When Gimme the Loot director Adam Leon touched down at the Austin airport last spring, he brought along with him 18 anxious members of his cast and crew, who slept on various floors throughout the SXSW festival, and all the nerves of a filmmaker getting ready to world premiere his first feature movie. Gimme the Loot, an unexpectedly sweet, even joyful story of two Bronx teenage graffiti artists over a long summer weekend, went on to win the 2012 Grand Jury Prize for Narrative Nonfiction. So who better than Leon to offer this year’s excited, hand-wringing crop of contenders some tips for surviving the long week ahead.
Manage Premiere Jitters By Fleeing Theater: “The most intense moment of the festival will be your premiere. This was the moment I’d been working towards since I was five years old. I thought it was going to be so fun to do that—I don’t get nervous on stage, I like big crowds—but it was much more nerve-wracking than I anticipated. You have these great audiences at SXSW, and there’s such an energy of supportiveness and creativity, but there is that moment when you show the movie for the first time to a public audience that includes distributors and press and it’s not yours anymore. After 10 minutes of watching the movie, I couldn’t handle it and left. I went to the lobby to the bit and then I walked around the block in the rain and finally went into this Japanese restaurant and got a drink. I came back for the last 10 minutes and I knew it went well. Immediately there was a huge sea change. The Q&A was really fun and I was cursing and loose and this huge burden felt off my back. The movie’s been seen and it’s out there. We went to a great dive bar, the Valhalla Tavern, to celebrate.”
Prioritize: “A mistake is thinking you can do everything. You cannot and you will realize this quickly. You can’t spend four hours putting up postcards, which I wouldn’t recommend anyway to be honest because they’ll just get lost, then see your two friends’ movies, then go to the brunch, then do a meeting with a distributor or an agent. Ultimately you are there for your movie. You’re not invited because you have the best cocaine. Don’t be stupid. They want you there because of your art and the thing that you made and your job is to present that. You’re going to miss things. But this is Austin, you can always end up at a kick ass bar and have fun.”
Seek Out Your Peers: “The other filmmakers at the festival are going through the same experience that you are going through. People don’t realize how long this experience really is. Almost any movie that goes to SXSW is going to play at other regional festivals around the country, hopefully around the world, and if you’re lucky you’re going to be going on a tour with the same people you meet in Austin. In some ways, just like when you’re making a movie, it’s about team building. When you’re going to these festivals you want to have a team of people who support you. So when you go to Sarasota or wherever you can say ‘Oh I remember Jonathan Lisicki (Gayby) or Rebecca Thomas (Eletrick Children), let’s all go out for a drink.’ I met them in Austin and now I consider them to be really good friends of mine. And South By is a really good place to start bonding and opening yourself up to that.”
Get “Extra Drunk” If You Win: “Going in we had the sense that we were going to sell it to a distributor so we already felt lucky. We already felt we did what we set out to do when we landed at the airport. We came down, we played the movie, we didn’t act the fool and we met a lot of people. Once we won it was awesome and we definitely thought ‘Let’s do it. We’re going to get extra drunk tonight!’ And we did.”
Gimme the Loot opens in New York and on VOD on March 22. It will expand to Los Angeles and Chicago on March 29, and from there spread to another 20 markets. Recently Leon completed a 30-minute comedy pilot for a cable channel, a deal born in part from his success at SXSW.