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SXSW 2019: AMA and Festival Recap

As I finalize the last of my SXSW coverage I thought I’d take a moment to recap my experience at the festival. I did an Ask Me Anything call out on Twitter and got some great questions in response.

 

Karen @TheDarkPages on Twitter: What was it about SXSW that made you want to go?

Raquel: I’ve been wanting to branch out and try new film festivals for a while. The SXSW Film Festival appealed to me in several ways. I loved the focus on indie film. I was also interested in the variety of panels, conferences and exclusive events. Plus there were great opportunities for networking. It seemed to me a very press friendly festival with lots of opportunities for great coverage. I knew this was a place where I could take the next step in building my writing career. The press team was incredibly welcoming and I had some wonderful support from both SXSW and Rotten Tomatoes. I can’t deny that there was some appeal in visiting a city I’d never been to before: Austin, TX!

 

Jen @JenTCM on Twitter: What kind of festival is it, exactly?

Raquel: I’m still trying to figure that out! SXSW is several festivals combined. My focus was on the film festival side but there is also a Music Festival and an Interactive Festival. There was a trade show, a health & wellness expo and programming around food, technology, politics, TV, etc. There was so much going that it would be impossible not to find something that appealed to you.

 

Chuck @Chuck7703 on Twitter: How would you rate the accessibility of the film screenings? Have you been able to get in to the majority of films you wanted to see?

Raquel: I only missed out on three films. Two I opted out of to give myself a little break. The other missed film was a miscalculation on my part (time between screenings + distance between venues + afternoon rush hour traffic). Otherwise I got into everything I wanted to because I was willing to get in line early. SXSW is on two big loops and I took the shuttle to get from one loop to the other.

When arranging my schedule I made sure to reference the official map so I could build in travel time and pair screenings by venue whenever possible. Because everything is so spread out over the city, I found it difficult to attend more than 4 events per day. I saw at most 2 films per day and built in some time for writing and to attend other types of events. I spent quite a lot of time at the Austin Convention Center where I could use their facilities, grab a quick meal, access the Carnegie Mellon University Press Suite to do some writing and catch the shuttle.

 

Jackie @Jaxbra on Twitter: Your first time at SXSW, right? How do you find it compared to other festivals you’ve gone to? I mean, like how it was organized, the venues, panels, etc.

Raquel: This was indeed my first SXSW! Compared to other festivals this one can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. I was lucky that I got some great advice from SXSW veterans (thanks Alicia, Sterling and Danielle!). That helped immensely. I’m a methodical planner so I created a detailed itinerary which I kept on Google Drive and accessed daily. 

Take a look at the SXSW Shuttle Map . It shows you how spread out all of the locations are. The big movies screen at the Paramount and Stateside once and everything else screens three times at the various other smaller theaters. I only caught one big movie (The Beach Bum) but otherwise I’d have three time slots to chose from for every movie which made planning much easier. And the filmmakers/cast/crew usually show up to multiple screenings so you don’t necessarily have to attend the first one to see a Q&A. The panels and other events were either at the Austin Convention Center or they were held at nearby hotel conference rooms. SXSW made a lot of resources available to attendees including a live shuttle map (you could track the buses on GPS to see how long you’d have to wait), a mobile app with details on all of the events, and other online resources.

Getting into film screenings at SXSW was the most unusual system I have ever come across! There were multiple levels of access.

SXXPress Pass – Every morning at 9 AM CST, Platinum and Film Badge holders could grab available SXXPress Passes for tomorrow’s screenings via the SXSW mobile app. These let you cut the line. You have to be quick to grab these because they went fast and only a handful were made available. I only managed to get two of these and I heard other people say they couldn’t get any. At the venue, a SXSW volunteer would scan the SXXPress Pass on your phone and give you a red ticket. You’d wait in a lobby or in a designated area rather than waiting in line.

 

 

Filmmaker’s Ticket – If you’re a member of the press, you could get a filmmaker’s ticket and get in with the SXXPress Pass holders. When I was reaching out to film publicists about coverage, I would ask for a ticket. (Thank you to Alicia Malone for this tip!). I got into quite a lot of films this way but the process was quite awkward. I’d have to meet either the director of the film or the publicist at the venue to get the ticket. It resulted in a lot of texting, e-mailing, searching for head shots and looking at names on badges.

 

Primary access –For Platinum and Film Badge holders there was a separate line to get in. They were escorted into the theater after SXXPress Pass and Filmmaker’s ticket holders were seated. For this level of access it was important to get in line 45 minutes to an hour early to guarantee entry. Depending on the venue you’d either get in line and have your badge scanned or you’d go up to a group of volunteers, get scanned and then get in line. You’d then be given a queue card. 

Secondary access – Film wristband wearers would get into a second line that was seated after the group of SXXpress/Filmmaker’s Ticket holders and Primary Access line. There was also a third level of access but this was the biggest gamble and depended greatly on theater capacity and the popularity of the event. If any seats were left, these attendees would pay $15 at the door to get in.

 

Nikki @NikkiLM4 on Twitter: How does it compare, pace, people, venues, to TCMFF?

Raquel: SXSW is really on a different level than TCMFF. It’s like TCMFF X 12. It takes place over 10 days instead of 3-1/2. The SXSW venues are spread out all over the city, many of the films are shown 3x, the festival takes over the Austin Convention Center as well as several nearby hotels, Rainey Street bars and restaurants are transformed into SXSW installations, 6th street is closed down and is packed with attendees and revelers, etc. SXSW basically takes over Austin. It’s TCMFF on acid!

 

Karen @TheDarkPages on Twitter: What were your top three favorite things about SXSW?

Raquel:

  1. All screenings were open to the public and featured Q&As with the filmmakers. And I had so much fun photographing the red carpet premiere of The Beach Bum.
  2. Not going hungry. There were so many food options from dining service at the Alamo theaters to the food trucks and restaurants nearby and the eateries inside the convention center. Lots of healthy options too!
  3. Walking the first loop and taking the free shuttle to the second loop. It saved me a lot of money that would have otherwise gone to Lyft rides.

 

Marci @MarciK on Twitter: Any cool interactions with other critics/bloggers/writers? What has been your favorite non-film related experience at SXSW?

Raquel: I was mostly on my own but I did get to hang out with some friends most notably Sterling @filmlatelist, Robert @812filmreviews and Danielle @DanielleSATM. I chatted with people in line or on the shuttle whenever I could. I had a few negative experiences with some fellow attendees who thought it was okay to talk during the film. I also met a couple film critics who didn’t think I was worth their time and one who poked fun at my inexperience. 

I didn’t have many non-film related experiences. I did love partnering with Kingston Technologies. They were a fantastic sponsor to work with! Carlos and I went to the outskirts of Austin for some amazing Colombian food. It was nice to get away for a bit. And I skipped a screening to see D’Arcey Carden and Henry Winkler at a Twitter Improv event. It was cool to see Janet (The Good Place) and the Fonz (Happy Days) in person!

 

Vanessa @SuperVeebs on Twitter: What’s one thing about the festival that scared you?

Raquel: I was mostly concerned about my safety. I asked my husband Carlos, who traveled to Austin with me, to come pick me up after my last screening. We’d usually meet up at the Convention Center and walk back to the hotel together. I tried to be in or around groups of festival attendees. If I was by myself, I’d always be cautious and look for protected areas where police were on patrol.

 

Alejandro @alamofilmguy on Twitter: Any cool restaurants to recommend?

Raquel: I didn’t go to too many restaurants because I was too occupied with the film festival. However I did have amazing culinary experiences at Pelon’s (tacos and cocktails!) and Koriente (Korean food). I was really impressed with what the Alamo Ritz and Alamo Lamar had to offer. Many of my meals were at Alamo film screenings. They had a full menu with appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, hot dogs but they also had salads and healthier food options too. I tried to focus on healthy eating throughout my trip to avoid falling asleep during film screenings and to keep my creative juices flowing. I never did get to have barbecue (which wouldn’t have put me right to sleep)! My husband waited in line for 4 hours for Franklin’s BBQ in Austin and said it was worth it.

 

Erin @MissErinMcGee on Twitter: What was your favorite experience??

Raquel: Getting mentored by Alicia Malone! I was invited to attend a private roundtable mentoring session for female film critics hosted by Alicia. I learned so much from this experience! She shared a lot about her career goals and how she achieved them and gave us amazing advice. She encouraged us to not compete but to instead build each other up. There’s room for all of us. If I had flown to Austin, TX and only been mentored by Alicia Malone and had done nothing else, it would have been worth the trip. That’s how valuable that experience was to me.

 

Maddy @Maddylovesherc1 on Twitter: Once it’s all finished, I’d like to know what films and events you enjoyed the most here?

Raquel: My top favorite films were as follows:

  1. Sister Aimee
  2. Qualified
  3. Salvage
  4. La Mala Noche
  5. Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy
  6. Days of the Whale

Ask Me Anything: TIFF Edition

by Raquel Stecher

Jessica @HollywoodComet on Twitter:

How is it different from other festivals you have attended? (processes of attending movies, etc.)

Raquel: My festival experience is solely comprised of classic film ones so to attend one focused on new films was a whole other ball game. TIFF is a mix of press and industry events and public events. There are over 240 feature films plus over 50 shorts screened and, unlike other festivals I’ve attended, the feature films get multiple screenings. On average each film gets 3 screenings, 2 press and industry screenings and one screening for the public. There are even private screenings and some of the highly anticipated movies are shown on two separate screens at the same time. Some of the films have distributors and some are for sale so buyers will attend TIFF to look for new properties. This is truly an international event and people come from all over the world to attend. The guest list is enormous. Everyone from directors, producers, actors and actresses attend along with their agents, publicists, etc come to TIFF. Unlike other festivals where a pass gets you into everything (or in the case of TCMFF, different level passes grant you different levels of access), at TIFF only press and industry members get passes. The general public buy tickets to individual events and those can range from $30CAD to over $100 CAD. P&I screenings are first come, first serve. For public screenings you need a ticket to get in. Some of those screenings have assigned seats and others do not. It depends on the theater. The main hub for TIFF is their TIFF Bell Lightbox building where they have a couple of screening rooms. The other big location, the Scotiabank Theatre, has 14. Other theaters like the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre and the Ryerson Theatre host special presentations and galas.

 

Kate Gabrielle @KateGabrielle on Twitter:

I’d love to know if you’d recommend TIFF for movie fans who aren’t members of the press.

Would regular people be able to see celebrities (Robert Redford!) or are those opportunities reserved for the media?

Raquel: I would definitely recommend TIFF to movie fans. From my experience the public screenings are much better than the press and industry ones. Public screenings get an introduction as well as Q&A or panel discussion with the director and cast members after the movie is over. P&I screenings have no special guests nor do they have intros. And if attendees for P&I screenings are not interested in the movie after 20-30 minutes they bail. Those walk outs were a bit demoralizing and soured that experience for me. Public screenings are filled with lots of devoted movie lovers who hand selected their movies and are excited to attend. And yes the public gets lots of chances to see celebrities! Besides seeing them at the public screenings, and almost all of those have special guests, there are red carpet premieres that you can observe from behind a barrier. A lot of the celebrities stop for autographs and pictures. And if you’re lucky you might see one walking down festival street, eating at a nearby restaurant, arriving by car service to an event or attending another screening for fun.

 

Daniel @burlivespipe on Twitter:

What was the biggest surprise for you, both on screen and off?

What’s the must-have item you take with you to these big festivals?

Raquel: The biggest surprise was how easy it was to get into everything I had on my itinerary. I just had to show up early! A lot of people didn’t want to wait in line for 30-60 minutes so they would show up much later. I always showed up early and was first in line for several screenings. And I was 5th in line for the highly coveted A Star is Born press conference. On screen, I think the biggest surprise was how much I loved all the movies I watched. I think my least favorites were Red Joan and The Quietude but ultimately I enjoyed those too. TIFF very carefully curates their festival slate and I must have picked well for my own viewing/reviewing purposes!

For the must-have item it has to be my external battery. I was doing a lot of social media in between events and having a battery to charge up my iPhone was incredibly useful. The complimentary TIFF tote bag I got came in handy too!

 

Todd @ToddMason2013 on Twitter:

How this differs, if at all from other festivals. How it strikes you: balance of support of film as art vs. gosh wowing celebrities as a focus of events. How the audiences were.. also is Tim Horton’s basically Dunkin?

Raquel: For the festival comparison see my answer to Jessica’s question above. I will say that classic film festivals are not press and industry driven because those movies are old and don’t need marketing. Any press for those festivals is about the festival experience as a whole and not necessarily individual movies (unless there is something special about them like a world premiere restoration or a special guest). For the public, TIFF is on a much bigger scale than other festivals like TCMFF.

As far as the support of film as art versus celebrity worship, I got a sense that TIFF and the attendees took their films very seriously. There was an appreciation and overall respect for films and filmmakers but also strong criticism too. I overheard conversations after press and industry screenings and public ones and it was interesting to hear people dissect and disseminate what they just watched. Toronto is full of serious film lovers. There is some celebrity worship even with the serious film as art vibe. Heck TIFF themselves nicknamed themselves Timothee International Film Festival since Chalamet’s appearance was such a huge hit this year. The celebrity appearances do help TIFF get the publicity that their festival needs that in turn helps them secure sponsors.

Tim Horton’s is a sad sister to Dunkin Donuts and they don’t have iced tea!

 

Nikki @NikkiLM4 on Twitter:

[I want to know] everything about the Redford screening and sighting.

Raquel: Seeing Robert Redford was a dream come true. I missed the camera call RSVP window. Otherwise I would have had a chance to bring my camera and get up close to Redford and the other cast members of The Old Man and the Gun. That would have been amazing. Instead when I attended the special presentation at the Elgin theatre for the movie, I saw Casey Affleck make his entrance and Robert Refdord was already there posing for photos. I got a brief glimpse of him between the photographers. I tried to take a photo but security was shooing us along. At the beginning of the screening, TIFF’s Cameron Bailey made an introduction and the director, producer and cast was brought out including Robert Redford. After the screening, the director and cast came out again and Redford received a standing ovation. During the panel discussion, I got the feeling that he was overwhelmed with the attention and he wanted the other cast members to do more talking to take the focus off of him. And Nikki I have to say, his voice in person was amazing. It’s deep and booming and traveled throughout the Elgin. Even if you weren’t looking at him you’d know he was there. I could feel his presence throughout the whole theatre. He was very casually dressed. He wore jeans, a shirt, a light jacket and brown shoes. In the discussion he talked about how the predator vs. prey aspect of the film really drew him to the project.

 

Meaghan @mwgerard on Twitter:

How do you pace yourself, not get overwhelmed?

Raquel: This is where my extensive TCMFF experience came in handy. I created a TIFF itinerary the same way I do my TCMFF one. I put this itinerary together over several days constantly editing and shifting things around to get it just right. I spent a lot of time going through all the films once they were announced. I watched as many trailers and video clips as I could. I wrote down every title that appealed to me. Then I made some criteria for myself, which you can read about in my Final TIFF films post. That helped me narrow down the films. Then I looked at the final TIFF schedule, mapped out all my screenings and listed back-ups in case I couldn’t get into my first pick. I limited myself to 3-4 events per day because I knew any more than 4 and I would be too exhausted to enjoy. What’s the point of attending a screening if I’m just going to fall asleep? I made sure to build in time for writing, eating and sleeping. TIFF can be overwhelming but the key is to have a game plan and stick to it.

 

Karen @TheDarkPages on Twitter:

What will you do differently next time?

Do you want there to be a next time?

What was your most exciting experience?

Raquel: Press can go to as many press and industry screenings as they want but are only allotted 10 public screening tickets. I got 4 tickets but I regret not using up all 10! The public screenings were way better because there were no walk-outs like at P&I screenings (if audience members weren’t interested in the movie they bailed) and the public ones had introductions and Q&As and panels with special guests. And next time I’d try for some camera calls (where I show up with my camera to do photography) and for red carpet interviews and possibly some interviews. I just don’t feel like I knew enough to be prepared for those this time around. I loved TIFF so much that I definitely plan to be back!

My most exciting experience was the A Star is Born press conference. I was incredibly nervous. I arrived 1-1/2 hours early and I was 5th in line. I kept rehearsing my question over and over again (I didn’t end up being picked and someone eventually asked a version of my question). I had never been to a press conference before and sitting along journalists from Billboard, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, BuzzFeed, etc. was thrilling. When the cast came out I was dazzled. We had one chance to photograph them and I was in a very good spot and got some great shots and an unencumbered view of the stage and guests. Lady Gaga is so regal yet very humble and kind. Her answers were eloquent and heart-felt. Bradley Cooper was fantastic. He had some very thoughtful answers and when someone was talking, whether they were asking him a question or responding to one, his eyes were completely focused on them. Just from the movie I could tell he had the chops to be an amazing director but the fact that he could focus so intensely on other people made me realize that he was something special. His blue eyes were piercing and his stare was so intense that it was like a laser cutting metal. Wow! And Sam Elliott. That voice. Even more booming and gravelly in person. Seriously. That man has an amazing presence. Dave Chappelle was as chill and funny as you’d expect him to be. I also enjoyed hearing from Anthony Ramos who spoke beautifully about working with Lady Gaga and Cooper. There was a lot of love in that room. It was electric. This is an experience I’ll never forget.

 

Erin on Facebook:

Did you get to chat with other film fans while there or did you mostly keep to yourself?

Raquel: I’m a chatty Cathy so I will talk to anybody. I was suffering some social anxiety while at the festival so I held back a little bit. Also it didn’t help that I didn’t know anyone there. But I chatted my heart out with numerous people. I had great conversations with an industry member from Miami, a screenwriter from Toronto, a festival volunteer, a couple of first-time TIFF press members, a film publicist and several others. I also met my friend @PJofYork from Twitter and his lovely wife as well as Ryan from The Matinee. (You can listen to our TIFF chat on his podcast The Matineecast!)

 

Jackie on Facebook:

Were all the films in the same theater? Or was it spread out downtown like TCMFF. Was it difficult to get to the next movie?

Were there a ton of fans there, like TCMFF, or mostly media?

Raquel: There were several theatres. The two main locations were the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Scotiabank Theatre which were a couple blocks away from each other. I walked back and forth between each throughout most of the festival. The other theatres were further away. You could walk or take a quick Lyft or Uber to get there. Unlike TCMFF, there was much more time built in between screenings and because there were so many screenings you didn’t have to line up 1-2 hours before hand to get into an event unless it was highly sought after. There was so much going on at one time that you really didn’t have to rush to get anywhere. For public screenings, if you bought a ticket for an event you were guaranteed to get in and in some cases you had an assigned seat. If it was a general seating arrangement then it helped getting there a bit early. Getting from one screening to another was a lot easier at TIFF than at TCMFF in my opinion.

I can’t say exactly but I’m going to estimate based on the number of screenings and how they are divided into categories that the festival is about 1/3rd fans and 2/3rds press/industry. However a lot of press members attended the public events so it might even be 1/4th public and 3/4th press/industry. As a member of the public though it’s very welcoming and there are so many great events for everyone. There are even some that are difficult for press to get into but easier for public attendees.

Have a question? Submit it to me in the comment section below and I’ll add it to the above post.

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