Ask novelist/screenwriter/performer Owen Egerton how he classifies what he does with his days and he will tell you he's, above all else, a storyteller.
"I've always been a believer in returning to the big questions, and one of those has always been: What's my vocation, my job with a capital 'J'?" he reflects. "And the answer I always come back to is: Storyteller. I have a passion for telling stories and making people laugh, and I've been lucky enough to do this for a living."
A graduate from the MFA Creative Writing program at Texas State University, Egerton has applied his popular flair for storytelling toward a collection of darkly humorous short stories called How Best to Avoid Dying as well as the tongue-in-cheek comic novel The Book of Harold, the Illegitimate Son of God.
In the midst of those projects, he also wrote and starred in a B. Iden Payne nominated one-man show at ZACH Theatre (The Other Side of Sleep) and regularly lends his talents to the Alamo's team of master movie mockers, Master Pancake Theatre.
This Sunday, Egerton is also reading alongside local literata like Elizabeth McCracken and Tyler Stoddard Smith at the Unstuck issue release party at Hyde Park Theatre. Basically, if there's a cool event happening in town, he's probably a part of it somehow...
But then there's more! Egerton is also a big wig on the big screen. After trying his hand at screenwriting along with his two writing partners, Chris Mass and Russell Sharman, Egerton learned firsthand the rollercoaster ride of getting a movie produced. After bouncing around Hollywood for years, they eventually sold their comedy, Bobbie Sue, to Warner Bros., after being included on the 2008 Black List of the "hottest unproduced screenplays" of that year. (Also on the list, fyi: Inglorious Basterds, Up In the Air, and The Descendants.)
Since then, Egerton has written (and re-written) for studios like Fox and Disney, which led Egerton to pack up and head west for an eight month stint last year in Los Angeles. "There was no specific agenda in the move," he recalls. "[My writing partners and I] took a lot of meetings, sat on a lot of leather couches in waiting areas and drank a lot of water that was given to us."
But Egerton states that being there, going to those meetings and learning the Hollywood culture taught him a lot about being a creative person: both in L.A. and here in Austin. "In L.A., you're always aware of the business aspect of your interactions — even more than the craft sometimes; it's always in the back of your mind. On the other hand, in Austin, people are making art for free! People are creating without the expectation of getting paid, so they're less competitive, less protective, and more open to discuss their ideas."
To answer that age old question then about whether or not artists can "make it" in a town like Austin, Egerton posits: "There are definitely more options available in L.A. and New York that are not available in Texas. But to nail your craft, to really know you're doing the best work you can do, you can do that here. You don't have to suffer at Starbucks waiting for your big break; you can live here comfortably and make your big break happen."
Egerton cites the rise of independent film in Austin as the perfect example of nailing your craft and making a living doing what you love where you love. Egerton's writing partner Chris Mass, for instance, co-wrote the film Chalk right here in Austin alongside Mike Akel. The indie film festival acclaim eventually attracted big Hollywood attention from heavy-hitters like documentary darling Morgan Spurlock.
With all this advice and knowledge and passion for his fellow creatives in Austin, Egerton decided it's far time he start sharing his secrets with others. (That's where you come in!)
Next Saturday and Sunday, Egerton will be hosting his first open-invitation screenwriting workshop called "Screenplay: Craft to Career." This two-day intensive will take participants through key points of successful movie scripts like structure and creative character development while showing them demonstrative examples in films like The Incredibles, Blood Simple, Back to the Future, Casino Royale and It's a Wonderful Life.
"These aren't necessarily my favorite movies of all time, but they all example the elements of screenwriting I'm discussing so well," Egerton explains. "I think seeing these examples on the big Alamo screens will help solidify what we're talking about. Plus, some of my best memories come from watching films; like everyone in the theater is going on a ride together."
Of course, hearing Egerton's personal stories of the culture and his dealings with Hollywood would make the class worth the price of admission. But the additional advice on brainstorming, submitting work, finding motivation and respecting the process will be helpful for anyone who creates art of any kind in Austin.
Egerton is confident the workshop will be a blend of Austin creative types, with a whole range of storytelling backgrounds and experiences with filmmaking. He assures us the class will be just as helpful to absolute screenwriting beginners as it will to experienced moviemakers. Basically, if you have ever seen a film, you'll benefit from this class.
"A phrase keeps running through my head as I approach this course: 'Demystifying the Screenplay'," he says. "It occurs to me that many of us are intimidated by the basic screenplay structure, and I want to help creative minds — novelists, improvisers, comedians, etc. — get past that barrier. I'm hoping some really beautiful stories come from this."
Registration is still open to reserve a spot for Egerton's "Screenplay: Craft to Career" Workshop, March 3 & 4 from 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. The cost for registration is $225.00.
And if you need additional motivation: Check out Austin songwriter Southpaw Jones' song ABOUT the workshop. (It's that big a deal that it has its own theme song!)