How to Get Rejected and Still Screen at SXSW

Posted on March 9, 2011


Bots High was rejected from SXSW. Bots High is playing next Tuesday in Austin in a SXSW venue. This Friday it will also be represented at an official SXSW event. This took about two emails and ten minutes to make happen. And it’s free. Here’s how.

Bots High is my feature documentary on high school battling robots. I finished it about two months ago and have been working on a DIY distribution model at schools, theaters, co-working sites, and pretty much anywhere with a screen. SXSW was obviously a top choice to premiere at, but I got the rejection email and moved on to other plans (like having a World Premiere on my own terms).

Fast forward a few weeks, I get an email from a friend about documenting a Miami StartupBus that’s heading to SXSW. 30 entrepreneurs have 48 hours to start a company on a bus to present at SXSW.

So now that I’m going to end up at SXSW, I figured I might as well capitalize on that opportunity. I jokingly threw out an idea of an underground screening – set up a projector and show the film on the side of a building or something. But from this joke I got a pretty good response – people said they would come if it was playing.

A projection on the side of the building didn’t seem ideal, so now I started thinking of other venues. This is about two weeks before the festival – any obvious place will either be booked or insanely expensive.

Then I started thinking about schools – there’s University of Texas nearby, have to be a bunch of high schools and middle schools – and they all have auditoriums. I checked out UT’s website – not only do they have an engineering school, they have a Women in Engineering Program. And I’ve got a film that features all girl teams building robots – I feel a win-win happening here.

So I shot them an email, got a reply from Tricia the Director who thought it was a great idea and booked an auditorium Tuesday evening, the week of SXSW. The day before there will be a SXSW panel in the same room – so it’s not a venue in the middle of nowhere.

I feel like this was bizarrely too easy, and that leads me to wonder why I’ve never heard of other films doing this, aside from maybe the start of Slamdance.

Major festivals attract large crowds, and what festival goers wouldn’t love a free screening of a film? This is a really interesting model I definitely want to explore further. I wish I had more lead time so I could get more swag together, like stickers, t-shirts, 3 lb. robot battles…

The other SXSW event I’ll be at is an Ignite/Dorkbot event. Ignite is a collection of 5 minute presentations, 20 slides each set to auto-advance every 15 seconds. They’re really cool. But it was Dorkbot that drew my attention – if you have the word ‘robot’ or ‘bot’ in your title, you’re a target for my film.

Before the Ignite talks there’s going to be a “science fair” with booths setup with projects on display. I emailed them, knowing I was late to the game, if I could get a booth for Bots High and surprisingly they had some open spots. And this is an official SXSW event. So if I play the whole movie on my laptop, does this mean Bots High officially played at SXSW?

The timing works out perfectly as well, because Dorkbot is Friday, the screening is Tuesday, so it’ll be a great opportunity to promote the screening.

My other SXSW experiment will be how to make the most of the festival without a badge.

So if you’re at the festival, please come by one of the events. Or shoot me an email and we can meet up. And if you’re not there, please spread the word! Here’s the Facebook Event Page.


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