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Guest Blog: Brian Jun – How AFF Started my Career and Why I’m Struggling to Keep it Going

“Your life will never be the same,” were the words I heard when my film Steel City premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. The exact time and place evade me at this moment, but I will never forget the series of events before and after that experience.

The script for Steel City was a Finalist at Austin Film Festival’s Screenplay Competition. It was the first time my writing was recognized in any fashion, and the first film festival that included my work, albeit a screenplay. It was a badge of validation that I wore proudly, and always mentioned the honor during the two year struggle to get the film financed. Steel City would go on to screen at AFF in 2006, and my career was suddenly started.

04.16.14 | Brian Jun

In preparation for our first deadline for the screenplay and film competitions we reached out to past entrants to find out how AFF has impacted their writing careers. This week Brian Jun, a former AFF Screenplay Finalist and  Filmmaker tells us of his trajectory through submitting and attending AFF as a writer and filmmaker, and what he’s up to now. Ready to submit your film or script? Submit before April 30th, 2014 and take advantage of our early bird pricing. Click here for more information.

“Your life will never be the same,” were the words I heard when my film Steel City premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.  The exact time and place evade me at this moment, but I will never forget the series of events before and after that experience.

The script for Steel City was a Finalist at Austin Film Festival’s Screenplay Competition.  It was the first time my writing was recognized in any fashion, and the first film festival that included my work, albeit a screenplay.  It was a badge of validation that I wore proudly, and always mentioned the honor during the two year struggle to get the film financed.  Steel City would go on to screen at AFF in 2006, and my career was suddenly started.

I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, just outside St. Louis.  I was a regular kid – played sports, navigated through the woods, snuck out as a teenager, and had crushes on girls that would never give me a second look.  However, something changed when I began to realize that I had an intuition and desire to communicate ideas.  I began reading plays and became interested in acting to escape the inadequacy I felt as an adolescent.  My regime was to study as many playwrights, filmmakers and painters I could get my hands on.  It became very evident that filmmaking entered my life with a vengeance.

After my early success with Steel City, I went onto field numerous opportunities; most of them were mishandled due to my inexperience, others due to not having the proper support system in the industry.  Whatever the reason, opportunities began slipping away.  I still managed to find work, doing a few gigs for hire – my second feature The Coverup premiered at AFF in 2008 – and I found other various writing assignments.  However, I struggled to hold onto my identity as a filmmaker, sold a script that never got made, and reverted back to working odd jobs to pay the rent.  I began to see many of my filmmaking peers achieve great things, get studio opportunities and all of a sudden, I wasn’t invited to the party.  I was the kid from the Midwest who made Steel City, yet failed to live up to his potential.

Even though my career slowed down, I continued to grow as a filmmaker, but more importantly, I grew as a person and really learned what perseverance is all about.  I promised myself that every day I would do something positive towards my career, or helping others with their career.  There is a notion that we all can do it on our own, and I am here to say, we all need help.  We all need a boost from time to time, and ‘what comes around goes around.’

When one dedicates their life to a particular profession they become involved in a community of like-minded individuals that can identify with their struggle and success.  Film Festivals around the world foster this in the most altruistic fashion by showcasing and supporting independent films, great performances, and daring, bold new artists.  AFF has been vital to my early development as a filmmaker, simply because somebody took the time to read a script.

The main dilemma that many filmmakers face is visibility.  Making a film used to be a privilege before it became so ‘en vogue.’  Film cameras and film stock were an essential and expensive endeavor and took a great deal of discipline.  The digital revolution has changed the way we make and watch movies.  This enables so many more people to express themselves visually which is fantastic.  The other side to this equation is exactly that – so many films are getting made, the divide between commercial studio fare and micro-budget features continues to grow.  So, how does one gain visibility in a vast sea of content?

I have made four feature films and have been blessed to work with many great actors; many newcomers and many veterans.  I have made the most of the opportunities I could grasp and have been grateful for every one of them.  I consider myself one of the lucky ones.  I consider every ounce of my success earned; I also earned all my failures, which is a strange thing to say.  Opportunities, success and failure is very elusive in this industry.  Ask those at the “top” why they are successful; it’s usually due to a mixture of work ethic and a defined break or opportunity, or being in the right place at the right time.  They’ve also endured a lot of failure.

To conclude, did my life really change after my early success?  My life is my life.  It’s unique to me and nobody else.  With the current climate of independent film, I have gone to Indiegogo to fund my next project – a low budget feature called In The Buck.  Despite the struggles and financial hardships I’ve endured, I continue to surround myself with other passionate people, and I’ve never felt more excited about what my future holds.  However, I still need help – and for those that support indie film to support me with my next endeavor.  And if Hollywood ever comes calling, I won’t be difficult to find.

Brian Jun
Brianjunco@hotmail.com

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7 Reasons to Submit Your Film to AFF

To complement last week’s blog post from Chris Lowell and Mo Narag and their seven lessons for up-and-coming filmmakers, the film department has assembled an additional seven reasons to submit your film to this year’s competition. Creative Director, Erin Hallagan, Senior Programmer, Liz Mims, and Film Program Coordinator, Harrison Glaser, share just some of what makes AFF a unique and valuable experience for any filmmaker. Be sure to submit during this Early Bird period before entry fees go up on May 1st!

04.16.14 | Liz, Erin, Harrison

To complement last week’s blog post from Chris Lowell and Mo Narag and their seven lessons for up-and-coming filmmakers, the film department has assembled an additional seven reasons to submit your film to this year’s competition.  Creative Director, Erin Hallagan, Senior Programmer, Liz Mims, and Film Program Coordinator, Harrison Glaser, share just some of what makes AFF a unique and valuable experience for any filmmaker.  Be sure to submit during this Early Bird period before entry fees go up on May 1st

 

1.  A Modest Entry Fee Packed with Worth.

Yes, an entry fee is required to submit your film, but it’s worth it. But don’t just take it from us. This year Moviemaker Magazine named us one of the Top 50 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee. Not only that, but until May 1, you can  submit your film for our Early Bird price—just $50.  And then you can take an EXTRA five dollars off of that by submitting directly through our website. We hope you can find it in your budget to share your film with us.

 

2. Sweet, Southern Hospitality.

One of the most imaginative and fresh-thinking cities in the United States, Austin has a booming film community whose energy infuses AFF.  Perhaps one of the only cities where you can eat authentic BBQ, go to chicken shit bingo and try vegan ice cream in the same night, it is rich with culture and renowned for its hospitality. Austin is also the live music capital of the world, so in-between events and films you can catch great music any night of the week. Jump into Barton Springs to experience the cheapest thrill in town or howl at the moon with night swimmers. The fun and lively spirit of Austin is something that everyone should experience. If you submit, you might have a darn good reason to visit.

As a filmmaker you would join the ranks of the close knit family that is Austin Film Festival. While some festivals have VIP parties, green rooms, and exclusive events, we consider all guests worthy of having a great time.

 

3. I get to screen my film where???

The Festival & Conference takes place downtown in grand historic buildings and hip new spaces, and the city’s personality enhances AFF. If your film is selected into our program, don’t expect it to screen in an impromptu convention center room. Just like our city and our Festival, our theaters are weird, awesome, and majestic. Your film could screen at the famous Paramount Theatre, a gorgeous venue built in 1915, complete with box seats and ceiling murals.  You can almost taste the history. Or maybe your film will screen at the world renowned Alamo Drafthouse, a pride and joy of Austinites and movie-lovers alike. We can guarantee that your screening will be even more fun when everyone in the audience is enjoying a cold beer. And don’t forget our IMAX theater. Can you imagine your film playing in high definition on a 62 foot tall screen? It’s a sight to behold, we assure you.

No matter where your film plays at our Festival, we try to make sure the location is just as memorable as the experience.

 

4. We treat every film like an event

This year, the creative programming from both the Conference and Film Departments has been combined in hopes to produce an even stronger platform for great storytelling.  The inviting, inspirational, and organic atmosphere of the Screenwriters Conference will continue to be implemented in the post-screening Q&A’s, with carefully selected moderators that share our passion for the stories behind the stories.  Each film is treated like an event at Austin Film Festival, and the opportunity to explore the filmmakers journey a staple to the Festival experience.

 

5. Panels, Parties, and Unrivaled Industry Networking

The Screenwriters Conference is truly one-of-a-kind.  Because AFF is so interactive, the incoming screenwriters and filmmakers are not just names on a list but artists you get to know during the week. From a script-revising workshop in the morning to an industry-packed BBQ Supper party in the evening, this Festival is designed for contact, for catalyzing ideas, and collaboration.  AFF is continuing the highly-popular guest-programmed Retrospectives Screenings, like 2013’s screenings of The French Connection presented by Vince Gilligan, or My Man Godfrey presented by Shane Black.  There will be more independent filmmaking panels, featuring filmmakers from this year’s competition dissecting their own learned experiences on and off set – including everything from assembling your crew to navigating the Festival circuit.  Sit down to have your indie film questions answered, and then see films helmed by the very panelists later that day.

Parties are a cornerstone to Austin Film Festival & Conference, from the Late Night Welcome Party to the Hair of the Dog Brunch and the Film Texas BBQ Supper. These laidback yet boisterous get-togethers allow newcomers, veterans, film lovers and icons to talk shop over brisket and margaritas. Think of these festivities as an antidote to the high walls and velvet ropes of Hollywood.

 

6. When you win here, you really win

Our competition is about much more than the cash prize.  Not only do you get our unique and beautiful bronze typewriter statue—five pounds of prestige you can hold in your hands—but you also get to win it alongside some legendary and influential figures in film and television as part of our annual Awards Luncheon ceremony. Last year, our winning filmmakers received their awards next to Jonathan Demme, Vince Gilligan, Callie Khouri and Susan Sarandon. Expect more of the same this year.

In case that’s not enough, also keep in mind that the Jury Award winners of our Narrative, Documentary and Animated Short categories officially qualify for an Academy Award. In 2012 our awards sent Timothy Reckart, Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly, Bryan Buckley and Mina Jarjoura to the Oscars when their films Head over Heels and Asad were nominated. And in 2011 our Animated Short Jury Award winner The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore actually won the Oscar.

With big name Jurors attached to the competition, your films are given the attention, consideration, and deliberation they deserve.

Big things happen when you win our bronze typewriter, but if you want to win, you have to submit first!

 

7. Life after Austin Film Festival

We work actively to stay in constant touch with our alumni.  It is our goal not only to support their film, but also their place as a filmmaker in the industry.

Every year, the number and caliber of film submissions rises, pushing AFF further into the center of the ring for film festivals. Our 2013 festival featured 28 world premieres and several US premieres, and included narrative, documentary, and animated films, running the spectrum from low-budget stunners to Hollywood breakouts.  Five of our features were picked up for distribution during the week of the festival and many others have been picked up since.

And again, the Jury Award winners for Narrative Shorts, Animated Shorts and Documentary Shorts are eligible to be nominated for an Academy Award®.  Additionally, short films have the opportunity to be included in our television show, On Story, a half-hour PBS-affiliated series that features a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of the most beloved movies and television shows, comprised of past AFF panels and screenings coupled with a short film that screened during the Festival.

So what are you waiting for?  Submit today before the prices go up on May 1st!

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AFF Interview: Screenplay Alumni Andrew Lanham and Troy Miller

04.09.14 | Matt Dy AFF is coming to LA this Saturday, April 12th to join forces with The Writers Guild Foundation on From First Draft To Feature, a full day of panels and workshops dedicated to taking your script and turning it into a finished product. In anticipation of the event, we interviewed two of the panelists that will be included in our Final Draft …

04.09.14 | Matt Dy

AFF is coming to LA this Saturday, April 12th to join forces with The Writers Guild Foundation on From First Draft To Feature, a full day of panels and workshops dedicated to taking your script and turning it into a finished product. In anticipation of the event, we interviewed two of the panelists that will be included in our Final Draft to Competitions panel discussion.  The two writers included in the interview are AFF alums Andrew Lanham, 2010 AFF Drama Screenplay Winner and 2010 Nicholl Fellow, and Troy Miller, 2013 AFF Horror Screenplay Winner. Do you have a screenplay or teleplay you are looking to submit in the 2014 Competition? What are you waiting for? Submit your script here. Not ready to submit your script yet? Get notes and advice from our Coverage Program.

AFF: What is your writing process?

ANDREW: I write long hand, starting early in the morning. I type up and revise heading into the afternoon. The long hand is the most important part for me. It makes me feel like there is much less pressure than a blank screen, and by the time I’m typing up I’m already on a sort of second draft.

TROY: Research, Outline, Explore. In order to get into the world of the story, I need to understand it, so if any aspect of it is foreign to me, I do a lot of research—online, books, interviews, you name it.  Then I outline the story. Huge proponent of outlining. What are the major beats, especially the “turn”, the thing that drives the protagonist full force into destiny. Sometimes I note card. But really, once I have the beats, I explore. I imagine the scene before me, then I walk through it with the characters. I ask “what comes next?”—an improvised storytelling technique—and see how far I can heighten that moment until it nearly breaks.

 

AFF: What drew you to submit your script to AFF?

ANDREW: I was in the MFA Screenwriting program at the University of Texas, Austin when I submitted to AFF. There’s a great relationship between AFF and the university, so trying to have something to submit was a goal for all of the graduate students.

TROY: I’ve submitted to AFF probably half a dozen times, but never with anything that I felt was “as good as it can be for now” — a hard place for me to be willing to get to. This one took three drafts before I allowed myself to even think it. And AFF is the cream of the crop. Having been a reader for the fest for years and had a film there before, I knew first hand. It’s a place where doing well really means something.

 

AFF: What was your experience like attending AFF with a script in the competition?

ANDREW: It was amazing! I was a graduate student, living in the city across town, so attending AFF while in competition was a surreal and wonderful dream come true. It’s such an amazing festival – I treasured every minute of it then, and I still do today.

TROY: The great thing about AFF is that, generally speaking, it doesn’t matter if you have a script or not. The festival is what you, the creative and engaging individual you are, make of it. This was the first year I had a script in competition, but I’ve been coming for a decade. The people you meet ultimately want to know and like you first as a human being. Having a script is simply a bonus –and a great conversation starter.

 

AFF: What happened after AFF?

ANDREW: I won the Nicholl Fellowship soon after AFF. I finished the MFA program in Austin over the next year. I moved to Los Angeles about a year after that, when I was hired for my first paid writing job.

TROY: A very cool thing. Darkwoods Productions, who gave me the award, told me they were interested in optioning the script. We’re talking Frank Darabont’s company. I couldn’t really even process it for a long time. As of this writing, nothing’s final, but that’s simply because nothing moves too quickly in Hollywood (as I’ve learned). They’ve been great, are enthusiastic supporters of the work, and I honestly can’t think of anyone more suited to try to bring this story to life.

Editor’s note: Darkwoods Productions is BACK as a sponsor of the 2014 Horror and Sci-Fi Categories

AFF:  What advice would you give writers hoping to break in?

ANDREW: Write what you are passionate about, not just what you know. Be careful with your work, take the time to know your script is a good read. Listen to feedback (and get lots of it). Allow the notes you receive to take the work to new and exciting places. Print to proofread. Revise, revise, revise.

TROY: Submit to festivals like AFF. I mean, do your research. Pick a handful that have some juice. AFF and Nicholl are top. But anyone who tells you they are a waste of time hasn’t won or done well at one. Your script will get read, and if it does well, it could get read by someone who connects to the material and can do something about it. What happened to me is a perfect example.

 

AFF: What are you currently working on?

ANDREW: I’m adapting The Glass Castle with Destin Daniel Cretton, and working on a project about Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid for Vincent D’Onofrio.

TROY: A few things. A time travel thriller for one. Another is a kind of western meets serial killer movie, based on true events (that happened right here in Austin!). And I’m developing a pilot for an episodic series that updates the strange case of Jekyll and Hyde. At the moment, though, I’m mostly working on being married (March 23rd). It’s a feel-good story with a happy ending — Hollywood loves those, yeah?

For more information and to purchase tickets for From First Draft To Feature, click here.

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Guest Blog: Chris Lowell & Mohit Narang – 7 Lessons for Filmmakers

04.09.14 | Chris Lowell & Mo Narang Beside Still Waters, written by Chris Lowell & Mohit (Mo) Narang, and directed by Lowell, swept AFF’s Narrative Feature Awards in 2013, winning both the Jury and Audience Award. We hosted an encore screening of Beside Still Waters in March as a part of our Audience Award Series, and hosted a script reading of their second feature Isolation/Tribes

04.09.14 | Chris Lowell & Mo Narang

Beside Still Waters, written by Chris Lowell & Mohit (Mo) Narang, and directed by Lowell, swept AFF’s Narrative Feature Awards in 2013, winning both the Jury and Audience Award. We hosted an encore screening of Beside Still Waters in March as a part of our Audience Award Series, and hosted a script reading of their second feature Isolation/Tribes as well. They will be back to speak at the 2014 Conference (to see them this fall, get your badge here) but in the meantime, we asked them to guest blog for us on the trials and tribulations of being first time filmmakers, completing a film from start to finish, and to tell us what it was like working the festival circuit for the first time. They’ve come back with a list of 7 lessons for filmmakers. Thanks to Chris and Mo for the blog and we look forward to seeing you in October!

Are you a filmmaker with a newly completed film? If so, submit to our competition! You can’t win if you don’t enter, click here to submit today!

Chris Lowell & Mo Narang: Beside Still Waters Filmmakers

We should start with a disclaimer: the only thing we know for certain about filmmaking is how little we knew when we started writing Beside Still Waters. That said, here’s what we’ve learned:

LESSON 1: WRITING IS HARD

The two of us began working on Beside Still Waters in the summer of 2010. Back then, it was just a few bullet points jotted in a little green notebook. That fall, we began writing in earnest. Our process is unusual: After outlining the story together, we both write a completely separate full-length screenplay. We exchange scripts, mash them together into a Frankenstein draft, then cut it down. That entire process is one draft.
By all reasonable accounts, our process shouldn’t work BUT it does for us, and that’s the rub – writing is hard, so finding whatever method (no matter how absurd) to put words-to-page is itself an achievement.
Over the course of the next year and half, we went through at least twelve drafts of BSW. We took notes, made edits, cut and added major themes (the title is actually a vestige of a long-abandoned subplot). Our characters and our world began to take form.

LESSON 2: EVERYONE HITS ROADBLOCKS

At the end of 2011, we found producers interested in the film, and were off to the races. 2012 was a sprint – January was producers meetings, February and March were fundraising, April was casting, and May: pre-production. We shot the film over three exhausting yet incredible weeks in June. The fall was spent editing. We had a charmed production; we were one of the lucky ones. We locked picture in November and began applying to festivals, with every hope that our streak of good fortune would continue.
January and February were filled with very polite rejections from every festival we applied to. We told ourselves (rightly) that festivals are competitive, and we’d find our way in soon enough. In March and April the rejections piled up. All the little doubts that accompany any creative endeavor began to creep forward, and what had been an enthusiastic labor of love suddenly elicited a bitter taste.
We couldn’t have known it then, but those months were pivotal to us as young filmmakers. We learned a very valuable lesson: although rejection may feel like the end of the world, it’s anything but. In retrospect, those rejections were small stumbles in a much bigger journey.

LESSON 3: FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

We premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October 2013, and played at the Austin Film Festival two weeks later. Prior to actually educating ourselves, it was easy to overlook any festival that didn’t have the splash and luster of Cannes or Sundance, but Mill Valley and Austin were amazing fits for our film.
Both festivals pride themselves on the discovery and support of new talent. The programming teams genuinely loved the film, and were enthusiastic with their support. The crowds were also incredible. At Austin, we won the Audience Award along with the Jury Prize, and received our first distribution offer.

LESSON 4: PROGRAMMERS ARE HUGE FILM GEEKS (SEE: WONDERFUL)

At Austin and Mill Valley, we had a chance to actually sit down and talk film with some of the festival programmers. We can’t stress this next point enough: These. People. Love. Film. They love filmmakers. Months prior, when all we were hearing was No, we had developed a very adversarial mindset toward programmers. However, once we began talking to them, we realized how hard it would be to find bigger fans of film. They take so much joy in elevating new talent, and struggle pretty deeply with the unenviable task of selecting the lucky few. Bottom line: programmers and filmmakers are on the same team. It may be hard to remember that when you’re getting rejection emails, but it’s true.

LESSON 5: FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD

SUBMIT. YOUR. FILM. None of this can happen if you don’t submit your film. Having gone to festivals and met other filmmakers, we can say this with some certainty: the race doesn’t go to the wealthiest, or the most connected, and it often doesn’t go to the most talented – it goes to the people who do the work. We’ll pilfer some Honest Abe to cement the point: “Things may come to those who wait, but only things left by those who hustled.”

LESSON 6: IT DOESN’T END THERE

So we got our first distribution offer at Austin, and we were off to the races, right? Wrong. The road is long. Both Mill Valley and Austin have been incredible to us in the months following the festivals. AFF just held an encore screening of our film, AND went out of their way to arrange a public reading of our second script! Both events were really well promoted and attended, and awesome opportunities for us to drum up some more support around our young filmmaking careers.
We hope these experiences have just been the start of a long partnership – we’ve already booked our tickets to come back to Austin for this year’s fest!

LESSON 7: THERE IS NO LESSON SEVEN

Seriously. We don’t have a seventh lesson – we’re probably learning it as you read this. Hopefully the other six weren’t a complete waste of your time. If you’ve got a film you’re thinking of submitting, do it. For us, it was the beginning of an amazing journey.

UPDATE: There was no Lesson Seven. We wrote the above a few days before launching a Kickstarter campaign, and we can safely say we’ve found our seventh. We’d set out to raise $63,000 in thirty-seven days – a very ambitious goal for us. We surpassed that goal within two days, and we’re still going! The support we’ve been shown – from family, friends, old co-workers, teachers, strangers, you name it – has been incredible, and humbling, and truly, deeply touching. We’re still struggling to wrap our heads around this, but we think the lesson is this: there is a vocal, energetic, committed group of people out there hungry to support independent cinema in a grassroots way. We’ll refer you back to Lesson Five if you’re considering reaching out into the world, but please know – these people are out there, and they’re amazing.

Good luck, and thanks for listening to us ramble!

- Chris & Mo

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