SXSW Panel Picker - it's time to vote.

PanelPicker Since 2007 the South by Southwest Film Festival (and its sister Music and Interactive events) have allowed attendees to suggest panel ideas and then vote on them using a web site called the PanelPicker. It's not the only method by which the SXSW team selects what panels to present, but it formalizes the process of gauging audience interest in particular topics. They've continued to use the PanelPicker since its inception, so I'm guessing it's a fairly useful tool for the programmers and it certainly makes the target audience feel included.

The PanelPicker for 2010 is currently open for audience voting, and for the first time I've submitted a panel idea: Short Film Secrets. I get a lot of questions from the creators of short films asking how the concepts in Film Festival Secrets apply to short films in particular. There are also a ton of questions out there about the distribution potential for short films, how they can be used to give your career a boost, and which festivals are best for short filmmakers. So that's the panel I think SXSW should host, and I hope you like it well enough to vote for it.

Some other notable panel ideas include:

  • Crawford filmmaker David Modigliani's "Adventures in Distribution: Innovative Filmmakers' Risks and Rewards"
  • Cinekink festival director Lisa Vandever's "The Porn Police are STILL at the door"
  • Atlanta Film Festival director Gabe Wardell's "Premiere status: saving it for 'marriage?'"
  • Toronto Film Fest's Jane Schoettle suggests "Festival Strategies for Independent Film"

    Voting ends in about a week on September 4th, so get in there to vote early and often!

  • Film Independent's Spirit Awards submissions opens Monday, August 10

    Spirit Awards

    From the Film Independent Press release:

    LOS ANGELES (August 6, 2009) - Film Independent, the non-profit arts organization that produces the Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival, announced today that the 2010 Spirit Awards will be held on Friday, March 5, 2010, and will air live and uncut at 8:00 p.m. PST/11:00 p.m. EST on IFC (Independent Film Channel). The nominations press conference will take place on Tuesday, December 1.

    This year's celebration marks the 25th Anniversary of the Spirit Awards, which honors films made by filmmakers, who embody independence and who dare to challenge the status quo. To celebrate the milestone, Film Independent and IFC will be broadcasting the ceremony live in a special primetime event rather than the organization's signature Saturday event in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica.

    "The influence of independent filmmakers on the language of cinema and popular culture during the last 25 years has been phenomenal, and we have been proud to provide a platform for these talented artists at the Spirit Awards," said Film Independent Executive Director Dawn Hudson. "In planning this yearís significant anniversary, we decided to venture away from our beloved day at the beach to a Friday evening where we hope an even broader audience discovers us as we kick-off the awards weekend." Also announced, Film Independent will be accepting submissions beginning on Monday, August 10, with the early deadline of Monday, September 14 and the final deadline of Tuesday, October 6. Submission guidelines, applications, and more information can be found at

    Distribution: What's the right way for my film?


    I'm headed to Little Rock on Thursday and will be sitting in on a panel at the Little Rock Film Festival on Saturday.

    Saturday, May 16th at 6:00 p.m. Little Rock Chamber of Commerce One Chamber Plaza, Little Rock, AR 72201 see more details

    Also on the panel:

    Audio: IFF Boston Audience Building Panel

    IFFBBrian Chirls was kind enough to record our panel at the Independent Film Festival of Boston entitled Followers: How Filmmakers are Building Their Audiences Online in the 21st Century. To blatantly copy and subtly edit his blog entry on the subject: The other panelists were:

    Scott Kirsner (moderator) is a journalist and all-around smart guy. He’s the author of two books, Inventing the Movies and Fans, Friends & Followers. He also writes the blog Cinematech. Brian Chirls is an audience/online guru who works on a number of independent film projects. Sean Flynn producer and cinematographer at Principle Pictures.

    We discussed a range of topics, including:

    • Benefits and pitfalls of social networking (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.)
    • Strategies for reaching audiences before, during and after production
    • Crowdsourcing to build audiences as well as help production
    • How much of your content to post online for free
    • Ad revenue models
    • Distribution formats (DVD, download, streaming, theatrical, etc.)
    • Applying all the above to other media such as music and art

    Upcoming panel discussions with yours truly

    Normally it's difficult to get me to shut up about myself, but occasionally I get busy enough that I forget to do even that. As a result you may have missed your golden opportunity to see me speak at the Georgia Big Picture Conference this morning. Never fear! I have two more panels here in Atlanta and one coming up in Massachusetts at the Independent Film Festival of Boston. Here are the gritty details.

    The Film Festival Circuit: A discussion with authors Heidi Van Lier (The Indie Film Rule Book) and Chris Holland (Film Festival Secrets).
    Friday April 17th at 4:00 p.m.
    931 Monroe Drive
    Atlanta,GA 30305

    Distribution Options and Alternatives
    Sunday April 19th at 10:45 a.m.
    Hotel Midtown
    Atlanta, GA

    Digital strategies for building and communicating with your audience
    Sunday, April 26 at 12:00 pm
    Somerville Theatre
    55 Davis Sq
    Somerville, MA 02144

    The other panelists are:

    • Scott Kirsner (moderator), author of the Cinematech blog and two very cool books.
    • Brian Chirls, digital film marketing guru extraordinaire
    • Sean Flynn, producer and cinematographer at Principle Pictures.

    Panels are open to festival/conference badgeholders; please inquire to GA Big Picture Conference or IFF Boston if you need more info.

    Here comes SXSW 2009 - Book signing March 15, 1:30 pm

    picIf you're one of the lucky few, uh– thousands headed to South by Southwest in Austin next month, please stop by the Southby Bookstore in the Austin Convention Center on Sunday, March 15th at 1:30 p.m. Go ahead, mark your calendar, I'll wait. Bring along your copy of Film Festival Secrets or buy a fresh copy from the bookstore and I'll sign it on the spot.

    I'm really looking forward to this year's SXSW – they have a strong program this year and it's always fun to meet the filmmakers and tech types who come into Austin for this surreal celebration of entertainment, music, and technology.

    If you're planning to attend SXSW interactive but think you might want to dip your toe into the waters of the film side of things, Agnes Varnum just posted a great article entitled A Geek's Guide to SXSW Film. (Did you know there are films that your Interactive badge will get you into even if you don't have a Gold or Film Badge? It's true!) Also useful is Jette Kernion's guide to SXSW film venues over at Slackerwood.

    And finally, if you're lucky enough to be a filmmaker with a film in the program, here's a series of articles just for you: Last minute filmmaker tips for SXSW.

    Join me at the Oxford (MS) Film Festival this weekend

    Oxford FFI will be attending and moderating a panel at the Oxford Film Festival in Oxford, MS this weekend (the festival begins Thursday and runs through Sunday).

    Marketing and Distribution: The Pillars of a Succesful Film

    Saturday, Feb 7

    Malco Studio Theater

    Time: 5:00 p.m.

    Learn more at the Oxford Film Festival web site.

    Tom Hall on The 2008 International Film Festival Summit


    I left the IFFS wishing I could stay and do more. I have already made plans to attend in 2009 and would recommend the experience to any film festival worker; It is a terrific opportunity to talk about nuts and bolts away from the pressure of film markets and festival screening schedules.

    This is exactly the way I feel about IFFS in general. Though I and many others have thoughts regarding the panels and general format of the annual conference, this year's event proved invaluable as a chance to touch base with old friends, forge new contacts, and put faces to the personalities I only meet by phone or e-mail. I hope everyone else finds it as useful, and that they'll keep coming back even as the conference struggles towards the ultimate goal of making all of its component events relevant to a wildly diverse set of attendees.

    For the rest of Tom's thoughts click here. I have more detailed notes (including the notes on my own panel about new media and marketing) that I'll be posting later this week and early next.

    International Film Festival Summit Day 1

    If what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, then we're all wasting our time.

    If, on the other hand, we all retain memories of these three days, then a lot of good could come out of the Film Festival Summit held in Vegas this week. The Summit, positioned in early December when very few festivals are held and just about anyone in the film fest industry could participate, is a chance for festival staffers and other industry types to get together and talk shop. Though there are occasional grumbles about the location, programming, or expense of attending, no one denies that the chance to be in a room with a 200+ other festival directors -- from the smallest startup to the biggest of the big boys -- is invaluable.

    The first day was technically only a half day but when it bleeds into the late night you can definitely say you've put in a full day's work. The keynote speech by Rick Allen of Snagfilms was followed by a panel about the relationship between panels and distribution. These, however, felt secondary to the networking marathon that took place immediately afterwards on the exhibit floor and then migrated to a nearby restaurant.

    I'm going to spare you the gory details in favor of getting down to the show in time for the morning panel with programmers Trevor Groth (Sundance, Cinevegas) and Gary Meyer (Telluride) speaking on "The Art and Philosophy of Curating a Film Festival." I'm guessing that those of you reading will care more about that than about "Board Development for Your Festival" or "Creating Value for Festival Sponsors."

    Ultimately, however, this is good for filmmakers. Smaller festivals will definitely benefit from learning about the conventions created by their larger counterparts (even if they decide to flaunt those conventions) and the larger fests will be reminded that filmmakers have a world of choices (large and small) outside their own events. More to come.

    Live in or near Vegas? Volunteer for the International Film Festival Summit


    The International Film Festival Summit (IFFS) is currently seeking volunteers for its upcoming 5th annual edition taking place December 7-9 in Las Vegas. Volunteers at the IFFS will be engaged in a working atmosphere that exudes passion for the promotion and advancement of film and, in particular, film festivals. And, this is an opportunity to work at a one-of-a-kind Summit geared specifically towards film festival professionals – actually it’s the ONLY event of its kind! To learn more please visit their website.

    Volunteers will also have some of the same opportunities as the IFFS attendees, which includes being able to sit in on various educational and inspirational keynotes, presentations and panel sessions designed specifically for film festivals. The overall experience will allow participants the chance to meet numerous professionals in the independent film, entertainment and film festival community. Truly a unique opportunity to hear insights on an industry that one might not normally have the privilege of having access to. If interested in being a valuable member of the 2008 IFFS, please contact: Lori Douglass at 702-430-6113 or

    I will be in attendance at the Summit this year; this will be my third year returning to the Summit and I can vouch for the fact that it is a one-of-a-kind event.

    [via the Cinevegas newsletter]

    Catch me this weekend on two panels at the Austin Film Festival

    picAustin's premiere film event of the fall begins tomorrow, and with the Austin Film Festival come throngs of filmmaking and screenwriting talent, both emerging and established. It is a sublime mix of the experienced and the impressionable sharing stories, drinks, and a love of cinema. I got my start "on the inside" at the Austin Film Festival; that means it will always hold a special place in my heart. It also means they'll let me do wacky things like launch a book at their fest and moderate a couple of panels in the process. They are:

    DIY Independent Film

    Facebook event | AFF page

    Write it, Direct it, Produce it. Do it. Independent filmmakers take the reins, executing the creation of a film from the concept to the big screen. If you have a script and need motivation to do it yourself, this session will tell you what it takes.


    Cole Selix
    Mark Potts
    PJ Raval
    Spenser Parsons

    The Film Festival Circuit

    Facebook event | AFF page

    Are film festivals the new distribution? How do you navigate this world, anyway? How do you write a festival plan? What is the best way to utilize festivals to get attention for yourself and your film? In this in-depth panel, you will learn from people inside the festival world and successful fest filmmakers about making the relationship mutually beneficial and getting the most out of a festival experience.

    James Faust (AFI Dallas)
    Kelly Williams (Austin Film Festival)
    Michelle Emanuel (Oxford FF)

    I'll be giving a few copies of the book away at these panels and just generally enjoying the fest itself. If you're at the Festival this week, do stop by one of these panels and introduce yourself. I'll post some notes from the panels themselves here on the blog next week or possibly the week after that.

    B-Side presents "Crawford" on Hulu!

    Here's a first: an indie film that plays festivals, gets some great buzz, then premieres on Hulu instead of in theaters. That's exactly what's happening with Crawford, one of the hit docs of this past year's South by Southwest film festival, courtesy of distributor B-Side (my employer).

    There's a lot of talk about how indie film distribution will work in the future. In my opinion it really boils down to a simple equation: the more people see your movie, the more people will buy it. (Given that the potential of any indie film to saturate the market like a Hollywood film is practically nil, the idea that an indie film can be "overplayed" is laughable.) Congratulations to director David Modigliani for taking some brave first steps in the new world of progressive distribution.

    See the indieWIRE blurb on the Crawford acquisition, and check out the trailer below.

    Catch me this weekend at the Sidewalk Moving Pictures Festival

    I'm serving on the narrative shorts jury this weekend at the Sidewalk Moving Pictures Festival in Birmingham Alabama. You should be able to see me on a panel or two during the festival, in particular the "alternative distribution" panel at 4:00 p.m.

    Niche Marketing Tools Panel - Independent Film Week

    These are my notes on the Niche Marketing Tools panel, including some of my thoughts before the panel and some of the more interesting concepts that came up during the panel. I've listed them below in no particular order and attributed them to the panelists where I could remember where they came from -- apologies to those whom I misremember.

    - To speak generally, niche marketing is about identifying special interests in your film, researching that special interest, and contacting those heavily engaged in that interest to spread the word within the existing community. Tapping into existing communities who can spread word of mouth for you is the goal.

    - The basics of marketing a film still apply -- still photos, well-written supporting material, making a good first impression. (Jon Gerrans)

    - Jason Cassidy - On marketing "Blindness" -- speaking to the built-in core audience of people who loved the book was hugely important in marketing that film.

    - Larry Fessenden - On creating a film web site: Stills, etc are important but it's also important to use the ability to customize to help draw visitors into the story of your film and the story behind the film. A director's statement (while it may seem corny) can very much influence press and audience perception of the film. Web site preferable to facebook or myspace in this way because you can customize a web site in ways that one cannot with facebook.

    - Larry Fessenden - On building community -- your community consists not just of your fans but also of other filmmakers, journalists who cover your genre (including bloggers, etc). Recruit them to your cause and be a partner to them as well. Larry has built a network of horror/genre filmmakers who have their own stories that feed into the larger story of this filmmaking community. Like a mini-studio or unofficial releasing "brand."

    - Jason Cassidy - On Facebook: New media like facebook can make marketing more efficient but the social tools only work if people are drawn to them. That can actually take a media/advertising spend to gain critical mass and make maintaining Facebook presence worth it.

    - Jon Garrans - On Facebook: Facebook is a great place to store data like trailers, etc, which might otherwise cost you money to store and transmit (outgoing bandwidth fees).

    - Aaron Hillis - On bandwidth fees - Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) can also help with storage at low cost.

    - Aaron Hillis - Facebook & MySpace can be oversaturated, difficult to attract an audience to any one thing -- get more creative, take steps beyond just setting up a social network page.

    - Stephen Raphael, on communities - some communities are stronger than others and distributors make decisions based on that. For example Jewish community networks are very strong and can be relied upon to spread word of mouth but also have strong formal networks (community centers, email lists, etc).

    - Stephen Raphael, in answer to question about tapping known niches - Don't self-distribute to a niche if you think you might want to beyond self-distribution. If you tap out a potential revenue source then you're reducing the value of your property to a distributor. Doing the research on that niche, however, is a selling point -- the more supporting evidence you have that there are people out there just waiting to buy your film, the stronger selling advantage you have.

    Web sites for panelists:

    Jason Cassidy, Miramax -

    Larry Fessenden, "The Last Winter" -

    Jon Gerrans, Strand Releasing -

    Aaron Hillis, Benten Films -

    Stephen Raphael, Required Viewing - ???

    See also Film Tiki's Eyewitness report of the panel.

    Independent Film Week


    For the next couple of days I'll be hanging out at Independent Film Week in NYC. Everyone still calls it IFP but they rebranded this year and moved to the Fashion Institute of Technology so I guess I'll do them the favor of using the proper name, but if you want to read about it on Twitter you'd better search for IFP.

    Saw the talk on festivals yesterday which was pretty basic but it sounds like a lot of people need the basic info; it only reinforced my feelings that Film Festival Secrets (the upcoming book) is a book that needed to be written. Speaking of which, I'm making rapid progress and on track to release the download version by mid-October; the print version should either be available at the same time or shortly thereafter. If you haven't subscribed to the newsletter I suggest you do so, as I'll be releasing a sneak preview to newsletter members only.

    I also stuck around for the Kevin Smith talk, which was a variant of the same Q&A Kevin Smith always gives -- there are only so many questions to ask the guy, and he has answers ready for all of 'em. This might be a bad thing but since he's such a born yarn-spinner it's usually entertaining even if you've heard the story before. When asked to compare his experiences between indie and studio filmmaking, he shot back:

    I've made one independent film: Clerks. But I'm labeled as an independent filmmaker forever. I saw in indieWIRE the other day that I'm a "veteran independent filmmaker." That made me feel old. But I guess it's like being gay, right? You suck one cock and you're always gay.

    Smith also encouraged filmmakers to make Clerks, as it's the only way he knows to break into the industry.

    Nobody's made a convenience store movie in 15 years! You could be that guy.

    When asked what the reaction might be if Clerks were released today:

    "This guy rips off Judd Apatow!" . . . (smiles) You feel me?

    I'll be in New York for the next couple of days and moderating the Tuesday afternoon panel on Niche Marketing Tools. Hope to see you there.

    48-Hour Film Project: Atlanta 2008 Screenings this coming week

    picThis weekend another 48-Hour Film Project kicks off, this time in Atlanta. While the deadline to sign up for the competition has passed, you can see the results of this coming weekend's hard labor during mid-week screenings at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema (the same location where the Atlanta Film Festival is held each year). Screenings begin July 1st at 7 p.m. and resume on the 2nd and 3rd, also at 7 p.m.

    The winning team from Atlanta will be invited to attend the Filmapalooza Awards weekend, and will go on to compete in second round competitions. The winning 48 Hour film of 2008 is expected to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

    There's no guarantee that all of these films will be good, but if you're looking for the indie-est of the indie films in Atlanta, the 48-Hour Film Project is definitely the place to be this week.

    Don't forget to check out the other cities on the 2008 tour -- your chance to shine as a 48-hour filmmaker may be coming soon!

    I've long been an advocate of short filmmaking competitions. Even more so than local film festivals, such competitions encourage an interest in filmmaking where traditionally little has existed. 48-Hour is certainly the most prominent example of the form, but newer efforts like Filmmaking Frenzy and Rapid i Movement give hope to the idea that short form filmmaking is the dominion of more than just film school students and web cam dancers.

    Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    Don't Miss Independent Film Week

    Independent Film WeekOne of the best excuses I can think of to visit New York City (though who needs excuses?) is the Independent Film Week (formerly the IFP Market), taking place September 14-19 this year. IFW is part festival, part market, part seminar, and all for filmmakers and industry types looking to get a handle on the ever-changing landscape of the indie film scene.

    IFW has a number of curated programs to which you can submit. Some of the deadlines have already passed, and some are coming up fast, but even without a project to submit it's well worth looking into whether IFW might have something to offer you and your career.

    Check out the Independent Film Week web site for more.

    Short film competitions pop up everywhere

    Timed film competitions have blossomed all over the world, with aspiring filmmakers given extremely short windows ranging from 15 minutes to 48 hours to write, shoot, edit and deliver a short film. And these all-nighters are attracting big-name sponsors.

    . . .

    Diesel's Film Racing Tour is in its second year. "It's improv for filmmakers," says competition director Charlie Weisman, who assigns a theme like "revenge" or "bad advice" and gives teams just 24 hours to finish.

    As I started to read this article about short filmmaking competitions, I mentally rolled my eyes and thought, "There's one in every town." But the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that there should be one in every town. Competitions like Filmmaking Frenzy not only encourage budding filmmakers outside of the traditional "film towns" but also foster creativity by placing constraints on the type and content of the films entering the competition. It's true that few masterpieces emerge from these contests but they usually produce a few entertaining entries, especially if the contestants are encouraged to take risks and be funny. It's not as if cinematic master works are flowing forth from the nation's film schools, either -- those movies are just better looking and cost more to make.

    Here's hoping that short filmmaking contests continue to proliferate. If nothing else, they help filmmakers realize that the process of creation, completion, and moving on to the next project can be the best way to approach a career in filmmaking -- or maybe just provide needed, consequence free distraction from an involving project.

    Read Clock's ticking on short film fests at Variety.

    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.