The South by Southwest Interactive, Movie, and Music Festival draws 100,000’s of people to Austin Texas for the annual conference. People are flooded the streets, the music is loud, and the energy in infectious. It has become a Spring Break destination for regional college students as well as a few days away from hectic schedules for industry types to network and promote their products.
Once again, 2014’s SXSW Film Festival was an ideal venue to promote films for wide audiences whose attention is focused to discover the next big thing in Austin. My favorite SXSW Film panel I attended was the 5 Lessons learned From Movie Studios on How to Market Your Movie. Marketing Execs from studios including Fox, Universal, and DreamWorks Animation gave big studio advice with how they brand their movies including a brief glance at their social media, mobile, and international release strategies. Other highlights from the studios included:
The Opening Night Film embodied what makes SXSW Film Festival terrific: discovering the unexpected in movies. To my pleasant surprise, Chef was lighthearted a roaring crowd pleaser. Audiences enjoyed this potential May sleeper comedy from the always amusing Jon Favreau that embraces the fusion of food & social media. Favreau took the stage at the Paramount and delighted the crowd alongside Jon Lugizome and Oliver Platt. There was a very fun after-party serving Cubano sandwiches as the Gary Clark Jr. band (featured in the movie) played. Artistic posters are still plastered everywhere around Austin. People keep chatting at parties and in film line how much they enjoyed the Chef. Newer studio Open Roads which has had a bumpy start have found their grove in clever promotion of a quality product!
Jason Bateman rocked the crowd at his SXSW conversation panel in town to promote Focus Features Bad Words. Originally acquired at the Toronto Film Festival, Focus could transition nicely under the ownership of FilmDistrict with how the publicity tour SXSW worked out for them. Bad Words is a quality, multi-layered comedy that plays well with people who love to laugh. The actor’s directorial debut was the press event of SXSW Film Festival from my vantage point. A fun party with clever tie in promotional swag generated good industry buzz and from what I heard the audience howled with laughter (as was the case with my Denver advanced screening the week before). This was an ideal launching point before promoting Bad Words before its platform release.
Since I have only seen the first episode of Veronica Mars and didn’t love or hate it, the feature length movie wasn’t for me. Yet for many others it was the most anticipated movie of the festival. The diehard Veronica Mars fans that brought the characters back from the dead via an impassioned Kickstarter campaign were the most excited of the fan boys (and girls) for anything else playing. The lines for advanced, front of the line passes for film badge holders were the longest of the entire festival even for the day of the Wes Anderson Q&A (which says something).
Universal had the perfect launch for their World Premiere, “work in progress” of Neighbors, the new comedy that has a married couple (Seth Rogan and Rose Byrn) against a fraternity that moves next door (lead by Zac Efron). The cast took to the stage afterwards for a rambunctious Q&A lead by Rebecca the head of SXSW Film publicity. The Funny or Die after-party featured a fraternity themed party as Efron agreed to take Selfies with the stars was a common trend at that event. My tweet after the screening became my most popular tweet to date:
Non-stop laughter and strong applause greeted NEIGHBORS which played well with the audience. Expect a summer comedy smash. #sxsw
— Kenny Miles (@kmiles723) March 9, 2014
The Raid 2
When the screening of The Raid 2 occurred on Sunday night at the Paramount, the unexpected happened. The subtitles weren’t working. As fun as it would’ve been to watch the non-stop action without dialogue, they couldn’t get this issues resolved. In the meantime, the stars of The Raid took to the stage to fight each other which electrified the crowd. This went so well I thought Sony Pictures Classics intentionally did this. A screening took place the next night and from what a heard, people really got into the movie.
Horror films play well with SXSW audiences. Very few studios took advantage of showing midnight movies at a great festival to pump up crowds. Relativity was savvy to show their new horror thriller Oculus as select midnight showings. Audiences were offered Sleeping Masks which will help viewers shake off the scares. Social media exploded with shrieks and expect the feature to do well in April.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The biggest event I attended was the Wes Anderson Extended Q&A hosted by Richard Linklater. If people weren’t in line 90 minutes before the start time, they weren’t getting in. Hundreds were turned away and there was a hipster mad-rush for preferred seating. The shy Wes Anderson granted very few interviews and it was even challenging for press to get in! It was fascinating to watch both Anderson and Linklater, two legendary cinematic auteurs, interact with one another for almost 45 minutes. As for the movie, GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL was typical Wes Anderson including the deadpan delivery, snappy dialogue, cheeky tone & pleasant cast which captured the antics on a grandiose scale!
As anyone notices, if a studio wants to deliver strong buzz for upcoming spring and summer releases, the SXSW Film Festival is the place to do it!