“Follow Friday” Article on Crikey

For his regular Follow Friday column on Crikey last week, Matthew Clayfield (@mclayfield) interviewed Wastelander Panda director Victoria Cocks and me about the process of making the project to date, as well as crowdfunding, working in SA and the Australian film industry. The first part of the article is below, or you can read the whole thing here.

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The opening shots are like something out of a Western. A seemingly endless sky. A row of lopsided power lines. Saltbush. On the soundtrack, the wind whistles across the plain, while a sombre, sonorous voiceover intones:

“My father once told us that water didn’t always burn. That you could drink it as it was falling. But that was long before his time, before the earth took its last breath and, with it, began to die.”

A hand enters the frame, holding a glass bottle, which it fills with dirty water from a pond. Well, not a hand, exactly. A paw. A big, black, furry paw. As the voiceover continues —  ”They say the sky collapsed not long after, and that is when the chaos began” — we cut to an extreme wide shot. A huge panda, wearing human clothes and walking upright, makes his way across the landscape, his cooking utensils hanging from his knapsack and clanging slightly in the breeze.

“For 15 years, I have concealed myself from the worst of this world. Soon, it will discover me again.”

This is our introduction to Arcayus, the hero of Wastelander Panda (@wastelandrpanda), a post-apocalyptic adventure series that started life as a joke between friends, grew into a three-minute teaser and a trilogy of short films, and has now been picked up by the ABC as a six-part series to be released exclusively on iView later this year. It’s a project that wouldn’t exist without social media, hinting at new and exciting paths for Australian filmmakers — especially emerging ones — to follow.

Read the rest at Crikey: http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/02/21/follow-friday-victoriacocks1-and-kirstysan-digital-adventurers/

SXSW Tips for First Time Attendees

Having attended SXSW in 2013, I was asked for some tips by a couple of people making the trip this year.  Some of the advice is aimed at filmmakers / multi-platform creators whose work is in the program, whereas the rest could apply to anyone attending, but I thought I’d put it out there so anyone can make the most of it.

Planning / Self-Promotion

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This section is primarily aimed at filmmakers, or anyone who wants to get networking / business opportunities out of attending.

- Go to http://schedule.sxsw.com/ and make a tentative calendar of all the stuff you want to go to.  Interactive sessions had huge lines compared to the film ones, so be prepared to get there really early to get a place for the ones you want, and have backup plans. It seems a lot of companies send their marketing people for work trips and get them interactive badges. Film conference sessions were less crowded for the most part, except for the ones with big name speakers.  If there’s something you really want to see, consider skipping the session before, rather than running from one to the next to find out that people have been lining up outside for the past hour.

- Once you sign in to the SXSW website you can fill out a profile and message people to contact them.  You can search by where they are attending from, or for keywords (company names etc).  It’s a good way to plan some of your meetings in advance.

- Go to http://mentor.sxsw.com/ and read all of the mentor bios, then set up mentor sessions with the people you want to meet.  I think you can pre-register for up to 2 sessions per badge, but if you have additional people you want to see, go to the venue in the morning and see if there are any cancellations or gaps.  The volunteers will often let you do more if there are spaces.

- You can look at who is speaking at all of the sessions at this link (http://schedule.sxsw.com/?lsort=speaker&day=ALL) to find out who will be there, especially people who haven’t registered a profile on the website, or aren’t mentoring – if you want to Google for their contact details and set up meetings.

- Hang out in the filmmaker lounge to meet and network with other filmmakers.

- Take small giveaways relating to your film/app that you can hand out to people you meet (and help them remember you).  We took Wastelander Panda badges, but even something like postcards of the film poster with your screening times printed on them are great.

- Take business cards! Last year you could order free cards as a delegate through moo.com.  They were branded with their name and SXSW, but a lot of people had them, and you could customise them with images from your film and your own text (e.g. contact details or screening times) to hand out – which saves paying for printing!  I think you had to log in to the SXSW website and select the offer to get them – then you can either pay for postage or pick them up for free once you get to Austin.

- There are a lot of spaces (glad-wrapped posts) for taping posters, especially around the Convention Center. If you want to get attention, print up some A3 (or larger) posters.  There are a LOT, so if it doesn’t go against the vibe of your film (or even if it does) I’d recommend something that stands out (e.g. black on fluoro). Again, don’t forget your screening/session times. Tip: have enough to potentially do it a second time if people cover yours up with theirs.

Food / Drinks / Entertainment 

- There is a Mexican place (Micheladas) across the street from the Convention Center that does frozen margaritas and you get free corn chips and salsa if you order drinks.  They also do Mexican meals.  They have a courtyard and a rooftop and it’s a nice way to escape the madness for a little bit.

- You NEED to eat the following things:
* Barbecue. We ate at IronWorks near the Convention Center, which has a display of people who have eaten there, including both Obama and Bush, but there are plenty of options and everyone has their favourites. Moose Knuckle pub is also good for a quick introduction to BBQ (in a soft taco) between conference sessions, rather than the longer experience at an actual BBQ restaurant.
* Beef Brisket (fits into the above category)
* Queso (essentially a cheese dip, but sooooo good). Different everywhere you go, but all versions are great.

- If you walk down 6th Street and look through the windows of bars, you’ll find the one with long tables covered in sawdust with puck-like things on the tables.  Go in and play this game – even if you don’t know the rules, it’s a great way to meet people who do. (Networking!)

- Go to the opening night and closing night parties and anything with free food and drink.  Go to the tents giving out free drinks. Walk around the Convention Center or 6th Street and make the most of all the free food being handed out by sponsors.  You can avoid paying for most of your meals if you want/need to.

- Eat at the food trucks.

Practical Tips

- Arrive a day early if you can to catch up on sleep, register, figure out where wall the venues, get a sim card and plan further (now that you know how everything relates).

- Go to Wholefoods.  It’s the first ever Wholefoods store that existed, and is a pretty amazing supermarket experience if you’ve never seen one before.

- If you’re from overseas and want/need a local sim card, the ONLY place we could find to get them (after going to 3 other phone stores) was AT&T, directly across the road from Wholefoods.  Make sure you take an unlocked phone.  This was also the place where we made our first few friends (amongst all of the international attendees who also needed sim cards).

- Popular film screenings (especially with big name actors/directors) have huge lineups – get there early.

- Wear comfortable shoes and don’t carry too much stuff around all day.  If you’re staying outside the main downtown area, don’t expect to go back to your hotel between leaving in the morning and whenever you get home at night.

- Downtown and all of the official venues are really easy to get between, either walking, on the free shuttles or in the Chevrolet taxis (through the Catch a Chevy promotion).

- Cross the river to South Congress for shopping in the more quirky stores (plus an entire store of cowboy boots).

- Get lots of free t-shirts to give to people back home. Everyone gives away random stuff in the street.

- There is free wifi in most of the SXSW venues, Wholefoods and a lot of cafes.

- Have a drink on the balcony at TGI Fridays (in the Radisson) at sunset to see all of the bats fly out from under the bridge.

- And finally, for Australian / NZ / Pacific Attendees, join this Facebook group if you haven’t already. It’s the perfect place to have all your questions answered. https://www.facebook.com/groups/SXSW.2014.Pacific.Attendees/?fref=ts

The WASTELANDER PANDA Saga: Part 5 – Release

This is the fifth and last in a series of blog posts about Wastelander Panda for Ted Hope’s Hope for Film blog. You can read the first four here [Development], here [Promotion], here [Financing] and here [Production].

Part Five focuses on the release of the films, including how we chose to balance festivals, real world events and our online release.

Below is the first part of the article, or you can read the entire thing here.

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Part 5. Release: Wrap-Up & What’s Next

Our final step in this stage of the Wastelander Panda journey was to release the films. We did this in three stages – a preview at the SXSW Film Festival in March, two back-to-back screenings at a local cinema in Adelaide on May 27th, and an online release that same evening.

We had different reasons and goals for each of these three steps:

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Wastelander Panda was never intended to be screened at festivals. It’s primarily an online project, and we wanted as wide an audience as possible to be able to access the films, as son as possible. Having already kept our online audience waiting for more than a year since the Prologue we didn’t want to delay the release of our new episodes any longer than necessary, by holding the films back for the ‘exclusivity’ of the festival circuit.

Read the rest of the post on the Hope for Film website: http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2013/09/wastelander-panda-pt-5.html.

The WASTELANDER PANDA Saga: Part 4 – Production

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about Wastelander Panda for Ted Hope’s Hope for Film blog. You can read the first three here [Development], here [Promotion], and here [Financing].

Part Four focuses on production, and how we kept our online audience engaged throughout the process of making the films.

Below is the first part of the article, or you can read the entire thing here.

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Part 4. Production: Keeping our Audience Engaged

Once we had our project funded, we needed to find a way to keep our audience engaged over the year it took to write, produce and release our three Wastelander Panda films.

When we released our Prologue, it was nothing more than a three-minute film, so all of the traffic we gained was directed back to our production company, Epic Films, via our website and Facebook page. This was far from ideal, especially considering that the company’s two other short films, L’Artiste! and Landscape Scene, were very different in tone and subject matter. We needed to separate our Wastelander Panda branding in order to give it the best possible chance of succeeding online long-term, so our first step after funding the project was to create a new Wastelander Panda website (at this stage a WordPress blog), Facebook page and Twitter account.

Read the rest of the post on the Hope for Film website: http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2013/09/wastelander-panda-pt-4.html

The WASTELANDER PANDA Saga: Part 3 – Financing

This is the third in a series of blog posts about Wastelander Panda for Ted Hope’s Hope for Film blog. You can read the first two here [Development] and here [Promotion].

Part Three focuses on financing, primarily the need to build trust in the project and our team before anyone would go ahead and invest.

Below is the first part of the article, or you can read the entire thing here.

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Part 3. Financing: Generating Certainty Online

Once we had proven Wastelander Panda was a viable concept and had an audience (through the success of the Prologue), we needed to find a way to finance future stages of the project.  Still aiming to eventually take it to television, we looked at what we had done so far, and assessed the likelihood of getting funding, keeping in mind that we were first-time filmmakers.  Speaking to experienced producers from the local industry, as well as looking at the questions being raised online from viewers, we realized that we still had a lot to prove before we would be able to attract any kind of significant finance

Read the rest of the post on the Hope for Film website: http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2013/09/wastelander-panda-pt-3.html

The WASTELANDER PANDA Saga: Part 2 – Promotion

Last week I posted the first in a series of five blog posts about Wastelander Panda that are being featured weekly by Ted Hope on his Hope for Film website.

Part 2 went online today, and focuses on our promotional efforts for the Wastelander Panda Prologue.

Below is the first part of the article, or you can read the entire thing here.

Part 2. Promotion: How We Drove our Prologue to 100,000 views in 3 Days

The day we posted our three-minute Wastelander Panda Prologue online, our intention was to share it with friends, with the hope that others would also enjoy it.  The accessibility and overwhelming amount of content on the Internet gives you a sense that you can easily put something up and people will find it.  What we realized is that realistically, you have to put it in front of them.

The evening we uploaded it, we happened to be at our friend Ella Macintyre’s house.  She’s one of those people that has grown up on the Internet, and knows it backwards and forwards – which blogs are owned by which media companies, who pays attention to whose content, and how information spreads from one place to the next.  The first thing she asked us was “So, where are you sending this thing?”

Despite our initial ignorance, and lack of prior planning, we managed to have our Prologue seen by over 100,000 people in its first three days online.

Read the rest of the post on the Hope for Film website: http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2013/08/wastelander-panda-pt-2.html

The WASTELANDER PANDA Saga: Part 1 – Development

One of the things I am constantly amazed at in the film industry is the willingness of other filmmakers to offer assistance to those trying to make it.  I’ve been so lucky over the past several years to have an amazing array of people to turn to for advice, beginning while I was still at university and continuing as I developed my career further.

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However, it’s one thing to have people in your own city support you, and a completely different ballgame when the person giving you their time is one of the world’s major independent producers.  As mentioned in my first blog post this year, I heard Ted Hope speak in Sydney in 2012, and his philosophical approach to filmmaking really resonated with me.  Many of his topics of discussion were strongly aligned with ideas I had been trying to formulate myself.  Having mentioned him in that blog post, I was thrilled when he saw the Twitter link and took the time to leave a reply.

A month or so later, I discovered we would be speaking on the same day at SXSW, so I reached out on the off chance that he would have time to catch up.  That resulted in Ted and his wife Vanessa agreeing to meet me for a great conversation over frozen margaritas at a little Mexican place across the road from the Austin Convention Center.  As well as some advice around the release of our episodes, Ted offered me the option of writing an overview of the Wastelander Panda journey for his blog, Hope for Film – a place I have often turned for wisdom in the past.

That’s the kind of offer you don’t turn down, so together with Wastelander Panda’s Writer/Director Victoria Cocks and PMD Ella Macintyre, I put together a series of five posts that sheds some light on each stage of the process we took to bring the Wastelander Panda episodes to life.  They’ll be released each Monday (US time) starting today and ending on September 16th.  The beginning of Part 1 is below.  If you’re interested, head on over to this link for more: http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2013/08/wastelander-panda.html

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Part 1 – Development: Creating the Storyworld of Wastelander Panda

One of the first questions we’re asked when people hear about Wastelander Panda is “How did you come up with the idea?”  It’s a strange concept – the meshing of two ideas that don’t necessarily fit – but this seemingly incongruous pairing is one reason we believe the project has had so much attention so far.  Our initial three-minute Prologue, designed to test the concept and see if we had an audience, had over 100,000 views in its first three days online.  However, our success hasn’t all come down to luck, but is due to a carefully planned process that saw us create a story world from scratch and go on to implement an online distribution strategy.

Here’s the link for the rest of the first blog post:
http://trulyfreefilm.hopeforfilm.com/2013/08/wastelander-panda.html