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The below post was written by Billy Mulligan, producer of the SXSW film, Yelling to the Sky.
Six days of nonstop on-the-go hustle, with a few moments of pause for food coma recovery. That’s my SXSW in a nutshell.

As a SXSW first-timer, I had heard countless times that it’s important to take the time to appreciate the Austin foodscape. After finally experiencing some of the culinary delights myself, it can’t be stressed enough that the Trailer Food culture that is ingrained into every fiber of the city is enough of a reason for any man, woman or child to make Austin a destination city. Whether the truck is off the side of a major highway, or clustered beside an outdoor music venue off the beaten path, the picnic tables beside the city’s 1,300+ trucks are the city’s premiere restaurant tabletops. What’s even better is that the trucks are manned by gracious and kind 20-somethings who take real pride in the deceptively intricate dishes they prepare, whether it be a fish taco or fried Oreo.

For some time into the near future, I will be day-dreaming about the homemade delicious gorgeousness found in the hand-crafted, made-to-order gourmet donuts at Gordough’s. Don’t be scared that these made-to-order treats weigh as much as a brick. You only live once and Gordough’s is just one of the magical places where you should sit back, relax and feast until you start losing whole minutes of time to a sugar-fueled blackout.

But on to the movies…From the moment we set foot in the city, the Yelling to the Sky team (writer/director/producer, Victoria Mahoney, lead actress, Zoe Kravitz and director of photography, Reed Morano) was on a clear mission — publicizing our screenings. We share every filmmaker’s very real fear of not knowing if five or 105 people will show up for any given screening. At SXSW, the stakes are raised even higher because you are not merely competing against other movie screenings, but rather, countless distractions in the form of any-time-of-day or night parties, panels, concerts, comedy shows, or, say, the occasional World’s Largest Pie Fight.

I thought it would perhaps be useful to future SXSW newbies to talk about the “lessons learned” from my first time bringing a film to this festival. If filmmakers make the time in the weeks leading up to the festival, these few areas will assure a smoother sail once you are on the ground in Austin.

Where to Stay. The moment you are invited to screen at the festival, reserve hotel rooms. Don’t wait because you aren’t sure how many rooms you’ll need and on what dates. Reserve a safe number of rooms that start the night before the festival opens, for the run of the festival. You can get out of the reservations once your exact dates are set. Since the downtown hotels are more expensive, know you will save money on the rental car you’ll need if you stay outside of the city, so it will perhaps even out in the long run.

Publicity. Plan A, hire a great publicist. Plan B, a lower-budgeted plan of attack. In the weeks prior to the festival, create a list of blogs, radios stations, newspapers and magazines that speak directly to audiences who will come see your film in Austin. Call and email the press contacts, sending them your production notes and a link your trailer attached to the email. If you are wary of sending out screeners to press, a great alternative is to post scenes onto a view-only, password-protected file-sharing site. Although at first, it seems like a lot of press outlets demand to screen the film, sending them scenes they can conveniently watch lets them know you’ll meet them halfway. Further, don’t be too concerned that this press will ask for your much-needed comp-ed ticket allotment. Most have film badges and are happy to use them to get into your screenings.

Promotional Materials. The night before the festival starts and the very top of the first day are when posters and all other promotional materials should be posted all over downtown, first and foremost at the Convention Center. Beware: this is a time-consuming, often physically exhausting job. If possible, the best plan of attack is to bring along/designate a team member whose sole job is posting on-the-ground materials. This designated position frees up much-needed crucial headspace, time and energy to tackle other pressing needs.

Engage Your Network. You never know which friends, and friends-of-friends, will be on the ground at SXSW. Post and repost (and demand your friends repost!) all your screening times beginning the moment the schedule is set, up to the very day of the screenings.

The key to all of this work is to attack on all levels in the weeks prior to the festival and like all shoots, pre-production is key. There is so much about Austin and SXSW that embraces all areas of promotion, so the earlier the better to create your plan to stand out from the crowd.

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