The next few blog posts will focus on my experience as a Volunteer Photographer for South By Southwest (SXSW) Conferences & Festivals. As some of you may know, SXSW is a 10-day long festival held once a year in Austin, TX wich offers a unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies.
This will be my second year volunteering 60 hours in exchange for an all-access Platinum Badge, which will grant me all-access to exclusive events, parties, panels, workshops, and screenings.
I arrived in Austin, TX this morning and received my first assignment this evening. I'll be taking the Metro Rail into downtown tomorrow morning and diving head first into the chaos and excitement that is South By Southwest.
My first 3 assignments for Friday, March 8th, all taking place at the Sheraton Austin:
2pm-6pm - “Health 2.0 Code-a-Thon”
Subjects: Jessica Goldband
3:30pm-4:30pm - “Designing Habits: From Big Data to Small Changes”
Subjects: Jeffrey Holove, Michael V Copeland, Steph Habif, Tim Chang
5pm-6pm - “Female Orgasm: The Regenerative Human Technology”
Subjects: Nicole Daedone
The most interesting of these three looks to be the last -- a panel discussion that examines the importance of the female orgasm and the fundamental need of a human connection in a world of technology and social networks. Some of the questions that I can expect to be answered:
Since my first assignment is not until 2pm, I plan on exploring other events and networking with professionals to meet as many helpful, inspiring, and insightful people as I can. I am currently working on a number of personal projects in the film and interactive fields which can use all the guidance and resources I can get.
One of the things I love most about SXSW is the opportunity to learn and explore new technologies, ideas, and techniques in my craft. It gives me a chance to step outside of my comfort zone and open my mind to new creative possibilities. I will be learning a lot and sharing even more. Stay tuned for future updates!
I always thought DSLR video quality was amazing, until I watched this comparison with the new Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera. With 13 stops of dynamic range and priced modestly at $3,000, this 2.5K camera would make a great investment to any cinematographer, filmmaker, or digital video professional
This is easily one of the best BMC info videos on the web right now. All credit goes to Marco Solorio and OneRiver Media.
I picked up breakfast from Jack In The Box on my way into downtown at 4:30pm. That’s right. J in the B serves breakfast 24/7. And it’s delicious. I had an hour-long conversation with my brother in which I seriously considered starting a franchise in Tampa.
Anyways, once again, I lucked out with parking. This time even cheaper and closer to the action! Once I checked my assignments, I realize I was 2 blocks away from Lustre Pearl, where I would be shooting one of my favorite dance pop indie bands, Miike Snow! The festival gods were on my side!
I headed to the venue, which was hosting tonight’s events sponsored by Dickie’s. It was a small bungalow bar with a front and rear patio and a small burrito stand in the side yard. When I walked around back, I was happy to see the large white tent that covered the stage, as it would make bouncing my flash a little more convenient.
The first band to play was a dance rock band by the name of Penguin Prison. The front man rocked a beautiful Fender Stratocaster and was particularly overzealous, jumping on stage and even swinging his axe around to play behind is head. At one point, he jumped off the 4-foot stage to make the performance a bit more personal by grabbing fans by the shoulder to sing and dance with them.
The following band, Drop The Lime, was quite a sight to behold. They looked like they walked right out of the 50’s and into SXSW. The trio consisted of two male greasers dressed in all black with slicked back hair and dark sunglasses while the lady honed a similar burlesque style, wearing all black with bright red lipstick and her hair pinned up. The front man sported a gold-plated incisor with rings to match and strummed the most beautiful semi-hollow guitar. I was surprised when he whipped out his Macbook to add a little synth to his retro punk rock sound.
The third band to play was YACHT, a group started by Jone Bechtolt, a former member of The Blow. Though he provided vocals, the majority of voice came from the angelic white-clad, white-haired Claire Evans, who I had seen disguised as a mustached fan in the audience during the previous performances. The two of them were incredibly lively and maintained a perfect chemistry between each other and with the audience. When Claire descended the stage in all her pallid glory, the audience made way as if being parted by Moses.
I’m surprised at how lucky I’ve been getting with parking. It took me 2 hours to get downtown. Many of the streets were blocked off for pedestrian use only. I felt like I was in New York City at rush hour, but I finally made it to the ACC parking garage 10 minutes before missing my check-in time.
I was ecstatic when I received my list of assignments. I would be shooting Porter Robinson after a lineup of other electronic artists and electro-rock bands. I grabbed dinner (my lunch) early and headed over to Empire Auto & Club 606 to check out the venue (hosted by BandPage). It was a converted auto shop garage with barely enough room for three vehicles! The stage was set up inside and the first band was in the middle of a sound check.
While I waited for the sun to set, I made some new friends. Austinites are some of the friendliest and unique people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. They are the epitome of the modern, tattooed, hole-punched, go-green hipster. My new friend Alex made a road trip from Richmond, VA to attend SXSW Music with 4 friends, all of whom were intoxicated and scattered throughout the city. We shared a hand-rolled cigarette in true hipster fashion and chatted of music, photography, and the convergence of media and technology.
The first band to perform was Gemini Club, a three-piece indie dance pop rock band that included an electric guitar and synthesizer of equal parts over a poppy drum line. The lead singer was very interactive with the crowd, often times jumping off stage and serenading the single ladies in the audience. His high energy was contagious and I repeatedly caught myself toe-tapping and grinning widely.
The second act was a very talented multi-instrumentalist by the name of Robert DeLong. His set was the most interesting and inspiring by far, as his carrying voice sang uplifting lyrics over a steady synthesized beat and electronic melody. What was most fascinating was his utilization of an electronic joystick that he must’ve pulled from the box of a 1990’s flight simulator video game. He sampled multiple sounds from the game and programmed them into the different directions of the joystick controller! Songs like "Happy" and "Change (How You Feel)" gave me an uplifting feeling that everything will be okay. I was glad to have discovered such a great new artist!
The following two DJ’s to play all-electronic dance sets were contradicting in appearance and presence, but similar in sound and feel. It’s amazing how music is such a great communicator, where genres can appeal to and bring together people from all nations and histories. I find this especially true with electronic music in particular. Cassian, a mellow mixed-race Australian sporting a spring-loaded afro, preceded Clockwork, a bouncy white New Yorker wearing a jump suit, tilted cap and gold chain.
The man who followed, a happy and energetic blonde Australian named Riton, would soon realize he’d have his set cut short after making a rookie mistake. About 20 minutes into his heavy fist-pumping electro playlist, he jumped feet first onto the foldable wooden table on which his decks were sitting, resulting in an instantaneous crash to the ground, toppling his electronics and sending him into the air. Trying to hide his embarrassment, he shrugged his shoulders and was ushered off stage. It was very entertaining to witness.
The penultimate artist, Mustard Pimp, was not as enjoyable, as his now-defunct decks were skipping tracks and looping subpar mixes. His agitation was evident through his constant disapproving head shakes and shoulder shrugs. It was almost as painful to watch as it was to listen. Luckily, it was not long before his set was wrapping up and Robinson was on deck.
At 19 years old, Porter Robinson is considered the new kid on the electronic music block. In less than a year in the scene, he is already used to headlining shows and touring with the veterans. His performance at Empire Auto did not fail to impress. The crowd was extremely receptive, as the temperature and humidity of the garage must’ve tripled.
After the show, I was able to meet up with my friend Julie Kennedy, who was visiting Austin from Brooklyn. She works for SPIN Media and, like me, was able to enjoy SXSW on both a business and personal level. She gave me a lanyard to attend a SPIN-sponsored party at Stubb's the following Friday afternoon.
Today was relatively relaxing. I was able to sleep in and catch up on some much-needed rest, as my only assignment didn't start until 9pm. Today was the last day of the Film & Interactive festivals and the start of the Music festival, which will last until Saturday, March 17.
I checked in at 3:30pm and picked up some earplugs to use when shooting loud bands for hours on end. I made my way to the Interactive Trade Show to see some more exhibits before they closed shop. Afterwards, I sat down to check my email and catch up on homework when I discovered that Samsung was holding a competition to recruit bloggers and vloggers for the 2012 Olympics in London. So I did what every procrastinator would do and threw down my homework and spent the rest of my afternoon making a 30-second entry video.
Once dusk turned to night, I put away my camera and headed down 6th Street to scope out the location of my assignment, Bat Bar. I absorbed the hipster scenery and talked to a few friendly folk over brats and burgers on the strip. Once I recharged, I headed back to the venue to secure my spot in fron of the stage.
The best part about the Music festival is that showcases a lot of independent, up & coming bands that a lot of people have never heard of, so it's a good place to discover new music. The first band to perform was The Apache Relay. With two guitars, a trumpet, and a violin, they had a sort of feel-good new folk sound with a melodic bass that gave them a pop rock twist. They turned out to be my favorite band in the lineup.
Ume (pronounced "You Me") followed, a three-piece rock band with a petite blonde front woman. Their songs began soft with her angelic voice leading through the intro until the hook came and she exploded into a heavy metal goddess with a booming scream. It was amazing to see so much energy come from such an unassuming little girl. Her vocals reminded me of a cross between Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Lacey Sturm of Flyleaf.
The last band I shot was Yellow Ostrich, another trio of 30-something males. Their sound was a bit softer than the preceding bands and a little more rhythmic. I remember thinking that this was a band that would open for Andrew Bird or Beck. It encompassed the relaxed vibe that emanated from Austin evenings in the Spring, the type of music I'd listen to while I was packing my bags to head back to Tampa.
Being the newbie SXSW photographer that I am, I left the venue before shooting the two main acts, Caveman and Polica. I assumed since my shift was over at midnight, I had shot everything I was assigned to by then. Nope! I later realized that I am responsible for shooting all of the artists at the venue for that evening. I won't make that mistake again, considering my shifts now end at 2am from here on out.
With only four hours of rest, I started my day at dawn. I parked at the MetroRail Station outside of downtown and caught the 8 o'clock into the media mecca known as SXSW. I checked in with the Photo Crew at the Hilton and started upon my assignments.
My first assignment was to shoot the Adobe Creative Camp in the Ballroom of the Radisson Hotel just north of the Colorado River. I arrived at 9:30am and was happy to see there was a bacon breakfast buffet waiting just for me! The workshop was scheduled to last all day, but I only stayed for the first two presentations. The first was a discussion and tutorial on working in the latest version of Adobe Edge to create motion graphics using HTML 5. Following a brief networking session, the second presentation was focused on the revelation of Adobe Shadow, the latest tool to help optimize desktop-to-mobile web application development. Each presentation ended with a raffling off of the Adobe CS5.5 Master Collection and a one-year subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. I did not win.
At noon I enjoyed my lunch break with the other volunteers. It's so nice to converse with strangers who are so passionate about the creative media industries. I met a local SXSW employee who graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston, where my sister went to school. I dropped a few names and sure enough, we had some mutual friends, specifically Tubby Love!
After lunch, I made my way to catch the 2pm keynote conversation with the legendary Ray Kurzweil and TIME Magazine writer Lev Grossman titled "Expanding Our Intelligence Without Limit." Kurzweil lectured on his popular Singularity theory and the Law of Accelerating Returns. This is the idea that, at the rate technology is advancing, we will soon witness the moment when computers reach greater-than-human intelligence, resulting in an explosive super-intelligence. He discussed the mapping of the human genome, his (correct) early 1980's predictions, and the effects that advancing technologies have on the healthcare industry.
After having my mind temporarily blown, I had to debrief by strolling throughout the Interactive Trade Show before my next (and last) assignment. I collected numerous t-shirts and goodies and spent a considerable amount of time at Canon's booth, playing with the new 5DMkIII and C300 cameras. I also got a brief tutorial on Maxon's Cinema 4D animation and modeling. I was approached by countless tech startups promoting their newest products (mostly social apps), but I was quite impressed with TuneUp, an iTunes plugin that will update your music tracks that are missing information like title, artist, or even album artwork.
My last assignment was to shoot the Beer & Robots Reception with Dean Kamen & Maywa Denki. This included the presentation of robots built by 3 teams of high school and middle school students.
At 4:30pm, I made my way to the Samsung Blogger Lounge, where I enjoyed an open bar and a buffet of chicken wings while playing with the latest Samsung gadgets (not concurrently). Afterwards, I headed next door to a panel discussion with Lisa Kudrow titled "Web Originals: Television's New Guinea Pigs." In it, Lisa discussed how her short series "Web Therapy" transitioned successfully from web to television. And yes, she is forever in her character of Phoebe Buffay from "Friends."
I had some time to kill before heading to Paramount Theatre for the world premiere of 21 Jump Street, so I decided to grab a drink at the open bar of the Registrant's Lounge (presented by MOFILM). As I was standing in line, I recognized comedian Doug Benson, star of Super High Me and the host of this year's SXSW Film Awards. I approached him with the question, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how high are you right now?" He took about 30 seconds of deep thought to finally respond with "Ehhh... about an 8 minus." We laughed and chatted for a few minutes before I had one of his girlfriends take a picture of us. He was very down to earth and friendly.
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill
To end the night, I caught the first showing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum's new action-comedy film 21 Jump Street, about 2 unlikely friends who return to high school as undercover cops. It was funny, but nothing more than I expected. I gave it a 4/5. After the show, I hung around to listen to the actors and directors talk about the filmmaking process. Again, nothing extraordinary.
I caught a cab back to the MetroRail Station where I parked and headed home, hungry and exhausted. I grabbed a burger from Jack In The Box and was not disappointed. We don't have them in Florida. I'm looking forward to an easy day of shooting tomorrow, as my only assignment isn't until 9pm.
Okay, technically, it's not Day 1, but today was my first day shooting as a SXSW photographer. I received my list of assignments last night and was up at 6:30am (after the time change) to get downtown by 8:30am. The MetroRail doesn't run on Sundays, so I had to find parking elsewhere. Luckily, I made it into the ACC parking garage and secured the best spot for a daily rate of $10. This made me happy considering it's been cold and rainy for the past few days.
My first assignment began at 9:30am at the Palm Door. They were hosting SXSW SketchCamp, a day of technologically advanced arts and crafts presented by Sunni Brown. Activities included robot building and programming, paper plane design and construction, and old school social networking.
My second assignment (11am) was a panel discussion by HBO executives titled, "Can a Social Web of Things Keep TV Cords Connected?" It was basically a dialogue on social media techniques and strategies that film and television companies utilize to engage audiences and attract new viewers.
Before attending the panel discussion on HTML 5 & Video, I was able to meet with a nonprofit film producer for a 10-minute round of "speed mentoring." Christy Pipkin, the Executive Director of The Nobelity Project, partners with other nonprofits and angel investors to produce documentaries that raise awareness for global social problems. She was able to offer advice on fundraising, promotion, and distribution of independent documentary films.
At about 1:30pm, I took a break for lunch at Volunteer Central. I met some really cool people who seemed to be in a similar stage of life as me and who shared my passion for all things creative. After lunch, I played a game of larger-than-life chess in Brush Square Park before continuing to my last assignment. I won.
At 3pm, I made my way up to the ballroom to set up early for the day's most popular panel discussion, "Funny Or Die: Future of Comedy & Everything Else." The executives and producers of FunnyOrDie.com discussed the history and future of their popular website. They gave anecdotes about how some of the employees got discovered and hired, often much easier than people imagine. It was both informative and inspirational.
To end the evening, I made my way to Paramount Theatre to watch the 6pm world premiere of Marley, a documentary on the life and times of Bob Marley. Presented by Ziggy Marley and Director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland), this was one of the best biograpahical documentaries I've seen to date, using original archived video footage and exclusive interviews by the friends and family of the Rastaman himself. I gave it a 5/5.
After an exhausting first day, I grabbed a few Tex-Mex tacos on 6th Street before walking back to my car and heading home. And by "home" I mean my brother's place in North Austin. Twas a busy day, the first of 8.