It's July 2013 & I just tapped my snooze reminder button on my iPhone and started emailing my office team as we prepare for battle to get SXSW 2014 hotel rooms- an incredible 8 months away!
Who plans this early for film festivals?
Then 3-4 months before we're set to depart to "weird" Austin, we begin monitoring airfare. The costs are expensive and we end up settling on pre-dawn flight times to save $400+ for the office. Leaving our houses at 4am is painful.
So was this $6k+ office trip worth it?
For my acquisitions team, it's not just about watching movies (they watched lots), but it's really about maintaining & building new relationships. SXSW is unique because it not only attracts filmmakers; but also draws outlets and their key decision makers for supporting our new film releases.
So acquiring AND selling independent films and documentaries are part of our goals when attending this large event.
When looking through the film industry directory, I'm amazed by how many new "digital distribution" startups I see, most of which have little to no experience in the DVD distribution biz.
Have they ever pitched a film to Redbox? Barnes and Noble? Blockbuster Video (RIP)? Walmart?
As the new digital distribution startups hard-pitch filmmakers at SXSW2014, are they convincing film producers digital sales will recoup their production budget? Do they know most indie films, especially documentaries, will still see 50%-70%+ of their sales from DVD transactions?
Do they even care that most reputable DVD distributors are less likely to acquire a title that has already given away their digital rights? Or is the strategy of lets build the biggest digital catalog in the fastest time possible their inside corporate mantra? Early adopters of that strategy haven’t faired well because of bad buzz from low to zero revenue returns for producers.
This new trend of digital acquisition's strategy can be financially self-destructive for filmmakers (at least for the next 5+ years while DVD sales are still VIP in key markets).
Many of the film panels seemed to be pitched originally with good intent, but in the end many offered very little help to aspiring filmmakers. It's great to get the perspective from major studios, but most of the films seeking distribution at the festival were *BIG small* films that are not a good fit for the majors. Filmmakers need advice from a variety of diverse distribution companies that handle those types films every day.
If panels don't start helping freshman filmmakers with advice on how to sustain a career in storytelling, our world will never get lucky enough to see their sophomore filmmaking efforts. Sad.
I also spent a considerable amount of time in the Interactive sessions. The convergence of Interactive with Film is a clear signal that the world is interested in storytelling and conversations when considering brands and "marketing."
In fact the best examples of marketing were demonstrated in a variety of panel discussion focusing on "un-branding". Seems brands and advertisers are just starting to realize consumers don't want to be sold to.
Am I the only one that can’t wait to open direct mail solicits in my mailbox everyday? Who else has returned their DVR so they can start enjoying TV commercials again in real time?
Interactive sessions clearly showed if brands engage in compelling storytelling, there is an opportunity to capture the competitive attention of consumers, and hopefully convert them into brand advocators. Dozens of examples were flashed in sessions showing the positive effects of engaging with audiences that ultimately influence communities.
So in the end here's what I learned from SXSW2014:
1. Film is still a sexy industry.
2. Most indie films should never be made- the story is just not strong enough.
3. Digital outlets for films are getting stronger, but the film's exposure is worth more than it’s potential revenue return.
4. Speakers still some how get onto panels & focus on promoting themselves. If I wait on line for 45 minutes, I want to learn how your knowledge can help me!
5. Brands are embracing short & long form storytelling.
6. Social media marketing is about listening & engaging in 2-way conversations. Be a giver, NOT a taker.
7. Focus on the Why. For your audience to believe & care about what you do, they must easily understand WHY you do it.
In just a few months, we'll be thinking of new panel ideas to pitch for SXSW2015. I welcome the challenge & look forward to seeing you in Austin next year!
*This blog article was written by Allen Chou