Holy conference, Batman! The Austin Film Festival ought to come with a warning. “AFF may cause a feeling of elation, a boost to self confidence and general buzzing about. The inevitable crash can be eased by emailing everyone you met, enjoying good brisket and starting your next script IMMEDIATELY!”
Yeah, it was that good.
While this was only my second year attending (I placed in the second round with my spec of The Americans), it was so unbelievably productive that I’m already planning next year’s trip, as well as the next show I’ll spec.
If there’s one thing that makes the Austin Film Fest worthwhile, it’s the people. The panels are great — trust me, I’m gonna tell you all about them in a minute — but the people are the reason to go. Last year my buddy Ted told me that I could do more networking in 5 days at AFF than I could in one year in LA. He was 100% right. And don’t go expecting the guest of honor (this year I believe it was Mad Men creator Matt Weiner) to buy your script but go to meet your peers. These are the people that’ll come up with you. These are the future staffers that might actually staff you. At the very least, they’ll read your script and give you notes (a big “thank you” to all of last year’s attendees that have read my work and given me notes).
One thing that made this year better than the last (and last year was great) was that my goals were clearly defined. This year I wanted to meet a potential mentor and I wanted to get into a strong writers group. While I haven’t sealed the deal for either of those yet, I do feel that I’ve made great progress. Stayed tuned.
As for the panels, they rocked. Instead of giving you the blow by blow, let me bullet point the panels I attended and share one nugget of wisdom from each.
- Notes on Note: How to Take a Meeting with Ashley Miller and Justin Marks – Don’t ignore the gold because you’re angry at the s**t.
- The Ten Hour Movie: Anthology Television with Cary Fukunaga and Noah Hawley – TV has to be cinematic.
- Breaking into Television: Screenplay Competitions with Christine Boylan, Nkechi Okoro Carroll and Stephen Falk – Start a writers group, set goals actionable by the next meeting and have the group keep you accountable (Guys, I’m putting that one into action). Also, that they’re past AFF finalist now working in Hollywood is heartening to hear.
- Roundtable: The Art and Business of Television with Christine Boylan, Nkechi Okoro Carroll and Erika Weinstein – The roundtables are more intimate experiences where you can interact with panelists and all three people that I met were generous with their candor.
- The Creative Career: Practical Tips for Starting Out with Eric Heisserer, Christine Boylan, Wendy Calhoun and Mike Million – Establish your voice across multiple medium; don’t just write for TV or film.
- Screenwriters’ Agreements with Fred Strype, Deena Kalai, Adam Kolbrenner and Kay S. Wolf – Consider yourself a business and take yourself seriously.
- Finding Your Voice with Matt Dy, Lauren Morelli and Pamela Ribbon – When you first get into a writers’ room, you might feel as if you know better but they sure as hell know more.
- Adapting Comic Books for the Big Screen with Alvaro Rodriguez, Michael Green, Ashley Miller and the awesome Nicole Perlman – Never pitch the negative (e.g., “My story is nothing like the Schumacher Batman” because maybe someone in the room got their start on that movie).
- Scriptnotes Live! with John August, Susannah Grant, Cary Fukunaga, Peter Gould, Richard Kelly, Mike Birbiglia, et al. – John’s “One Cool Thing” was Serial. Listen to it. Now.
- Inside the Writers’ Room: Justified with Dave Andron, VJ Boyd, Wendy Calhoun and Chris Provenzano – Boyd died in the original pilot but he was so awesome the wrote him back into the show.
- Demystifying the Development Process with Carrie Gillogly, Jessica Julius, Lauren Neustadter and Erika Weinstein – Never make the executive the enemy, no matter how much you hate them.
- The Anatomy of the Writers’ Room with Alvaro Rodriguez, Michael Green, Tim Talbott and Liz Tigelaar – Never kill an idea, build off it; don’t be the negative jerk that invariable gets fired from the room.
- The Cold Open with Matt Dy, Christine Boylan and Stephen Falk – Always consider the first and last image of every scene and how they resonate.
- A Conversation with Whit Stillman and Scott Myers – The best thing about this is that it got me excited for Whit Stillman movies that are sitting on my DVD shelf.
And I haven’t’ even talked about the parties, BBQ or all the wonderful people I met but I have to get cracking on what I’ll be submitting next year.
Want one more piece of advice? Do yourself a favor. Write something, place and attend (regardless if you place or not). It’ll do wonders for your career, your self-esteem and your networking skills.
And to wrap up with what I borrowed from Ben Blacker (met him at last year’s AFF), here’s what I read/watched over this trip.
I’m still trying to finish The Strain. They should hire me for season two.
Started Masters of Sex. So good.
Loved the art on Down. Set. Fight! Gotta find a way to work with this guy.
Started Daniel Way‘s Deadpool run. Really wanted to dig in after his Let’s Talk Comics interview.
Mind the Gap. What a great idea. Who’s developing this?
Injustice: Gods Among Us is fucking awesome. Everyone needs to read it.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. Loved the middle, didn’t love the beginning and I’d like to rewrite the end.
… did I mention that AFF gave my confidence a real boost?