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Film Fest 2012

Austin Film Festival takeaways: The top 5 tips to break into the industry

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AFF 2012 Opening Photo by Roby Brown
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Max Landis Photo by Roby Brown
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After four days of panels with writers, executives and producers, the curtain fell on the conference portion of the 19th Annual Austin Film Festival on Sunday. There were conversations about writing action sequences that thrill audiences, chats with Hollywood icons and master storytellers, and insightful dialogue regarding the business of sealing the all-important deal. 

These conversations play a big part of the draw AFF. Not everyone leaves with a writing deal, however every conversation, be it with someone like Paul Feig (director of Bridemaids) or a producer looking for his or her big break, has value beyond the admission fee. 

Of course, writing a great script is the most important part of becoming a screenwriter, but it’s just one part of the puzzle. From coming up with the idea to getting the word out and securing the meeting, here’s a brief recap on some of Austin Film Festival’s conference panels and the information provided to aspiring writers. 

Hitting the Page

Seasoned professional or beginner, everyone starts out with a blank page and a story to tell. Former Pixar story artist Emma Coats developed a list of tips that helped her during her time at the animation powerhouse. Her insightful panel, Story Rules, covered these tips about crafting a story and discussed how writers could apply them to their own works. 

Some panels focused on writing particular genres. In the Romantic Comedies panel, the writers of Going the Distance, Never Been Kissed and For Love Of the Game talked about staying fresh in a sometimes stale genre. The key? Stay authentic and write about what you would do, not what a movie character would do.  

Getting Noticed

The most frequently asked question around the Driskill Hotel is “How do I get an agent?" At Marketing Yourself And Your Script, panelists Eric Heisserer, Jeff Lowell and Pamela Ribon answered with, let the agent find you.

Just as e-books are breaking authors, social media can draw attention to screenwriters. YouTube videos, blogs and Twitter feeds have found their way to agents (also how Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody was discovered). Showing you have content that people relate to is important, and developing a personality can work wonders. 

The same sentiments were echoed in Breaking Onto The Scene. Max Landis, Evan Daugherty and John Swetnam each broke into the film industry in different ways. As attendees fired questions at the panelists about finding a manager or worried about being too old, the eccentric Landis, writer of Chronicle, burst in with, “There are no fucking rules.”

He emphasized that writing movies that you wanted to see is what will set you apart. Landis’ blunt comment, fitting of his flashy persona, served to show that there is definitely more than one way in. 

Be well read

As helpful as agents are to a writer’s career, they’re not the most important person to impress. Only a producer, executive or TV show runner has the power to get a film made or you hired.

Writing A Script That Will Stick featured executives talking candidly about what they want to see. Barry Josephsen, (producer of  Enchanted and Bones) emphasized layered characters and a high-concept idea. While he encouraged writers to develop a unique style of writing, your script will never go far if it lacks the substance to it up. 

Good in the room

Careers can be made or broken in a high-stakes meeting. Pixar executive Mary Coleman works with the company's directors on presenting their ideas. In her The Heart Of The Matter session, she worked with AFF Screenplay Competition winners on their own pitches. She walked through their stories and helped them fine tune the heart of their pitch to emphasize the emotional messages of their story.

Development And Taking A Meeting discussed the ups and downs of the process in which studios and writers work on story problems with the goal of getting a movie made. Studio changes  — or "notes" — can be hard for some writers to handle. Hershel Weingrod, writer of Trading Places, reminded writers that reacting badly to feedback can end a career. Focusing on making acceptable changes and fighting for what you believe in makes all the difference in what is essentially a relationship business. 

Personality complex

Getting into the complex mind of high-profile writers is one of the conference’s high notes. At A Conversation With Damon Lindelof, the writer spoke candidly about the decisions that led to the Lost finale that polarized many loyal viewers.

Linfelof recalled that the inspiration for the (SPOILER ALERT) purgatory ending came from the of Tibetan philosophy of Bardo, where people can only move on into the afterlife after they realized they’ve died (... problem solved Lost fans). Lindelof also offered up that the fan’s influence on Lost was both distracting and vital to the show’s success.

On the other end, Chronicle: From Script to Screen, was supposed to be a look at the process of Max Landis’ 2012 film. Instead, the unprepared Landis treated the audience to a profanity-laiden TED talk on screenwriting, Q & A and discussion on the YouTube film The Death And Return of Superman, which made him recognizable in a profession where most writers stay anonymous.

While Lindelof and Landis share little in common as writers, their talks both shed light on both the process of writing, as well as the nitty gritty that stems from an often-hectic, yet colorful career. 

After four days of drinks, panels and screenings, people leave AFF with a better sense of the creativity needed and challenges inherent in  breaking into the industry. There’s no perfect way to tackle the festival, but it’s an experience that attendees and panelists alike are bound to talk about for a very long time. 

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