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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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New AFF Member Benefit: Cine Las Americas Film Pass Discount

Announcing a brand new Member Benefit! When you purchase your Austin Film Festival Membership at the Associate Level, you can enjoy a special discount offered by our friends at Cine Las Americas International Film Festival on your 2014 badge purchase. As an AFF Member, enjoy seeing over 100 films ranging from the latest dramatic films made by breakthrough directors, to established studio releases, challenging documentaries, short films, entertaining animation series. In its 17th year, this festival brings together Latino and indigenous filmmakers, actors, and screenwriters from all across the Americas and the Iberian Peninsula.

Announcing a brand new Member Benefit! When you purchase your Austin Film Festival Membership at the Associate Level, you can enjoy a special discount offered by our friends at Cine Las Americas International Film Festival on your 2014 badge purchase. As an AFF Member, enjoy seeing over 100 films ranging from the latest dramatic films made by breakthrough directors, to established studio releases, challenging documentaries, short films, entertaining animation series. In its 17th year, this festival brings together Latino and indigenous filmmakers, actors, and screenwriters from all across the Americas and the Iberian Peninsula.

The Cine Las Americas Film Pass grants the holder preferred access to all film screenings at the festival, including opening and closing nights, as well as exclusive invitations to festival parties, receptions and other special events. All the films screened at the festival are subtitled in English, and take place at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre, Alamo Drafthouse Village, Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC), and St. Edwards University. Cine Las Americas takes place April 22 – 27. To receive your discount, simply inform your Cine Las Americas staff member you are an Austin Film festival member and they will confirm your $10 off film pass price! For more information about attending, visit www.cinelasamericas.org.

Not yet an AFF Member? Click here to see the perks and join today!

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Staff Blog: Liz Mims & Claymation Camp for Dell Children’s Blood and Cancer Center

Liz Mims | 03.12.14 During spring break we created a mobile stop motion site for patients at the Dell’s Children center. I was reminded that support for programs such as this is crucial to kids who may not otherwise have a chance to express their creativity during such a difficult time. Zane, a current patient charmed us with his enthusiasm for our instruction. He patiently waited …

Liz Mims | 03.12.14

During spring break we created a mobile stop motion site for patients at the Dell’s Children center. I was reminded that support for programs such as this is crucial to kids who may not otherwise have a chance to express their creativity during such a difficult time.

Zane, a current patient charmed us with his enthusiasm for our instruction. He patiently waited for the nurse to finish drawing blood. He entertained us with jokes as if he knew we needed to be distracted more than he did. He eyed the clay that we had out on the table. We discussed his favorite movies and his eyes lit up as he described the characters in the Lion King. The nurse suggested that he should use one arm to start building.  Zane quickly understood the concept of moving the characters inch by inch to create movement. He chugged gadorade and calmly answered the nurse as she asked if he could still feel his fingers. We were so happy to be there as a slight distraction from his pain. Kids trickled in and out of the treatment facility and together we created all kinds of characters. We put together the above short video chronicling the workshop!

My hope is that with the help of the community our “I Live Here, I Give Here” campaign will boost our efforts in creating the best possible environment for patients at Dell’s Children Center.

 

 

To support Dell Children’s Blood and Cancer Center, make a donation on our Amplify Austin Page.

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