SXSW: 8 Reasons Why It's Worth the Trip
The Austin film festival is an ever-bigger platform for Hollywood dealmakers in search of hot properties and talent.
This story first appeared in the March 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
1. A Legit Marketplace
Universal acquisitions exec Lakshmi Iyengar, who spearheaded the purchase of The Witch at Sundance this year, says buyers now view the Austin festival as a viable platform. Past sales have included 2013's Short Term 12, which went to Cinedigm, and Lena Dunham's career-launching Tiny Furniture, which IFC acquired in 2010. With 150 films screening — many without distribution — the odds of sales are better than ever.
2. You Need a Laugh, Studios Need a Hit
SXSW's rowdy audience responses have made it ground zero for studios looking to build prerelease buzz on big-budget comedies. This year sees the much anticipated premieres of Amy Schumer vehicle Trainwreck (March 15), Melissa McCarthy in Spy (March 15) and the Will Ferrell-Kevin Hart buddy comedy Get Hard (March 16). "The festival gets real film enthusiasts, not just industry people," says Get Hard director/co-writer Etan Cohen. "You get to take it out in the world a little more." A restoration of The Breakfast Club will debut March 16, in time for its 30th birthday, with stars Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald in attendance.
3. Arcade Fire Featuring … Paul Krugman?
Only at SXSW could the Grammy-winning darlings of the indie music scene share the stage with a Nobel Prize-winning New York Times columnist. Arcade Fire's Win and Will Butler will join economist Krugman on March 19 for a conversation on "the celebrity economy of music," exploring how artists can continue to make a living in the coming decades. Bands still launch here: In the past three years, Of Monsters and Men (2012), Kendrick Lamar (2013) and Sam Smith (2014) have parlayed early exposure at the fest into platinum sales later in the year.
4. True Convergence
What started in 1987 as a music fest expanded into film and multimedia in 1994, making SXSW one of the longest-standing multidisciplinary meetups in the world. Crosspollinating events include panels on how HBO created an immersive experience around Game of Thrones and how Pixar led innovation in film animation for 20 years, both on March 16.
5. It's a Geek's Paradise
Astro Teller, head of Google's secretive "moonshot factory" Google X, goes public with stories from some of the tech giant's most far-fetched ideas — think Google Glass, self-driving cars and Wi-Fi balloons — during a March 17 keynote speech. That's exactly the kind of next-wave tech that inspired the A.I. thriller Ex Machina, which stars Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson and gets its North American debut March 14.
6. Hey, Girl, Ryan Gosling's in Town
Spot the meme-worthy movie star strolling down Sixth Street, as Gosling heads to Texas to promote his directorial debut, the dark fantasy Lost River, which screens March 14 (after a chilly 2014 reception at Cannes). Or catch him up close and personal as he and Guillermo del Toro take part in one of the festival's intimate conversations on March 13. (Michael Shannon, Sally Field and Schumer are each doing one, too, on March 14, 15 and 16, respectively.)
7. A Second Chance After Sundance
Missed the Park City pilgrimage in January? Several hot titles from Sundance and other international festivals will screen here, including the Evel Knievel doc Being Evel (March 14) and the breakout Sundance comedy Results (March 13).
8. Funny Things Happen
Fred Armisen was a struggling drummer when a prank video he shot at SXSW in 1994 helped launch his comedy career. Among this year's comedy offerings, YouTube comedy network Above Average is hosting two all-star comedy nights on March 15 and 16, where you can catch Schumer, Judd Apatow and SNL's Jay Pharoah and Vanessa Bayer.