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SXSWi Panel Recap: Funny or Die – Future of Comedy & Everything Else

“Celebrities are use to going through a gut-wrenching, soul-crushing process,” said Andrew Steele, a 12-year alumnus of Saturday Night Live and current  creative director of Funny or Die. “We don’t get in the way of that creative process, and it’s allowed us to thrive.”

SXSW attendees like the walls of the fourth floor of the Austin Convention Center, all yearning to get an glimpse inside what makes comedic minds behind Funny or Die tick. The highly successful media company’s famous founders, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, weren’t on-hand for the hour-long panel, “Funny or Die: Fure of Comedy & Everything Else.” But Steele, CEO Dick Glover, president of production Mike Farah, VP of Marketing Patrick Starzan, and writer/actors Seth Morris and Billy Eichner were happy to regale attendees with tales of how the company was founded, their creative processes, as well future projects. The panel was broken up with trailers for Eichner’s “man-on-the-street” gameshow “Billy on the Street,” Morris’ new Yahoo web series “First Dates,” and Ferrell’s new spanish-language telenovela-based film,”Casa de mi Padre.”

The group emphasized the speed with which their production schedule works, saying their recent bizarre marketing campaign for Kia featuring NBA-star Blake Griffin went from concept to broadcast in just eight days. Though Funny or Die counts an office in Hollywood among its three (the others being in SF and NYC), Glover asserted, “The model is not the studio model… We’re looking to find projects that we love with people that we love.” Indulge in the viral hilarity at Funny or Die’s website here.

SXSWi Chat: A Few Minutes with PepsiCo’s Director of Digital

Once again, PepsiCo and its multiple brands dominated a sizable amount of floor space at the Austin Convention Center, and like last year, we enjoyed a conversation with one of its key execs. Instead of Bonin Bough, who split for Kraft a month ago, we had the opportunity to chat with Pepsi’s current director of digital media, Josh Karpf. This year, along with a real-time, “zeitgeist” data visualization board that you can see in the background in the pic above (that’s Karpf on the right in case you needed clarification),  the food/bev giant was touting its “What If Unconference.”

According to Karpf, the event consists of “…a series of structured brainstorms, throwing out themes related to digital, like how to use digital talent to affect organizations, digital startups, [and] we’ll have digital thought leaders facilitate.” As far as “digital thought,” what’s intriguing Karpf seems to be how fellow giant brands are making their presence known in the space. “This SXSW, There are a lot of brands you wouldn’t expect that are here that are announcing technology-focused  initiatives, like American Express’s Twitter project, Nike’s FuelBand. It supports our thesis on why we’re down here It shows where culture is going.

In addition to Interactive presence, PepsiCo is also delving into the Music portion via a partnership with and is pulling double-duty in the Film realm via a Brisk bodega pop-up store that ties into the soft drink’s promotion of the Star Wars : Episode 1 IMAX release.

We recall that last year’s hot trend/tool was GroupMe, which somewhat faded into obscurity. So what’s the item gaining all the buzz at this year’s festival? Karpf says, “Looking at the coverage, people are taking about apps like Highlight and Hibachi. I think about it as analog meets digital. It makes your Faceook graph and presents it back to you in a way that’s useful to you right now. Taking all your information and presenting it in a way that’s useful as of right now in an elegant way.”

More SXSWi Images: We Went to CNN Grill and Hung Out with a War Correspondent

Yep, we made it to the “Weapons of Mass Disruption” shindig at the CNN Grill right across the street from the Austin Convention Center. After getting initially turned away due to overcrowding, we were directed to the happy hour bar around the corner, where we ran into none other than Ivan Watson, CNN foreign correspondent who’s based in Istanbul but covers, Syria, Iran and more. We discussed his thoughts on any threats from Iran and Syria, but for the most part, Watson remained diplomatic on our foreign relationships. Well, guess it was a party after all. He seemed to take enjoyment in the respite from war reporting (he’s the one in the middle. As far as the party goes, it was what you’d expect: Food, bevvies, schmoozing and the lot.



SXSWi Recap: A Draftfcb Excursion to Molotov

During today’s SXSW Interactive, we not only caught Jimmy Fallon as we mentioned before, but hit up Draftfcb’s event at the same venue as last year, the Molotov off of 6th street in Austin. Once again, the rooftop desk played host to the agency’s annual soiree, which brought in a majority of Chicago hub folks mixed in with some network folks for good measure.

Above, you can see us with Bruce Fougere, SVP, director of innovation at DFCB Chi who joined from the Martin Agency (where he spent four years as VP/CD) a few months back. We can’t complain about rooftop decks and 80-degree weather, as well as conversation about the background and digital landscape as we know it. We will try to reveal more once the week progresses, and here’s a couple of other snapshots from the two-level building below. The main purpose of the Draftfcb party was to promote “White Space,” which promoted “open minds,” “open bar” and “open air.” Here’s DJ Trentino, who served as DJ for the three-hour event.

SXSWi Keynote Recap: Baratunde Thurston

In a full exhibition room with thousands in attendance, humorist and author Baratunde Thurston took the stage for SXSWi’s most highly publicized keynote speech. Thurston, best known for this work as the web editor of satiric newspaper The Onion, has recently been touring the country in support of his new critically acclaimed “self-help” book, How to Be Black.

Thurston began his keynote speech simply by saying, “I am a very social dude.” He then went into his own personal history, as well as that of his grandmother (who was the first black person to work in the Supreme Court Building) and his mother (whose own social networks changed when she found herself marching alongside the Black Liberation Army). Thurston joked that, while many other children probably began reading See Spot Run, his first book was This is Apartheid. It was through talking about his political upbringing that he transitioned into his talk of “sacred clowns,” comedians who fight for free speech through clever humor.

In the current data age we live in, Thurston argued, “change is constant.” So, when institutions like government bodies and companies fail to lead the average person to a wise resolution, who do we have left? Thurston praised “sacred clowns” like Bassem Youseff, an Egyptian cardiologist who eventually became known as his country’s equivalent to Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, the writers of the Wazobia Report, Nigeria’s version of the Onion, and the creators of Parazit, a brave satirical show in Iran that the government has attempted to shut down by forcibly removing citizens’ satellite dishes.”This is about freedom,” Thurston remarked, and ended his speech to thunderous applause.

We Finally Made it to SXSWi, Just Saw a Jimmy Fallon-Moderated Panel

Yes, folks, the eagle has finally landed, and later than expected. Following flight delays due to weather issues in Austin, we made it last night to the annual craziness that is SXSW. Due to said delays, we missed out on most of the panel sessions, but did manage to catch JWT’s “Messin’ with Texas” party at the Kung Fu Saloon on Rio Grande last night, and ran into folks you’d expect including the new North American CCO Jeff Benjamin and chief integration officer Mike Geiger. Here are a couple of images including one of the band Howler, which brought some brash punkiness to the party in the patio space outside.

After a pretty decent night’s rest (hey, we’d been up since 6am), our morning today was toplined by a panel discussion moderated by Jimmy Fallon, who joined forces with execs and athletes including Nike VP, digital sport Stefan Olander, VEVO GM Fred Santarpia, EVP and head of EA Sports Andrew Wilson, as well as track & field gold medalist Allyson Felix. The main topic of discussion was the new Nike+ FuelBand and how data and statistics play an important role in our sports and gaming activities. The highlight, though, occurred during the Q+A period, where an attendee challenged the late-night host to a foot race down the aisle to the exit and he readily obliged (and lost). Sorry for the grainy image (Fallon is on your far left), but the place was just about as packed as the Seth Macfarlane Film panel across the street at the Austin Convention Center. We’ll have more for you as the day progresses.


BBH Creates ‘Homeless Hotspots’ for SXSWi

Outside of the Austin Convention Center this morning, I heard a man yelling, “Hotspots! Get your Hotspots!” After speaking with him for a while, I learned that he was a homeless man offering free WiFi hotspots for SXSW conference attendees who find themselves unable to connect to the Internet.

As you know, being caught without a WiFi connection at SXSW is equivalent to being forced to fight a minotaur without the aid of a sharp weapon: You feel frightened, vulnerable, and totally useless. To help people conquer the SXSW beast, BBH is taking the “Street Newspapers” model and giving it a modern, digital update. Throughout the festival, BBH strategically placing homeless individuals around downtown Austin with cards that explain the Homeless Hotspots program. Should individuals find themselves in a WiFi dead zone, they can contact the person that gave them the card, and the person will find and provide them with a hotspot for the suggested donation for $2 per 15 minutes of service, with all proceeds going to support the Front Steps Shelter.

So thanks, Mark! I’ll more than likely be contacting you sometime over the course of this crazy weekend. Learn more about Homless Hotspots and its website here.

For You SXSWi Attendees, Here’s Proxybot

Yes, we will be in attendance, albeit briefly at SXSWi, and here’s a little addition to the clusterfuck from Proximity called, yes, Proxybot. As you will see in the video above, Troy Hitch, who has served as an EVP/ECD at Proximity BBDO for the last two years, gives us an explanation that tries to dispel the myth that agency creatives don’t get interactive and digital media. So, as a result, the agency is launching Proxybot, which is a Twitter-controlled robot that will stream SXSWi ramblings, news feeds and inanities night and day, day or night. There’s also a Twitter contest involved and all, so join in here and here.

SXSWi Finally Trumps Music

Not that anyone was waiting for it, but 2011 may have been the year that the interactive portion of the festival was bigger than the music portion. SXSW began 25 years ago as a music festival, and the shift is clearly reflecting real world changes.

Interactive parties were filled with live music from the hottest bands this year. Zynga featured the discordant NIN-like Sleigh Bells, while Facebook teamed with IFC to feature the Kills. In a surprise appearance, the Foo Fighters graced the tech crowd (distant pic above) with a first play of their new record, Wasting Light, at the Media Temple SXSWi closing party. 2000+ SXSWers packed into Stubbs to see the band, while music attendees could only stand on the other side of the fence, literally, to listen.

Much of the conversation during the music panels was around technology. The truth is, both sides could learn a lot from each other, especially as the publishing industry struggles with similar issues around content and payment.

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It’s a Wrap: SXSW Closes Its Biggest Year Ever

SXSW wraps up this weekend, and it seems that 2011 will stand as the year that Interactive finally superseded Music. The conference felt bigger than ever, with major brands within view at every angle. PepsiCo filled a corner block with games, and CNN turned local restaurant Max’s Wine Dive into the CNN Grill. Pop-up food bars were placed throughout the convention center, making it the first year attendees could get real food inside the building as they ran between sessions, instead of living on Starbucks and Zone Bars alone (Zone Bars noticeably missing this year).

Several themes emerged from this year, marking a few turning points. Speakers mentioned both “evolution” and “revolution” and indeed, both apply when you ask “what’s next?”

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