especially Jarod Neece. I’m very excited about the people we’ve got on board to tackle the subject. If you’re at SXSW, check out the panel on Monday, March 15 @ 2pm.

Panelists/bios:

Allison Bohl
Allison Bohl makes movies with a natural look and creative touch. With experience in documentaries, experimental films, and features, she has become known for capturing beautiful images with minimal equipment. She is based in South Louisiana, but has worked internationally.

Andrew Reed
Andrew Reed is the cinematographer of the feature films Cold Water (SXSW ’10) and Quiet City (SXSW ’07), both written and directed by Aaron Katz.

Justin Molotnikov
Justin Molotnikov is the writer/director of the feature film Crying With Laughter (SXSW ’10).

Here are some clips of their work:

Vote for my panel at SXSW…

Monday, August 17th, 2009

As you may have heard, South by Southwest is crowdsourcing their panel ideas (at least in part) for 2010. I’ve proposed a panel and I’d love to have your vote of support to make the panel happen.

Click HERE, create an account (takes just a sec), and vote thumbs up.

The panel I’ve proposed is called Cinematography for Improvised Films: Lighting the Unknown.

Here’s a description:

This workshop focuses on the unique challenges of shooting improvised cinema. How can a cinematographer approach working with little or no script, actors that need to be able to move freely without worrying about “hitting their light”, and live locations that can’t be controlled? The cinematographers of a few distinguished, beautifully shot micro-budget indies discuss clips and share their secrets for creating a distinctive look on the fly.

I would be the panel’s moderator (organizing it and asking the questions). I’ve got some great ideas for who would be on the panel, but I have to stay mum on that for now.

You don’t have to be planning to attend SXSW to support the panel since panels are recorded and blogged about. If the topic is interesting, vote for it.