Pitch or Help Choose SXSW 2010 Film Panels

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Vote for my PanelPicker Idea!

If you haven't yet heard our most recent podcast, then you may have missed something new for South by Southwest (SXSW) Conferences and Festivals for 2010. The SXSW PanelPicker which has been a staple of SXSW Interactive since 2007, is now available for the Film conference as well. Don't know what I'm talking about? Here's what you need to know:

You can help decide what panels are offered at the SXSW Film Conference by either submitting a panel idea or voting as a member of the community. Panel submission process was closed last month but has re-opened this week. Want to submit a film-related panel idea or vote on all submitted ideas? You will first need to register for a free account.

To vote, all you have to do is visit the SXSW PanelPicker site and click either the "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" button. You can skip voting for any panels on which you don't have an opinion. For more details on how the community voting process works, check out the cool PanelPicker How-To video guide courtesy of Trigger Studios.

Voting accounts for about 30 percent of the decision-making process for any given programming slot. The SXSW Advisory Board, a group of industry professionals, accounts for 40 percent of the process and SXSW staff make up the last 30 percent. The deadline for voting is Friday, September 4, 2009. The first batch of programming and confirmed speakers for Interactive, Film and Music will be revealed in October.

I volunteered last year as a Panel Liaison for the Interactive Festival, and assisted several moderators in the months prior to the conference. Here are a few pointers from my experience for anyone wanting to submit a film panel idea:

First of all, follow the instructions provided on the SXSW Film News blog. Need help deciding what to submit? Review last year's content and podcasts for ideas.

I've noticed that so far this year, most submissions are for panels about digital filmmaking and distribution. The panels that garner a lot of interest are hands-on workshops, advanced-level ideas and panels that address creating, marketing, and finding audiences for films in the new digital age.

Panels are typically three or more speakers discussing a topic onstage – sometimes with audience input. My all-time favorite SXSW panel was "Sex Scenes Stay Hard" in 2007, moderated by Austin Film Society's Director of Artist Services Bryan Poyser (Dear Pillow). The lively and racy roundtable included Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes The Stairs) and John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus), with more than one audience member laughing nervously or squirming in their seats.

Panels can also be smaller roundtable discussions directly between panelists and audience. As an aspiring documentary filmmaker -- I'm still in pre-production -- I make it a point to attend any budget panels, including the mini-meeting for the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund (also hosted by Poyser).

Pre-event thought and planning are key factors to a successful panel. With only 60 minutes of time, I highly recommend fewer issues, more depth. If you have a panel, ensure a lively discussion by diversifying opinions, sources and gender. Consider the comments users leave in the PanelPicker and update your questions and proposed speakers. Start the dialogue before you step on the stage next March.

Solo presentations offer more solid content to attendees. If you think you have enough material to fill up an entire session and keep folks engaged, then go for it!

Not enough information? Check out the SXSW Panel FAQs. On a personal note, I would like to acknowledge that the man behind the curtain for the SXSW PanelPicker is my pal Lindsey Simon. He also happens to be the brain (and stomach) of another website I've mentioned in our food and film references - dishola - reviews by the dish. Lindsey left beloved Austin awhile back for a career with Google, but you can still catch him in Austin presenting at SXSW Interactive on UI design or AJAX programming.