In 2005, Austin Film Festival world-premiered a brilliant short THE BRAGGART by filmmaker David Andalman (which you can see in its entirety here: https://vimeo.com/22129360). Now, seven years later we are excited to host the Texas premiere of AMERICAN MILKSHAKE, a film he wrote, directed and produced with Mariko Munro and which premiered at Sundance this last year. David and Mariko just landed in Cannes with …
In 2005, Austin Film Festival world-premiered a brilliant short THE BRAGGART by filmmaker David Andalman (which you can see in its entirety here: https://vimeo.com/22129360). Now, seven years later we are excited to host the Texas premiere of AMERICAN MILKSHAKE, a film he wrote, directed and produced with Mariko Munro and which premiered at Sundance this last year. David and Mariko just landed in Cannes with their AMERICAN MILKSHAKE foreign sales agent, and preparing for the Producer’s Network to pitch their next project. They took some time out of their busy schedule to answer a few questions from Director of Programming Bears Fonté about their debut feature.
AFF : Where did the inspiration for AMERICAN MILKSHAKE come from, and was there anything that came to you right away that ended up virtually untouched in the final version?
AMERICAN MILKSHAKE was inspired by our collective youth – Mariko and I that is. That time in childhood when it first dawns on you that race, sex, and class play a big role in your life – in the cards you’re dealt. And you’re first starting to realize life’s not fair. It can create rifts in friendships and between children and parents, and in relationships.
AFF: This is a dark, dark comedy. Were you ever worried about going too far? How did you give yourself the courage to carry on?
The beauty of indie is that you don’t have to play by the usual Hollywood rules. We weren’t so worried about going too far, but we did want to be very careful to accurately portray the characters. Nothing is dark just to be dark.
AFF: Every writing partnership works differently. How did you two collaborate on American Milkshake?
In this instance David wrote the first draft, and from then on out we poured over the script together, re-shaping, rewriting, punching up jokes, etc. Really working side by side at the keyboard. On the next project LIBBY AT THE DOOR – a New York Club comedy, Mariko is writing the first draft, and bouncing the pages off David along the way for feedback. In the second pass we’ll probably sit down side by side again.
AFF: Were there ever moments where you two as the ‘director’ were a little frustrated with you two as ‘the writers?’
It’s always a process. There’s always room for improvement in rehearsal and shooting. But in comedy, when the writing is very tight and particular it almost always works best if actors stick to the page. We were very happy with the script.
AFF: Our film competition accepts entries until July 15th. As a veteran of the film festival circuit, what advice can you give filmmakers about getting the most out of their festival experiences?
Have a good time. Meet people you want to work with in the future, and enjoy learning from others who have gone through it. It’s all a blast.
AMERICAN MILKSHAKE plays Monday, May 20th at 7 pm in the Texas Spirit Theater at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.
05.08.13 | Erin Hallagan Wednesday, May 22nd, join Austin Film Festival for A Conversation with David Magee, writer of LIFE OF PI and FINDING NEVERLAND. The conversation will focus on adaptation, writing for imaginative worlds, and using language to articulate enchanting stories that have been so beautifully translated to the screen. Following the conversation will be a retrospective screening of FINDING NEVERLAND and post-screening Q&A. …
05.08.13 | Erin Hallagan
Wednesday, May 22nd, join Austin Film Festival for A Conversation with David Magee, writer of LIFE OF PI and FINDING NEVERLAND. The conversation will focus on adaptation, writing for imaginative worlds, and using language to articulate enchanting stories that have been so beautifully translated to the screen. Following the conversation will be a retrospective screening of FINDING NEVERLAND and post-screening Q&A. We sat down with Magee beforehand for a pre-interview about how he broke into the industry and his advice to screenwriting students. To hear more from David Magee and to join us May 22nd, click here.
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL (AFF): What did you do professionally before you became a screenwriter and how did you break into the film industry?
MAGEE: I started as a theatre actor, having a great time and earning no money, and I supported myself by doing voiceover. I narrated several audiobooks, which are usually recorded in full length and abridged versions. One day I went in to a recording studio with an abridgment of a novel that was horribly done – it was unfair to the original writer to record it – and I said to the producer offhandedly that I could have done a better job abridging it. She asked if I wanted to give it a try. It turned out that abridging was a perfect job for an actor who needed time to go to auditions and to regional theatres, and in the next five years I wrote abridgments of 85 books. Without intending it, I got incredible training in story structure. Toward the end of that period I began writing for the stage, which led to my opportunity to write FINDING NEVERLAND.
AFF: How does your experience as a theatre actor influence your writing style?
MAGEE: When I write dialogue, I am essentially performing the characters in my head, and thanks to my acting background, I know when a bit of dialogue gives an actor something they can sink their teeth into and when something sounds good on paper but can’t be said with a straight face.
AFF: On LIFE OF PI, what was your collaboration with Ang Lee like? How closely was he involved in the adaptation/writing process?
MAGEE: I worked very closely with Ang throughout the writing process. In the initial stages, I would write notes, sketch scenes, and so on. Once a week or so send what I had over to Ang and then join him in New York for lunch and an afternoon of throwing ideas around, then I’d head back home for another week of writing. Once we had a first draft, Ang began working with computer animators to plan out the filming of the sea adventure, essentially designing the film shot by shot. As I watched his visual ideas unfold, I revised the script to reflect what he was doing, and he changed the animation as the script evolved as well. I was in Taiwan for all of pre-production. Once the filming began I headed home – the script didn’t change at all during filming, which was a highly technical process that took place primarily in a wave tank – but when the editing process began, Ang invited me back regularly to tweak voiceovers and throw in my two cents worth on the process.
AFF: Initially you thought the novel was not filmmable. How did you make it work and how much research did you do?
MAGEE: Well, all of us made it work. Ten years ago, when the book came out, I couldn’t imagine how you could possibly film a real tiger and animals in a boat with a teenager, and the technology to create such amazing visual effects simply didn’t exist. I also didn’t imagine a studio would have had the guts to take on what I knew would have been an expensive and difficult film to make with no stars and an ambiguous ending. And if Ang hadn’t been directing, I don’t think I would have ever taken on the project myself four years ago – without a director of his caliber I don’t think it would have mattered what I wrote. My challenge was to tell a story about religious and philosophical issues that took place primarily in the mind of a teenage boy as he floated across the ocean in a lifeboat, and finding the actions that made his internal struggle visible onscreen, and the short answer to how I made my part of the process work was through a lot of trial and error, constant rewrites and input from a team of incredibly talented filmmakers.
Research was an essential part of the writing process. When I began I knew next to nothing about India, Hinduism, and even lifeboats for that matter. Early on, Ang and I met with Steven Callahan, a sailor who wrote a book called “Adrift” about his real life experience floating across the Atlantic in a five-foot round inflatable lifeboat. His stories about the ways in which the journey changed him physically and emotionally became an essential part of the story, and in fact Steve became our Survival Expert on the film, charting the exact journey through the ocean Pi would have taken, where he would have landed on the beach, where the island would have been located and so on. We also traveled through India to all the locations in the book before I had begun writing, and one of our associate producers, Jean Castelli, became our research expert on religious issues, prayers, different forms of Indian dance and the like. In a film with so many wondrous elements, you have to fully ground your story in the real to make the journey believable.
AFF: How did you decide what went into the film’s interpretation of the open-ended conclusion?
MAGEE: From the very beginning of the writing process, Ang and I saw this film not so much about religion as being about how different narratives help us get through the ordeals of our lives. A Hindu, a Christian, and an atheist can watch the same events unfold and come to different conclusions about the hidden forces at work beneath it all – but they all rely on a narrative to understand what they’ve witnessed. We didn’t want to force any one conclusion upon our audience, we simply wanted them to see the ways in which different views of the same story can add up to a larger view of our journey through life. Ideally, you own interpretation of what really happened to Pi on that boat says more about your world view than it says about what conclusions we wanted you to take from the ending.
AFF: Who are some of your favorite playwrights or screenwriters?
MAGEE: I’m going to stick with dead writers, because while I love a lot of writers working today, I also know a lot of them, and I don’t want to forget anyone or offend someone by not mentioning them. So… Shakespeare, Harold Pinter, Arthur Miller, Joe Mankiewicz, Billy Wilder, Ernest Lehman, Preston Sturges, Philip Barry, Tennessee Williams, Frank Capra, Frank Pierson and while he wasn’t a screenwriter, exactly, Buster Keaton. And I still feel bad that I left dozens of others off the list.
AFF: What do you find yourself telling your screenwriting students most? Any advice for up-and-coming writers?
MAGEE: The number one bit of advice I have is that if you keep showing up, if you keep working at your craft, if you always do just a little more than you’re asked and take your work far more seriously than you take yourself, eventually you will get your chance. It may be a small chance, and it may take many more chances along the way to get to your ultimate goal, but a door will crack open somewhere, and all that matters then is whether or not you’re prepared to step through it.
Austin Film Festival’s “Conversations in Film” program was created in 2007 and is sponsored by The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences®. It is a year-round series of film seminars and script readings that provide the public with the unique experience to meet and work with local and visiting filmmakers.
AFF Guest Blog: Director Alex Holdridge on The 2001 Making of WRONG NUMBERS and the Landscape of Filmmaking in Austin
05.01.13 | Alex Holdridge Next Wednesday, May 8th at 7:00pm AFF’s Made in Texas series kicks off with a retrospective screening of WRONG NUMBERS. WRONG NUMBERS was a 2001 Austin Film Festival Audience Award Winner, directed by native Texan Alex Holdridge and launched the careers of comedian and radio personality Matt Bearden and actor Scoot McNairy (ARGO, KILLING THEM SOFTLY). Alex, Matt and Scoot will …
05.01.13 | Alex Holdridge
Next Wednesday, May 8th at 7:00pm AFF’s Made in Texas series kicks off with a retrospective screening of WRONG NUMBERS. WRONG NUMBERS was a 2001 Austin Film Festival Audience Award Winner, directed by native Texan Alex Holdridge and launched the careers of comedian and radio personality Matt Bearden and actor Scoot McNairy (ARGO, KILLING THEM SOFTLY). Alex, Matt and Scoot will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A. Alex Holdridge sat down to pen what he remembers of filmmaking in Austin in 2001 when the Alamo Drafthouse was a one room entity, and late nights at Kerbey Lane was payment for the crew. For more information about the screening, and for tickets, click here.
What I remember about Austin in 2001 was shooting anytime we had cash (waiting tables at Hickory Street/working at Precision camera) to buy more DV tapes. That meant late nights with friends that were as obsessed about films as you were. There was no money for any of us, so payment was often pancakes at Kerbey Lane after shooting all night, exhausted. It was the end of an era when people could still smoke at Starseeds, and online editing at home was financially out of reach unless you braved hacked Adobe Premiere software and reconfigured your computer endlessly so it could play back without a hiccup (which we eventually did). It was the era of cutting, exporting back to DV tape “lossless,” and that made it possible to shoot way too many takes. It was the beginning of the end of 16 mm for low-budget films. We began WRONG NUMBERS shooting a 16 mm trailer to raise money when the three chip DV cameras started to become a viable means of shooting, and we took the chance to actually make the film rather than waiting around failing to raise money. It was the time when the Alamo Drafthouse was a one room affair, and they introduced us to a whole slew of great films that we watched while we actually drank beer, completely new for us. The drafthouse even showed Wrong Numbers for what eventually lasted for three solid weeks of screenings. Tim and Carrie are forever appreciated for that.
The Chronicle was kind and to my surprise actually took the time to write about our tiny film. JB and Sandy became friends after JB strolled into an Alamo screening one night and liked the film. They talked it up for us on their show, and made us feel special and got people to the Drafthouse. I was blown away because the film took us four years to make. We were all working full-time or going to school, so we shot part-time and had to figure out how to edit it. Along the way we changed a lot and learned what we were doing. The mistakes I made as a director are endless in this one, but the actors are absolutely phenomenal, and that made all the difference. I knew there was something special in each of those guys Scoot McNairy, Matt Bearden, Matt Pulliam, Brian McGuire, Robert Murphy. All still good friends. I continued making films with many of these guys for the next decade.
A decade later Scoot is in the best picture winner. That was a special little crew, and I love all those people for diving in like that.
Before we showed it, however, I was certain it was going to be a failure. The night of the AFF premiere, I slunk into the theater convinced this was going to be the most embarrassing night of my life. My friends were expecting Titanic after four years of working on the same film, and it was a tiny comedy about two underage friends trying to buy a six pack on a Friday night. Given I was learning what I was doing, I figured people had way too high expectations. You know what it’s like when people ask, what’s up and you say you’re working on the film. And they say, “The same one?!” When that goes on for years, you start to feel nervous. That tiny premiere in the Driskill was something I’ll never forget.
It’ll be fun to be back in Austin with the old crew to kick off the AFF screenings. It’s an honor.
For more information on WRONG NUMBERS and to attend the screening (Tickets are $5 General Admission / Free for AFF and Bullock State History Museum Members), click here.
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Monday, May 6th brings the close of this year’s Austin Film Festival Audience Award Series. One of our favorite year round event series, these “Best of Fest” screenings give the Austin community a second chance at seeing AFF’s Audience Award favorites. Our last screening in the series, SPINNING PLATES will take place on Monday, May 6th at 7:00 the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Writer/Director Joseph Levy will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A but AFF sat down with him beforehand for a pre-interview.
05.01.13 | Bears Fonté
Monday, May 6th brings the close of this year’s Austin Film Festival Audience Award Series. One of our favorite year round event series, these “Best of Fest” screenings give the Austin community a second chance at seeing AFF’s Audience Award favorites. Our last screening in the series, SPINNING PLATES will take place on Monday, May 6th at 7:00 the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Writer/Director Joseph Levy will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A but AFF sat down with him beforehand for a pre-interview. For more information on the screening, click here.
Austin Film Festival: Your film follows three restauranteers and various stages of their restaurant’s development. How did you find them and how did you know you had the right people to focus the film around?
Joseph Levy: Alinea was the easiest find since I already knew Grant Achatz. In 2003, I made a Food Network show called Into the Fire that looked behind-the-scenes at some of the nation’s most renowned restaurants. At the time, Grant was the executive chef of Trio, just outside of Chicago. The dinner I had at Trio was the most incredible dining experience of my life (only to be surpassed by later experiences at Alinea), and at 29-years-old, Grant was a fascinating, driven character. Several years later, he opened Alinea, which was soon named the best restaurant in the nation. Two years after that, Grant would receive a diagnosis thrusting him into a fight for his life. Grant is one of the most interesting and brilliant people I have ever met, and I really wanted to tell his story.
Breitbach’s Country Dining involves a much larger cast and is about the incredible relationship between a restaurant and a town. I had never heard of Breitbach’s prior to 2010, but I knew the basic blueprint I was looking for. I was looking for something like a particular restaurant I grew up with in Corpus Christi, Texas, called Andy’s Country Kitchen – a place where everybody seemed to know everyone else and the color of your collar didn’t matter. It was a place where community just happened around food. But Corpus has about 300,000 people and I wanted to find a place where the stakes were higher – where the restaurant was the heart of the town. Because of their 150-year-old history and some of the things that the restaurant and the town went through that are talked about in the film, it wasn’t long before I found myself in Balltown, Iowa – a town of about 70 with a restaurant that seats 400 that on some weekends serves 2000. But at the center of this family-owned legacy is a very special and beautiful relationship with its community, and an amazing story of how that relationship was put to the test. Breitbach’s was everything I was looking for and more.
The third restaurant, La Cocina de Gabby, was a very hard find and took months of searching. I knew the story I wanted to tell – an ethnic restaurant run by owners who came to the U.S. in search of the American Dream. I also knew that I wanted the drama driving their story to be incredibly true. Most of the drama that people know of the food world today comes from what’s shown on television – screaming chefs and mystery basket competitions. I have nothing against that programming, but it’s entertainment… it’s manufactured and it’s an incomplete picture. This is the story of a couple trying to save their home from foreclosure and keep their family together while providing for their 3-year-old daughter. I feel it’s a very important story to tell because it’s incredibly prevalent and a very real snapshot of a part of the restaurant world that doesn’t get shown. So how do you find a restaurant that’s struggling because not many people know about it? After many food trips to different cities (one in particular comes to mind in San Diego that involved eating at 8 restaurants in 8 hours) and hours of searching on the internet for restaurants with only enough presence that I could find them, I found La Cocina de Gabby. I got on a plane to Tucson the next day, got to the restaurant in time for lunch, took in the atmosphere (and food) for an hour, and then finally introduced myself to the owner. Within minutes he was baring his soul to me with his wife and daughter at his side, and there was no question in my mind that this was the restaurant for the film.
AFF: Food is so ‘hot’ right now on television, and obviously made a great subject for your film. Why do you think America is so obsessed with chefs, celebrity chefs and food culture right now?
Levy: Food is universal. Everyone eats. And for the most part, even people who don’t consider themselves ‘foodies’ or food-lovers might have an unforgettable memory of a meal their grandmother once cooked for them when they were young. We can superimpose emotion upon food, much like music. Just as one might remember the first song they danced to with their spouse, they probably remember the first meal they ever shared. Food is familiar… food is comfort… food is love.
But suddenly, in the last decade or so, food is sexy… trendy. And whereas before, a great cookie recipe would make you incredibly popular at your family’s holiday party, now it can win you a baking competition, make you a TV star, get you a new career and get you a hundred thousand followers on twitter.
But most of all, food is fun. Almost everyone loves eating out. And now finding the newest great restaurant is something that’s almost become a sort of online community sport. But at the end of the day, whether it’s a bowl of tomato soup from mom or a lobster mac & cheese empanada from a trendy pop-up, we love being nurtured through food.
AFF: Shooting a documentary always involves collecting far more film than you could ever use to catch the right moments. Was there anything you left out of the final edit of the film that you found to be really interesting? In the end, why did you cut it?
Levy: Truthfully, our total footage shot is unbelievably low. We were very surgical and very conservative – drilled in on story from day one. But I do have about 5 hours of the most fascinating interview footage with Grant Achatz. Probably less than 10 minutes of it made it into the film. I’ve always thought I could have just released that interview and called it a day.
AFF: Many people have said that documentary films are more popular now than ever before. Do you think that’s true? Why or why not?
Levy: I think docs are perhaps more accessible than ever before. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that they watch countless documentaries on Netflix. And I imagine the audience has grown substantially as a lot of people who once thought of documentaries as sterile, academic films have eventually come to think of the genre as being just as entertaining as narrative.
AFF: Our film competition is running right now, with a late deadline of July 15th. There are probably many doc and doc short filmmakers putting the final touches on their film right now. Any advice for them?
Levy: As a life-long musician and film-scoring major, music was critical to me from the start. I spent about a month putting the temp score together and was fortunate enough to get a spectacular score from an amazing composer – Ed Shearmur. If I had any advice for those last few months, it would be to make sure the score isn’t just accompanying the film, but really taking it to a higher level.
AFF: Bonus question: it’s you last meal before a 1 year oatmeal smoothie fast. What do you want?
Levy: I’d go to a great food city and have a multi-hour, multi-restaurant progressive dinner throughout the city, eating a little of every type of food. I also call this “research.”
For more information on SPINNING PLATES, to watch the trailer, or for tickets, click here.
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04.20.13 | Bears Fonté If you’re home this Saturday with nothing to do and an empty Netflix queue, why not check out some of this week’s Staff Picks TV Pilots? Today, Bears Fonté discusses J.J. Abrams and AFF2012 Alum Damon Lindelof’s critically acclaimed Lost, the show he credits with bringing him back into the world of serial televison. You can see Damon Lindelof in A …
04.20.13 | Bears Fonté
If you’re home this Saturday with nothing to do and an empty Netflix queue, why not check out some of this week’s Staff Picks TV Pilots? Today, Bears Fonté discusses J.J. Abrams and AFF2012 Alum Damon Lindelof’s critically acclaimed Lost, the show he credits with bringing him back into the world of serial televison. You can see Damon Lindelof in A Conversation with X-Files Creator Chris Carter today on the Season 3 Premier of On Story: Presented by Austin Film Festival. Episode One airs tonight, April 20th on KLRU-Q at 7:30pm in the Austin area. Not in the Austin area? Watch it online now at OnStory.tv.
Before Lost was one of the most debated, deliberated, and disagreed upon series in television history, it began life as (at the time) the most expensive pilot in history. It is also, in my opinion, the greatest pilot of all time. In one intense hour, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof set up an ensemble of instantly fascinating characters, a mysterious central location that promised years of confusion, and flashback intensive narrative technique that became the backbone of the show’s many surprises. In fact, the pilot became so legendary (amongst everyone I knew) that I flat out refused to watch it until well into season three when I knew my time investment was not going to be squandered (I recently been burned by Firefly and Invasion). When I did watch, I had the benefit of not having to wait a week to follow the crazy cliffhanger of the pillar of smoke (who I believe recently also appeared in Game of Thrones) killing the pilot and Charlie screaming “what does that?”
The thing that works so brilliantly about the pilot of Lost is that it has so many character details packed into, stuff not even mentioned in the episode, that pays off as the series progresses. It is a pilot that merits return viewing (I used to watch it ritually before the start of each new season). From Charlie’s dash to the toilet, John Locke’s absurd serenity in the face of massive airplane wreckage, to a stewardess who becomes a major character in season two, the writers gave us pieces of a puzzle and promised answers. Of course we would soon learn that for every answer there were four new mysteries, but such was Lost, a show that gave its rabid followers new fodder for argument every week. As the mysteries grew, so did the cast, and the talents of the actors portraying them, but you have to hand it to the team to put together such a fantastic core of characters right at the start.
The pilot opens with Jack, played by (known then as Party-of-Five escapee) Matthew Fox, waking in the woods with a tiny liquor bottle in his pocket. He follows the noise and screams and the lost dog through the bamboo to the beach, stumbling upon the most elaborate set-piece in television history, a full size plane crash. He takes control of the situation but is quickly joined by rag-tag group of castaways, my favorite always being Charlie, the bass player of a defunct Britpop band that had one hit. There is chaos on the beach and when Jack, Charlie and Kate (the sassy, doesn’t take no from a guy, hottie – we don’t know she’s a fugitive yet) head off in search of the cockpit there is a sense that this is going to be a show about people working together to overcome extraordinary circumstances. When they found the pilot, I remember thinking, oh, here’s another major character – only too soon to realize that Lost is not a show about that at all, it’s a show about ‘oh my god where the hell are we?’
Lost went on to be one of the most critically acclaimed series of all times and spawned countless projects for its production team and cast. Although the final season and series finale created quite a stir amongst disappointed fans, the pilot remains one of the strongest hours of television ever (or two hours if you take in the second half, filmed at the same time). Lost pulled me back into to serial television, giving me 4 and half seasons of amazing story-telling, and setting me up to be burned by Flashforward, The Event, Life on Mars and Rubicon.
Interested in checking out our staff picks for yourself? Head over to Vulcan Video where you can find all of our picks labeled as AFF Staff Picks. Go to vulcanvideo.com for location and catalogue information.
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04.19.13 | Kristen Washington Today’s Staff Pick Blog comes from AFF Office Manager Kristen Washington. Kristen has been a GLEE fan from the beginning and has stuck with the show through its ups and downs, twists and turns, and the coming and going of cast members. Today she explains why the High School Musical is still relevant. When the staff decided to write about their …
04.19.13 | Kristen Washington
Today’s Staff Pick Blog comes from AFF Office Manager Kristen Washington. Kristen has been a GLEE fan from the beginning and has stuck with the show through its ups and downs, twists and turns, and the coming and going of cast members. Today she explains why the High School Musical is still relevant.
When the staff decided to write about their favorite TV pilots, I’m sure no one was surprised that I picked Glee (and if they were, they obviously haven’t heard me fangirl about the latest episode or furthermore heard my monthly High School Musical reference). Nowadays, Glee’s become less about the characters and more about the actors who play them, fandom, and controversial storylines about gay teens and school shootings. But, before all that, Glee was about something much simpler. A fun show about kids in a showchoir.
Will Schuester, played by Matthew Morrison, is an uninspired, rundown high school Spanish teacher, who takes over the school’s Glee Club determined to restore it to its former glory. Although the ragtag group is on the verge of collapse before it even properly takes off, it’s not for lack of talent.
Each character brings something unique to the table. You have Rachel with her gold stars and broadway ballads, Tina with an edgy rocker mentality, Kurt who is the definition of sass, wheelchair bound Artie, I-would-listen-to-you-sing-the-phonebook Mercedes, and finally, Finn, the clueless football player who’s had a secret love for singing since childhood (cue Journey’s Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ sang by an 8 year old) but is skeptical of what his popular friends will think.
Like any high school television show, there are stereotypical teenage characters: the jock, the cheerleader, the nerd, the outcast, etc. And, spoiler alert, they don’t all get along with each other.
Show creator Ryan Murphy gives a good balance of quick comedic gems – pretty much anything that comes out of Jane Lynch’s mouth (“ You think this is hard? Try being water boarded, that’s hard!”), and sincere moments of story – Will’s dilemma with continuing to work at McKinley versus getting a job that financially allows him to support his growing family.
I also love that Murphy recognizes that this show wouldn’t be a hit with all audiences and took the opportunity to make fun of it before the cynics could (haters to the left). The comedic and sarcastic tone of the show is brilliant, a prime example is when Berry scolding her fellow teammates by telling them “there’s nothing ironic about show choir” after they’d just given the lead to Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat to a kid in a wheelchair.
Rachel Berry is the voice of a generation founded on the principles that fame is an ultimate goal to have a successful life. In the era of ‘YouTube Famous’, and having your social status measured in views and likes and shares, Berry hits home with the line “Being anonymous is worst than being poor!” even though she apparently didn’t get the memo that MySpace was dead by 2009. Regardless of that, it captures the message of being seen and heard, preferably louder than the person next to you, to be taken seriously in this world.
Somewhere in between the realistic and unrealistic pursuit for fame and glory, Glee is the ultimate root-for-the-underdog, feel good story that literally had me at hello. The pilot successfully navigated this vulnerable new world of teenage dream, delusion and zeal needed to survive any high school hallway.
I’m so over trying to convince people why Glee is still a great show. It’s still funny, it still has good characters, it’s still has some kickass song covers that I have shamelessly downloaded to my iPod. But overall, Glee is downright fun. Just like it was always meant to be.
Interested in checking out our staff picks for yourself? Head over to Vulcan Video where you can find all of our picks labeled as AFF Staff Picks. Go to vulcanvideo.com for location and catalogue information.
To keep up with the latest AFF News and all Staff Picks blogs, subscribe to our RSS Feed.
04.18.13 | Rachel Malish For today’s Throwback Thursday Staff Pick TV Pilot post we reached out to former Development Director Rachel Malish because of her famed love for Veronica Mars. Currently Rachel is the Austin Media and Community Relations Coordinator for Whole Foods Market. The Pilot episode of Veronica Mars – they don’t get much better than this, folks! It’s a pilot episode and it …
04.18.13 | Rachel Malish
For today’s Throwback Thursday Staff Pick TV Pilot post we reached out to former Development Director Rachel Malish because of her famed love for Veronica Mars. Currently Rachel is the Austin Media and Community Relations Coordinator for Whole Foods Market.
The Pilot episode of Veronica Mars – they don’t get much better than this, folks! It’s a pilot episode and it does what it has to do: introduces you to your main players, fills you in on what you’ve missed (after all, these characters didn’t just start living and breathing when you came along), and sets the tone for the entire show – this will determine if and why you’ll continue to watch.
I’ll preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of Veronica Mars. I’m elated at the success of the Kickstarter campaign started by Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell. In the beginning, it was the Pilot episode that got me hooked. What I learned about the show in that short amount of time was a structure – the structure – that maintained throughout multiple seasons.
Every episode of Veronica Mars has legs and can stand alone. You don’t need to have watched every episode to enjoy one, but you enjoy them even more as an entire season. That’s when you put the puzzle pieces together and witness that master plan. Rob Thomas gives you a beginning, middle, and end in every episode. A viewer never feels cheated at the end of an episode. Viewers aren’t concerned that they didn’t get a 10 minute catch-up with each character in each episode; they’re leaving fulfilled every time. Each episode becomes its own mini-movie with its own problem to be solved, all while there looms, however subtly, a haunting backstory – a key driver of the overarching plot. While you can’t necessarily tell from a pilot episode what the structure for an entire season will look like, you can with Veronica Mars.
When you’re watching Veronica Mars for the first time, you may not appreciate the structure as much as you will eventually through 3 seasons. What you will appreciate is the show’s namesake: Veronica Mars. She’s the show, and here’s what Rob Thomas tells you about her in the first episode that gets you hooked:
She’s a pessimist. As she sits outside the Camelot Hotel waiting to snap a picture of a nameless adulterer for one of her father’s clients, she shares her shattered views of love. You realize in this first scene that she’s not your average teen scorned by one too many jocks, she’s got some very adult views of the world and is balancing a very adult career with high school calculus exams.
She’s an underdog. She hasn’t always been the low man on the totem pole, but she’s there now and so is her dad. Her hometown of Neptune is made up of “haves” and “have-nots” and once her dad’s Sheriff title is stripped, her billionaire boyfriend dumps her, and rumors of a promiscuous lifestyle fly, her former friends aren’t exactly banging down the door.
She’s distant. Veronica is lost in thought throughout much of her day. This is how we get to know her. She reflects on her life before the murder of her best friend, Lily (the sister of her billionaire ex-boyfriend), and her dad’s failure on the case follows her in her daily activities. As she falls asleep in class or zones out while gazing as a table full of old friends, we get a peek into the life of a more carefree Veronica, a less jaded version of her present day self, and a glimpse at how much change has taken place in less than a year of her life.
She’s got a cool dad. They’re in this together. Keith Mars is now a private investigator of Mar’s Investigation, and when he’s not on the case, Veronica is. He trusts her. He leaves her home alone for days at a time while he’s chasing bail dodgers. They have great banter. Like all father-daughter relationships, she thinks he’s a dork, but also finds it endearing. She’s hurt in this first episode by her father lying about a case involving Lily’s father and her own mother who left Veronica months before (no one said it wasn’t complicated). Even with her confusion about this, she admits that he must be protecting her. We can all tell he’s loving and kind. Dear old dad.
She’s got a conscience, and connections. She’s so smart! She uses her street smarts in the very first episode. We get to see Veronica at work. Not the kind of work she does specifically for Mars Investigation, the work we’ll see her do the rest of the season: helping out her peers at Neptune High. New kid Wallace is introduced and quickly becomes Veronica’s only friend. She uses her friends in high places (the fire chief still loves her dad) and low places (the pot head in pottery class) to get a new friend out of trouble. While she claims this is for self-serving reasons, Wallace knows she needs a friend. A beautiful friendship blooms right before your eyes, as well as a few new allies and enemies…
There’s more! She’s tough (and she’s got Backup!), she’s sharp tongued (her comments are biting, Kristen Bell says she’s not a comedic actress, but her delivery of the Veronica zingers are right on target), and she’s on a mission (she’s getting to the bottom of her families break up, and she’s scratching the surface on her dad’s secret investigation of Lily’s murder).
Watch the Pilot episode of Veronica Mars and prepare to keep watching. And don’t be intimidated by her harsh exterior. You know what the fans say: “Veronica Mars, she’s a marshmallow.”
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AFF Interview: Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy discuss their new Netflix Original Series: Hemlock Grove
04.17.13 | Erin Hallagan This week AFF has been bringing you our favorite TV pilots and how they’ve impacted our love for television. In today’s AFF Interview, we sit down with AFF Alum Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy to discuss their new Netflix Original Series Hemlock Grove and the shift they see in the future of television. AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL (AFF): What was your relationship …
04.17.13 | Erin Hallagan
This week AFF has been bringing you our favorite TV pilots and how they’ve impacted our love for television. In today’s AFF Interview, we sit down with AFF Alum Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy to discuss their new Netflix Original Series Hemlock Grove and the shift they see in the future of television.
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL (AFF): What was your relationship before you started working on this project? When did you start collaborating? What is your process like as writing partners?
SHIPMAN: Brian and I started writing together after meeting in graduate school in Austin in 2004 and discovering we shared the same peculiar, often downright deviant, sensibilities. Finding the right writing partner is as difficult and rare as finding the right romantic partner, especially one into all that dirty business.
MCGREEVY: We were in the same graduate program (the Michener Center for Writers) and fast friends. We became screenwriting partners out of both mutual respect and mutual laziness: it was half the work!
AFF: Brian, the show is based on your novel. Did you always intend to turn it into a script, and if so, how did this affect the writing style in your novel? How did you both approach the adaption process and how much does the show diverge from the novel?
MCGREEVY: The novel, during the writing, was its own beast. Naturally I would daydream to some extent what an adaptation would look like, but as someone who works in different media I’m an advocate of focus: concentrate on the step you’re currently taking, not the one five down the line.
AFF: What makes Hemlock Grove different from other supernatural shows?
SHIPMAN: As much as we love the genre, we consider ourselves drama writers not horror writers. There is a supernatural element to our show, but to quote Joseph Conrad, “The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; Man alone is quite capable of every wickedness.” It’s a theme that runs through a lot of our work: the more civilized we think we are, the more we forget we’re all just animals — and will be grimly reminded of that.
Preparatory to shooting, our producing-director Deran Sarafian hosted weekly screenings of our favorites in the genre, and invariably they fell under the largely gore-free sub-genre of Psychological Horror: Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy, etc. It’s what we’re interested in and the only real way to sustain a series like this. That said, we don’t give a fuck who we kill.
AFF: How did Eli Roth become involved with this project? What was it like working with him?
MCGREEVY: We interviewed potential producers in the spring of 2011, and really connected with Eric Newman, who is Eli’s producing partner. Everyone agreed on the best direction to take the material, and by the end of the year the deal was in place.
AFF: All 13 episodes will be released at once on Netflix. Did this affect the way you designed/organized your first season? Does it make the writing process more exciting or frustrating? How do you anticipate this release platform affecting the future of television?
MCGREEVY: It is the future of television.
SHIPMAN: One of the more remarkable and atypical advantages of the full series order and our schedule of production was that we were able to write almost the entire season before we shot a single frame. Rather than scrambling week to week, we had the rare opportunity to take our time and craft this story into what can almost be looked at as a 13 hour movie. For two guys coming out of the features world, it was an intuitive model and quite forward-thinking on the part of Netflix.
I think what they’re doing is the future of TV. Just as we were looking to get into that world we saw the House of Cards announcement and knew immediately we wanted to jump in bed with them.
AFF: What are some advantages with Netflix releasing all 13 episodes all at once? Disadvantages?
MCGREEVY: I see no disadvantages, frankly. Traditional television holds no interest for me, and the direction things are going is being dictated by the audience, myself included. I haven’t personally owned a TV since 2008.
SHIPMAN: I haven’t had a TV in a while, so almost exclusively binge watch on a laptop. The traditional model will only continue to fracture and evolve, and as both a writer and viewer I toast it.
Watch the latest trailer for Hemlock Grove here: (warning, NSFW)
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04.17.2013 | Erin Hallagan Continuing our week of Staff Picks is Conference Director Erin Hallagan’s take on Friday Night Lights and how it helped reshape her image of Texas from a land of cowboy hats and red meat to a place she now calls home. I first made the announcement that I was moving to Texas at a random family dinner – mostly …
04.17.2013 | Erin Hallagan
Continuing our week of Staff Picks is Conference Director Erin Hallagan’s take on Friday Night Lights and how it helped reshape her image of Texas from a land of cowboy hats and red meat to a place she now calls home.
I first made the announcement that I was moving to Texas at a random family dinner – mostly to just say it out loud – to convince myself it was the right thing to do – to gage reaction – to be set in motion. I was as shocked as my parents when I heard the words escape my lips. But then, all of a sudden it was reality.
Austin was always an obvious fit for me, but definitely not the rest of the Lone Star state. In my mind, Texas was a desert of cowboy hats, come-to-Jesus churches, red meat, red blood, and of course football.
This is precisely the reason I did not want to watch Friday Night Lights. That, and I am absolutely, positively NOT a sports person. I’m repeatedly corrected on how it’s not “the second act” but second quarter of the game, how they’re not “characters” but players, it’s not “intermission” but halftime. Can you tell I’m more of a theatre person?
It started when I was just a girl, growing up in – to put it kindly – a rough part of Maryland. My father was outraged there were no girl sports in our county. Teams were only just beginning to accept co-ed rosters. So I was signed up for soccer.
Luckily for me, even though I didn’t have an athletic bone in my body, the other players found creative ways to welcome me aboard. My dad would repeatedly find me on the sidelines after practice, out-of-commission with a bloody nose. Apparently it was a running joke to see how many times my teammates could kick the ball square between my eyes. I remember laughing real hard after I had to get surgery years later to fix the broken vessels in my nose. On second thought, perhaps that was the laughing gas….
Then there was basketball. After finally being put into the game, and thrilled by the sudden attention the coach was giving me, I stopped in my tracks – ball in hand – to ask him if he liked my new shoes. He and my father ended up in the parking lot to exchange a bit more than words.
Baseball was my own damn fault. There are some lessons you only need to learn once. For instance, throwing the ball into the air, looking up to catch it only to find the blinding sun staring back, and then going home two-teeth-shorter than you arrived.
Needless to say, I went into the arts and never looked back. That is, until I moved here.
I chose to give Friday Night Lights a chance with the same enthusiasm I gave soccer and basketball. I thoroughly expressed my distaste for sports shows, and for angsty high school shows, and especially for the combination of the two.
Boy, was I surprised when the first episode came to an end that I had tears in my eyes and remote-in-hand, already going in for seconds. Even though the show was absolutely about football and teenagers, there were things that were even more absolute: it was raw, honest, painful, spiritual, hopeful, confrontational and I CONNECTED to it…
It was damn good writing, is what it was.
A pilot episode – or rather, a GOOD pilot – is a form of art. Opposed to establishing a laundry list of who and what we need to know, it will create a world-in-motion through unobtrusive introductions that need to immediately spark an audience’s interest, a narrative that immediately engages an audience’s attention, and a level of anticipation that immediately asks the audience to stay along for the journey.
At first glance, everything about Friday Night Lights screamed cliché. Yet, all in the sum of 45 minutes, the pilot locked me in for the remaining five seasons. Beyond that, I overcame some of my own stereotypes. Gradually, Texas was more than just cowboy hats, come-to-Jesus churches, red meat and red blood. It was a vast new world that was home to those with the same vulnerabilities I had out there on the soccer field. The same life-changing decisions I made at my family’s dinner table. The same pivotal feelings of community, humanity, acceptance, victory and loss that I finally felt in the arts. All of a sudden, Texas was home to me. Texas was about cowboy hats and mohawks, barbeque joints and vegan paradises, Sunday church bells and Sunday Chicken Shit Bingo.
That, and of course football.
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04.16.13 | Brian Ramos For today’s staff pick, producer, editor, and voice of Austin Film Festival’s On Story Podcast, Brian Ramos talks about his introduction to The Sopranos and how it taught him that it was the little things that made life worth living. For more information on our On Story Podcasts, click here. Life’s simple pleasures link the divine to the mundane, offering up …
04.16.13 | Brian Ramos
For today’s staff pick, producer, editor, and voice of Austin Film Festival’s On Story Podcast, Brian Ramos talks about his introduction to The Sopranos and how it taught him that it was the little things that made life worth living. For more information on our On Story Podcasts, click here.
Life’s simple pleasures link the divine to the mundane, offering up comforting magic tricks in the face of every semi-conscious minute we spend marching toward our own inevitable oblivion. Through technology we’ve gifted ourselves with every convenience and pastime in order to take our minds off of our own mortality. Although I was raised Catholic, the closest thing to God in my upbringing was television. When The Sopranos premiered in January 1999, I had lost my faith. TV was out and obscure foreign cinema at the Dobie Theatre was in. The majority of my fellow Gen Xers, at least those in my immediate circle of friends, didn’t even own television sets. Too broke for cable. No Internet at home. No smart phones because they hadn’t been invented yet, and few, if any, cell phones. To settle a bet you had to go to the library…and I don’t mean the one in your Macbook that contains all of your mp3’s…I mean the one with the books in it. So it wasn’t a blog, Netflix streaming, or Itunes that hipped me to Tony Soprano and crew. My source for good new TV then and, I confess, even now?
After catching up for a few hours on a weekend visit with mom a few months before the turn of the millennium, she looked at me and said:
“Mi’jito, I know you don’t like to watch TV anymore, but there’s a show that I think you’ll reeeeealy like….”
My father cracked the seal on a can of Coca-Cola Classic, and looked down at his shoes while nodding his head in affirmation. In went the VHS dub, on went the massive stereo my father had hooked up to the TV, and out went my high-minded sensibilities.
From the title sequence with its unforgettable Woke Up This Morning soundtrack, to the opening scene where we were introduced to Tony Soprano’s iconic heavy breathing juxtaposed against the stormy calm of Lorraine Brocco’s portrayal of Dr. Melfi, I was all at once lost in the bridge and tunnel universe of the show.
We all seem to have a quiet obsession with the charming violence depicted in mobster narratives. David Chase’s The Sopranos handled the tropes made famous by Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese in such a way as to make them even more irresistible. We might not see ourselves in the shoes of these anti-heroes, but somehow we can relate. Tony and his crew are constantly looking to the past, and the pilot explores the feelings of lament at the loss of tradition that these baby boomers experience as they come to affluent middle age.
David Chase offers insight into the creation of the show, and especially the pilot, in episode 1304 of the On Story Podcast, describing it more as a semi-biographical portrait about his mother who had a notoriously difficult personality. A week before shooting the pilot, and after seeing hundreds of women for the part, “Nancy Marchand came up to the casting office, all out of breath…this waspy, regal woman…and just channeled that thing, and there was no discussion.”
The question of casting The Sopranos comes up whenever my friends and I discuss the characters. Although many of these actors popped up in other mob stories on the big screen and small, the contrast between typecast actors and fresh faces gave the show a sweet familiarity while keeping it from feeling recycled in the way of other films of the era, (I’m looking at you, A Bronx Tale).
Any show that – in it’s first few minutes – depicts its protagonist running down a terrified debtor with his nephew’s car and then punching the man in his broken leg while Dion and the Belmonts plays in the background would have to qualify as junk food for the mind. But the production value, outstanding writing and terrific performances made this groundbreaking cable TV serial into junk food of the very highest quality.
Drama, violence, comedy and ducks…for me, this was a show about weathering the storm and holding on to the little things that make life worth living.
4.15.13 | Patrick Pryor This week at AFF we’re all about television. Season 3 of On Story premiers this Saturday, April 20th on Austin’s KLRU Q at 7:30pm. Tune in to watch a Conversation with Chris Carter, Creator of the X-Files. To celebrate, this week the AFF Staff got together to discuss our favorite TV Series, episodes, and how the pilots originally hooked us. Today, …
4.15.13 | Patrick Pryor
This week at AFF we’re all about television. Season 3 of On Story premiers this Saturday, April 20th on Austin’s KLRU Q at 7:30pm. Tune in to watch a Conversation with Chris Carter, Creator of the X-Files. To celebrate, this week the AFF Staff got together to discuss our favorite TV Series, episodes, and how the pilots originally hooked us. Today, Young Filmmaker Program Director Patric Pryor kicks us off with a look at the early 90′s series Twin Peaks.
Forget about all the hoopla surrounding the HBO renaissance. Twin Peaks really gave television the artistic kick in the keister it needed way back in the early 90’s. The program marked a feature film director (David Lynch) turning his attention to the idiot box and squeezing out something substantial, strange, and new. After Twin Peaks, television became a viable medium for top tier talent to explore. A-list actors crossed over into TV land, and more film directors staked out their own series. Some shows have tried to copy the Twin Peaks formula (Lost, anyone?) but none have come close to creating such an endearing and eclectic cast of characters you enjoy revisiting again and again.
Like all great pilots, the first episode of Twin Peaks introduces a memorable cast and hooks you in with a strong central conflict, “Who killed Laura Palmer?” I love the synth-drenched score by Angelo Badalamenti. Each character has a distinct theme that burrows its way into your skull and keeps you swaying for weeks. From the dreamy swirl of the opening credits, to Audrey Horne’s finger snapping theme, to the sinister dirge of Laura Palmer’s tune — each piece is a killer. One of my favorite moments in the pilot features Julee Cruise crooning Lynch lyrics in a biker bar. Many other idiosyncrasies make the pilot stand out as a classic: doughnuts stacked two in a row across a police station table, Laura Palmer’s corpse wrapped in plastic, deputy Andy crying at crime scenes, James pouting on his motorcycle, and Agent Dale Cooper catching a whiff of Douglas Firs. I’m such a Twin Peaks head that I even own a cassette tape of all of Coop’s recordings for Diane. On especially rainy days, I like to pop it in my rusted jalopy and dream of slow motion waterfalls and abusive ponytailed boyfriends.
Although I adore Twin Peaks, I have to admit I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with David Lynch. I had the misfortune of watching the patience-draining Inland Empire in a theater with a clock on the wall, and I almost fell asleep during Lynch’s lecture on transcendental meditation. However, Twin Peaks will always have a special place in my heart. Even today, I think it hands-down surpasses most series on television in terms of writing, directing, and acting. So do yourself a favor. Grab a cup of damn good coffee, nestle into your couch, and visit (or revisit) that small town in the Pacific Northwest crawling with deep, dark secrets.
04.10.13| Bears Fonté On Monday April 15, Austin Film Festival debuts its brand new AFF INDIE SPIRIT SERIES with the film VIRTUALLY HEROES, an action comedy from Executive Producer Roger Corman. AFF Alum G.J. Echternkamp (2011’s CAPTAIN FORK) directed the film, a meta-narrative about two Vietnam War soldiers who realize their never-ending mission is actually a video game that systematically regenerates. Echternkamp will be in …
04.10.13| Bears Fonté
On Monday April 15, Austin Film Festival debuts its brand new AFF INDIE SPIRIT SERIES with the film VIRTUALLY HEROES, an action comedy from Executive Producer Roger Corman. AFF Alum G.J. Echternkamp (2011’s CAPTAIN FORK) directed the film, a meta-narrative about two Vietnam War soldiers who realize their never-ending mission is actually a video game that systematically regenerates. Echternkamp will be in attendance for the screening at the Texas Spirit Theatre at the Bob Bullock, but AFF had a chance to ask him a few questions about the film before his arrival.
Austin Film Festival: Virtually Heroes had a very different path to the cinema. Can you tell us a bit about where the idea came from and how you went about it?
G.J. Echternkamp: Roger Corman has quite a few Vietnam action movies in his vaults from the late 80′s and early 90′s. He approached me with the idea to shoot a new, extremely low-budget picture using as many of the action scenes from those films as possible. Our initial script was a fairly straight-forward thing, but Roger rejected it, wanting a hook that would make the film more relevant to today’s audiences. Somewhere along the way we came up with the idea to make the film set in a video game like “Call of Duty”. Not only would it be more entertaining, it would allow us to re-use the old footage in a more thematic, almost comical way, letting the audience in on the fact we were obviously recycling scenes.
Our writer came up with a script based around the setups in the other movies, and I went ahead and edited them all together, to have a sense of how the new footage would have to be shot to intercut with the stock. Ultimately it was very complicated, as the backdrops, eyelines, color correction, and so on had to be very carefully thought out for the editing to not seem completely jarring (or ridiculous).
The final product is admittedly a little ridiculous! But hopefully in a good way.
AFF: What’s Roger Corman like to work with?
GJE: Roger is intimidating as hell. He’s extremely smart and extremely to the point. But the great part is that once he signed off on the script he trusted me enough to let me shoot it with no interference whatsoever. It’s definitely not easy making an action film with very little money, but having that creative freedom made it all worthwhile.
AFF: We’re you a big Corman fan before? What are some of your favorite films of his and why?
GJE: I was very much a Corman fan. I definitely like the classics; LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, BUCKET OF BLOOD, THE TRIP, etc. But I love the Edgar Allen Poe movies he directed, which less people seem to talk about. THE MASQUE OF RED DEATH really stands out to me as a great film that transcends its B-Movie origins.
AFF: Our Earlybird Film Deadline is coming up (May 1st). You’ve certainly got a lot of experience playing the festival circuit with your films. What sort of advice can you offer a filmmaker starting that journey?
GJE: Well, I guess the biggest advice I could give is to understand that it’s is a very long journey. You have to keep making projects and keep putting them out there for as long as it takes. When I started I had some magical idea that you make a student film and you screen at Sundance and then you get signed and suddenly you’re directing the next STAR WARS. Bottom line, that’s stupid. For every Wes Anderson there’s a thousand other filmmakers who don’t find that level of success until they are much, much older. And that’s fine. Every little thing you do will slowly pay off down the road, even if you can’t see it at the time.
AFF: What are you working on next?
GJE: I’m in pre-production for an adaptation of a documentary I made back in 2008 called Frank & Cindy. We hope to get things off the ground very quickly to shoot in June. If that doesn’t work out, who knows? I’ve been talking to Roger about directing the sequel to Sharktopus….
VIRTUALLY HEROES plays Monday, April 15th at 7 pm at the Texas Spirit Theatre at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum located at 1800 Congress Ave, 78701. Tickets are $5 for AFF Members and $8 for the general public and available here.
04.03.13 | Bears Fonté With relative little national hoopla, Baseball’s opening day came and went this week. Growing up, Opening Day was the second thing I’d put on a new calendar, right after my birthday. Third was the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. This isn’t a blog about how baseball has slowly eroded from the national consciousness since the strike, the steroids, …
04.03.13 | Bears Fonté
With relative little national hoopla, Baseball’s opening day came and went this week. Growing up, Opening Day was the second thing I’d put on a new calendar, right after my birthday. Third was the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. This isn’t a blog about how baseball has slowly eroded from the national consciousness since the strike, the steroids, the asterisks and endless expansion of post-season and interleague play. Despite the national pastime being eclipsed by the NFL, College Football, NCAA March Madness and hating the Miami Heat, baseball still unquestionably supplies more stories to the sports movie pantheon than any other athletic pursuit.
Next week Austin Film Festival brings an advanced screening of 42 to Austin, as well as a conversation with writer/director Brian Helgeland (for details click here). Jackie Robinson’s story is so dramatic, it’s shocking that it hasn’t been brought to the screen previously. A true American hero, Jackie Robinson never wanted to be remembered for being the first black man playing in the major leagues since Moses Fleetwood Walker (1888 – yes, I’m a baseball junkie). Jackie Robinson just wanted to be remembered for being a great ballplayer.
One of the reasons baseball films work so well is because they have both the team element (doing it for your brother, we all fight as one, etc) and the individual glory (one man at bat to win the game, one pitcher on the mound, a one-on-one showdown). Individual characters in football/basketball movies get lost in the shuffle and the best of these films tend to focus on coaches. Baseball at its heart is a solo sport, with long gaps in the middle when you depend on other people. Star players can make or break a team in a way they can’t in other sports, and star players provide great characters for films.
This season, Austin Film Festival presents a triumvirate of great baseball films. In addition to 42 with Brian Helgeland on Wednesday, April 10th, AFF will also feature THE ROOKIE with director John Lee Hancock on June 1st (click here for more details), and indie bio-pic RESURRECTION: THE JR RICHARD STORY on June 12th. If you are an Astros fan and long for a day when they were competitive (and in the National League) don’t miss this small budget gem with writer/director Greg Carter in attendance (click here for more details).
With that in mind, I’ve put together the ultimate lineup of the greatest baseball players from my favorite baseball movies of all time. It’s interesting that so many films on this list (and some I left off) came out in the late 80s/early 90s, a time when I was a rabid fan and prior to all the things that ruined baseball for so many people.
Ultimate Cinematic Baseball Lineup
The Batting Order
1. CF Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hayes in MAJOR LEAGUE (1989). Almost every character from this film is memorable but the audacity of this guy to buy a 100 pairs of gloves for every base he intended to steal and the way he is able to beat out bunts makes him a perfect lead-off hitter. Incidentally, MAJOR LEAGUE is my favorite baseball movie of all time and features a stellar cast of Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernson, Dennis Haysbert, and Rene Russo in addition to Snipes.
2. 3B Mike Vitar as Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez in THE SANDLOT (1993). A classic 5-tool player, Benny can play every position on the field (in fact he does in the film) so I’ll stick him in the hot corner and use his speed to circle the bases with Snipes. A classic kid’s movie celebrating its 20th anniversary just like Austin Film Festival. Vitar is apparently a fire fighter now (so he lived out 3 kids fantasies in his lifetime [actor/ballplayer/fireman] – I guess he didn’t have time to be an astronaut as well).
3. LF D.B. Sweeney as Shoeless Joe Jackson in EIGHT MEN OUT (1988) or Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson in FIELD OF DREAMS (1989). Sort of unfair to have one of the greatest hitters of all time on a team of mostly fictional characters but no one can deny the power the mythology that this criminally-wronged player still holds for the average baseball fan. EIGHT MEN OUT looks at the 1919 Black Sox scandal with the all the glory of a period bio-pic with a fantastic cast (John Cusack, Christopher Lloyd, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen) while FIELD OF DREAMS puts it in the context of a father and son playing catch. And if you don’t cry during that one, you must have no relationship whatsoever with your father. A film that is only on its surface about baseball, FIELD OF DREAMS challenges its characters to listen to the voices in their hearts, as well as in their cornfields. Also I remember rushing home after this one to look up Archie ‘Moonlight’ Graham in my “Total Baseball,” a near 5 pound book (ah, the days before wikipedia).
4. 1B Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig in PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942) Every lineup needs a cleanup hitter and this one has one of the best of all time, The Iron Horse himself. The first great baseball movie, PRIDE OF THE YANKEES was nominated for 10 Oscars and was made three years after Lou Gehrig retired and one year after his death. Many baseball greats appeared as themselves in this film, including Bob Meusel, Bill Dickey, and the surprisingly astute Babe Ruth.
5. RF Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in THE NATURAL (1984) Usually a manager places their purest power hitter in the 5-spot and with his ability to destroy stadium lighting, and a bat cut from a tree struck by lightning , this 34-year-old rookie fits right in the mix to win games with his bat. THE NATURAL surrounds Redford with an unbelievable cast (Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Joe Don Baker) and is the first of our classic ‘what if’ baseball characters. Hobbs originally came to the majors as a pitcher before being shot in the arm.
6. SS Tab Hunter as Joe Hardy in DAMN YANKEES (1958) Another ‘what if’ baseball films, i.e. what if I was the greatest baseball player ever and played for my favorite team, in this case the Washington Senators, a team so bad that they abandoned their city twice (for Minnesota and Texas) and then waited 34 years for the Montreal Expos to be equally bad and become the new Senators. Rarely do Shortstops hit with power, so Joe Hardy is a shoe-in for the team, after he sells his soul to the devil. A musical, the film features “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets,” early choreography by Bob Fosse, and My Favorite Martian Ray Walston as Satan.
7. 2B Frank Sinatra as Dennis Ryan in TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME (1949) Gene Kelly may have been the better player and got the girl, but old blue eyes has the advantage of playing 2nd Base, a position severely under represented in baseball movies. Directed by Busby Berkeley, fortunately all the players on the team double as vaudeville performers.
8. C Kevin Costner as Crash Davis in BULL DURHAM (1988) He can’t hit much anymore and his knees are questionable, but nobody calls a game and handles young pitchers like Crash Davis. This film really understands the way baseball works and is one of the few films on here that couples can enjoy (although my wife is equally a fan of MAJOR LEAGUE). A very young Tim Robbins and scorching hot Susan Sarandon make up the rest of this classic love triangle.
9. DH: Bernie Mac as Stan Ross in MR. 3000 (2004) Normally your DH hits for power and would be higher in the batting order but in this case Bernie Mac is back after four years retired, desperate to collect three hits to get him past the plateau he desperately needs to make the Hall of Fame. A really funny film and a great way to remember a truly talented actor gone to soon.
On the Mound
STARTING PITCHER: Tatum O’Neil as Amanda Whurlitzer in THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976) This foul-mouthed child prodigy is the daughter of coach Walter Matthou’s exgirlfriend. She may be a diva (demanding ballet lessons, modeling school and imported jeans as payment) but she’s a steady work horse and a dependable arm. She was also one of my first crushes and this is simply one of the greatest comedies of all-time.
RELIEF PITCHER: Dennis Quaid as Jim Morris in THE ROOKIE (2002) Another ‘what if’ film about a Texas high school coach who loses a bet to his team and ends up at try-out for a major league team. At 35, Morris doesn’t have many innings left in him but his 98 mph fastball makes him a perfect closer. With one of Quaid’s greatest performances, THE ROOKIE gets baseball right, right down to the supportive wife as he toils in the minor leagues. It’s a film that says you are never too old to follow your dreams and is based on a true story.
Off the Field
MANAGER: Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992) With classic lines like “There’s no crying in baseball” and “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it,” Dugan takes a misfit team (see also MAJOR LEAGUE, THE BAD NEWS BEARS, THE SANDLOT) to the women’s world series. Directed by the great Penny Marshall, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN is one of the greatest sports movies of all time, with Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty and Rosie O’Donnell on the field and Jon Lovitz, David Strathairn, Bill Pullman, and Gary Marshall in the stands.
GENERAL MANAGER: Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in MONEYBALL (2011) The newest entry on this list, this is the only baseball film to ever make working in the front office look exciting. Great Performances, especially from Jonah Hill, and flashy production value, a great film about some things that maybe made baseball a little less interesting to everyone, WAR, OPS, wOBA, VORP, BABIP, FIP, UZR.
OWNER: Luke Edwards as Billy Heywood from LITTLE BIG LEAGUE (1994) the ultimate fantasy, a 12 year old boy inherits a baseball team. A movie that I like simply because it shows my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, winning games, and sometimes I need to be reminded of that.
UMPIRE: Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin as Enrico Pallazo as the Home Plate Ump in THE NAKED GUN (1988) Not strictly a baseball movie, but who can forget the butchering of the national anthem (“That we still had a flag!”) followed by the worst and most charismatic ball and strike calls by an ump as Nielsen desperately tries to delay a baseball game and discover the sleeper agent on the field. Pre-tabloid OJ Simpson isn’t the only sports star in the movie as (then current) player Reggie Jackson robotically repeats “I must kill… the queen” and most of the other umpires and the announcers were all the real deal.
04.03.2013 | Erin Hallagan In anticipation for our Wednesday, April 10th Conversation with Brian Helgeland and Advance Screening of his new film 42, Austin Film Festival sat down with Brian for a sneak peak on his thoughts on screenwriting, filmmaking, and his research and process. Joins us Wendesday for a Conversation with Brian Helgeland where we will discuss his career, inspirations, and advice for writers, …
04.03.2013 | Erin Hallagan
In anticipation for our Wednesday, April 10th Conversation with Brian Helgeland and Advance Screening of his new film 42, Austin Film Festival sat down with Brian for a sneak peak on his thoughts on screenwriting, filmmaking, and his research and process. Joins us Wendesday for a Conversation with Brian Helgeland where we will discuss his career, inspirations, and advice for writers, particularly sharing his experience on directing his own scripts. For more information on the Conversation, and for tickets, click here.
AFF: You are originally from the Northeast and were a fisherman before you became a screenwriter and filmmaker. What made you decide to start writing screenplays?
Brian Helgeland: I was in a bookstore in between fishing trips in 1984 looking for something to read on the boat. I have been reading voraciously since I can remember. I had graduated a year before from college with a degree in English. I couldn’t find a job and as the only male member of my family who had never been to sea… I went to sea. Browsing through the store, a ‘Guide to Film School’ book caught my eye. I loved movies, but I literally had no idea you could go to school to learn how to make them. My second, cold winter of fishing was coming up; I had saved some decent money, and I cashed it in for the warmth of Los Angeles.
AFF: You’ve said before that you don’t like to call yourself a screenwriter. Why do you prefer the term filmmaker?
BH: I prefer filmmaker because that is what I am. If I wanted to write for a living I’d be a novelist. But I want to make movies; therefore I am a filmmaker. Screenwriting is just my end of it. I consider film editors to be filmmakers. Editing is just their end of it. If only the director is a filmmaker, then what are the cinematographer, the costume designer and the rest of us doing?
AFF: What excites you the most about writing a screenplay?
BH: The best part of writing a screenplay is full immersion. When I am working on a script, I don’t leave the house, I barely speak on the phone, I work seven days a week until it is done. It’s often frustrating and confounding, but I get to make a world, populate it and live in it, as imperfect as it might be.
AFF: How much research do you usually do before writing a screenplay?
BH: I do an inordinate amount of research. I try to read anything and everything I can get my hands on if it relates to what I am doing. There is no substitute. You cannot be smarter or know more than the actual reality of something. The key is when you think you finally know, then read one more book to make sure. And then another after that. I also interview people if it is appropriate for the story. When I was doing MAN ON FIRE with Tony Scott we spent a week in Mexico City simply interviewing people who had been kidnapped, families of kidnap victims, ransom negotiators, police experts and even former kidnap gang members. When you see the process shown in the film it is all real. On ’42′, besides the plethora of books available that touch upon the Dodgers 1947 season, I had the good fortune of being able to talk with Jackie’s widow Rachel and with former teammate Ralph Branca directly. Research becomes the breadcrumbs others have dropped before you to help lead you where you’re going.
AFF: How does your writing and process differ when you know that someone else will direct your work compared to when you direct the film yourself?
BH: My scripts are longer if I write for another director. I need to make what I am getting at clearer and easier to understand. The scripts I write that I direct are always 10 pages shorter.
AFF: 42 is based on a true story. What did you enjoy most about writing this screenplay? What were some of the challenges and benefits in writing something based on true events?
BH: In ‘A Knight’s Tale’ the character of William accuses Chaucer of lying. Chaucer’s reactive response is, “I’m a writer; I give the truth scope!” The trickiest thing for a screenwriter working on bringing to life a true story is to do their best not to lie. In ’42′ I tried my absolute best to document every major scene in the film. In fact, there is only one scene I made up and I felt I had enough circumstantial evidence to do so. Of course, ‘the truth’ can always be pushed left or right, but I did my best to avoid that as well. My job was to dramatize and structure so that, hopefully, the truth of two years of a man’s life could be boiled down to two hours.
Favorite moment/experience in making 42?
BH: The day Hank Aaron visited set, watched 20 minutes of footage and told me he thought I got it right.
Who are some screenwriters/filmmakers that have influenced your work?
BH: I am a big admirer of screenwriters who traded in their pen for the director’s chair. John Huston, Richard Brooks, Frank Pierson, Walter Hill. All bare knuckled directors who started out as bare knuckled screenwriters.
03.26.2013 | Bears Fonté This April Fool’s Day Austin Film Festival is bringing back one of the most talked about films of last year’s fest, the Narrative Feature Audience Award Winner JUNK, a behind-the-scenes satire of the film festival world. JUNK plays at 7 pm on Monday, April 1st at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Two B-movie co-writers, Kaveh and Raul, must reconcile after their long-languishing …
03.26.2013 | Bears Fonté
This April Fool’s Day Austin Film Festival is bringing back one of the most talked about films of last year’s fest, the Narrative Feature Audience Award Winner JUNK, a behind-the-scenes satire of the film festival world. JUNK plays at 7 pm on Monday, April 1st at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Two B-movie co-writers, Kaveh and Raul, must reconcile after their long-languishing film, ISLAMA-RAMA 2, finally makes its festival debut. Negotiating their way through pushy agents, brutish bodyguards, cutthroat colleagues, prima donna actors, and overly eager festival volunteers, the former friends piece together absurd horror film pitches for a mysterious speaker keynoting the film festival. JUNK is a ridiculous comedy about friendship, love, and crappy movies. For more information about the screening, and for tickets, click here.
Writer/Director/Star Kevin Hamedani will be in attendance at the screening, but AFF Director of Programming Bears Fonté e-sat down with him to discuss his film and experience making it.
AFF: Junk is about taking a film out on the Film Festival Circuit. What inspired the idea and how much of the film is based on things you saw happen/heard about?
Kevin Hamedani: After spending a year traveling the country to film festivals with my first feature, ZMD: ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION (2009), I got inspired to make a movie about the crazy, wild and surreal world of film festivals. It’s a strange, fun and at times, frustrating environment ripe with funny and interesting characters, scenarios, scenes, etc… The film is about 50% based on my own experiences and 50% completely fictionalized. I never wanted to make an autobiographical movie. My goal was to make a funny, poignant movie about bromance while capturing the strange world of film festivals.
AFF: You came to Austin Film Festival in 2009 with ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION, how was 2012 different?
KH: Honestly, not that much different. I had a great time both years. The main difference was the fact that Bears Fonté wasn’t there in 2009 and he’s a great addition to the festival. We had a wonderful time together.
I guess the other difference would be the fact that we won the Audience Award which made this year’s experience a bit more sweeter.
AFF: Is there any part of your 2009 AFF Experience in JUNK? What?
KH: Yes. There is a particular scene in JUNK when the two leads sneak off into the alley way during the screening of their movie and come up with a new movie pitch. In JUNK, the pitch is “Gremlins 3″ but in real life, it was actually JUNK. That’s where we came up with the idea so we decided to write that scene in.
The fun BBQ was very much based on AFF’s awesome BBQ party. We tried to capture that vibe.
AFF: You and your writing partner live on opposite sides of the country, how does that work?
KH: It’s very hard and I don’t recommend it but we manage. Lots of long phone calls.
AFF: You co-wrote this script, then directed it and starred in it. Are you crazy?
KH: Yes and I don’t recommend it. Only if you MUST play the role yourself. But doing all three with a low budget isn’t the best way to make an independent movie.
AFF: What was the hardest scene to film as a director/actor?
KH: The hardest scenes to direct were the ones involving a group of extras simply because we couldn’t afford that many so I had to spend time using tricks to make it look like the festival was packed with attendees.
AFF: Brett Davern from MTV’s Awkward is in JUNK. How did he get involved and how was he to work with?
KH: We actually grew up together and did stage in Seattle together for years. He starred in the first play I wrote and directed in Seattle. We’ve been trying to find a project to work together on and Billy is a great character for him.
AFF: OK Go has a bunch of songs and even appears in the film. How did that come about?
KH: A friend gave me their album while we were writing JUNK and Ramon and I just started listening to it over and over again, while finishing the script. During this time, we’d take a break and have lunch down the street in North Hollywood at this cafe every day. One day we realized the gentleman sitting next to us was the drummer for OK Go. So I approached him and he was kind enough to pass the script along to the rest of the band.
AFF: Our Screenplay deadline is coming up (May 1st, Late Deadline June 1st). Any advice on how to do one last polish on your screenplay?
KH: Do a live reading if you can. Get some actors to read parts in front of a small audience (not just your group of friends) but strangers who might be more objective and honest. Ask the hard questions, take the notes and don’t send off your script unless you are sure that every sentence, every line of dialog, every beat, works. You can’t polish a turd, and if you don’t have a great script you’ll never have a good movie.
AFF: Your film is full of crazy pitches. What’s the worst idea you’ve ever come up with? How far did you get on it?
KH: The worst idea we ever had was to remake Waxwork (1988). We got really far with it, made a pitch video, look book, the whole deal. We went to the high ups at Lionsgate and did an in person pitch. It’s a terrible idea but could actually make for an awesome movie…. if that makes sense.
Every first Monday at the Alamo Village, AFF will bring one of its Audience Award-winning films back to town, along with the filmmakers who made them, to showcase the very best in independent filmmaking. From humor to horror, docs to narrative, there will be something for everyone, and, as always, each film represents Austin Film Festival’s mission to emphasize the art and craft of screenwriting and engaging cinematic storytelling.
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03.20.2013 In anticipation of the Launching Your Writing Career panel in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 30th, we interviewed three of the panelists included in the discussion. The interview features Greg Beal, Director of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting; Franklin Leonard, Founder of The Black List; and AFF Screenplay Competition Director Matt Dy. For more information about the upcoming event, click here. Q: …
In anticipation of the Launching Your Writing Career panel in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 30th, we interviewed three of the panelists included in the discussion. The interview features Greg Beal, Director of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting; Franklin Leonard, Founder of The Black List; and AFF Screenplay Competition Director Matt Dy. For more information about the upcoming event, click here.
Q: What do you consider a strong story?
GREG: For me, Graham Parker’s song title “Passion Is No Ordinary Word” should apply to every story. If the writer truly cares about her story, her characters and the moments of true feeling she’s conveying, it appears on the page and on screen. If she can make her characters live and laugh and survive, then I have the opportunity to live through them, feel with them and learn from them.
FRANKLIN: A beginning, middle, and end that keeps the audience interested in what happens next, elicits emotion of some sort of emotion (anything from fear to laughter to awe to sadness), and lives the audience viewing some aspect of their lives – no matter how small – differently than they did before being exposed to it.
MATT: A strong story is one that takes you on a journey without realizing it. When you’re reading a truly engaging script, the words fly off the page and you’re anxious to get to the next scene rather than thumbing through to see how many pages you have left. It’s easier said than done but it’s what every writer should strive for.
Q: What common mistakes do you find when you read a script?
GREG: If we’re talking about well written screenplays featuring intriguing characters and strong dialogue, then the missing ingredient is all too often conflict. Solid but inexperienced writers often suffer from following story templates and guru advice too slavishly, which can suck the life out of a script. If you’re referring to weaker scripts, then the problems run the gamut from poor writing to weak craft and execution to a lack of structure to all too little story.
FRANKLIN: The main (and biggest) mistake a writer can make is forgetting the human element. Emotional resonance, regardless of the genre, is the thing that will distinguish a screenplay (or any sort of storytelling or art more generally.)
MATT: I second Greg in that not establishing conflict is the most common problem with a lot of scripts. Conflict is what drives a story and moves it forward. Without conflict or greater stakes, there is no story. Also, a lot of first-time screenwriters will direct too much in their scripts and include long blocks of scene descriptions. Screenplays are considered the blueprint for a film but it still needs to leave room for the director’s vision.
Q: What’s the best advice you would give to a writer hoping to advance in a competition or make it on The Black List?
GREG: Submit your best work. Prior to uploading your script and paying the entry fee: Read the rules. Make sure you’re submitting an eligible and appropriate script for a particular competition. If you have questions about a competition, shoot an email to its administrators. Don’t trust everything you hear about competitions from online screenwriting forum “experts.”
FRANKLIN: I’m going to paraphrase Hayao Miyazaki’s definition of a popular movie: write something that is “full of true human emotion, no matter how base. The entrance should be low and wide so that everyone can be welcomed in. The exit should be high and purified. It shouldn’t be something that emphasizes or enlarges the lowness.”
MATT: Write something that truly stands out. Write the most daring and uninhibited story you can think of and in the most cinematic way that can draw in an audience. There isn’t a dearth of screenwriters in Hollywood so what the industry needs and is looking for is the next great original voice. Screenplay competitions hope to infuse the industry with new, exciting talent so you should do whatever you can to stand out.
Q: Could you share some success stories?
GREG: We have plenty, but let’s focus on the immediate. Destin Cretton’s “Short Term 12,” which he directed from his 2010 Nicholl Fellowship-winning script, just premiered at SXSW. 2002 fellow Creighton Rothenberg co-wrote “Olympus Has Fallen,” opening in theaters on March 22. 2012 fellow James DiLapo recently signed a two-script deal with Warner Bros. Jason Micallef wrote “Butter,” which opened theatrically in the fall of 2012 after being the opening night film at the 2011 Austin Film Festival; “Butter” was Jason’s 2008 fellowship-winning script. 1992 fellow Andrew Marlowe is the creator and executive producer of the ABC series “Castle.” 1999 fellow Rebecca Sonnenshine is an executive story editor on the WB series “The Vampire Diaries.” 2003 fellow James Mottern is currently in post-production on “God Only Knows,” which he directed. 1998 fellow Karen Moncrieff is currently in post-production on “The Trials of Cate McCall,” which she wrote and directed.
FRANKLIN: The annual Black List has seen its share of success stories, though it’s important to clarify that those who made the movies deserve the credit for the films themselves. It is worth noting however that over 250 scripts on the first seven years of the Black List have been produced. Those films have made over $16 billion in worldwide box office, been nominated for 159 Academy Awards and won 30 of them. Three of the last five Best Pictures were Black List scripts, as were seven of the last twelve screenwriting Oscars. As for the new platform, in just over five months, more than a dozen writers have already found representation with major agencies or management companies. I also believe we’re now up to a half a dozen script sales/options, and one writer – whose name I can’t yet reveal – just closed a two script blind deal at a major studio.
MATT: Several of our top writers placing even in the Second Round (top 10%) have found great success after advancing. 2010 Finalist Christopher Cantwell had his script “Halt & Catch Fire” (co-written with partner Chris Rogers) ordered by AMC as one of four projects this year to go to pilot, with filming slated to begin this year. Appearing on the 2012 Black List are 2011 Comedy Screenplay Winner Max Taxe for his winning script “Goodbye, Felix Chester” and 2012 Drama Finalist Austin Reynolds for “From New York to Florida”. 2010 Comedy Winner Julie Howe currently has her winning script “Jasper Milliken” in development with Sony-based Zhiv Productions. Julie will also participate in the panel discussion in LA. 2010 Second Rounder Lee Hoverd had his script “Ex-Men” optioned by Mike Fry (“Over the Hedge”) after hearing Lee’s pitch as a judge in the annual Pitch Competition during the Conference. Kevin Miller, 2010 Comedy Finalist, signed with manager Peter Meyer through a relationship that began at AFF and his script “Mother’s Day” was quickly optioned after placing in AFF by Sony producer Harry Gittes (About Schmidt). VJ Boyd, 2008 Teleplay Finalist, is currently a staff writer on the FX show Justified.
Q: What is the best script you’ve read or best film you’ve seen lately?
GREG: I still have some catching up to do from awards season but I really enjoyed “Argo” and “Lincoln.” Given my daughter’s love of all things animation, I have to mention “Wreck-It Ralph,” which was wonderful and unexpectedly moving. I recently watched four seasons of “Breaking Bad,” two seasons of “Sherlock” and the first season of “House of Lies” and was impressed by those achievements. And whenever I run across “Lawrence of Arabia” on TCM, and I can’t stop watching.
FRANKLIN: Best film I’ve seen lately: THE INTOUCHABLES, if only for Omar Sy’s performance.
MATT: I have two favorite films from last year: “Moonrise Kingdom” for its pure joy and originality and “Perks of Being a Wallflower” for its simple yet eloquent writing. I also read the scripts for both and I particularly loved the interactive storybook version of the script for “Moonrise Kingdom” released by the studio.
Q: Screenplay competitions are obviously not the only way a writer can break in. What other ways can a writer get attention?
GREG: Making short and feature films independently. Working on other filmmakers’ independent shorts and features. Working in Hollywood at an agency, production or managerial company. Working on film and television productions when they shoot in your region. Attending film festivals and screenwriting conferences. Attending film school. Connecting with college alumni in film and television and asking for advice. Targeting well-selected agents and managers with query emails, letters and phone calls. Et cetera. Finally, be persistent – and most importantly, keep writing new screenplays.
FRANKLIN: The Black List (http://www.blcklst.com)
MATT: Writing is such an isolated craft that the mere sound of the word “networking” can make any recluse screenwriter shudder. It’s so important though to meet and work with the right people that can help get your script made or get you hired for a project. I recommend joining a writer’s group and attending screenwriter’s conferences (like AFF of course!) to build a strong network of friends and collaborators. While it’s not entirely necessary, consider working in LA if you’re not already. Get a job working at an agency, production company, or TV studio. In the land of feature films, screenwriters don’t always get their due credit but in the world of TV, the writer is king (or queen). A lot of TV writers get hired to write features. And of course, keep writing and stay persistent.
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by Bears Fonte | 03.20.2013 The dust has settled and the massive influx of cool hip trendsetters have returned to their various blogs across America (and Europe); SXSW has finished another year of putting Austin at the heart of the entertainment convergence of music, interactive, and film. I’ve been an avid SXSW Music attendee for years, so really diving into SXSW Film for the first …
by Bears Fonte | 03.20.2013
The dust has settled and the massive influx of cool hip trendsetters have returned to their various blogs across America (and Europe); SXSW has finished another year of putting Austin at the heart of the entertainment convergence of music, interactive, and film. I’ve been an avid SXSW Music attendee for years, so really diving into SXSW Film for the first time was a blast. I got a late start, as I was at the Taos Shortz Film Festival the opening weekend, but by Sunday I threw myself full force at the packed schedule. There are so many films playing, in so many groupings, it can be hard to really master the SXSW schedule. I decided to focus on a few areas, the Midnighters, because they rarely played against the other films, the Shorts, because they were easily accessible in the giant Vimeo theatre, and the films with Austin/Texas connections. Of course, I made time to see AFF regular James Franco’s new film SPRING BREAKERS (he steals the film) and the film I had most wanted to see at Sundance but got closed out, THE SPECTACULAR NOW. James Ponsoldt, an AFF Alum (2004’s JUNEBUG AND HURRICANE), really shines with SPECTACULAR, a simple film about love and growing up that could have felt cliché if it had not been so full of deep characters and heart.
This year SXSW really showcased an excellent selection of Local or Texas films. Some of them had played Sundance (PRINCE AVALANCHE, UPSTREAM COLOR, MUD, A TEACHER – which I loved) so what I was really looking forward to catching was the new ones, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Chris Eska’s THE RETRIEVAL really transports the viewer to another time and pace, slowly creeping through a tension-filled battlefield until it all unravels at the end. The film features some phenomenal performances from the entire ensemble, although Tishuan Scott brought home the Special Jury Award for Acting as a former slave and fugitive murderer. The interplay between his character and the Uncle and Nephew team sent behind Union lines to fetch him back really drive the drama. It was great to see an independent film with limited resources pull off a period (and war) piece. Another favorite, the beautiful heart-warming documentary BEFORE YOU KNOW IT follows three elderly gay men as they discover their place in the world during the golden years of life. With three subjects that couldn’t have been more cinematic if they had been written in a script, PJ Ravel’s film acknowledges that you don’t loose your sexuality with age, even if your drive becomes refocused. Another great film with local roots was Brian Poyser’s THE BOUNCEBACK, a sort of anti-rom com about a guy who returns to Austin to stalk his ex and ends up meeting someone else. A hilarious film that features an extensive Air-Sex sequence and shot all over Austin, THE BOUNCEBACK is the kind of film that could have been made with someone from the Twilight franchise but thankfully was not. It should have a nice long run on the festival circuit. My favorite local film was ZERO CHARISMA, a comedy about a DND Gamemaster whose three-year long campaign gets hijacked when a hipster invades his gaming group and charms his nerdy friends. Equally funny and touching, Sam Eidson dominates the film with his desperate attempt to remain on the throne of his own carefully crafted world. This is the kind of quirky comedy that really, despite being made in Austin, could play anywhere and really find an audience.
Looking at the shorts program, a lot of my favorites from SXSW were ones I had already seen at Sundance including SOCIAL BUTTERFLY, SKIN and BLACK METAL. NECRONOMICA played as sort of the comic side to BLACK METAL and really stood out for its levity in a rather bleak program (Shorts 2). In sort of an extreme version of Bill and Ted’s, NECRONOMICA finds a band fraught to find a way to be the most evil band in the world (hint: it involves a goat head). In Shorts 1, SEQUIN RAZE gave the viewer an inside look into the questionable morality of reality television and really stood out. My favorite new short played during Shorts Program 3, IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME, a disturbing and hilarious tale of things going from bad to worse when a girl tries to break up with her boyfriend and ends up killing him instead (and that’s just the first two minutes). Although most of the Midnight Shorts were a little un-narrative for me, I loved the fake trailer HELL NO, a series of horror films where smart characters make rational decisions deflating any attempt at typical horror scenarios. I also loved the music video of a teddy bear killing every other toy in sight in VENGEANCE RHYTHM.
And while I am thinking about staying up late, the Midnighters Section offered some of SXSW’s most consistently entertaining features including the return of YOU’RE NEXT which has become sort of an Austin legend after wowing audiences at its original screening at Fantastic Fest and then being pulled for its final two screenings. It’s the kind of film that gets people cheering along with each kill and featured a great cameo from (SXSW Midnighter and Sundance director – THE RAMBLER) Calvin Lee Reeder at the end. My favorite Midnighter was the aptly named BIG ASS SPIDER! (I actually heard someone ask the director what the film about). A monster movie in the old fashioned sense of the art from director Mike Mendez, BIG ASS SPIDER! isn’t afraid to laugh at itself and ethnic stereotypes. It was some of the most enjoyable minutes I had in a theater in a long time. Yeah, it’s silly, but it works. It even had classic three act structure.
However, my favorite film overall was a documentary A BAND CALLED DEATH. A perfect example of what SXSW does best, the film was a music doc, about a seldom heard proto-punk band from Detroit. The band was in attendance, and played shows at SXSW Music. They also signed merch after the screening. Formed in 1971 by three African-American brothers who wanted to sound like The Who and MC5, Death recorded a legendary lost album that was rediscovered in a blaze of online mp3 trading. The band, now reformed although missing one of the original brothers who has sadly since passed, infamously refused to change their name when offered a record contract. The lost brother told his kin that someday someone was going to come looking for their music, and he turned out to be right. A BAND OF DEATH was picked up in February by Drafthouse Films so I suspect you will be able to see it shortly at an Alamo near you.
SX is just the first festival in a full year here in Austin, with Cine Las Americas coming up in April, Fantastic Fest in September, and Polari Film Festival and our own Austin Film Festival in October, to name a few. Austin really is a great town in which to be a filmmaker or film lover.
- Bears Fonte
Austin Film Festival Director of Programming
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By Bears Fonte | 3.15.2013 I’ve lived most of my life as a cinematic snob. Back in high school when my friends were lining up to see Child’s Play 2, I was already ditching them to catch Whit Stillman’s METROPOLITAN. I celebrated college graduation by hosting a screening of Noah Baumbach’s KICKING AND SCREAMING for a group of 50 friends who did not appreciate …
By Bears Fonte | 3.15.2013
I’ve lived most of my life as a cinematic snob. Back in high school when my friends were lining up to see Child’s Play 2, I was already ditching them to catch Whit Stillman’s METROPOLITAN. I celebrated college graduation by hosting a screening of Noah Baumbach’s KICKING AND SCREAMING for a group of 50 friends who did not appreciate the irony. The first Horror movie I even admitted to liking was SCREAM, which appealed to my snarky dismissive opinion of horror movies as completely predictable and cookie-cutter.
Then I discovered Blake Snyder’s book “Save the Cat” and the glories of structure. Horror films are the most mass-produced genre that Hollywood churns out, because they don’t have to FIND an audience, they just have to FEED an existing one. Horror fans respond to films that meet their expectations, and rave about films that deliver those and STILL manage to surprise. Of course, it was also about this time I started to write horror scripts. With my first feature, a thriller, already in post-production, I knew that no one was going to read a comedy I had ready to go. Thrillers do lead directly to horror, so there you had it. I had research to do.
I sat down with a horror aficionado friend of mine and sketched out the most important horror films of the last ten years. There were a few, like THE RING and THE GRUDGE (and the Japanese originals) to which I was actually really looking forward. There were remakes (THE HILLS HAVE EYES) and franchises (FREDDY VS. JASON). And then there was the so-called Torture Porn of HOSTEL and WOLF CREEK, and the one I had already decided to hate on the basis of its name and the one thing I knew about it, SAW.
I’ll skip to the end and just say I loved SAW. I watched it twice in one day and made my wife watch it. It is absolutely frightening, but not in any way that should put it in a same category as HOSTEL, a film so utterly violent and gore-filled that I have serious concerns about the production team that worked on it. Actually, SAW is a crime story, and the incidents described are no more horrific than David Fincher’s SEVEN and in fact, serve the story far better than those tableaus of torture. Nothing is dwelled on for the sake of shock, only as a clue for catching a killer. The ending moment that gives SAW its name is no more than an amplified 127 HOURS. At its core, the film is a mystery and an essay on morality. Everyone has some guilt and the killer appoints himself arbiter of a competition of sorts, who is the most deserving of death.
SAW boasts a surprisingly recognizable cast (for a low budget horror film) with Cary Elwes and Danny Glover turning in fantastically nuanced performances (okay Glover chews a little scenery as well) and Michael Emerson in his pre-Lost days. However, what really makes SAW a must for any writer, is its perfect structure. Without ruining the phenomenal twists and turns of the plot, the film manages to balance several timelines and flashbacks and still hit all the points of setting up a perfect Act One. By the time the Fun and Games of Act Two arrives, every character is experiencing their own struggle, all leading to the inevitable Act Three where all the plotlines and characters are brought together. It is a really well-made movie that also happens to be incredibly frightening. It’s not necessarily for the weakest stomachs, but I think the name (and maybe the sequels, which I’ve never seen) tend to overshadow what at its heart is just a really disturbing edge of your seat mystery.
As a final thought, one more take away on HOSTEL, a film that really accomplishes what it set out to do. The most frightening scene of the film (and the best scene without a doubt) is one in which no one at all is killed. Two-thirds of the way through the film, the lead character ends up in a locker room with another ‘client’ of the establishment who raves about the rush of killing someone. This dialogue gets to the fundamental impulse of horror films, we all have a little voice inside us, a little guilt, something we don’t want other people to know about, and a great horror film forces us to acknowledge that, for better or worse.
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by Kristen Washington | 3.14.2013 I’m often told that I am the best person to watch scary movies with. Not because I enjoy them or revel in the horror as it unfolds on screen, but because I am incessantly terrified of almost everything. The slightest movement makes me jump or scream and leaves my friends in a fit of stifled laughs while I try get …
by Kristen Washington | 3.14.2013
I’m often told that I am the best person to watch scary movies with. Not because I enjoy them or revel in the horror as it unfolds on screen, but because I am incessantly terrified of almost everything. The slightest movement makes me jump or scream and leaves my friends in a fit of stifled laughs while I try get my heart rate back to a normal speed.
The list of horror films that are forever engraved in my mind is a mile long, leaving terrified thoughts that plague my existence. I could pick DARKNESS FALLS, which instilled an irrational fear of the Tooth Fairy (for crying out loud!) at the young age of … 14. I could also write about THIRTEEN GHOSTS, which left me terrified of bathtubs for the better part of 6 months. However, there is one scary movie that has had a lasting terrifying grip on my daily thoughts and nightmares — THE GRUDGE.
THE GRUDGE is about a cursed spirit that kills everyone it comes into contact with. The spirit stems from a woman named Kayako who was brutally murdered by her husband, him being convinced that she was having an affair. The movie opens with an American couple and their elderly mother who move into the house where the spirit lives. The couple is killed by the spirit, leaving the mother to be taken care of by a caretaker. In comes Sarah Michelle Gellar and ensues the never-ending terror that is THE GRUDGE.
Not only did I sleep with my light on for three days after that movie, I didn’t want to sleep in my bed. I was afraid to open cabinets, and I couldn’t even go in my garage where my attic was, all in fear of being sucked into the depths of darkness by Kayako. Yes, I know, this is all very dramatic.
Thankfully all of these (completely rational, if you ask me) fears ended after more than enough anticlimactic, heart racing moments in the imagined eerie stillness of my parent’s house.
But THE GRUDGE has left one last mark on me, this one last terror that’s been branded into my fears: that noise. I don’t even know what it is! It’s this gurgling croak that come straight from the pits of hell. My hands are sweating writing this… so.
…Anybody seeing THE CROODS?
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by Bears Fonte | 03.13.2013 Festival season is upon us. As soon as Sundance kicks off the year in all things Indie and Studio-posing as Indie, it seems like avid film goers have their pick of vacations to see great films. February brings arthouse connoisseurs the Berlin International Film Festival (and its Gold Bear award, maybe the coolest trophy one can win after ours) and …
by Bears Fonte | 03.13.2013
Festival season is upon us. As soon as Sundance kicks off the year in all things Indie and Studio-posing as Indie, it seems like avid film goers have their pick of vacations to see great films. February brings arthouse connoisseurs the Berlin International Film Festival (and its Gold Bear award, maybe the coolest trophy one can win after ours) and brings genre-junkies the Boston Science-Fiction Film Festival and Marathon (a 24-hour endurance event) which just celebrated its 38th year. Of course March brings a rather large Music/Interactive/Film festival to our neighborhood here in Austin, but before I got drawn into that maelstrom of creativity I had the opportunity to attend not one but two festivals that opened on the same weekend.
Omaha Film Festival is young, by festival years, but has proven itself an excellent arbiter of taste with a varied slate of features and shorts each year. In addition to two of my AFF favorites from last year (Doc Jury Award Winner INFORMANT and Dark Matters Audience Award SATURDAY MORNING MASSACRE), the festival featured a few films I loved from screening but hadn’t been able to program such as QWERTY and THE MOST FUN I’VE HAD WITH MY PANTS ON. Of course, the shorts programming was particular impressive with BLACK METAL, DEATH OF A SHADOW, RECORD/PLAY, and AFF Student Short Jury Award Winner HATCH. Big congratulations go out to Omaha’s Festival Director Jeremy Decker and Program Director Marc Longbrake. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it up to Omaha this year but I hope to next year.
By now you probably realize I am an avid supporter of the short, so a trip to the 6th annual Taos Shortz Film Fest was a great excuse to escape the hordes of hipsters that descend upon Austin and fill all our restaurants and parking spaces. Festival Director Anna Cosentine has done a good job building a program that balances local New Mexico artists, Student Filmmakers, and films from all over the world. I could only be there for the first half of the fest, but saw a number of standout films, including an uplifting film from the Russian province of Bashkortostan, AMBITIOUS, about a boy’s quest to find two eggs to trade for a movie ticket. I also really enjoyed the highly-stylicized ZOLTAN: THE HUNGARIAN GANGSTER OF LOVE, a remarkable comedy with a phenomenal soundtrack and a dance-off. Another great comedy was COCKATOO, about a man who hires a woman to impersonate his ex-girlfriend and insult him. The cutest comedy was likely FRIEND REQUEST PENDING, featuring an adorable Judi Dench cyber-stalking her new crush (note to self: find way to get Judi Dench in my next short). Of course, I have to make mention of AFF Jury and Audience Award Winning and Oscar nominated ASAD, which I’ve probably seen near 8 times now and still affects me.
For Doc Shorts, I loved seeing AFF hit UNRAVEL again and unfortunately AFF Audience Award Winner GOOD KARMA $1 played the day after I left. Another fantastic doc short was the cringe-inducing but still unshakeable BUG PEOPLE, a film that forced the director to face his phobia by meeting with people who interact with insects on a daily basis (including a chef who specializes in Entomophagy – that’s right, eating bugs). One of my favorites of the whole weekend was an experimental piece SOLO PIANO NYC, a series of still images chronicling the use and abuse of an abandoned piano on a busy New York street.
Shorts festivals really give audience an experience they rarely have in normal viewing, and Taos Shortz is joining the ranks of some of the best (I might point out DC Shorts and Palm Springs as being unquestionably awesome). Here at Austin Film Festival, we program a lot of shorts. With 13 programs last year, each short playing twice over the festival, I like to think we have a shorts festival inside the whole festival. Furthermore, this year all our prizes have increased in size and we award Jury and Audience Awards in four categories (Doc, Narrative, Narrative Student, and Animated). The Animated and Narrative Shorts winner are Academy-eligible and the last two years in a row have both ended up on either the Nominations or the Shortlist. The earlybird deadline is fast approaching (May 1st) so get your short (or feature) in before the price goes up. For more information and for an entry fee discount, check out our website.
- Bears Fonte
AFF Director of Programming
3.13.2013 In anticipation of this Friday, March 15th’s Conversation in Film in Partnership with Dallas Screenwriters Association: Writing for Horror, with Mick Garris and Steve Niles, AFF e-sat down with Garris and Niles for a preview of what attracts them to the horror genre and how they broke into the industry. For more information about the upcoming Conversation, click here. Award-winning filmmaker Mick Garris …
In anticipation of this Friday, March 15th’s Conversation in Film in Partnership with Dallas Screenwriters Association: Writing for Horror, with Mick Garris and Steve Niles, AFF e-sat down with Garris and Niles for a preview of what attracts them to the horror genre and how they broke into the industry. For more information about the upcoming Conversation, click here.
Award-winning filmmaker Mick Garris created and Executive Produced the MASTERS OF HORROR series, an anthology series of one-hour horror films written and directed by the most famous names in the fear-film genre.
Steve Niles is best known for works such as 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, CRIMINAL MACABRE AND SIMON DARK. He is a writer of comics, novels and films and is the creator of Bloody Pulp Books Publishing.
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL (AFF): What is it that attracts you to the horror genre? When did you know you wanted to write horror movies?
MICK: I started writing seriously when I was 12 years old, and my first stories were horror stories. I was brought up on the Universal classics on TV, and then the big bug and sci-fi horrors of the 50s and 60s, again on TV. They stood out from the “normal” stuff that was rife.
STEVE: I’ve never really been able to figure out my attraction to the genre. I wouldn’t even go as far as to say I’m attracted to all horror so much as monsters. I love monsters. They are the outsiders and I’ve always related to that. I think what I love about horror is the same thing I love about comedy, when it works it’s a complete surprise and it’s exhilarating.
MICK: I was attracted to dark fiction and film from my earliest years. I think much of it has to do with being the outsider, about not being a part of the clique mentality, about not being “popular”, about identifying with those on the fringes. My family life was not a jolly one in childhood, coming from a bit of a hardscrabble upbringing when my parents split up. The secrets, the underbelly, was always fascinating to me, especially if I could explore it safely.
AFF: How did you break into the industry?
STEVE: I wrote comics for 20 years, then wrote 30 Days of Night and became an overnight success. Same old story.
MICK: My first opportunity as a writer really was a chance to do a draft for a project they were putting together at Avco Embassy when I was doing specialized genre publicity there, after having done a small interview show on the Z Channel pay-TV show. But my first real opportunity was when Steven Spielberg asked me to write the first script commissioned for his series, AMAZING STORIES.
AFF: Who were some of the writers/which were some of the films that influenced you the most as a writer? What did you learn from them that helped you turn into the successful writer you are today?
STEVE: Richard Matheson had a huge effect on me as both a writer and a person. He was the writer I fell in love with years before I found out his name. So many of the great Twilight Zones were his. Then I read I am Legend and it basically changed my life. I wasn’t much of a reader when I was a kid. I am Legend changed that. Then when I was 19 I wrote Matheson and asked if I could do a comic of I am Legend and he responded asking me for $100 dollars for the rights. Amazing man. I would not be here if not for him.
MICK: Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and even Edgar Allan Poe were huge horror influences, but as fiction authors, Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, John Irving, Joseph Heller, lots of other “mainstream authors”. And as far as screenwriters go, Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder, David Cronenberg, the Coen Brothers, and a ton of others certainly lent a guiding hand without knowing it.
AFF: What is one of the most frightening scenes you’ve ever seen on film?
MICK: There are lots of them. Perhaps when the Mantle twins are putting their newly-designed surgical implements to work in DEAD RINGERS. It is so real, so possible, so convincing.
STEVE: The simplest things are always the most frightening. There’s a BBC version of Woman in Black and there’s a scene where she just appears in a graveyard. It’s one of the most chilling shots I’ve seen.
AFF: What is the most challenging part about writing for this genre?
MICK: The drama. Good horror, in many ways, has to be BETTER than good drama. Because it not only has to embrace good storytelling, compelling characters, and believable, fascinating drama, it also has to build tension and suspense, and take you to uncomfortable places. Good drama comes first, and the horror is woven into it. The same rules apply, but then you have to frighten the audience.
STEVE: It’s always tough trying to scare people because everybody is scared by different things but the hardest thing for me is finding a fresh take on something we’ve seen a million times.
AFF: How do you feel the horror genre changed over the years? Where do you think it’s headed?
MICK: Well, it’s enjoying a bit of a creative outburst now because it’s being delivered so ubiquitously via streaming and on-demand and online and every which way. The tools make it less expensive to produce than ever, and a good horror film does not have to rely as much on highly-paid actors as more mainstream material. But it is stuck in a gross-out mode, which is getting a bit tiresome. So many filmmakers, particularly in this genre–which is not a beachhead for telling stories of psychological depth and complexity–make movies based on movies and TV, rather than upon life. With luck the found-footage sub-genre, which has been so overdone because it’s cheap and easy, is on its way out. I’m hoping storytelling will replace it.
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By Matt Dy | 03.13.2013 What does John Carpenter’s THE THING have in common with Steven Spielberg’s E.T.? Well, it’s not a cute, cuddly alien that’s for sure. Both were released at the same time but Carpenter’s film took a beating at the box office while up against Spielberg’s behemoth classic. However, over the years THE THING has found renewed appreciation as one of the …
By Matt Dy | 03.13.2013
What does John Carpenter’s THE THING have in common with Steven Spielberg’s E.T.? Well, it’s not a cute, cuddly alien that’s for sure. Both were released at the same time but Carpenter’s film took a beating at the box office while up against Spielberg’s behemoth classic. However, over the years THE THING has found renewed appreciation as one of the greatest horror films of all time.
THE THING was written by Bill Lancaster and directed by John Carpenter and is considered a remake of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. The title refers to the not-so-cuddly alien creature that assimilates other organisms (humans, dogs, anything is game) and has the unique ability to imitate them. This serves as an excellent plot device as The Thing terrorizes a research team in the Antarctic and they begin to turn on each other. The paranoia that develops and the slow burn of tension that builds underneath are what make this film as frightening as the fantastically gory transformations by The Thing. The best example of this is in the tension filled scene where all the men are having their blood tested to find out if any of them have been assimilated. In the scene, the men have realized the Thing has an extreme aversion to heat so they all agree to be tied up and have their blood drawn to be tested. MacReady (Kurt Russell) already passed so he administers the test by applying a hot wire to each man’s blood sample. One by one, we nervously wait to find out if the Thing lives in one of them. Suspicions and clues have already been laid throughout the film escalating to this moment. When we do find out who has been assimilated, The Thing reveals itself in the most horrifying way and we see it in all its gruesome transformations. If you haven’t seen it, it’s probably best you discover this for yourself.
Since it’s release, THE THING still holds up well. The movie was considered a mindless gorefest by many critics when it first came out. The perception of the film and horror in general obviously has shifted over the years as it is now embraced as a master class in subtle terror and over-the-top gore and special effects.
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Today’s Staff Pick comes from AFF’s Development Director Allison Frady. Here’s her take on George Goldsmith’s adaptation of CHILDREN OF THE CORN. When we created the staff blogs for this week I instantly knew the film I was going to write about… THE EXORIST written by William Peter Blatty. It’s THE classic scary movie everyone just has to watch at least once in their …
Today’s Staff Pick comes from AFF’s Development Director Allison Frady. Here’s her take on George Goldsmith’s adaptation of CHILDREN OF THE CORN.
When we created the staff blogs for this week I instantly knew the film I was going to write about… THE EXORIST written by William Peter Blatty. It’s THE classic scary movie everyone just has to watch at least once in their lifetime.
However, when I went to re-watch the film to refresh my memory on the details, I got scared. It was then that I decided this was the perfect opportunity to explore other classic horror films. I decided that the perfect film would be adapted from quintessential horror stories and thus started searching through films adapted from Stephen King novels. THE CHILDREN OF THE CORN written by George Goldsmith instantly grabbed my attention for two reasons: 1. It was a short story by Stephen King adapted to a feature film and 2. There is nothing scarier than sadistic children.
The film follows the classic scary story plot line of people being stuck in a town and seemingly going in circles to continuously end up where they just came from, the suspenseful music that plays when something bad is going to happen, and the blank faces of the killers. In addition, the 1984 film has that classic 80’s feel of bad clothes, bad music, bad acting, and that yellow car which ironically made the 80’s so great! AND it stars a young Linda Hamilton pre- SARAH CONNER and TERMINATOR.
All of the above is a recipe for success in horror films and for the first hour it did not disappoint! The opening scene leaves you shocked and on the edge of your seat- children killing adults, all led by Isaac, the master mind behind the theory that anyone over 18 must die. The hate and unresponsiveness in the children’s eyes and the glaze over their faces makes the audience scared at the thought of “How can these kids be capable of this?” As the film continues you realize that Isaac is leading the children to believe that this is right and you must follow his ways to survive in the town- there is no escaping as you’ll be hunted down by Malachai and his group of followers. It feels like a bad religious cult, brainwashing people to drink the kool-aid because it was what HE wants of you and you’ll be better off if you follow in the cults footsteps. As an outsider, you feel like screaming and shaking some sense into them but it is so ingrained in their brains nothing can help. The sadistic nature of the children makes the viewer sad that one individual can cause so much harm to so many people.
As the climax of the film approaches and the children start turning on each other for the power of the cult, the plot takes a left turn to “bad-scary-movie-ending” town. It’s not the children or Isaac creating the assumption that all adults should be killed it’s the corn field- literally. The 1980’s version of CGI graphics to create a “spirit” amongst the corn turns out to look like blob or a smoke cloud coming to kill the crops. On the ground, it has Tremors characteristics, that will suck you into the corn field and hold you hostage by wrapping the crops around you. This great classic horror film that makes you afraid to have children and shows the power in numbers turns into a laughable ending that leaves you feeling dissatisfied and wishing that the kids were the real demons.
In the end, I’m glad I watched it so I can now understand all of the CHILDREN OF THE CORN references in pop-culture and have another horror film checked off my “I need to watch this” list. The film also leaves you understanding the innocence of children both good and bad and more importantly, not that children are sadistic but red-heads are sadistic. Forever will I look at my red-headed friends and think of Sarah’s face as she mentions “Malachai is the one putting the adults in the corn field.”
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This week Austin Film Festival staff talks about their favorite Horror movies to gear up for this Friday’s Conversation in Film in partnership with Dallas Screenwriters Association: Writing for Horror with Mick Garris and Steve Niles. Stay tuned to this weeks Staff Picks blog and Newsletter for an announcement about our NEW Screenplay and Film Competition’s Horror Categories. For more information on this Friday’s Conversation …
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The last scary movie I remember seeing was URBAN LEGEND, the masterpiece starring Jared Leto and Tara Reid. I remember bragging to my friends in 4th grade, because you see, I was brave back then. As time passed, I became more and more of a pansy, I stopped riding roller coasters, learned of the dangers of strangers and absolutely stopped watching scary movies…until a couple …
The last scary movie I remember seeing was URBAN LEGEND, the masterpiece starring Jared Leto and Tara Reid. I remember bragging to my friends in 4th grade, because you see, I was brave back then. As time passed, I became more and more of a pansy, I stopped riding roller coasters, learned of the dangers of strangers and absolutely stopped watching scary movies…until a couple of weeks ago.
After my last post on watching STAR WARS for the first time, I decided to watch a movie that was more acceptable that I hadn’t seen until 2013, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I watched it with two of my girlfriends, with the lights on, the windows closed on one couch with a gun (okay, no gun, but clothes that tasted gross, in case of a cannibal attack).
My preconceived notions of gory and jumpy scary movies disappeared after watching a world where the thrill came in the mind games. Writer Ted Tally and Director Jonathan Demme create a world where the thrill comes in the mystery of Dr. Lecter, the haunting deep voice of Buffalo Bill and the chase scene seen through night-vision goggles. Sir Anthony Hopkins plays Hannibal, in arguably his best role ever* intrigues in every scene, especially with his psychoanalytical interactions with Jodie Foster’s Clarice.
What makes this movie even more brilliant are those brief moments of humor (Hannibal the Cannibal? Come on!). The best line in the movie is the funniest, where Hannibal tells Clarice he is “having an old friend for dinner” as he preys on Dr. Chilton, his ex-jailer. And, tell me you didn’t laugh every time Clarice said, “yes shir” a result of her upbringing in West Virginia.
I’m glad I overcame my fears and watched this movie, which has given me a newfound appreciation for the horror genre and has encouraged me to lose weight so that a Buffalo Bill won’t kidnap me for my chubby skin. It also gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “having thick skin”.
Liked SILENCE OF THE LAMBS? Check out the episode of On Story where writer Ted Tally discusses the changed ending for the world’s most famous cannibal and where he anticipated Jodie Foster’s Oscar on www.onstory.tv
- Linzy Beltran
*My friend, Spencer would disagree. He told me to tell you to go watch Hopkins in THE WORLD’S FASTEST INDIAN.
Today’s Guest Blog is from writer and AFF Screenplay Comedy Award Winner (2010), Julie Howe who has traveled through the ups and downs of developing a script. Read on for her account of Development’s good, bad and ugly. I know what you’re thinking. “She must be directionally confused, poor thing.” But hear me out because I actually do own a compass and know the difference …
Today’s Guest Blog is from writer and AFF Screenplay Comedy Award Winner (2010), Julie Howe who has traveled through the ups and downs of developing a script. Read on for her account of Development’s good, bad and ugly.
When Matt Dy first rang me back in 2010 to say Joyce San Pedro, a producer based at
Sony and an AFF judge and panelist, wanted to meet with me about my script, I was
thinking he must have meant to call someone else – some OTHER writer who may have
had the same last name as me – and he hit my number by mistake. Happens, right?
Thankfully, it wasn’t a butt dial.
I’m one of those lucky writers who caught a break thanks to Austin Film Festival; as
well as to an army of fellow writers who were generous and kind, brutal and honest,
and most of all just plain supportive. As a result, my 2010 AFF comedy script is in
development with Joyce San Pedro and Alex Siskin. It’s not a studio deal; it’s a handmade
independent production deal. And I didn’t leave the baby on the doorstep and
walk away. Instead, I made an arrangement with the producers that included
involvement from start to finish. I wanted to learn, I wanted to know what it was really
like to make a movie, to be part of a team. I didn’t know if I would be chewed up and spit
out like a stale Chiclet or be able to hold my own. Not to mention being able to hold my
tongue when necessary while still holding true to my vision.
As luck would have it, I was taken under the wings of the good guys and I’m thanking
the gods of screenwriting I didn’t end up stuck to the bottom of somebody’s Nike. Those
who championed the script from the beginning, Joyce San Pedro. Michael-Ryan
Fletchall and Alex Siskin, opened the door for me and I ran through it like my hair was
on fire. Let’s face it, I’m not a kid. I’m staring down the point-blank barrel of middle age.
I want my shot before Medicare kicks in or I start thinking my purse belongs in the
I owe my tenacious attitude not only to the opportunity afforded me by Austin Film
Festival but also to an amazing writer’s group called 5150 whose founder, Max Adams,
won the comedy screenplay award when AFF was a pup. From the beginning of my
tenure in the group, Austin Film Festival was touted as THE festival. Everyone in the group aspired to
place well in the screenplay competition. Needless to say, winning was unbelievable
and surreal. Like I had brought home 5150’s version of the Stanley Cup (yeah, I’m from
a hockey state!). I would not be where I am without the help and guidance of these
wickedly smart, talented peeps.
Although this all sounds like rah-rah cheerleader fluff, the development business is no
bed of roses. There have been some unfortunate bumps in the road that left the project
drifting a bit. Things looked uncertain and bleak and hopeless and all those terrible
words used to describe lost causes. I tried burying St. Jude upside down in my back
yard but apparently that only works if you’re Catholic, and what self-proclaimed pagan
has time for all that catechism stuff?
I’ll be honest. It’s been challenging. When someone asks me what it’s been like, I tell
them it’s agonizingly blissful…like having a root canal and an orgasm at the same time.
Some of the players have changed and we’ve had to take the project down a notch and
steer it in a different direction but that’s all par for the course, I’m told. It’s what
independent filmmaking is all about. It’s getting your hands grimy. It’s a million paper
cuts. It’s organize, then reorganize. It’s the coolest thing on earth! Maybe. Definitely.
The point I’m trying to make here is that regardless of the problems, regardless of the
heartache, I’ve been part of the process. I’m learning how hard it is to make a movie.
It’s giving-birth hard. It’s scaling Half Dome hard. It’s the kind of hard that creates
profound respect for those who have made it happen.
I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. But just when I was about to tell the bad and
the ugly to kiss my ass and never, ever darken my door, something amazing happened:
the good came around again. (Note to self: don’t tempt fate by telling it to kiss your ass
lest it tells you back “You’ll never have another shot, you ingrate!”)
Just like an acceptance speech at the Oscars where the winner thanks their high school
tormentor for making them stronger, I feel compelled to cover all the bases just to be
Thank you, Fate! I used to think you were an asshole. But now? You’re fucking
Now that I have that out of the way, I’ll get serious.
I’m beyond thankful to those who have helped me and continue to help me. I’m thankful
for Austin Film Festival. As writers, AFF is our home. Our living room. The place
where we don’t need coasters and the furniture isn’t covered in plastic. The place we go
to verbalize our dreams. When we descend on the town every October, not only do we
turn every hotel into our own private flophouse, we create a unique, living, breathing
creature. In its chest beats the mighty heart of the screenwriter; and, at its core the soul
and essence of the independent filmmaker.
To hell with conventional wisdom. For me, development is about as far away from hell
as it gets.
That may sound corny, but I don’t care. Matt told me I could say anything I wanted.
Next week at the Alamo Drafthouse Village, Austin Film Festival will present AFF’s Best of Fest (Shorts 2012) as part of our monthly Audience Award Series. This evening of award-winning shorts from last year’s festival includes two Oscar-nominated films and Animated, Documentary and Narrative shorts all together in one program. Bears Fonté, Director of Programming, sat down (or e-sat down actually) with a few of …
Next week at the Alamo Drafthouse Village, Austin Film Festival will present AFF’s Best of Fest (Shorts 2012) as part of our monthly Audience Award Series. This evening of award-winning shorts from last year’s festival includes two Oscar-nominated films and Animated, Documentary and Narrative shorts all together in one program. Bears Fonté, Director of Programming, sat down (or e-sat down actually) with a few of the filmmakers to discuss their films and their take on being a Shorts Filmmaker.
Bears, AFF: What do you consider a strong story?
Zach Endres, Writer/Director THE TELEPORTED MAN: “The strongest stories are those that make you look at life at a slightly different angle. They provide a unique perspective in a way that makes you feel something, whether it be joy or heartbreak or fury. The best stories lead you to empathize with a new point of view. They broaden your mind, either by allowing you to wear someone else’s shoes or revealing the truth that you’re not the only one wearing your particular shoes. With that knowledge you face your everyday life with a new tilt, hopefully in a positive direction.”
Jason Berger, Director GOOD KARMA $1: “A strong story to me is really just something that pulls an emotion or feeling out of me. A comedy can have a really strong story the way that a drama or epic period piece can. “
Bears, AFF: How long did the writing process take you and when (how) did you know that it was ready for production?
Christoph Kuschnig, Writer/Director HATCH: “It took about six months from the idea to the script that I actually shot. It’s never ready – even rewrites on the day of shooting a scene. There is a point in writing when you know, you’ve done everything possible to make it as strong as you can. Then it is time to bring in your collaborators to ascend it to the next level.”
Zach Endres: “Writing took place over a couple of months, but I would have loved more time. Being my undergraduate thesis film, this entire project had to be completed within one semester, including script revisions. So in all actuality, production just kind of happened whether the script was ready or not. But that pressure kept me vigilant. I wrote draft after draft, squeezing as many revisions into that time as possible. I tweaked the script throughout rehearsals and into production, and oddly enough even well into post-production. It’s impossible for a script to reach perfection, but that doesn’t mean you should settle. Actively critiquing your creation until the end is a way to ensure you’re creating the best product possible, albeit at the expense of your sanity.”
Bears, AFF: What was the biggest challenge making the film?
Chelsea Hernandez, Director SEE THE DIRT: “The biggest challenge in making the film was determine how to edit the story together. Erik and I did not have an idea of how the structure of the film would be and there was no event to really cover that would create a narrative arc. We knew we wanted to highlight Scott and allow the audience a peek into his life. So, it was hard to determine how to make a “day in the life” short documentary flow and keep one’s attention. Also, I filmed and edited the movie, it was hard to cut down the film. I was so attached to certain scenes because I was present at the shoot. It was heart wrenching to loose certain scenes, but in the end it worked much better.”
Christoph Kuschnig:“Shooting at an actual baby hatch. We asked for the three nights but only got one. We had to cram in 24 setups in less than 12 hours of shooting with an actual baby on set, heavy traffic outside the baby hatch – and still we were able to make it look quiet.”
Bears, AFF: Working within your budget, what type of compromises did you have to make along the way? Were there any that were particularly painful to you?
Chelsea Hernandez:“We started shooting “See the Dirt” in standard definition because (co-director) Erik and I both owned Panasonic DVX100s that we just couldn’t let go of yet. I wished we would have filmed it in high definition, but stepping back now, I’m glad we did shoot in SD. Since the movie is about Scott’s unique vintage hobby, it gives it a nostalgic, novelty look. And it leads the audience to focus more on Scott.”
Zach Endres: “Making a science fiction film on a shoestring budget is always a challenge. We had to make compromises with almost every aspect of the film. While these changes seemed painful at first, I’ve found that I make my most creative decisions when the greatest limitations are placed on me. Some of the moments in the film that I’m most happy with are not even close to how I imagined them in the writing process. I’m a firm believer that you must embrace limitations, because they often lead to a better movie if you know how to manipulate them to your benefit.”
Bears, AFF: What advice do you have for shorts filmmakers?
Zach Endres: “Keep it simple. A short doesn’t have to be a compressed feature film. The strongest shorts are often those that tell a story that fits their timeframe. It’s all about efficiency. Start late, leave early, reduce locations, combine characters, simplify simplify simplify. The clarity of brevity allows for even the smallest of stories to leave the biggest of footprints.”
Jason Berger: “Just have fun. If you’re not having fun, then don’t do it. And do it for yourself. I think you should submit (your film to film festivals) – you’ve just got to do it. I think it’s a good exercise in getting your film out there. And even if your film doesn’t get in, it’s a learning experience. If you want to be into making films, you can’t really be worried about whether people are going to like it or hate it. You want to get as many eyeballs on it as possible. The goal is to get people to see it.”
Bryan Buckley, Writer/Director ASAD: “There are tons of film festivals out there. Take the time to know the festivals you submit to. Look at their past winners. Look at how they screen. Make sure that they recognize the type of work you’ve created. Traveling 1400 miles to see your film screen in front of eight disinterested people is about as disheartening as watching Mitt Romney trying to explain his take on foreign policy.”
Bears, AFF: What have you learned or do you must appreciate, after working the festival circuit?
Jason Berger: “I really appreciated the audience laughing at the parts that we laughed at!”
Bryan Buckley: “If you look at Austin’s track record for picking films that are socially noteworthy, it’s pretty damn ridiculous. As a writer/director I also like that Austin is such a writer’s festival – I mean look at the award – it’s a typewriter! We couldn’t help but put Austin at the top of our festival submission list. Warhol said ‘in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ I wonder if it was his way of predicting the rise of the short.”
Zach Endres: “I’ve learned to not take rejection personally. In fact, rejection is just a challenge to do even better work the next time around. On top of that, I’ve learned that some people actually do want to see my films. Appreciation of that fact is key: focus on the positives, bear the negatives and use them as fodder to build upon your past work.”
AFF’s Best of Fest (Shorts 2012) plays Monday, March 4th at the Alamo Drafthouse Village at 7 pm. Films will include SEE THE DIRT (Doc Short Jury Award Winner), GOOD KARMA, $1 (Doc Short Audience Award Winner), ASAD (Oscar-nominated and Narrative Short Jury and Audience Award Winner), HATCH (Student Short Jury Award Winner), THE TELEPORTED MAN (Student Short Audience Award Winner), and HEAD OVER HEELS (Oscar-nominated and Animated Short Jury and Audience Award Winner). Filmmakers from SEE THE DIRT and THE TELEPORTED MAN will be in attendance. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.
Our Intern to the Executive Director Coleman Tharpe, pictured below, recently took a trip to Houston for his chance to hold an Oscar, here’s his account: For the first time in the 85 year history of the Academy Awards, Oscar took a road trip. He’s been on display before, but this year’s Oscar ROADTRIP is the first opportunity for those whose names aren’t in …
Our Intern to the Executive Director Coleman Tharpe, pictured below, recently took a trip to Houston for his chance to hold an Oscar, here’s his account:
For the first time in the 85 year history of the Academy Awards, Oscar took a road trip. He’s been on display before, but this year’s Oscar ROADTRIP is the first opportunity for those whose names aren’t in the golden envelope to hold the little man and practice a speech. Visiting ten cities over the course of February, Oscar and his handlers made two stops in the great state of Texas. The Academy’s RV stopped Monday in Dallas and the day before I met him and his friends at the Town and Country Village mall in Houston.
My first impression is that the Oscar travels in style: top-of-the-line RV, velvet cushions, and an entourage. And the folks traveling with him couldn’t be a more welcoming and inviting crew. The statue himself is as wonderful as anyone could imagine. Golden in color, eight and a half pounds in weight, and engraved with the historic logo of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Oscar’s presence commands the entire room, whether on stage at the Dolby Theatre at the Hollywood and Highland Center in Hollywood, California, or the Sprint Store at a mall in Houston, Texas.
Over the years, the Academy has garnered more than its fair share of criticism for being Socialist, racist, chauvinistic, feudal, out-dated, and exclusionary, among other things. But the truth of the matter is that the Academy and especially the artists and executives that make up its membership have helped the people of this country through their darkest times: the Great Depression, the Second World War, McCarthyism, Vietnam, countless recessions, and attacks both ideological and militaristic. Cinema gives us hope for the future by giving us celluloid dreams, so introducing my young cousins to Oscar was the best part of the trip. The Oscar ROADTRIP is bringing the excellence of the Academy to the people, and reminding us that it’s we who are the most important part of the industry – all the beautiful people out there in the dark.
For football fans, the Super Bowl may be over but for me, mine hasn’t started yet. This Sunday is the Academy Awards and the only playbook in sight is the one Harvey Weinstein is pushing hard for. Will it be Silver Lining’s night or Argo’s? This has been the most unpredictable and surprising race in years featuring a stellar line-up of nominees. AFF …
For football fans, the Super Bowl may be over but for me, mine hasn’t started yet. This Sunday is the Academy Awards and the only playbook in sight is the one Harvey Weinstein is pushing hard for. Will it be Silver Lining’s night or Argo’s? This has been the most unpredictable and surprising race in years featuring a stellar line-up of nominees. AFF is represented well here as our 2012 festival line-up included Silver Linings Playbook, Flight, The Sessions, and short film nominees Asad, Buzkashi Boys, and Head Over Heals. I’ve included my predictions below in all 24 categories. I’ll start off with an analysis of my two favorite categories, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay. Click on each of the titles to download the PDF of the script (Lincoln is not available).
Best Adapted Screenplay
Argo by Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi by David Magee
Lincoln by Tony Kushner
Predicted winner: Argo
Chris Terrio’s tight script never lags and does a phenomenal job of keeping the audience in suspense despite already knowing the outcome. And with tons of smart, funny one-liners, Chris Terrio could be telling the other nominees “Argof*ckyourself” on Sunday. Tony Kushner has enough respectability in the industry to pull off a win but I think Argo will continue its winning streak here.
Best Original Screenplay
Amour by Michael Haneke
Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino
Flight by John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty by Mark Boal
Predicted winner: Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino has already won some key awards so far for original screenplay so I’d say he’s the favorite. I’m sure some residual love from Inglorious Basterds and the box office success of Django can’t hurt either. Mark Boal did win the WGA award but Tarantino wasn’t eligible for a nomination and Michael Haneke could surprise here too.
And here is the full list of my predictions:
Best Picture: Argo
Best Director: Steven Spielberg – Lincoln
Best Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio – Argo
Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
Best Cinematography: Life of Pi
Best Production Design: Anna Karenina
Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina
Best Hair & Makeup: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Best Editing: Argo
Best Sound Mixing: Les Miserables
Best Sound Editing: Life of Pi
Best Original Score: Life of Pi
Best Original Song: Skyfall
Best Animated Feature: Brave
Best Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man
Best Foreign Language Film: Amour
Best Live Action Short: Curfew
Best Animated Short: Paperman
Best Documentary Short: Open Heart
Check back after the show on Sunday and see how I did!
–Matt Dy, Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director
If you think you have what it takes to correctly predict the Oscar winners, take a chance at our Oscars Prediction Contest and you could win a Producers Badge or a Film Pass to the 2013 Austin Film Festival! For more information, click here.
In preparation and excitement for our upcoming MAKING YOUR FEATURE FILM event, panelists Emily Hagins (MY SUCKY TEEN ROMANCE), Brandon Dickerson (SIRONIA), John Fiege (MISSISSIPPI CHICKEN), and Jeremiah Jones (RESTIVE) reflect on some of their experiences, joys and trials as filmmakers. Don’t forget to mark your calendars for much more insight and advice during Austin Film Festival’s next Conversation in Film! AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL …
In preparation and excitement for our upcoming MAKING YOUR FEATURE FILM event, panelists Emily Hagins (MY SUCKY TEEN ROMANCE), Brandon Dickerson (SIRONIA), John Fiege (MISSISSIPPI CHICKEN), and Jeremiah Jones (RESTIVE) reflect on some of their experiences, joys and trials as filmmakers. Don’t forget to mark your calendars for much more insight and advice during Austin Film Festival’s next Conversation in Film!
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL (AFF): What do you consider a strong story?
HAGINS: I think a strong story is one that you feel passionate about as a writer, because you’re able to really bring all the details of the world your characters live in to life.
DICKERSON: I gravitate toward true stories I find will translate to screen in an authentic and honest way..
FIEGE: A strong story portrays the world from a distinctive perspective.
AFF: What were some of the biggest challenges with making your film?
HAGINS: One of the biggest challenges was keeping the narrative concise with a simple, character-driven story. There were a lot of character moments we could’ve expanded on, and themes we could’ve explored– but it would’ve deviated from what the big picture really was. Understanding what the movie would ultimately feel like in the early stages was definitely a necessary but difficult step for a movie like this.
FIEGE: Finding the story tends to be the hardest part of production. With documentary, even when you think you’ve found a great story, you’re never sure how it’s going to play out. Following strong documentary stories is, by definition, a risky endeavor; and one of the hardest parts of production is pouring everything you have into such an uncertain process.
DICKERSON: For SIRONIA, we were pulling crew from Austin+Dallas+Los Angeles as well as working with locals in Waco. Every one of those cities has its own vibe. Crew from each city has their own unique approach to production. It was a challenge to be at the helm of those different personalities within an abbreviated 20 day shoot with little prep time. A film crew needs to work as a passionate family with a unified vision and we had to create that connection on a train that had left the station. It all worked out in the end.
JONES: Finding money to make a film is always a big challenge. I have only made ultra low-budget films, so scheduling and moving efficiently to get what you need with not much time is another big challenge. When people come into a project and spend a lot of time and resources working, you need to make sure that you are on the same page and have the same expectations. The indie environment can be kind of all hands on deck, so just talk everything out.
AFF: Working on a low-budget, what type of compromises did you have to make along the way? Were there any that were particularly painful to you?
HAGINS: Luckily we had an amazing cast and crew that really went above and beyond when things were tough– like one day we shot 9 pages in a location with 100 extras, and everyone really worked hard to get everything done in the best way possible… I really don’t feel like we had to make compromises, because this story was designed for a budget we would be able to work with.
JONES: I try to hopefully make the most out of the current situation that we are facing. I don’t think it’s compromising, it’s problem solving. Make the most out of what you have in that moment and don’t let one moment bring the movie down. A lot of challenges can be happening all around the set but you only see what goes into the frame.
FIEGE: Art is a compromise between a vision and the representation of that vision. I have to constantly make difficult choices about how to spend extremely limited resources of time and money. Yet, it is these choices that result in a particular artistic representation of a story. I always wish I had more time and money, but I also believe that when I figure out how to tell a story in a stronger way, more time and money will become available somehow. As Robert Bresson wrote, “One does not create by adding, but by taking away.”
AFF: What was one of the most memorable parts of shooting?
JONES: If it is possible and the schedule allows, I like picking up the cast from the airport. An actor puts a lot of faith into you – they read the work, we talk on the phone about it, the details or business get worked out – but I always find myself still hoping that they get on the plane. Meeting them at the airport is when I have the realization of” Hey, they actually came. We have a chance – let’s get this thing done.”
FIEGE: Seeing the story appear before my eyes for the first time.
DICKERSON: The first day [of SIRONIA] was insane. I had fallen on my sword that we needed to shoot at an actual rodeo with real Mutton Bustin’ so it moved up our shoot two weeks and became the first day of filming. It turned out that the time the rodeo had generously given us to film the dialogue sequences was during a pre-concert so we had to shoot between songs. On top of this, the reality that you were finally doing what you wanted to do since you were eight years old felt like an astronaut taking off for the moon.
HAGINS: The day we shot 9 pages was definitely the most memorable for me. We were working with one of our lead actors for the first time, difficult lighting, 100 teenagers, stunts, and one of the most emotional scenes of the whole movie… I felt like a different person at the end of it, and very grateful for the people involved in the production.
Hear more from Emily, Jeremiah, John and Brandon on Saturday, March 2nd at 12PM at the George Washington Carver Museum. The conversation will continue with panelists offering tangible advice for aspiring filmmakers including creative ways to raise money, find marketing and distribution, and utilize acquired tricks of the trade. Click here to get your tickets.
Today our Valentine’s Day Staff Picks series comes to a close. We’ve heard from our staff members about their favorite and least favorite movies on love and we hope you have found the perfect flick to celebrate Valentine’s Day. If you’re still looking for that last minute movie to watch with your significant other, roommate, or even all by yourself (cue Céline Dion), consider picking …
Today our Valentine’s Day Staff Picks series comes to a close. We’ve heard from our staff members about their favorite and least favorite movies on love and we hope you have found the perfect flick to celebrate Valentine’s Day. If you’re still looking for that last minute movie to watch with your significant other, roommate, or even all by yourself (cue Céline Dion), consider picking up Film Department Director Ryan Darbonne’s pick, IN THE SOUP.
It’s 2:23 in the morning. Valentine’s Day. I’m perched in front of my iMac watching buffering vids of iCarly, on mute, as the self-assured stylings of Ms. Nina Simone croon through my iTunes (iKnow…lame joke). You see dear reader, I’ve been assigned (read: forced) to pick a film about love and ‘cha boy ain’t got nothin’…nada…diddlysquat; films overwrought with heterosexual romanticism are a dime a dozen making it hard to narrow my choices down. Suddenly, as if on cue, inspiration hits: The modern bromance. What better way to celebrate V-day than by exploring the platonic, and often complex, relationships between men on the silver screen? My pick is the 90’s independent classic, IN THE SOUP.
Directed by Alexander Rockwell, the film stars Steve Buscemi as aspiring “screenwriter” Aldolpho Rollo whose 500-page opus, and unrequited obsession with his neighbor, serve as points of contention in his, already, pathetic life. Plagued by economic hardship, Aldolpho places a newspaper ad in a desperate attempt to sell his screenplay. As a result he meets Joe (Seymour Cassel): A wily hustler who agrees to finance and produce the film by any means necessary. The two stooges form an unlikely bond resulting in mutual feelings of love and admiration. Even when their plans start to go awry, much to the dismay of Aldolpho, neither one is willing to completely severe ties. Aldolpho sees Joe as a creative savior and Joe views Aldolpho as a short cut to salvation.
Told through a series of interconnected vignettes, and shot in stark black and white, the film co-stars Jennifer Beals, Will Patton and a young Sam Rockwell (no relation). Alexander Rockwell has crafted an offbeat, existential comedy that is a resounding ode to the creative struggle, and the platonic ties that bind, set against the backdrop of pre-Giuliani Manhattan.
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Career Opportunities On Location Week, or COOL Week was established in 1999 by Leander High School. Students choose an organization to work with for a week to get a glimpse at their future career opportunities. This year, Hunter Orona and Marcos Vargas chose to work for Austin Film Festival with our Young Filmmakers Program. Get a glimpse behind the scenes of AFF’s offices from their …
Career Opportunities On Location Week, or COOL Week was established in 1999 by Leander High School. Students choose an organization to work with for a week to get a glimpse at their future career opportunities. This year, Hunter Orona and Marcos Vargas chose to work for Austin Film Festival with our Young Filmmakers Program. Get a glimpse behind the scenes of AFF’s offices from their Guest Blogs.
Hunter Orona: NO NEED TO KNOCK, COME RIGHT IN
There was a sudden piercing thought that over came me as I approached the green house on Salina street. Was this the feeling of anxiety or the feeling of excitement? The mystery inside led me to think the answer lay behind the green, hinged obstacle of sorrow, or maybe even the bridge to enlightenment that only a few more steps could unfold. The sign on the door read “No need to knock, come right in!”. I was apprehensive at first. It seemed welcoming. A little bit too welcoming. . .
As I walked through the door I felt a sense of comfort, as if at home. This might have been due to the fact that this “office” was a home but never the less it was a friendly environment. This was not the typical corporate setting that I had envisioned before my arrival. There were no cubicles dividing the staff. The designated lounge area was actually not designated at all. People were sprawled all about the house. The only sight of a suit or a tie was on a Kiss Kiss Bang Bang poster. Most interesting of all were the staff meetings I was able to sit in on. People said what they wanted. And they meant it. There was no real filter (whether this be good, or bad) that the staff members were expected to use which encouraged all thoughts to be presented. This was eye opening to me. The once uptight business I had in mind was transformed into a place where ideas could freely be traded amongst people who had the same common interests.
The place fascinated me. Everyone seemed to be individually working on their own aspect of the company but at the same time there was a connection between each of them. A sort of cooperation was present that allowed the collaboration of ideas to flow throughout the company to better benefit every individual. There was one common interest that intertwined and held together everything in this green house. Everyone had a love for film.
My experience here at the Austin Film Festival headquarters has, in fact, enlightened me. I now realize how a business can successfully be directed toward a common goal in an efficient and enjoyable manner. To further progress ideas people need to be able come together and collaborate.
Marcos Vargas: A WEEK AT THE LITTLE GREEN HOUSE ON THE EAST SIDE
Having lived in Austin for most my life, I had heard of the Austin Film Festival, but never really did anything with the organization. When my transition coordinator called me into her office and asked if I would like to intern with AFF, I was ecstatic. Showing up to this little green house in the East Side of downtown Austin, I knew that this was going to be not only a good week, but a cool week.
I walked in on Monday, a little apprehensive having arrived a few minutes early, I sat down in an office where instead of a sitting at a desk, most interns propped up their computers on their lap. It was then, that I met Patrick. Patrick is the Young Filmmakers Project Director. Patrick was very nice and very enthusiastic about his work. He showed me around the office and told me a little bit about what he does during his normal schedule. Having an abundance of questions I was dying to ask, I was just waiting for the right moment to flood Patrick with questions. When the time came, I was amazed at how open Patrick was to answering my questions, which I felt was very helpful. I learned so much just in the first 30 minutes that I was afraid that the rest of the week I was not going to learn anymore, I was mistaken.
On Tuesday morning, Patrick took me and another student to Anderson High School where he helps teach juniors and seniors screenwriting. Before heading to the school, Patrick had me write up a survey enticing the students to express their feelings about the class and what they had learned so far in the year. After listening to the students read their film, I understood the dedication that Patrick had to his job. After the group reading at Anderson, Patrick had us head to the office for the weekly staff meeting. This was definitely my favorite part of the day. Listening in on the meeting, I was able to see the structure of a productive office. I was able to see how, from an unfamiliar point of view, separate departments can come together and efficiently get things done.
I have really enjoyed my time at the Austin Film Festival. I have enjoyed meeting everyone in the office, and I really appreciate them giving up their time so that I may get some experience in the real world. Having learned so much in a week that a book could never teach me, I am sad to leave. Though I leave sad, I have gained knowledge that will be able to help me for the rest of my life. Like how to create your own schedule for the week and get it done and how to ask good constructive question to get ideas across to other staff members. I do hope one day I can master all these skills that I learned and work in an office space just like the Austin Film Festival.
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For more information on Austin Film Festival’s Young Filmmakers Program click here.
When choosing their “Staff Pick” films, Development Director Allison Frady and Assistant to the Executive Director Linzy Beltran both jumped at the chance to bring a cynical look at Nora Ephron’s 1998 movie, YOU’VE GOT MAIL. With their shared disdain for cliché endings and unrealistic internet romance, they knew their votes both sat squarely in the Anti-Love ballot box. After much discussion they settled on …
When choosing their “Staff Pick” films, Development Director Allison Frady and Assistant to the Executive Director Linzy Beltran both jumped at the chance to bring a cynical look at Nora Ephron’s 1998 movie, YOU’VE GOT MAIL. With their shared disdain for cliché endings and unrealistic internet romance, they knew their votes both sat squarely in the Anti-Love ballot box. After much discussion they settled on a comparison of the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks classic with its early predecessor, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER.
I think it’s safe to say that most of my generation, whatever we’re called (Z?,Pepsi?) is more likely to have seen Nora Ephron’s YOU’VE GOT MAIL than the 1940 movie it was based on: Ernst Lubitsch’s THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (trust me; I’m an expert in official polls). I’ll admit it; I watched THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER for the first time this weekend and was angry at myself, the world and my parents for not showing me this movie sooner.
Teaming Margaret Sullavan and the precious Jimmy Stewart for the third time as an onscreen duo, the film is based on the 1937 Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklós Lázló. The love story begins with Alfred Kralik (Stewart) answering a newspaper ad in the paper and blossoms via the letters delivered to PO Box 237. Unbeknownst to him, the “most wonderful girl in the world”, Miss Novak (Sullavan) walks into the little shop looking for a job.
Long before Sam and Diane (Cheers) or Jim and Pam (The Office), this love story includes the most sexual of tensions, a cheating scandal, an attempted suicide and a story of success for a man who initially doesn’t see himself worthy of the woman wooing with words. Doesn’t sound like a movie made in the 40s, now does it?
Fast forward to 1998 and the idea of love being found through your computer and already you’re light years away from THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, no matter how progressive it seems. The glitch in Nora Ephron’s YOU’VE GOT MAIL is its masquerade as an update to the classic love story when all the while it ends in the same old clichés.
When you study the plot of YOU’VE GOT MAIL you realize it’s already been done not once but twice. The first time in 1940 with THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and then with the 1993 romance SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. It’s not that YOU’VE GOT MAIL is anti-love just because it’s a remake of two separate movies, it is anti-love because what two people fall in love when they have so much disgust with each other and build a relationship over AOL email? Sure online dating is currently all the rage in finding Mr. or Mrs. Right, but in 1998 the idea seemed farfetched.
The classic love movie plot occurs in YOU’VE GOT MAIL: two people are in current relationships that they can’t stand while interacting (in this case emailing) with their perfect companion. Inevitabily, their relationships die out and now both are single and ready to mingle. Coincidence? I think not. All the while the two email love birds are having a work battle over book store space (one named The Shop Around the Corner), with no idea they’re hating the one they love. In the midst of battle they seem to start falling for each other, but what about NY152?? As if you didn’t know how the movie was going to end, the two decide for the last time to meet face to face. Sure enough with the beautiful, sweet dog running in the background amongst bright colored flowers, beautiful plants in the middle of NYC- they discover that they got the best of both worlds, love in real life and over the internet.
On this day before Valentine’s Day, decide for yourself which film is better… but we think the decision is already made. Sorry YOU’VE GOT MAIL (or SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE 2: THE RETURN OF TEG RYANKS), your creepy love story is solely saved by Tom Hanks’ late 90s charm and Meg Ryan’s normal lips. YOU’VE GOT MAIL has only one thing on THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER and that is the Internet. But even then, it’s just AOL.
For all of this week’s Staff Picks, and to keep up with all Austin Film Festival News, check back daily or subscribe to our RSS News Feed.
We’re back this week with more AFF Staff Picks for movies to watch on Valentine’s Day. Today we have Conference Director Erin Hallagan’s take on GONE WITH THE WIND, a love story that fits squarely into the Love and Anti-Love categories. Love it or hate it, GONE WITH THE WIND is a great addition to any Valentine’s Day movie watch list. In trying to …
We’re back this week with more AFF Staff Picks for movies to watch on Valentine’s Day. Today we have Conference Director Erin Hallagan’s take on GONE WITH THE WIND, a love story that fits squarely into the Love and Anti-Love categories. Love it or hate it, GONE WITH THE WIND is a great addition to any Valentine’s Day movie watch list.
In trying to decide a “love” or “anti-love” film, I kept circling back to GONE WITH THE WIND – one I feel truly represents both camps. Plus, it’s a personal favorite of mine. Early childhood memories yield many-a-time where friends and family would call me Scarlett O’Hara (I was known for my beautiful curtain-adorned outfits). Okay, okay – I was a little bossy. And stubborn… Over the years, my appreciation of the film has evolved upon each viewing. In my Scarlett days, it was beautiful and rich and there was a pony in the end. Later, I saw the depiction of the American Old South as something harsher; an encapsulated culture of those who refused to evolve themselves and embraced a chivalry that was dying. Most recently, I saw GONE WITH THE WIND as an unrelenting love story.
It’s an unconventional romance, driven by Scarlett’s struggle with lust and her search for deceptive promises of happiness. Her vanity dominates her destiny and she becomes trapped by the illusion of love. She lives dangerously on the curtain-tails of ideas that will never come to fruition. Though Scarlett is blinded, her worthy counterpart Rhett Butler sees everything perfectly clear, and loves her not in spite of it all, but because of it all.
Scarlett’s fabricated feelings for Ashley Wilkes serve as an intoxicating metaphor, as he symbolizes the romanticized Old South stuck in time, nostalgic and bound to fade away. Scarlett, however, is unconquerable and learns to adapt while still hanging on to the idea of him. She faces war and loss with ruthless perseverance. She plows through each adversity with baited breath, still powered by delusion. Yet her triumph does not surface until the film’s last moments – when she finally comes to accept the reality she created. When all possibility of hope is seemingly lost, she embraces optimism in the reassurance that “tomorrow would be another day.” All that she had resisted with hate and antipathy was no longer stifled. Grief and desperation were overcome by a breath of fresh air at last.
I’m of the school that Scarlett did love Rhett, in the end. But to me, this story is more about finding an acceptance and love for self. Scarlett was in constant battle for adoration from others, exercising defiance and ignoring compassion at every turn. Through it all, her lowest points were always rejuvenated by a pilgrimage to her true love: her home. Scarlett finally chooses a new battle – one that will surely test her equally, but could surrender the peace she searched for for so long. Her strength stemmed from Tara, and it was here that it could blossom again.
Adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Sidney Howard retold a classic and towering story. GONE WITH THE WIND is a timeless tale of love and hate, and the epic journey required to comprehend the roots of happiness and concord. I promise it won’t leave you feeling abandoned or forgotten on your couch this February 14th, but instead in a state of shared mad optimism with Scarlett O’Hara. After all, February 15th is another day.
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Today’s Staff Picks blog comes to us from Bears Fonté, AFF’s Film Department Director of Programming. Bears’ post brings us to the darker side of love, the obsessive, determined, lustful side of love portrayed by Matt Damon as Tom Ripley in Anthony Minghella’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. Anthony Minghella’s got a thing about love so strong it pushes a person to unthinkable extremes. His 2003 …
Today’s Staff Picks blog comes to us from Bears Fonté, AFF’s Film Department Director of Programming. Bears’ post brings us to the darker side of love, the obsessive, determined, lustful side of love portrayed by Matt Damon as Tom Ripley in Anthony Minghella’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.
Anthony Minghella’s got a thing about love so strong it pushes a person to unthinkable extremes. His 2003 civil war epic COLD MOUNTAIN found Jude Law as a confederate deserter walking for months through near starvation to return to his wife. His first film, TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY centers on a man who comes back as a ghost and tarnishes his girlfriend’s memory of him, just so she’ll move on. His most famous film, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, involves loves and lies and people staying behind during war to care for burn victims. [Admission: I’ve never made it through this movie. My feelings about it were best summarized by Dawson’s Creek’s Pacey who used it time and time again to put babies to sleep.] For me, the ultimate Minghella statement on love is THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.
This film, based on a brilliant Patricia Highsmith novel, follows Tom Ripley as he makes his way to San Reimo, Italy, under the pretence of bringing back playboy Dickie Greenleaf to his conservative shipbuilding father. Matt Damon (in what I consider his finest performance) fills Tom with the perfect amount of jealousy, confidence, lust and cold determination needed to infiltrate this elite set of Princeton grads eternally holidaying on family money. He stays up nights quizzing himself on jazz artists after he hears about Dickie’s love of the ‘new hip sound of the late fifties.’ He models himself after Dickie in his dress and hair, copying his every move.He falls in love with Dickie’s lifestyle and he falls in love with Dickie.There is a moment where he and his idol (played by Jude Law) nearly share a bath, rife with sexual tension, when Tom almost gets what he wants. But like all love-gone-wrong stories, Tom’s obsession (or as Dickie calls it, his constant presence) drives him to commit the most shocking and blood-thirsty acts – first by killing Dickie himself (and that’s not even the movie’s mid point). Moving to Rome, he poses as Dickie to collect the latest check from daddy Greenleaf, creates a relationship between Tom and Dickie by leaving messages at hotels for each other, and then sends himself back to San Reimo to dump Dickie’s girlfriend (played effortlessly Gwyneth Paltrow). What’s most horrific about Tom’s fall is that later in the movie, when he finally stumbles into a relationship that might actually provide the love he so clearly needs, he must sacrifice it to continue to cover up his murder and usurpment of Dickie Greenleaf.
For me, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY perfectly captures that moment when you first learn that your feelings are not reciprocated.It depicts the quiet desperation of being an outsider and grasping for any way in. Beautifully shot on location by John Seale (RAIN MAN, WITNESS), it somehow exists far from the year it was made and really puts you back at a time before there were such things as anti-heroes and every love story had a happy ending. If there is one thing that survives this descent into the darker side of desire, it’s the pure unadulterated devotion to Jazz. The soundtrack and score are both phenomenal and provide the perfect close to this review: there is nothing so chilling as Matt Damon’s under-stated and splendid rendition of “My Funny Valentine.” Cozy up to someone close while you watch this one, and be glad it’s just a movie.
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Yesterday, Patrick brought us his take on THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN. Today, Screenplay Department Director Matt Dy brings us back to the pro-love side of the spectrum with his favorite movie for Valentine’s Day, HAROLD AND MAUDE. Considered a flop in the 70’s, HAROLD AND MAUDE has found renewed adoration since its initial release and now sits at #69 on the American Film Institute’s …
Yesterday, Patrick brought us his take on THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN. Today, Screenplay Department Director Matt Dy brings us back to the pro-love side of the spectrum with his favorite movie for Valentine’s Day, HAROLD AND MAUDE.
Considered a flop in the 70’s, HAROLD AND MAUDE has found renewed adoration since its initial release and now sits at #69 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time. However, I didn’t know the film existed until I first saw THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and Cameron Diaz’s titular character cited it as her favorite film. Leave it to the Farrelly Brothers to introduce me to one of the most unconventional and classic love stories ever.
Written by Collin Higgins and directed by Hal Ashby, the film is a darkly comedic yet romantic portrayal of Harold, a young man obsessed with death and suicide, and Maude, an elderly woman he meets at a random funeral they both attended just for fun. While the setup doesn’t quite seem like the makings of a sweeping Nicholas Sparks romance, the beauty of their love comes from its unconventional and unconditional nature. I researched that more intimate scenes between the two were cut because the studio was afraid they would scare away audiences. Instead, their love is displayed through several sweet moments. The best scene is when Harold gives Maude a souvenir coin that says “Harold Loves Maude” as they sit on the edge of a cliff. She immediately tosses it into the water and states her reason for doing so: “So I’ll always know where it is.”
Harold is an odd fellow who is introduced to us as a young man who goes to extreme lengths to shock his routinely unsurprised mother by staging elaborate suicide attempts including hanging by a noose, drowning as she swims laps around him, and splaying fake blood all over himself. He even stages these suicides for dates that his mother sets him up for through a computer dating service (they had that even back then?). Maude is just as eccentric. At 79 years young, she lives out of a railroad car, enjoys being painted in the nude, has a mission to uproot city trees and return them to nature, and has a penchant for stealing cars. Together, they have the indomitable spirit of two people against the world.
There is an unspoken moment in the film that I won’t give away, but it adds a poignancy that shifts your (and Harold’s) understanding of Maude. Whether or not you’re in the mood for a May/December romance this Valentine’s Day, HAROLD AND MAUDE is hard not to love. Even in its old age, the film still holds up well… just like Maude.
Staff Picks – Patrick Pryor’s Ain’t Love Grand: The Agony and the Ecstasy of THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN
Yesterday, Marcie kicked off our week of Love vs. Anti-Love blog posts with one of her favorite Romantic Comedies, BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY. Today, Patrick Pryor, AFF’s Young Filmmaker’s Program Director, is throwing his hat in the ring for the Anti-Love side with his take on THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN. THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN is the only sex comedy that makes me want to swear …
Yesterday, Marcie kicked off our week of Love vs. Anti-Love blog posts with one of her favorite Romantic Comedies, BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY. Today, Patrick Pryor, AFF’s Young Filmmaker’s Program Director, is throwing his hat in the ring for the Anti-Love side with his take on THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN.
THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN is the only sex comedy that makes me want to swear off romance forever and become a monk. We’ve all been there before, falling hard for someone that barely gives us the time of day, has eyes for someone else, or merely likes us as a friend. That’s the strange thing about romantic feelings. For better or worse, they make you do some silly, sappy, and flat-out regrettable things. You climb out on a limb to squawk and preen and pitch some woo only to land flat on your face and wonder why you became so infatuated in the first place.
Take Gary, for example, the delivery boy hero of THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN. He spends most of the film slinging pizzas and pining for his classmate, Karen, only to lose her to his horn dog best friend. Though zany fast motion chasing and bedroom hijinks pepper the film, several scenes cut close to the romantic bone. Gary gets drunk at a party to work up the courage to talk to Karen, embarrassing himself and his friends in the process. Too hung up on Karen, Gary ignores the obvious advances of her new-waver best friend, Rose. Gary even scrapes and scrounges to save up for a birthday present for Karen that, due to the turbulent nature of love, remains undelivered.
That’s the brilliance of THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN. It allows us to laugh (and maybe cry a little) at the pains, thrills, and misty-eyed longing that go hand-in-hand with that hot mess of a monster called love. Instead of getting the girl and triumphing over his romantic rival, Gary spends the last moments of the film sobbing in his car, soothed only by the velvet voice of James Ingram. “I tried my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough.” Indeed, Mr. Ingram, indeed.
In the world of THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN, much like our less than thrilling reality, people often don’t get they want. There’s no Hollywood ending where our dream girl or guy drops everything to flock to our side. Relationships sour, people make poor decisions, and affections remain unrequited Love is a powerful, but dangerous beast — a bunch of synapses firing in our brains, making our palms sweat, hearts flutter, and pupils dilate in a frenzied fever. Much like Gary, some of the best and worst (but mostly worst) decisions I’ve ever made have been under the influence of passion. I’ve chugged whiskey and littered my bed with P. Terry’s double cheeseburger wrappers after a turbulent breakup. I’ve moved in with a cray beloved. I even bribed a friend to dress up like a ninja-cat and croon to a misguided high school crush. But no matter the depths of my romantic folly, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN will always be there to preach to me and provide comfort like a put upon friend at the end of a bar. Thanks to a stellar soundtrack, the film becomes an almost transcendent experience for the down-and-out and broken hearted. This is blind love: the teenage experience distilled into a melancholic celluloid whir of pop music and wry ennui.
Staff Picks – Love vs. Anti-Love, An Ode to Valentine’s Day: Marcie Mayhorn muses on BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY
For this week’s Staff Picks, AFF Staff members found ourselves on opposite sides of the Valentine’s spectrum. On the one hand, it’s a great time of year to revisit your favorite films about love, be it the heart wrenching tearjerkers you sob to alone or the romantic comedies you relive over and over with a great group of friends. To kick off our week of …
For this week’s Staff Picks, AFF Staff members found ourselves on opposite sides of the Valentine’s spectrum. On the one hand, it’s a great time of year to revisit your favorite films about love, be it the heart wrenching tearjerkers you sob to alone or the romantic comedies you relive over and over with a great group of friends. To kick off our week of top Valentine’s Day movies, each staff member first decided whether they were a subscriber to feelings of love or anti-love and then picked one of their favorites.
Today, Office Manager and 2012 Austin Film Festival Romantic Comedies Panel Moderator Marcie Mayhorn kicks us off with her musings on BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY:
As a staff member, I was asked to pick my favorite “love” or “anti-love” film, and I think I got the best pick: the epitome of both. BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY is about Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger), a single, early-30s career girl who has never had much luck with men. Although she tries desperately, she can never seem to bag a good guy. Falling for the classic tool (sorry, Hugh Grant), she winds up in a series of embarrassing situations and confusing feelings while the guy she should be going for (Colin Firth) doesn’t give her the time of day.
I used to be like Bridget Jones – always trying to find someone who would like me for the superficial things. Valentine’s Day used to terrify me. The idea of going on an intimate date to try and impress someone seemed sad to me, although not as sad as the pep talks all of your non-single friends would give you about maybe finding that special someone – next year. College was filled with my own renditions of chugging vodka and singing “All By Myself” into my hair brush. It wasn’t until I saw this film though that I learned a very important lesson: you have to love yourself first before you can find someone who loves you too. After all, how can someone appreciate you if you don’t know what a great person you are?
I love this film because Bridget ends up being her own hero. Although she gets the good guy in the end, she ends up even more victorious because she has saved herself from making the same mistakes twice. She turns her life around and takes responsibility for her own choices instead of feeling sorry for herself. Above all, she learns and essentially grows up, which is not always easy for people to do.
So although my boozing, single days are behind me, this is still one film that will always ring true to me as a young woman. If you’re in need of a bit of humor (or maybe some vodka) this Valentine’s Day, I definitely recommend giving it a watch.
For the rest of this week’s Staff Picks, and to keep up with all Austin Film Festival News, check back daily or subscribe to our RSS News Feed.
You’ve seen all the films, you’ve picked your favorites, and now you’re ready to make your predictions. Try your luck at predicting the 85th Annual Academy Award® winners with AFF’s Oscar Prediction Contest! Austin Film Festival is the place to get your Oscars fix in October. Past panelists include Academy Award® Winners Ron Howard, Oliver Stone (pictured right), Sydney Pollack and more! The top five …
You’ve seen all the films, you’ve picked your favorites, and now you’re ready to make your predictions.
Try your luck at predicting the 85th Annual Academy Award® winners with AFF’s Oscar Prediction Contest! Austin Film Festival is the place to get your Oscars fix in October. Past panelists include Academy Award® Winners Ron Howard, Oliver Stone (pictured right), Sydney Pollack and more! The top five entrants who most closely predict the winners of the categories below will each win one Film Pass to the 2013 Austin Film Festival. All contest entrants will be entered in a drawing to win a Grand Prize of one Producers Badge for the 2013 Austin Film Festival! The contest is open as of Wednesday, February 06, 2013 and will close at the start of the Academy Awards® telecast on February 24th at 7pm eastern time | 4pm pacific time. Ballots limited to one entry per person, many will enter, six will win, see below for full rules and regulations.
The Contest has now closed!
No purchase necessary to enter or win AFF’s Oscar Prediction Contest. Entry into this Contest constitutes your acceptance of these Official Rules:
Contest start date and time and end date and time as outlined in AFF Blog post “Enter AFF’s Oscar Prediction Contest!”
To enter, entrants must fill out entire ballot as provided above along with first and last name, email address, and agree to Austin Film Festivals Terms and Condition as outlined here. All entries must be received by date and time outlined in “Enter AFf’s Oscar Prediction Contest!”. For purposes of these Official Rules, “receipt” of Entry occurs when Austin Film Festival’s servers record the Entry information resulting from contestants’ entry being received in the inbox area. Any automated computer receipt (such as one confirming delivery of email) does not constitute proof of actual receipt by Austin Film Festival for purposes of these Official Rules.
Austin Film Festival reserves the right to disqualify any Entry for any reason, in its sole and absolute discretion.
Top 5 Entries will be judged based on proximity to actual 85th Academy Awards® winners. The top scoring Entries will be declared the Contest winner (“Winner”)Grand Prize winner will be judged based on randomly generated calculation. All Entrants are eligible for Grand Prize.Only one entry per person, duplicate entries will not be counted. In the event of a tie for the Top 5 Entries, winners will be chosen based on timing of entry.
Winners will be determined after the Contest’s end date and will be notified by email. Winners will be required to provide mailing address which will be used to fulfill the prize. At the discretion of the Austin Film Festival, Winner may be disqualified for any of the following reasons: not eligible based on the eligibility requirements set forth above. In the event it is determined within the specified time period, has made false statements or a prize notification is returned as undeliverable, then the Winner will be disqualified at Austin Film Festival’s sole discretion, the Entry with the next highest score may then be declared the alternate Winner.
The Number of prize winners is as listed above. Winner is solely responsible for all expenses, costs or fees associated with transportation and acceptance and/or use of the prize not specified herein as being awarded, including without limitation, and and all taxes (if any). Winner is not a recipient of a prize until they have been verified as the Winner by the Austin Film Festival. Upon fulfilling prize, Austin Film Festival will be deemed to have awarded the prize to the Winners and such Winners assume full responsibility for the prize. All prize details are at Austin Film Festival’s discretion.
Entrants acknowledge that transportation, if applicable, is not included in the prize and that any events are beyond the control of Austin Film Festival and are subject to being rescheduled, modified, or cancelled. In that event, Austin Film Festival reserves the right to, at its discretion, reschedule the events, cancel the Contest, or cancel the awarding of the prizes. Prizes are not redeemable for cash or any other value. Upgrades for Film Pass prizes are available at the cost of the Winner.
Winning constitutes permission (except where prohibited by law) to use Winner’s name, images, hometown, likeness, prize won, and photograph (all at Austin Film Festival’s discretion) for future advertising, publicity in any and all media now or hereafter devised throughout the world in perpetuity, without additional compensation notification or permission. Contest Parties and their respective officers, directors, agents, representatives, and employees (collectively, “Released Parties”) are not responsible for lost, late, misdirected, damaged, stolen, altered, garbled, incorrect, incomplete or delayed Entries; all of which will be void. Released Parties are also not responsible for for problems related to technical malfunctions of electronic equipment, computer online systems, servers, or providers, computer hardware or software failures, phone lines, failure of any Entry to be received by Sponsor on account of technical problems, traffic, congestion on the internet or the website, or for any other technical problems including telecommunication, miscommunication or failure, and failed, lost, delayed, incomplete, garbled, or misdirected communications which may limit a contestant’s ability to participate in this Contest. Released Parties are not responsible for any other errors or malfunctions of any kind, whether network, printing, typographical, human or otherwise relating to or in connection with the Contest, including, without limitation, errors or malfunctions with may occur in connection with the administration of the Contest, the processing or judging of Entries, the announcement of the prize or in any Contest-related materials. Mass entries generated by a script, macro or use of automated devices will be disqualified. Austin Film Festival reserves the right to modify, suspend or terminate the Contest in the event it becomes infected by a computer virus or is otherwise technically impaired, and to cancel or suspend the Contest in its entirety should tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical failures or other causes corrupt the administration, security, fairness, integrity or proper play of the Contest and, if terminated, at Austin Film Festival’s discretion, determine the Winner using all non-suspect, eligible entries received up to time of cancellation using the judging procedure outlined above. In the event of a dispute regarding entries received from multiple users having the same email account, the authorized subscriber of the email account at the time of Entry will be deemed to be the contestant and must comply with these Official Rules. Authorized subscriber is the natural person who is assigned the email address by the Internet Service Provider (ISP), online service provider, or other organization responsible for assigning email addresses. Austin Film Festival reserves the right at its sole discretion to disqualify any individual (and void his/her Entries)) it finds to be tampering with the Entry process or the operation of this Contest or website, intending to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other contestant, Sponsor, or any of its representatives or to otherwise be acting in violation of these Official Rules. CAUTION: Any attempt by a contestant to deliberately damage any website or undermine the legitimate operations of the Contest is a violation of criminal and civil laws. Should such an attempt be made, the Austin Film Festival reserves the right to seek damages from any such contestant to the fullest extent permitted by the law and to disqualify such contestant from the Contest.
Failure to comply with these Official Rules may result in disqualification from the Contest. Austin Film Festival reserves the right to permanently disqualify any person it believes has intentionally violated these Official Rules. Contest subject to all federal, state and local laws and regulations. Void where prohibited by law.
Winner(s) will be announced in a website blog posting.
Richard Dane Scott was a 2010 screenplay competition finalist with his drama “Knocked Silly,” which is now in development with producers and AFF alumni Dawn Wiercinski and Richard Bever of Chill Films. AFF alumni producer/director Greg Carter hired Richard DURING the 2012 Conference to pen two features – one of which is in pre-production called “Soul Girl.” Richard also has a feature called “Champion” starring …
Richard Dane Scott was a 2010 screenplay competition finalist with his drama “Knocked Silly,” which is now in development with producers and AFF alumni Dawn Wiercinski and Richard Bever of Chill Films. AFF alumni producer/director Greg Carter hired Richard DURING the 2012 Conference to pen two features – one of which is in pre-production called “Soul Girl.” Richard also has a feature called “Champion” starring Lance Henriksen, due out this Spring.
AFF IS MY BFF
When Austin Film Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary, I will be celebrating my tenth consecutive year of attending. When I look back at my first couple of years, I’m ashamed to admit that I was THAT guy. You know THAT guy. The guy who thinks he’s written the greatest screenplay ever on his FIRST and ONLY try. The guy who pitches to anyone who will listen, even if it’s standing at the glistening rock laden urinal of the Driskill. (Those ARE pretty rocks.) The guy who raises his hand at every panel to pitch his project by masking it with an undecipherable question. See? You know that guy.
I shot that guy and buried him alive. Austin Film Festival will not make your dreams come true by being an asshole. Can you pitch a screenplay at the Festival and sell it for millions? Sure. Is it likely? No. So then what’s the point of attending, you ask? You start utilizing AFF for what it actually does: it provides a haven of opportunities that can lead to those dreams. YOU have to make it work for YOU.
THE PANELS. So many aspiring screenwriters attend these panels looking for an opportunity to pitch when the panel is over. They rush the front to get in line, to open with a fanboy/girl compliment, and then squeeze in their pitch. In fact, they spend the entire panel mentally rehearsing this moment that they don’t even listen. It baffles me how so few people record or take notes. These panels are provided for education. And inspiration. Over the years, I have to admit I’ve learned less and less at the panels. But I never fail to get at least one valuable nugget. And I’m always inspired. ALWAYS. The point is, you have to keep learning the craft. You can’t get better, if you don’t listen. And most importantly, you can’t continue to chase your dream, if you don’t get that yearly shot of inspiration.
THE CONTEST. I’ve entered Austin Film Festival screenplay competition EVERY year. I’ve made it to the second round each year with 10 different screenplays. In 2008, I was a SEMI-FINALIST. In 2010, I was a FINALIST. If you’ve noticed, my placement got increasingly better. I’d like to think that my screenplays improved over the years. How? See the section about PANELS. I took down notes. I went home and rewrote. When I was a finalist in 2010, a producer turned to me at the Awards Luncheon and asked if she could make my movie. No joke. THAT screenplay is now in development and going out to talent. So you see, it CAN happen. But if you don’t play, you can’t win. And don’t talk to me about subjectivity. Yes, it’s a bitch. But perseverance and talent will eventually prevail and slap that bitch down. Trust me.
THE PITCH COMPETITION. I was a finalist for 3 consecutive years. Each time, I was approached with business cards and asked to send my script. Has anything panned out? Not for me. But what it can do is help you tell your story. It helps you break down the key components of your story and forces you to analyze and ensure you’ve done your job by including them. Also, most of us writers are recluses by nature. Otherwise, we’d be actors. The Pitch Competition can help you practice breaking out of your shell. It’s a terrifying experience, but one that’s overwhelmingly satisfying when your pitch is well received and talked about even years later.
THE PARTIES. I always say make friends first, and then pitching opportunities will come later. AFTER the parties. And sometimes after the parties, AND years later. But the most important things to do are foster your relationships, have patience, and don’t burn any bridges. In 2005, I met a producer at a party who subsequently asked to read a script after a follow up email. He didn’t read it. The following year, he apologized and asked me to send it again. He didn’t read it. This continued for the next three years and became an ice breaker joke for us each year. I didn’t show my inner anger and frustrations at wasting a few key strokes and building up any false hopes every year to eventually have them crushed. I just remained cordial, and most of all, I wasn’t pushy. 5 years later, he finally read it. He loved it. And now we’re developing two screenplays together, one of which is in pre-production. I’d like to think that had he read it five years earlier, he wouldn’t have loved it. And that relationship would’ve fizzled and died. But after five years of rewrites (see the section about PANELS), it was better. And I was more ready for him.
Last year, Austin Film Festival graciously asked if I would be a round table speaker. Needless to say, I accepted. I felt like I had come full circle from being THAT guy, to the guy who became a student of AFF and finally graduated. I went from being an asshole, to the guy whose dreams are coming true. But you have to want it. In all those years I had a full time day job. My genuine disgust for that job kept my drive going. I’ve written 35 screenplays. Over half of them suck. But each one is better than the last. You have to continue to learn. This is NOT a hobby to disrespect. This is a craft that demands time and dedication.
In my tenth year, I have five screenplays in various stages of development. Three of those were a direct result of me PARTICIPATING in what the Festival has to offer. I do not live in L.A. I do not have an agent or a manager. My father is not John Landis. If it wasn’t for Barbara Morgan and the Festival, I don’t know where I’d be today. If Barry Josephson hadn’t stone cold shot my pitch down in year one, I may not have quickly learned any lessons. And if EVERYONE requested to read my screenplay back then, I fear I’d have that many less contacts and my career would’ve died before it started. So if you want to be a professional screenwriter, don’t force the issue. Continue to grow. Never stop learning. Seek inspiration. And most importantly, attend Austin Film Festival.
As I finally take off my jacket and gloves, and reflect back on the Sundance that just was, one thing stands out from all the rest of the week – the talent, originality, and just plain arrival of the female director. Sure, I saw a number of films that hailed from Texas. Yen Tan’s PIT STOP, about two blue collar gay men in a small …
As I finally take off my jacket and gloves, and reflect back on the Sundance that just was, one thing stands out from all the rest of the week – the talent, originality, and just plain arrival of the female director. Sure, I saw a number of films that hailed from Texas. Yen Tan’s PIT STOP, about two blue collar gay men in a small Texas town stayed with me for days with its subtle storytelling and rich tapestry of characters. Berlin/Austin dual-resident Bastian Günter delivered a gripping corporate two-hander about a German headhunter come to America to track down a CEO and getting ‘lost’ in a foreign land in HOUSTON. I also enjoyed watching some of our Austin Film Festival alumni making their mark on Sundance. David Andalman, whose short THE BRAGGART played AFF in 2005, presented his first feature, MILKSHAKE, a clever, dark comedy about the great-great-grandson of Al Jolson who desperately wants to be a ‘gangsta’ like all his black basketball teammates. G.J. Echternkamp, whose hilarious 2011 short CAPTAIN FORK played AFF, killed it with the Roger Corman-produced VIRTUALLY HEROES, an action comedy about self-aware video game characters who begin to question to point of their endless mission that reboots each time they die.
However, the strongest voices of the 2013 Sundance film festival were female. The U.S. Dramatic Competition tellingly featured (for the first time ever) as many female directors as men. Jerusha Hess, the female half of the NAPOLEON DYNAMITE team, made her directorial debut with AUSTENLAND, a brilliantly hilarious adaptation she co-wrote with Shannon Hale, the author of the book. Keri Russell sparkles as a Darcy-obsessed single who puts her life-savings into a full Jane Austen-immersion vacation to find true love. Another enigmatic film I had the privilege of seeing was EMANUEL AND THE TRUTH ABOUT FISHES, the second feature from Francesca Gregorini. With a breakout performance from Skins actress Kaya Scodelario, the surreal thriller also features Alfred Molina, Frances O’Connor, Jimmi Simpson, and Jessica Biel. Emanuel’s mother died when she was born, so when a mysterious woman who looks identical to her lost mother moves in next door, Emanuel finds herself drawn to her and her newborn. One of my favorite films of the week was the last film I saw, VERY GOOD GIRLS, a heartfelt coming-of-age story about two friends (played by Elizabeth Olsen and Dakota Fanning), with music by Jenny Lewis and written and directed by Naomi Foner. An Academy Award©-nominated screenwriter for RUNNING ON EMPTY, Foner finally directed a screenplay she wrote years ago, a film she described herself as ‘old-fashion’ and about characters and relationships she found absent in the films she saw Hollywood churn out yearly.
The shorts programs were full of strong female directors and writers from around the world. Israeli director Sharon Maymon told the understated story of a man on vacation with his family who finds his biggest secret in the cabin down the beach, his gay-lover, in SUMMER VACATION. British director Romola Garai (who you may recognize as Belle on BBC America’s The Hour) artfully crafted the story of a suburban housewife bored out of her mind and the fantasies she lets take over her life in SCRUBBER. Austin’s own Kat Candler (and AFF Audience and Jury award winner for 2009’s LOVE BUG) rocked this headbanger with BLACK METAL, a dark trip into the world of one of music’s most sinister genres. This one you can see for yourself until the end of the week at http://www.youtube.com/user/ytscreeningroom.
Shorts Program 2 was probably my favorite 95 minutes of Sundance. Jordana Spiro’s ‘first love’ story between an apprentice taxidermist and small-town wallflower, SKIN, managed to break my heart three times in just 13 minutes. Mahalia Belo’s VOLUME, a beautifully shot girl-gone-missing and the broken relationship she leaves behind mystery, was directed with such confidence and style it was disappointing that it wasn’t a feature. Finally, SOCIAL BUTTERFLY, directed by Lauren Wolkstein, was everything a short could be – sharp characters, interesting situations, rich relationships, beautiful cinematography, perfect structure, and a little bit (okay a lot) of sex appeal.
Sundance’s parties and star-studded premiers often dominate industry headlines and what can get lost is the festival’s ability to discover and support new artists with singular visions. I saw one of these Sundance auteurs, the self-proclaimed ‘walk-out king of Sundance’ Calvin Lee Reeder, present his midnight section film THE RAMBLER and I still haven’t recovered (in a good way). However, the freshest voice of my week came from Eliza Hittman, whose ennui-soaked, restrained, coming of age first-feature IT FELT LIKE LOVE, captivated my soul. It is so inspiring to find a simple story with no recognizable names that rises above all the madness of a festival like Sundance and just shines on the screen. Remarkably intimate and painfully honest, Hittman captures that final summer (usually spent on a beach) when innocence is crushed by the need to be accepted and keep up with your more experienced friends. Her short FOREVER’S GONNA START TONIGHT premiere at Sundance in 2011, and if she keeps up this pace and momentum, I would guess Eliza Hittman will be a regular in Park City and at other festivals for quite some time.
I return to Austin Film Festival invigorated to dive into our 2013 submissions (which I found piled upon my desk this morning) and find some gems of our own. The Film Competition is open, and the Earlybird deadline is May 1st. Get your film in now while the fee is only $50. For more information, including rules and awards, check out our website.
- Bears Fonté, Director of Programming
Patrick, YFP Director, gives us an update on Digital Storytelling, AFF’s art education program that provides film and screenwriting curriculum and resources to Austin public schools. To learn more about Digital Storytelling, click here. “Oh crap, mops!” Thus jumpstarted a screenplay about killer mops, “Mopacalypse,” penned by an especially clever Garza High School student. In the script, a group of terrified teenagers outrun a horde …
Patrick, YFP Director, gives us an update on Digital Storytelling, AFF’s art education program that provides film and screenwriting curriculum and resources to Austin public schools. To learn more about Digital Storytelling, click here.
“Oh crap, mops!”
Thus jumpstarted a screenplay about killer mops, “Mopacalypse,” penned by an especially clever Garza High School student. In the script, a group of terrified teenagers outrun a horde of bloodthirsty killer mops. They swab, sop, and wring their victims into a damp and sputtering pulp.
The table read for the script felt light and breezy, garnering a few laughs along the way. Each Garza student, and even myself, assumed a role in the script and acted the story aloud. By reading the script, the writer gained a sense of momentum and flow to his story. Did the characters sound realistic? Did the killer mop premise hold water (yuk yuk) over the course of five minutes? When the script concluded, the students, teachers, and I harped on these questions and provided constructive feedback for the author. We lauded the horror film parody inherent in the script, and pushed the author to take the premise even further.
“What if someone gets a phone call,” I suggested, “and they hear a mop wringing on the other end?”
“Or the students try to kill the mop, and it breaks into smaller mops, like scrub brushes. . . or toothbrushes!”
“Or the mop dies, then pops back up like Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN?”
“Or there’s a nest of mops run by a Queen?”
“And you see a mop hatching out of an egg!”
The rapid fire exchange of ideas is something I live for in a writing workshop, and I’m always happy to see students catch a spark of inspiration. Along with the help of two other guest filmmakers, I helped each student shape their idea into a cohesive whole. I encouraged the students to cut extraneous scenes and hone in on the material that worked – all killer and no filler. I also reminded the students to add more focus to their scripts. Consider what each character wants and what is stooping them them from getting it. Pinning down a clear goal and obstacles for each character helps spin a tight story loaded with conflict.
We read another script, a music video about a ladybug longing for a human.
“How are you going to direct a ladybug?” I asked.
“You could make it stop motion.”
“Maybe you could use a combination of live ladybug and a fake ladybug for still shots?”
“Or pull a dead ladybug on a string!”
The diversity of the screenplays at Garza High School astounded me. We acted out an absurdist murder mystery about mercury poisoned top hats, felt for a boy who lost his hearing, and cringed at a schizoid werewolf hunting yarn. As a screenwriter, I’m always excited to see where the students take their material. How will the finished product look? Often, the final film will not resemble the first draft of the script. It’s these revisions, growing pains, and sometimes happy production accidents that really breathe life into the creative process.
The next time I visit Garza, the students will have revised their scripts and produced a second draft. I can’t wait to see how their ideas have grown!
With awards season upon us, the AFF staff got to talking about our favorite films from 2012. Some have been nominated for a slew of awards and broke the box office bank, while others simply captured festival audiences’ hearts. While it’s impossible for most of us to pick a top favorite, we all agree that 2012 was chock-full of great cinematic experiences. We challenged ourselves …
With awards season upon us, the AFF staff got to talking about our favorite films from 2012. Some have been nominated for a slew of awards and broke the box office bank, while others simply captured festival audiences’ hearts. While it’s impossible for most of us to pick a top favorite, we all agree that 2012 was chock-full of great cinematic experiences. We challenged ourselves to pick a favorite from the last year, outside of the 2012 AFF line-up (because otherwise, we’d all have top 10 lists!).
Patrick – YFP Director
If an almighty movie wizard tapped my skull and projected my thoughts onto a screen, it would probably resemble something like HOLY MOTORS. This was a rare film that felt made specifically for me. It had everything: gossiping limousines, a bedraggled derelict scarfing flowers, a kidnapped supermodel (played by Eva Mendes), computer generated copulation, troubled teenage girls, knifings, accordion interludes, a family of chimpanzees, and even a Kylie Minogue musical number. The fearlessness of HOLY MOTORS had me laughing, cringing, falling out of my chair, and made me want to high five a hippo after leaving the theater. While other directors dribble out bland awards fodder featuring dead historical figures (LINCOLN) or golden throated thespians (LES MISERABLES), Leos Carax really swings for the fences with HOLY MOTORS. Like the chameleonic protagonist, played by Denis Lavant, Carax explores a variety of narrative paths and cinematic techniques. His film is a comedy, family drama, musical, social satire, romance, and action film all rolled into one freewheeling package. The ambition of HOLY MOTORS could have crushed it into one incomprehensible pile of rubbish, but luckily a wicked streak of absurd humor and a devil-may-care playfulness keep the proceedings in check. Who could forget Lavant, reprising his role of a taloned flower-munching troglodyte from TOKYO!, as he drags a modeling Eva Mendes into a sewer and drapes her in a burka? Or when Lavant returns home to his chimpanzee wife and son? Or when Lavant knifes a man, shaves his head, and steals his jumpsuit? So many great scenes litter this film, I came back a second and even a third time to bathe in their ridiculous glory. This film is almost too good for awards.
While HOLY MOTORS satiated my juicy cerebellum, THE RAID: REDEMPTION socked me in the solar plexus and left me crawling back for more. I love how this action movie wastes no time cutting to the chase. Our hero kisses his pregnant wife goodbye, then spends the next 90 minutes snapping necks, dodging machetes, cracking skulls, and emptying round after round of machinegun fire into a slew of sweaty, tweeked-out goons. I admire the claustrophobic, Carpenter-esque, premise: a police team must fight their way to the top of an apartment complex to apprehend a ruthless drug lord. The kinetic camerawork and jacked up sound made every bone snap and bullet blast hurt like a sack of soup cans. One question still eats at me, though. Who was redeemed in THE RAID: REDEMPTION? I guess you could say the slum dog brother of our supercop hero, but then again, with a body count rocketing into the stratosphere, no one really comes out on top. A lean, frothing mad-dog of an Asian action bruiser, THE RAID: REDEMPTION, shows more blatant disregard for human life than all the POLICE STORIES combined. I wanted to jump kick the air after I left the theater and take on a kung fu fighting cartel of my own.
Honorable Mention: LAST DAYS HERE
Bears – Director of Programming
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS: With a name that plays upon the most common horror movie cliché, this Drew Goddard/Joss Whedon film is a kick in the ass of the stale state of the industry. I love horror films, but smart, well-crafted movies that push the genre and surprise us are noticeably lacking in a niche field whose main purpose is to supply forgettable fodder to Friday night teenagers. Without ruining it, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS revolves around five teens that end up trapped in a – wait for it – cabin in the woods. This however, is no typical run-down house full of chainsaw-wielding mask-wearing madmen. It has been specifically built and scientifically outfitted with everything necessary to scare and kill off the teens, much to the approval of the crew of lab-coats and ties manning the controls.
Self-aware films can be a bit indulgent, but when they work, they let the audience in on the joke and expose the machinery of the greatest gift the entertainment industry has to offer, storytelling. CABIN works because it embraces the structure of a good screenplay. It knows the protagonist has to make a choice that leads them into Act Two. It knows that the B-story has to save the A-story and offer the way into Act Three. It knows that everything it set up has to be paid off (merman? really?).
I cheered out loud during this film, and have never laughed so hard as people are literally decimated into splatters of blood in the third act. The characters are simple archetypes, but that’s the point, and none of them really are as simple as they appear, also the point. It’s probably the smartest horror film since SCREAM, the film that re-energized the horror genre in the 90s. It’s also a horror film for people who don’t like horror films (because it mocks them), while still completely satisfying the tried-and-true fans. And it’s also just a film for people who like films, and good writing. It is a tragic shame that by the time awards season rolls around, no one remembers a film that came out in April, especially in the category of original screenplay.
Taylor – Marketing Director
I saw STARLET by chance. It was one of those magical moments that happens at film festivals — despite all the planning, scheduling, poring over the program guide — when you find yourself outside a theater, unencumbered by a plan and inspired by a burst of spontaneity. In this case, it was SXSW 2012 and there was a moment when my free time lined up with my boyfriend’s and we found ourselves in line at the Stateside for a film I had heard nothing about. I hadn’t read the synopsis, I hadn’t watched the trailer or visited IMDb to research the filmmakers. I jumped in, blind and ignorant.
Sometimes, those moments can end in heartbreak. But when they work– oh, the triumph. You feel like you stumbled upon some mystical, buried treasure (nevermind that people had already been singing its praises, the internet heretofore abuzz).
Had I read the synopsis, I doubt I would have placed it on my “must-watch” list. A twenty-something aspiring actress (Dree Hemingway) meets an elderly widow (Besedka Johnson), an unlikely friendship follows. The merits of the film are beyond a plot summery: the subtle, rich performances; the stunning stylistic choices — haunting, lustrous, and ethereal; the complexity and sensitivity in its representation of human connection. Dree Hemingway is mesmerizing as Jane, and she brings an unlikely fullness of character — curious, capricious, charming, fragile, yet instilled with a understated fortitude — to a 21-year-old malingerer.
But it was Besedka Johnson who stole your heart, in equal turns breaking and fortifying it. It’s the kind of performance, so nuanced and genuine, that leaves you breathless, wondering why the hell you’ve never seen this actress before. I discovered the answer in the post-screening Q&A: at age 85, this was her first film. Executive Producer Shih‐Ching Tsou found her at a YMCA gym in West Hollywood and asked her to audition. It’s heartening to know that an old-fashioned Hollywood-dream story still happens once and a while.
Director Sean Baker captures a rare and delicate authenticity with STARLET. And it’s a true testament to his storytelling abilities when he was able to unveil a character-defining revelation about Jane with such nuance that it was both deeply surprising and completely natural, with a lightness of hand that left the film’s flow completely uninterrupted. It was as if we the audience knew all along but only chose now to acknowledge it (if you plan to experience this yourself, I would recommend resisting the urge to watch the trailer).
While I saw a number of magnificent films in 2012, STARLET had the added pleasure of the stars aligning for an ideal theatrical experience. It was a reminder of how good cinema, and the act of viewing, can be.
Marcie – Office Manager
Many have said that Quvenzhané Wallis’s performance isn’t worthy of an Oscar© nomination, but I disagree. Never have I seen a performance that is so strong in its subtlety, especially from an 8-year old. The character of Hushpuppy (Wallis) is one that stands out because of the fact that this is a girl acting years above her age with the wisdom of an adult. When her father Wink (Dwight Henry) becomes ill and acts out against her, she retaliates with guff and heart, fighting to understand why his suffering grows worse and worse. Although she is lightyears ahead most children her age, she still cannot comprehend why her father is so angry. This left me and the audience with the heartbreaking revelation that at the end of the day, she is simply a child trying to understand the world around her.
Along with the performances, the visuals of this film stand out to me more than many films I have seen in the past 5 years. Benh Zeitlin’s use of cinematography captures the beauty and desolation of New Orleans in a post-Katrina state. It not only stands out as being unique, but adds to the world that Wink and Hushpuppy live in – a bleak but playful wasteland filled with eccentric neighbors and the barest of necessities.
Finally, the score to this film creates the ultimate trifecta and completes the movie-watching experience. It, too, is simplistic yet strong, just like the characters and tone of the film. I was moved to tears by the end of this story, and cannot wait to watch it again to take it all in once more. I was so excited to see this on the list of nominees for the Academy Awards©, and wish the best of luck to the director, cast and crew of this film.
Allison – Development Director
SKYFALL was definitely not my first choice when Joey, my boyfriend, suggested we go to a movie on a Saturday morning. However, since there was nothing else playing that peeked my interest I gave in and attended the matinee screening. My problem with these action-packed movies is that they jump into the story so quickly that I get confused on what the main mission or plot of the film is suppose to be- and the 007 James Bond movies are probably some of the worst offenders. I’m used to the romantic comedies that ease you into the story and films that you can just simply enjoy without thinking all the way through. Therefore, I sat in the theater and started mentally preparing myself- I didn’t talk through the previews, I ordered food and drinks before the theater got dark, and I promised Joey I wouldn’t ask questions all the way through the film.
As the movie started I immediately got nervous that I was going to lose the plot line. Between the chasing through Istanbul, riding motorcycles over rooftops and ending up fighting on a train- all the action was so thrilling that it was easy to get caught up in the chase rather than the reason behind it. But I kept relaxed and by the time Adele started singing the Original Song, “Skyfall,” I was hooked! The 2 and a half hours flew by as 007, played by Daniel Craig, followed the trail and mystery of who was behind exposing the MI6 agents. Not being a fan of any James Bond movies in the past it took a minute to pick up on the language- who was M? What is MI6? Why is this database so important? But after giving it some patience the screenplay worked out all my questions and provided a complete package of an action film. After we left the theater, I was continuously going through scenes in my head and putting all the pieces together of how he solved the puzzle. For days, Joey and I compared thoughts on the film. I found myself enjoying the plot more and more as we discussed it with each other and friends who had seen the movie.
This is when I discovered that it was my favorite movie of 2012 — it was the most memorable film I saw and one that I am dying to watch it again. In addition, when a movie is over 2 hours, you can generally feel like you’ve been in the theater for awhile. However, the fast-paced action, constant change in scenery, and the way the script flowed did not make it feel long. It kept you on the edge of your seat not knowing what was going to happen and each scene filled you with more information- making each one vital in the creation of the story.
SKYFALL might not have been my first choice of films to see that Saturday but I’m definitely glad that I went! It was not only a wonderful story but the camera work was great and the actors did a good job keeping you involved with the plot. I also learned that if I just relax and focus, I can follow the complicated action to discover the plot and storyline. When the next 007 film is released I might just be the one suggesting we go see it. Maybe I should listen to Joey more… Wait that’s taking it a bit too far!
Erin – Conference Director
I accidentally stumbled upon POLISSE while browsing my Netflix recommendations. Trust issues aside, I pressed play despite Netflix’s recurrent mistaken assumptions regarding my taste in film. The 2011 Cannes Jury prize winner had never made it to Austin theaters, and as a festival employee, I felt an obligation not to skip over this one. I’m glad I didn’t.
POLISSE is a multi-character drama that follows a Child Protection Unit in Paris, France. Somehow through the film’s pervasively raw and procedural milieu, I fell in love with an ensemble of dysfunctional and idealistic police who failed to produce a hero in themselves, but instead embraced the altruism of their work.
This is a sobering film, sprinkled with sweet absurdities. The intimacy of the narrative and cinematography arouse the stylings of a documentary, textured with honest ingredients and gritty undertones. Comprised of uncomfortable subject matter entrusted to cops who are cursed and blessed by their inability to escape desensitization, they must also endure messy home lives and the credence of their flaws. As a viewer, the immediate invitation into the privacy of this world was almost equally (yet appropriately) uncomfortable – voyeuristic even, but I couldn’t look away. Consequently, the moments of contentment, accomplishment, relief and laughter felt truly shared and mutually enjoyed.
The characters share a striking chemistry in their personal relationships and as a collective. The cyclical, black-holish nature of this occupation was demonstrated through their grave acceptance – or perhaps their conscious disregard – that their work will never be done. While some superficial stereotypes certainly exist, deep down the film makes you feel wholly human through its own exploration of humanity.
Despite a slightly haphazard finale, the largely masterful POLISSE (based on true CPU accounts) challenged me to reevaluate my thoughts on this difficult, layered and tragic reality. That, and – okay – the decision to give Netflix recommendations another chance.
Linzy – Assistant to the Executive Director
Written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER is a charming romantic dramedy film that explores the separation of two high school sweethearts, Celeste (played by Jones) and Jesse (played by Andy Samberg).
Celeste exemplifies success as a trend analyzer (that’s a job), but breaks up with Jesse, an unemployed artist, to encourage him to go back to work. She realizes they cannot keep up the same playful relationship while technically going through a divorce.
Jones and Samberg have wonderful chemistry and each of their characters is likeable, funny and flawed. If you, like me, have a guilty pleasure for romantic comedies combined with 13-year-old boy humor, this is the perfect film for you! The film also includes segments of Celeste looking off into space while an indie song plays, which I’m led to believe is pretty “deep” and cool.
This movie gives you even more reason to be jealous of Rashida Jones. Her father is Quincy; she has cool friends; she’s a talented actress and now a talented screenwriter. Not bad for her first time! I can’t wait to see what other cool projects she has in store.
Sonia – Operations Manager
A tale of young love, MOONRISE KINGDOM captures the spirited innocence of first love blooms. It’s the summer of 1965 for twelve-year old lovers Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman). Only writers Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola understand their affection. Their words are the only key to both of these fragile little hearts. With one look at Suzy and her family you’re reminded that this in fact is a Wes Anderson film. Suzy, much like Margot Tenenbaum from Anderson’s 2001 film THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, is the epitome of the mysterious and offbeat female characters Anderson draws you into. She’s cool enough to wear eyeliner and has killer style. Sam, on the other hand, is the total opposite. But who cares this is love.
On a quaint island off the coast of New England better known as “Moonrise Kingdom”, the two lovebirds decide to run away together. Anderson gives Suzy and Sam the opportunity to awkwardly express their emotions through witty dialogue and humor as the gateway to their hearts. Suzy’s parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) are not thrilled but with the help of an excellent ensemble cast that includes: Sam’s scoutmaster (Edward Norton), his chief (Harvey Keitel) and the police captain (Bruce Willis), they intrude on the young lovers before it’s too late. Eventually though, love conquers all.
Anderson and Coppola (who together co-wrote Anderson’s 2007 film DARJEELING LIMITED), manage to balance a vision of love that is both smart and charming with dysfunctional and broken adults in the mix. If you’re looking for a whimsical story about what you hoped “puppy love” would have been like growing up, MOONRISE KINGDOM is this year’s fairy tale.
Matt – Screenplay Competition Director
I’ll admit it here: I actually paid to go see Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt. 2. It wasn’t all that bad but I really needed to see something that would redeem my taste in movies immediately. So naturally, I decided to go see a movie based on another popular young adult novel. Thankfully that film was The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I didn’t read the book and I hadn’t heard much about the film, so it truly surprised me just how good it really is.
Stephen Chbosky is the writer and director of the film and it was adapted from his own novel. It’s rare to find a writer who has retained complete control over the integrity of his work like this. As a result, you can definitely tell a lot of love was put into his characters. The story is about Charlie, an introverted kid with a good heart and a traumatizing secret, during his freshman year of high school as he befriends a group of seniors. The story is fairly simple and Charlie’s secret doesn’t come as a big surprise but what won me over was how well the story was told. Chbosky tells a straightforward story that is honest, poignant, and with just enough restraint. There is nothing flashy or pretentious about this film. Everything felt authentic from the early 90s soundtrack to the dialogue. The best line in the film, “We accept the love we think we deserve”, could have easily come across as cheesy but it’s set up in a way that felt real. Even the casting didn’t distract from the story since the principal cast were mostly relative unknowns. Charlie was played by Logan Lerman who apparently was in Percy Jackson which I don’t think anyone saw. Emma Watson is perhaps the most recognizable but her performance as a free-spirited rebel with a dark past is a far cry from the straight-laced Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series.
I chose this film as my favorite of 2012 because the story came first above all else and it had so much heart. If you’ve got a heart, you’ll love this film. The screenplay received a nomination from the Writer’s Guild of America for Best Adapted Screenplay and was also recently nominated for the USC Scripter Award.
I’ve had the DVDs of episodes IV, V and VI for about 8 months after borrowing them from my cousin. As any other single lonely girl would do on a Friday night after her parents refused to hang out with her, I forced myself to pop the DVDs in, hoping they weren’t ruined or melted after enduring a brutal Texas heat in the trunk of …
I’ve had the DVDs of episodes IV, V and VI for about 8 months after borrowing them from my cousin. As any other single lonely girl would do on a Friday night after her parents refused to hang out with her, I forced myself to pop the DVDs in, hoping they weren’t ruined or melted after enduring a brutal Texas heat in the trunk of my Toyota Corolla for 8 months.
I was equally nervous and excited about watching STAR WARS. On one hand, I knew that this was going to be one of the most overrated experiences of my life, but on the other, I knew that I would understand pop culture just a little better, and not be left out like the other 10% of people living in America that hadn’t seen STAR WARS*. Oh to finally be accepted! No longer would I be criticized for working at a Film Festival and not watching arguably one of the best series of movies in the history of cinema! Would my film critiques and opinions matter now, Stephen Jannise**?!?
And so I watched, enjoyed and Wikipedia-ed episodes IV, V and VI, marveling at how one set of stories had revolutionized and influenced a generation of nerds. However, the legacy of the film lasts not simply because of the visual effects or the stellar cast like many people think. What makes the impression on haters and nerds alike is the lasting story of good vs. evil, the depth of every character, human and non-human alike, and the shock that James Earl Jones brings about when he (like Maury Povich does everyday) tells Luke that he IS the father. Also, the characters were incredibly relatable! I don’t know about you, but I want a friend as loyal and as unintelligible as Chewbacca. And I’m ESL, so sometimes I phrase my sentences like Yoda.
In conclusion, did STAR WARS completely revolutionize my movie-going or aspiring filmmaking experience? Not really. Will I laugh a little bit louder at George Michael Bluth’s garage light saber video? Maybe. Most importantly, did this film ignite an unknown attraction to a young Harrison Ford? Absolutely.
Now to watch the less-hyped episodes I, II and III. It’s okay; I can keep these in the trunk of my car until 2015.
-Linzy Beltran, Assistant to the Executive Director
*This 10% includes immigrants and newborn babies. I made this up.
**Former Film Program Director at Austin Film Festival
Happy 2013, filmmakers! Over the New Year’s holiday I found myself enjoying two very different cinematic celebrations that filled me with renewed excitement for the year ahead. First, on New Year’s Eve, I had the privilege of introducing a series of shorts at Austin’s New Year, a City of Austin Cultural Arts Division public festival of music, film and other live entertainment on Auditorium Shores. …
Happy 2013, filmmakers! Over the New Year’s holiday I found myself enjoying two very different cinematic celebrations that filled me with renewed excitement for the year ahead. First, on New Year’s Eve, I had the privilege of introducing a series of shorts at Austin’s New Year, a City of Austin Cultural Arts Division public festival of music, film and other live entertainment on Auditorium Shores. Six local groups (including SXSW and Austin Film Society) were invited to showcase films from 2012 on the giant Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow screen. Austin Film Festival concluded the evening with three films that played last year’s Festival, LOVE, EMILY (written and directed by Kevin Harger, co-written by Chris Bourke), INCIDENT AT PUBLIC SCHOOL 173 (written and directed by Andrew Tilley), and the Animated Short Academy Award® Shortlisted HEAD OVER HEELS (written and directed by Timothy Reckart). The night was cold, and a bit rainy, but the crowd huddled together to laugh and smile as one. There was a lot going on all around us, loud retro-soul from one stage, police sirens out on the street. Fortunately, somehow, I had happened to select three shorts that told their stories in images rather than words, and the effect was rather unquestionable. The audience virtually tripled by the time the last short finished and I heard several teens walk away with a new resolution, to make films of their own this year.
The next day I finally made it to LIFE OF PI, a film that came out while I was still recovering from AFF 2012 and the last thing I wanted to do was see a movie. The film is beautifully shot, and I think I cried more than I have since Frodo stepped up at Rivendell and volunteered to carry the One Ring, ‘though he did not know the way.’ What makes LIFE OF PI so fantastic is that it is a story about telling a story. I won’t ruin it for you, but the book-end device of the film (and, of course, the book it is based on) is a man telling another man his life story, a story that only he can tell, and one that he is entrusting to someone else to tell to the world. Our stories only exist as events or ideas until we tell them. It is then that they take on meaning. The meaning comes from the audience, who bring with them their own particular experiences and understanding in interpreting the story. That’s what I think I enjoyed most about the 2012 AFF, hearing the audiences discuss the films we had chosen. I knew what they meant to me, but to see them through the eyes of a new viewer, that was magical.
Which is a long way to say that I’m pretty excited the film competition for the 2013 Austin Film Festival officially opens today. No, there is no rush (the cost is $50 until the Earlybird deadline of May 1), but if you’ve got a story you want to share, we want to help you find your audience. You can submit your film three ways.
1) Online through Withoutabox.com. Just click here.
2) Online though our website, where we can offer you a $5 discount.
3) Through the mail by downloading the entry form.
Both the online entry and downloadable form can be found on our website at: http://www.austinfilmfestival.com/submit/film/online/
Also on this page you can find links to the rules for this year, the FAQ for the film competition, and the awards available for entrants. This year, we’ve INCREASED the CASH prizes attached to every Jury Award category.
I am also really excited to announce this year’s new Competition Category: DARK MATTERS FEATURE. As this year’s festival ends on Halloween, it seemed like a good time to showcase films in the Horror genre. DARK MATTERS FEATURES must be feature-length narratives, 60 minutes or longer, and easily identified as belonging to the horror genre or a particularly dark suspense, thriller or sci-fi film.
As the Director of Programming, I really look forward to viewing your films, and am available to answer any questions you have during the entry process. Just email me at email@example.com.
Remember, Austin Film Festival searches submissions for the best stories. We are looking to include the most original and inspiring entries from all over the world in the festival, regardless of race, religion, or lifestyle. Please do not hesitate to submit a film that may not portray so-called ‘traditional’ characters or life choices. A great story shares a universal truth from a distinctive viewpoint. We can’t wait to see what you have to show us.
Hope you all have great 2013 full of great film and great filmmaking.
Bears Fonte, Director of Programming
Over the AFF Christmas break, I wanted to spend my time in the most efficient way possible. For some, this means finally getting to Christmas shop and relax, but for me it meant re-watching a few episodes from each season of my favorite TV show Ugly Betty for some writing inspiration. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to moderate the panel “A Conversation with …
Over the AFF Christmas break, I wanted to spend my time in the most efficient way possible. For some, this means finally getting to Christmas shop and relax, but for me it meant re-watching a few episodes from each season of my favorite TV show Ugly Betty for some writing inspiration.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to moderate the panel “A Conversation with America Ferrera” during our 19th Annual Festival. While watching the show, I recalled that crazy Sunday morning in October, trying to hide my nerves and remain professional at the same time. I had my pages of questions prepared, wanting to make sure I got every detail of her biography just right.
This was the ultimate dream come true for me – being not only a huge Betty fan, but also a huge admirer of America Ferrera’s work. I had not gotten the chance to meet Ms. Ferrera in advance like I had the other panelists, so I knew I would have little time to make a first impression. On my way upstairs to the Driskill Mezzanine, I stopped as I realized who was sitting just outside the 1886 Cafe – America herself.
I froze. Flashbacks of crying at the series finale came rushing back, and how I felt inspired to do anything with my life because of how Betty had lived hers. Coming back to reality, I made my way over to introduce myself. I couldn’t believe it – the moment of meeting one of my idols, of meeting Betty Suarez herself, was coming true.
After a few minutes of chatting though, and seeing how quiet and calm she is, I realized something very important: I wasn’t talking to Betty Suarez; I was simply talking to the woman who played her.
Don’t get me wrong – America was absolutely stunning, and I learned how passionate she is not only about acting, but about a powerful story as well. She constantly develops with every role she plays, and continues to impress with her breadth of work both in acting and producing. It will always be one of those rare, defining moments in my life.
After that day though, I made an important discovery – the monumental influence our favorite characters and stories have on our outlook on life. The character of Betty Suarez was a guiding light for me: she taught me how to keep my head above water, to move through uncertainty and, most of all, to always keep a positive outlook on life. It wasn’t the person playing Betty who inspired me, but the story of her life and all of the relatable experiences that she and I shared.
I used to solely admire Ms. Ferrera for her portrayal of Betty. But after the Festival, I realized how much I also admired her love of story and passion to play such a compelling character. I realized how grateful I am to the creator and writers on the show, for always finding a consistent beat that resonated with me and millions of other people during its 4-season run. It’s amazing how a piece of work can seem like it was written just for you.
I’m so excited for what the 20th Anniversary will bring this year, and I hope that our registrants will also get to meet the characters that inspired them. Happy Writing!
– Marcie Mayhorn, Office Manager
It was our esteemed honor to present Eric Roth with the 2012 Distinguished Screenwriter Award at this year’s Festival. Not surprisingly, the man who gave us FORREST GUMP, MUNICH, THE INSIDER, ALI, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, and EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE has a way with words. Many of us were moved to tears by his warm and heartfelt acceptance speech — so …
It was our esteemed honor to present Eric Roth with the 2012 Distinguished Screenwriter Award at this year’s Festival. Not surprisingly, the man who gave us FORREST GUMP, MUNICH, THE INSIDER, ALI, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, and EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE has a way with words. Many of us were moved to tears by his warm and heartfelt acceptance speech — so much so that we asked him if we could share it with all of you. Read on to be inspired…
Eric Roth: “Barbara said don’t just say thank you.. okay, so..; How did this happen? A kid from Bedford Stuyvesant ends up in the land of cowboys and Indians. A kid whose mother would say everyday.. what did you write today?! And read everything! Who when he was ten she would read the boys books to me The Hardy Boys and Jules Verne and Victor Hugo.. and who would for fun have me pretend to be answering personals in the Saturday review of literature…. Where I would be an English teacher from a small college who loved Chaucer and good food.. Or a blind poet but great companion.. Or when I was thirteen and piss petrified to go to school in the rocky neighborhood she yanked me by the hand and had me take boxing lessons and she was the only voice I could hear when I boxed golden gloves from somewhere in the crowd.. knock him on his ass.. or the first time I remember seeing a movie at the Brooklyn Paramount when I was like eight and she took me up to the balcony and we watched Invaders from Mars…and the stars on the ceiling made it like it was happening in a night sky to me… and leaving Brooklyn in my last year of high school to a place called North Hollywood High School and begging them I don’t even know anybody let me stay with grandma.. or seeing The Sterile Cuckoo at the victory drive-in and later personally thanking Alan Paula for taking my virginity with a girl named Laura Nuccio who I of course never saw again and still of course love beyond imagination.. or my English teachers at Columbia.. or sitting on the lions with Abbie Hoffman.. on strike shut it down.. no Vietnam.. after two of my best friends had ended with their names on the wall.. and movies after movies everyday movies.. Amarcord and The Ruling Class and Weekend and oh my god 2001.. and how I Loved living in those dark places.. Where the music made me weep and my heart would soar at courage and frailty.. and.. at 67.. twenty odd of my own some good some bad some laughable… have done for somebody the same.. and two women who for some reason loved me and gave me a handful plus of children and they gave me near two handfuls of grandchildren later.. who still looks out of a 17-year-old’s eyes.. who sits in a little room and dreams of going down strange rivers to places nobody knows.. of people who run crooked.. Or fight windmills or live on distant planets.. that’s pretty much how it happened and you end up at the Austin Club with a little typewriter and a belly full of chili. Thank you for coming along.”
The 2013 Weekend Badge is the perfect opportunity to get away for a weekend full of great film, inspiring panels, and a meeting of the minds. Whether you’re driving in from Dallas or taking the red-eye from LA, you can experience all that AFF has to offer without missing a beat. Now, if you buy your Weekend Badge before January 1st, you’ll be entered to …
The 2013 Weekend Badge is the perfect opportunity to get away for a weekend full of great film, inspiring panels, and a meeting of the minds. Whether you’re driving in from Dallas or taking the red-eye from LA, you can experience all that AFF has to offer without missing a beat.
Now, if you buy your Weekend Badge before January 1st, you’ll be entered to win a 2-night hotel stay at the Holiday Inn Austin – Town Lake during the Festival!
Click here to purchase your Weekend Badge and on January 4th, we’ll announce the lucky winner!
The Holiday Inn Austin is located right on Town Lake, with beautiful views and access to the jogging and biking paths around the lake. Amenities include an outdoor pool and fitness center, bar and lounge, and free wi-fi. The hotel also offers free shuttles to and from the airport and downtown Austin.
As the office fills with sugar cookies, gingerbread men, and eggnog, all of us here at AFF have the holidays on the brain (and are counting down the days until the office closes on the 19th!). In staff meeting last week, a lively debate arose over the best holiday film. Check out each staff member’s pick below, a wide array of cinematic experiences, to be …
As the office fills with sugar cookies, gingerbread men, and eggnog, all of us here at AFF have the holidays on the brain (and are counting down the days until the office closes on the 19th!). In staff meeting last week, a lively debate arose over the best holiday film. Check out each staff member’s pick below, a wide array of cinematic experiences, to be sure…
Erin Hallagan, Conference Director
‘Tis the season to reflect upon the culminations of the year. As a deliberator of what-ifs, I unavoidably find myself wondering how different my path would have been had I made different decisions. It never ceases to amaze me how drastic one simple choice can have such a ripple effect. In excess, such reflections can be unnerving, but it is important to (as least annually) take a step back and embrace all that has come to pass.
The holiday season, for me, starts the day after Thanksgiving. Yep. I’m one of those people. My Black Friday consists of rolling out the decorations and blasting Christmas music. And finally, when the house is all-a-sparkle, the neighbors are angry, and my cider is hot (and, okay, spiked), I pop in my favorite holiday film, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Truly, there is no better way to get in the spirit.
You would think after years of watching this Capra classic, the charm would wear off. Not so. Somehow I always gain something from this perennial tradition, as the year has changed me and I can look on it with new perspectives.
This is the first year I’ve really paid notice to some of the graver themes in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. In the face of a struggling economy (anyone tired of hearing that one yet?), more and more people are learning the meaning of sacrifice. The story of a man who gives up on his dreams only to continually contend with hardships is a familiar one. Frank Capra’s post-war film intended to prolong his pledge to the American common-man, and its summation of how unfulfilled aspirations can actually lead to a deep appreciation for what you do have still stands true today.
The tale transcends time. And beyond the grim elements of the film, it also embodies the prospect of hope and the power of reevaluation. More imperatively, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE weighs in on the magnitude of cause and effect, and the worth of every decision. Now you know why I spike my cider….
Though the film initially failed at the box office in the 1940s, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE finally received recognition after being released into the public domain thirty years later. Now regarded as one of the top go-to holiday classics, its journey closely resembles that of George Bailey – a man who couldn’t seem to catch a break and eventually found peace and acceptance in the very place he resisted all along.
All it took was looking at things with a new perspective.
Bears Fonte, Director of Programming
GREMLINS. Possibly the worst Christmas presents ever, these cuddly little just-add-water insta-pets turn into miniature lizard-skinned killers when they snack after midnight. One of the first produced scripts by Chris Columbus, Gremlins features a stellar cast of Phoebe Cates, Corey Feldman, Judge Reinhold, and many recognizable faces from television and cinema. But the true stars are the “little green men” who wreak havoc on the unsuspecting fuddy-duddies of snow-covered Kingston Falls. Bordering on traumatic when I saw this film as a child, Director Joe Dante’s masterpiece now feels more comic than horrifying, such as a sabotaged snowplow, a bar full of smoking and card-playing creatures, or a movie theatre mob of monsters singing along to “Hi Ho Hi Ho It’s Off to Work We Go.”
The bleakest moment of the film is delivered by Phoebe Cates when she explains why she’s hated Christmas since she was nine (if you don’t remember, I won’t ruin it for you, it is a truly shocking moment that stuck with me for years). The unsung highlight of the film is Jerry Goldsmith’s terrific score, one of his best; it gets more chaotic and frantic as the film spirals out of control, warping its playful theme through a variety of incarnations. Of course, the whole film ends in a giant chase sequence through a holiday-themed department store and a cautionary message from a wise-old stereotypical Chinese-American. The script is a clinic in set-ups and pay-offs, and astute viewers should watch for obscure references to Executive Producer Steven Spielberg’s other films. If you want a little fear with your Christmas cheer, Gremlins is one gift you shouldn’t wait to open until after midnight.
Taylor Cumbie, Marketing Director
Two Christmas movie standards exist in my household – my mom’s favorite and my dad’s favorite. And being an only child, I didn’t have the benefit of a crew of siblings to gang up and insist on HOME ALONE or A CHRISTMAS STORY every year, so my parents’ favorites became my favorites. My Dad’s choice was always IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. The most lasting result of watching this movie every Christmas for 18 years (plus the addition of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY to my repertoire) is my endless, undying devotion to Jimmy Stewart. Combine George Bailey — optimistic dreamer, hopeless romantic, compassionate, generous– with Macaulay Connor — That cutting wit! That poetic eloquence! That righteous arrogance! — and you’ve basically described my ideal male archetype.
My mother’s pick every year was WHITE CHRISTMAS. As a child, I drank it in like hot chocolate. The songs, the dancing, the costumes — I loved it all. I longed to move like Vera Ellen, to swing around in those beautiful dresses and tap my high-heeled foot at lightning speed. (Fun fact, apparently my Dad isn’t the only person who thought that Judy Haynes was played by Mitzi Gaynor, another Hollywood blonde known for her impossibly tiny waist.) As an adult, it’s now Rosemary Clooney, with a voice that could melt even the coldest heart, who I watch in admiration. Her performance of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” is one of the most smoldering ballads in my cinematic experience.
Admittedly, the structure and plot of the film isn’t groundbreaking. But the film exhibits one of the most balanced and successful executions of the traditional musical theater structure of four principals — the lead, dramatic couple and a comedic supporting couple. Rosemary Clooney’s silky vocals and Bing Crosby’s trademark bass-baritone compliment each other perfectly and provide a consummate foil to Danny Kaye’s expert comedic timing and Vera Ellen’s show-stopping dance skills.
While so many Christmas experiences and traditions lose a little of their luster as one transitions from childhood to adulthood, WHITE CHRISTMAS still delights me as it did when I was a little girl. I find myself looking forward to watching it every year, and I’m especially excited that I have the opportunity to see it on 35mm at The Paramount Theatre this week in all its original, beautiful glory.
Linzy Beltran, Assistant to the Executive Director
Written by Randy Kornfield (EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS) and later rewritten by Chris Columbus (CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS) JINGLE ALL THE WAY is a Hollywood holiday masterpiece. With an every man for himself mentality watching this movie as a 6 year old, I learned that American kids had the ability to guilt their parents into getting them the hottest toy of the season and all you had to say was “whoever doesn’t [get it] is going to be a real loser” (direct quote from Jamie, the recipient of the Turbo Man doll). As a daughter of immigrants, this movie taught me true American values: commercialism, greed, pageantry and diversity.
So this Christmas forget the outdated lessons of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE! Pop in the DVD or VHS which features, Schwarzenegger in his prime, David Adkins (Sinbad), Rita Wilson (Mrs. Tom Hanks), Phil Hartman, Jim Belushi and a young Fred Armisen. But if you do it, do it right. I recommend getting the Family Fun Edition released in 2008, with over 5 minutes of extra footage!
Matt Dy, Screenplay Competition Director
LOVE ACTUALLY is quite the improbable movie. Combine the insanity of the Christmas season and the delirium of love and you have a concoction that could either go down smooth like your fourth cup of eggnog or come back up. Fortunate for me, I can hold my eggnog. At first I was hesitant to give in to this sappy love song to Christmas in the UK but I love Richard Curtis’ work and Bridget Jones’ Diary so I decided to give this one a chance. The Scrooge in me was eventually silenced as I suspended my disbelief of each improbable subplot and gave in to the sweetness of this film. My favorite storyline involved a heartbroken Colin Firth and his Portuguese housemaid who fall in love and eventually learn each other’s language (rather quickly) to finally speak of their feelings. While I tend to loathe the smugness of child actors, I also fell for the storyline involving Liam Neeson and his stepson with a bad case of young love for his schoolmate, a young Mariah Carey who can belt out “All I Want For Christmas”. Yes, the kid would have been severely interrogated for running through airport security to find his young crush at the end of the film, but love does conquer all, right? Many other things in the movie are so improbable but that is the nature of love. It doesn’t always make sense and it doesn’t have to. Just enjoy the ride.
Marcie Mayhorn, Office Manager
It’s Christmas time, which means everyone gets a free pass at standing on their soapbox and loudly proclaiming what their favorite Christmas movie is – ever. Of all time. Since they were kids. The list goes on about what makes a true memorable classic in someone’s mind, and I of course am no different.
For me, the holiday film that will always ring true is Gillian Armstrong’s LITTLE WOMEN (1994). Sure, this is 1 of 3 remakes of the film, and barely touched the Academy Awards when the time came. It’s one that not many are too aware of, particularly if you are of the male gender. But for me, this film is a resonating gem not only during the holidays, but year round as well.
I’m not sure how I got my hands on this film, but I suspect it was my grandparents – they were always recording movies for my sister and I that they thought we would enjoy. I’m sure they thought it would be good for us to watch a movie about a group of sisters getting along and loving each other, as the film came out around the time that I understood what having a little sister really meant – a pretty big realization for a 7 year old. But every day leading up to Christmas, we would religiously sit in silence and watch this film. I remember adoring Jo (Winona Ryder) because she was loud and said what she felt, not to mention she was a pretty, curly-haired brunette, and I’m sure I wished I would look like her when I grew up.
But the older I got, the more I started to see the more sincere and true moments the film had to offer, such as the realization of leaving childhood and your family behind to cross the threshold into adulthood. Upon re-watching it this past weekend, I also came to terms with why I think I have always adored this film: the leading lady is a struggling writer. And not just any writer – a woman trying to succeed in a male-dominated business, who is hardly understood by her family, but knows there is a constant urge within her to write that she cannot ignore. Sound like anyone you might have met at AFF?
But the one thing I think makes this is a true holiday film is faith – faith in your family, love, your dreams and, most importantly, yourself. For Jo, the biggest leap of faith she had to take was with her writing, and the realization of writing what was most important to her which, in the end, was all of the memories she made with her sisters. The more I write, the more I find that I am just like Jo, and that when it really comes down to it, the best stories are the ones that mean the most to you.
So this holiday season, I hope you get some writing done, and learn to appreciate and embrace those amazing gifts within you. As Marmee (Susan Surandon) once told Jo: “You have so many extraordinary gifts; how can you expect to lead an ordinary life?” Happy Holidays!
Patrick Pryor, Young Filmmakers Program Director
Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggerty, a down on his luck mall Santa, teams up with a harried teenage waitress to stop a horde of bloodthirsty elves engineered by Nazi goons. Along the way, our heroes grapple with overbearing mothers, persnickety professors, a neo-Nazi cult, and the savage power of the elves, themselves. “A little man. Like a ninja only like a gremlin,” the elf maims and destroys to find a perfect mate on Christmas Eve and create a Fourth Reich of black magic super soldiers. With dialogue that sounds like it was written by a drug-addled alien who observed human life for five minutes, this film is a perfect pick for the Scroogely and holiday hardened.
Allison Frady, Development Director
For as long as I can remember, my family has enjoyed watching this movie together during the holidays and for the occasional summer Christmas fix. Years ago when ABC hosted a Sunday Night Movie, my parents taped it on their VCR. Ever since then we’ve popped in the VHS and laughed together as the Griswolds tried to make it through Christmas. Most of the situations were highly relatable in my own family Christmas- finding the perfect tree, the embarrassing dad in the mall, the crazy grandparents and uncle, dad’s temper, and just trying to make it through Christmas all together without killing each other. It felt like John Hughes was in on some of my own family get-togethers and based this film off of the general dysfunction that my family has during the holidays, that most families have during the holidays.
When I left home for college it was time for me to purchase my own copy of CHRISTMAS VACATION but this time it was on DVD! I was thrilled to not have to fast forward through the early 90’s TV commercials and skip through the parts where the tape had worn thin and the image fuzzes. When I watched it for the first time I was shocked at some of the language and “deleted scenes” I’d never heard or seen thanks to ABC and the FCC regulations. It was like falling in love with your favorite movie all over again- relearning the lines correctly and adding in the snide remarks. It was a little pathetic I never made this realization before but when you start watching a movie when you’re still in elementary school, you believe everything you hear and see.
My favorite holiday movie once again made Christmas season, when my boyfriend and I shared our first Christmas together and we discovered that we both have a love for NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION. It was perfect and a sign that we are truly met to be together forever. Since then we’ll watch the movie twice a year (Summer and Winter) laughing and repeating all the lines as Clark, Ellen, Audrey, Rusty and Eddie try to have the quintessential perfect family Christmas. Only to realize there is no such thing and in the end family- whether good, bad or just plain crazy- will always be there for you.
A family tradition that started with repeating the lines at the dinner table and saying the Pledge of Allegiance during grace, a VHS tape and only 5 of us has grown to a Blu-Ray disk and 10 Frady Family Members gathered around to view our favorite Christmas movie- still repeating the lines and drinking Egg Nog out of moose glassware.
Sonia Onescu, Operations Manager
John Landis’ 1983 classic, TRADING PLACES takes you away from the overly idealistic Frank Capra inspired films we’ll think of this Christmas and straight to the socioeconomics of modern day Philadelphia. Set during the course of the traditional two-week holiday period, TRADING PLACES offers plenty of Christmas archetypes with it’s rags-to-riches and back again tale, hitting comedic highs and lows on the most significant days of the year; Christmas and New Years.
Landis, whose credits include THE BLUES BROTHERS, COMING TO AMERICA, and THREE AMIGOS, doesn’t disappoint, directing yet another ensemble made up of some of the most prolific Saturday Night Live powerhouses of the time, Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. Equally memorable is the feisty Jamie Lee Curtis, and the dynamic Duke & Duke brothers, played by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy.
In addition, AFF’s repeat panelist and writer Herschel Weingrod along with Timothy Harris, provide Murphy and Aykroyd a script full of wit and timeless good-hearted comedy. Who can forget Dan Aykroyd dressed as Santa, crashing a Christmas Eve party, only to be left alone standing in the pouring rain eating raw salmon from his beard? If you’re looking for laughs this Christmas, TRADING PLACES will make you laugh until you cry.
Barbara Morgan, Executive Director
What a great Holiday film! Doesn’t everyone need a tension reliever this time of year? What better than a film where something blows up every 20 minutes. The lighting design immediately puts the viewer in a festive frame of mind. Scenes inside the office tower are lit with the blue hue of computer screens and give off an aura of nighttime around the fireplace and the tree. Whenever the camera moves outside to the police camp surrounding the building there is an array of colored sirens and Klieg lights which illuminate the night sky.
The Christmas party scene reminds us of each dreadful office party that we manage to find ourselves at each year. Who hasn’t wished they could pull off an explosion to exit the awkwardness? We are reminded quickly that some people have no Christmas spirit. And then enter the terrorists, to remind them what the holidays are all about. There is a bit of A CHRISTMAS CAROL in this story, Christmas past is driving John McClane to his Christmas future.
There is also a nostalgic beauty to DIE HARD that is akin with one of my other favorite holiday films, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. That is another film that makes one feel good about the movie family. In both films, each father is charged with rebuilding the concept of the American family by rebuilding his own nuclear family. We want them to succeed and to win everything back because it reaffirms our faith in our own families around the holidays.
Ho Ho Ho!!!!!
After a full three days of attending the International Film Festival Summit, festival organizers walked away with new insight on sponsorship strategies, acquisition and distribution, long term planning and sustainable growth, programming trends and more. Truly, it was a haven for networking first and foremost, as representatives from festivals all over the world were present and eager to swap stories. Appropriately held in our hometown …
After a full three days of attending the International Film Festival Summit, festival organizers walked away with new insight on sponsorship strategies, acquisition and distribution, long term planning and sustainable growth, programming trends and more. Truly, it was a haven for networking first and foremost, as representatives from festivals all over the world were present and eager to swap stories. Appropriately held in our hometown of Austin, both centrally located and known for its welcoming hospitality, it was particularly pleasing to observe the growing recognition of the prosperous film scene in Texas, along with attending the IFFS awards luncheon where AFF’s very own Executive Director Barbara Morgan accepted their lifetime achievement award for her service to the industry.
A few standout panels included an informational session by the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences, a focus on how to manage positive growth as a non-profit festival, and an engaging conversation on the future and outlook of film distribution and acquisitions. It was wonderful to see one of my college screenwriting professors, Eugene Martin, deliver a keynote presentation on the importance of a festival’s accessibility and interactivity amongst registrants and filmmakers. He also made a compelling argument for attendees to actively explore the indie programming, opposed to the films that will be released in theatres a few weeks later.
Perhaps the greatest take-away of the summit was Ted Hope’s keynote presentation on why film matters, and why festival support is significant. He challenged: “How do we ensure that film festivals matter in this over-saturated environment of infinite options?” Truly, he surmised, this comes down to filmmaking 101: know your audience.
The emerging fear is that the need to customize programming comes head to head with the availability of choices for those in the market for a place to plant their film. Topped with an ever-changing industry that was founded on the basis of providing film-lovers with never-before-seen material, the challenges for festivals and independent filmmakers are abundant.
Additionally, the role of festival planners has undergone a great shift in the past 20 years, with a notable component involving the swift move toward digitalization. The landscape and availability of resources is diluted in part to the rapid evolution of technology, with organizations left struggling to keep up.
Truth be told, though the digitalization of cinema presents a fair amount of concern across the board, it does provide some great benefits for filmmakers and furthering film communities. And that’s what festivals are all about. I believe Hope’s underlying message encompassed this point exactly. It is the duty of the festival to accommodate and adapt.
As I touched upon in my last blog, festivals (of all kinds) serve as a place for the exchange of ideas. ‘Not only do fests across the world set a stage for networking and distribution, otherwise typically unavailable, they also combat the monopolization of Hollywood with a broader range of content, much of which challenges the norm.’
This is consequential. While many may pose the argument that the film-going experience has lost some of its lust and lore, I will stand by the enchantment of watching new and emerging talents at a festival. As Eugene Martin posed – you may not be able to see these films again.
Beyond any frustrations with transformations in the industry, the fact of the matter is change can be a good thing. After all, that’s the embodiment of a good film, isn’t’ it? I’m happy to go along for the ride.
I’ll leave you with a final thought from Hope: “We all know that movies matter. We have given our labor to the only art form that brings people together, inspires, educates and challenges them. Movies build bridges of empathy across vast divides of difference. Movies make the world a better place. By choosing to run film festivals, we have acknowledged firsthand the importance of cinema.” The question is, “are we contributing enough to save it, to push it forward?”
Miss IFFS? Check out Hope’s keynote speech here.
– Erin Hallagan, Conference Director
We are living in the heyday of the short film. As our attention spans have shrunk and our leisure choices have multiplied, the access to affordable film production and post-production equipment has made everyone an aspiring filmmaker. For years, trying their hand at a short gave filmmakers the experience to confidently attack a feature. Now, You Tube, Vimeo and other such sites give the shorts …
We are living in the heyday of the short film. As our attention spans have shrunk and our leisure choices have multiplied, the access to affordable film production and post-production equipment has made everyone an aspiring filmmaker. For years, trying their hand at a short gave filmmakers the experience to confidently attack a feature. Now, You Tube, Vimeo and other such sites give the shorts filmmaker an instant audience, feedback and distribution channel. Yes, some of the films may just be a cat playing with an empty box of saltine crackers, but there are plenty of inspired artists pushing the boundaries of what they can do personally with their own camera.
While the Academy Awards® may not honor these films, no one can deny that web content, and its creation, has given this next generation of filmmakers opportunities unheard of just ten years earlier. The short film, once a mere project on the way to graduating film school, has become a staple of modern culture. Websites like Funny Or Die routinely draw a million viewers to new releases, well ahead of many feature films’ debuts in the cinema. Any number of ‘new’ ideas on television, if you do the research, started somewhere online as a video, a vlog, or even a twitter feed.
And yet, last week, when the Academy® released their short list for consideration for the Best Live Action Short Film, I couldn’t help but feel most of the world is still missing out on some of the best filmmaking being done right now. Because of the way the deadlines for consideration fall, Austin Film Festival is very proud to have its last two jury and audience awards winners in consideration (2011’s SALAR, written and directed by Nicholas Greene, and 2012’s ASAD, written and directed by Bryan Buckley). These are films that somehow deliver the beauty and power of a feature, in a small package. More simply, they are both what we at Austin Film Festival love to highlight, great stories.
The ability to convey a fully realized story, with dynamic characters, in an abbreviated form is one of the most difficult tasks a filmmaker faces. Last year, Austin Film Festival received a record number of submissions, and a record number of submissions in both the Narrative Shorts and the Narrative Student Shorts categories. Some of them had the immediacy and vitality of the online forum, and we played a few of these. They connected with their audience swiftly and were usually wrapped around one sparkling fresh idea. However, the ones that truly rose to the top were films that embraced the short form as an opportunity to tell a story no one might take a chance on in a feature, characters that challenged us with depth and contradiction, and the style and skill of a true artist finding themselves and their place in cinema.
Congratulations to all those filmmakers on the shortlist for consideration for the Best Live Action Short, and to all those who strive to make their films something special. Austin Film Festival is proud to showcase great storytelling (in both short and long form) and look forward to seeing what 2013 delivers us (incidentally, film submissions for the 2013 festival open on January 2nd).
– Bear Fonté, Director of Programming
We are proud to announce the 2012 Audience Award winners presented by Esurance. Throughout the week of the Festival and Conference, audience members were invited to numerically rate films by ballot following each film’s screening. The winners are as follows: Marquee Feature Audience Award: SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK Writer/Director: David O. Russell Narrative Feature Audience Award: JUNK Writers: Kevin Hamedani, Ramon Isao Director: Kevin …
We are proud to announce the 2012 Audience Award winners presented by Esurance. Throughout the week of the Festival and Conference, audience members were invited to numerically rate films by ballot following each film’s screening. The winners are as follows:
Marquee Feature Audience Award:
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Writer/Director: David O. Russell
Narrative Feature Audience Award:
Writers: Kevin Hamedani, Ramon Isao
Director: Kevin Hamedani
Documentary Feature Audience Award: (Tie)
Writer/Director: Joseph Levy
RISING FROM ASHES
Director: T.C. Johnstone
Comedy Vanguard Audience Award:
THE MUSLIMS ARE COMING!
Directors: Negin Farsad, Dean Obeidallah
Dark Matters Audience Award:
SATURDAY MORNING MASSACRE
Writers: Jory Balsimo, Aaron Leggett, Jason Wehling
Director: Spencer Parsons
Narrative Short Audience Award:
Writer/Director: Bryan Buckley
Narrative Student Short Audience Award:
THE TELEPORTED MAN
Writer/Director: Zach Endres
Animated Short Audience Award:
HEAD OVER HEELS
Writer/Director: Timothy Reckart
Documentary Short Audience Award:
GOOD KARMA $1
Directors: Jason Berger, Amy Laslett
The 2012 Film Competition and Screenplay/Teleplay winners have already been announced – read about them here.
Last year’s Audience Awards included The Artist and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, both of which won Academy Awards®. The 2009 Out of Competition Audience Award Winner was Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, which was nominated for several Academy Awards®, including “Best Picture” and “Best Director.”2008 AFF Audience Award winner, Slumdog Millionaire, presented by director Danny Boyle, went on to win 8 Oscars®, including “Best Picture”, “Best Director” and “Best Screenplay.”
The AFF Audience Award Film Series is sponsored by Esurance, the direct-to-consumer car insurance company. Esurance has been a longtime supporter of filmmakers and artists who help bring compelling stories to life.
We’ve also announced our dates for the 20th Annual Austin Film Festival & Conference, October 24-31, 2013. To purchase your Badge at the early discounted prices, click here.
FOR THURSDAY OCT 18 Shorts Program 5 – A Bit of Ridiculous Thursday, October 18 7:20 PM Most of our shorts programs have a bit of humor in them, but this is ninety minutes of guaranteed silliness. Along with two films in our Student Short Competition (The Case of the Missing Garden Gnome, and Boom Box Kids), there are a couple film that prove you …
FOR THURSDAY OCT 18
Shorts Program 5 – A Bit of Ridiculous
Thursday, October 18 7:20 PM
Most of our shorts programs have a bit of humor in them, but this is ninety minutes of guaranteed silliness. Along with two films in our Student Short Competition (The Case of the Missing Garden Gnome, and Boom Box Kids), there are a couple film that prove you can tell a full story in two minutes (Road Kill, How to Mow You Yard on PCP), a few stars (Jason Ritter in Trying, Brenda Song in First Kiss), and couple films that toe the thin line between thriller and comedy (Deerskin Lake, The Return) and it all ends with homeless guy trying to save his best friend, a shopping cart (GUTTERSNIPE).
If you want more shorts and you don’t mind a little lewdness and adult themes, stick around for Shorts Program 4 – Dirty Laundry.
FOR FRIDAY OCT 19
Shorts Program 8 – The Future Now
Friday, October 19 9:30 PM
For lovers of sci-fi, this block of shorts features space travel, time travel, and human cloning. One theme pervades it all: being trapped. Whether it is convict serving out his sentence in a lunar prison (The Man in the Moon), a heartbroken man lost in a dimension without the love of his life (PARALLEL), or a soul trapped in the remnants of a broken down spaceship (Henri). Giovanni Ribisi stars in the Ridley Scott executive-produced LOOM, about a species trapped in its own self-imposed destruction. In one of our Student Shorts in Competition, The Teleported Man, a death row inmate finds his only means of escape to be a suicide-mission scientific experiment. Finally, the program finishes with a little cosmic comedy in the animated short PHONE HOME.
If you are ready to start your shorts day early, be sure to check out Shorts Program 10 – Crime Stories for a little Mametian con-noir (THE PILGRIM AND THE PRIVATE EYE), some Tarantino-inspired non-linear thuggery (CALCUTTA TAXI) or Soderbergh-esque heist-com (Advantage: Weinberg).
FOR SATURDAY OCT 20
Shorts Program 6 – The World Comes Of Age
Saturday, October 20 4:30 PM
A spin around the globe looking at what it means to grow up in different countries and cultures. Starting in Mexico with a boy’s need to brag (MENTIROSO), we move on to Africa where a Somali boy spins another kind of fish story (ASAD). ASAD is even more impressive considering it was filmed in South Africa using a cast made entirely of Somali refugees. In the animated FROM A TO B AND BACK AGAIN, another refuge child from an unnamed Muslim country seeks a home in the UK. Staying in UK, FRIDAY looks at growing up in the western world under the shadow of racism and terrorism. In Afghanistan, the two friends in BUZKASHI BOYS come of age amidst the ruins of the American invasion. In Australia, a friendless girl must grow up on her in STRANGEFACE. Finally, back here at home, LOVE, EMILY shows that not every boy needs a life and death situation to become a man.
For more portraits of real life, check out the Documentary Shorts Competition in SHORTS PROGRAM 12 tonight at 7:15 pm at the Hideout Theatre. Current issues (ILLEGAL), Odd Hobbies (SEE THE DIRT, THE DEBUTANTE HOBBIES, GOOD KARMA $1), Curious Professions (THE BRONZER, UNRAVEL), and journeys into fear (JEWPHORIA).
FOR SUNDAY OCT 21
Shorts Program 1 – The Space Between Us
Sunday, October 21 9:30 PM
Everyone is complicated, two people together, exponentially so. This shorts programs examines relationships, broken and blossoming. Whereas some relationships feel frozen in time (as in Narrative Shorts competitor THE SPEED OF THE PAST) and others trapped in an endless cycle (METRO 7 BIS), it can feel like you never really know the other person (KISS ME, FRENCH QUESDILLAS) For a little star power, check out Jason Ritter (again!) in Narrative Shorts competitor ATLANTIS and Mary Elizabeth Ellis, ‘The Waitress’ in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Jimmi Simpson from The Breakout Kings in TRACER GUN. The program ends with the heart-warming animated short competitor HEAD OVER HEELS in which a man and woman literally live on different floors of the same house – the floor and the ceiling.
If animation is your thing, don’t miss SHORTS PROGRAM 11, playing today at 3:30 at the Hideout. Fun for the whole family, but also showcasing Computer Generated, Stop Motion and traditional hand drawn Cell Animation. Featuring THE GRUFFALO’S CHILD the sequel to the 2010 AFF hit THE GRUFFALO.
FOR MONDAY OCT 22
Shorts Program 4 – Dirty Laundry
Monday, October 22 9:45 PM
If you missed its first screening, don’t miss out on your final chance to see these more deviant shorts. The program opens with Student Short Competitor PAYING FOR IT, a steamy drama about a young woman experimenting with the world’s oldest professions, and one of the professionals herself. QUEEN features another sort of professional, a drag queen, looking for a fresh start. Animated short BEING BRADFORD DILLMAN looks at sexuality from a child’s perspective. UNDRESS ME uses sex as a weapon and the heart-wrenching DAMAGED ONES, a Narrative Shorts competitor, is a beautifully shot portrait of a young girl’s entrance into womanhood. See it with someone you love, or intend to break up with soon.
It’s also your last chance to see SHORTS PROGRAM 6 – THE WORLD COMES OF AGE, a whirlwind trip around the earth, spotlighting stories of youth in seven countries. Check it out 5:30 at the Hideout.
FOR TUESDAY OCT 23
Shorts Program 3 – Postcards From The Battlefield
Tuesday, October 23 9:30 PM
Tonight is the final night to catch this shorts program about combat, whether armed with weapons or words. Featuring three films from the Narrative Shorts Competition (CORK’S CATTLEBARON, MY LEFT HAND MAN, and INCIDENT AT PUBLIC SCHOOL 173) an animated short (7TH), and a film from a three-time alum (THE PALACE), this program has a little bit for everyone, comedy, drama, and action. THINGS ARE REALLY INSANE brings the battle home and 036 highlights war at the workplace.
Today is also your last chance to catch SHORTS PROGRAM 1- THE SPACE BETWEEN US, a look at the difficulty we have in finding each other in this modern world, and, having found, keeping hold of each other. Check it out at 5:30 in the Hideout.
FOR WEDNESDAY OCT 24
Shorts Program 7 – A Glimpse Into Another World
Wednesday, October 24 7:30 PM
Some of the most visually-engaging and thought-provoking shorts play in this program, which is full of fantasy and alternate realities. THE WHEEL finds a steam punk world spinning out of control when the wrong driver wants to steer. SEA PAVILION is a beautifully shot near wordless mystery. Student Short competitor THE TREEHOUSE looks to the stars for answers when a parent dies. A similar theme is found in JACK & JILL with young girl finding a whimsical way to reach her father at the front. In Animated Short competitor SLEIGHT OF HAND, a clay-mation man sculpts his own clay-mation puppet, only to wonder who is posing whom. THE SECRET KEEPER paints a grim alternate future in which one’s most precious secret must be hidden away in a mason jar. Finally, DOCTOR GLAMOUR pulls a young scientist into another dimension of rock and roll and intergalactic octopi.
Today is also your final chance to see SHORTS PROGRAM 10 – CRIME STORIES featuring an illicit love story (LOST & FOUND), baby snatching (HATCH) and the last time you’ll ever pop over to a neighbors for a pinch of salt (HER NEXT DOOR). Don’t miss it at 5:15 pm at The Hideout.
FOR THURSDAY OCT 25
Shorts Program 2 – The Search For Ourselves
Thursday, October 25 6:30 PM
The Shorts series closes strongly tonight with four films from the Narrative Shorts Competition (MY NAME IS YOUR FIRST LOVE, PRAY, YARDBIRD, and PETER AT THE END) as well as one from the Animated Shorts Competition (JAMÓN). Throw in a fun suicidal beach outing (DROWNED) and a psychologically-tortured child getting her just revenge (WEDNESDAY’S CHILD) and this shorts program is guaranteed to make you laugh, cry and learn a little bit about yourself. Don’t miss NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE’s John Heder’s fantastic performance in PETER AT THE END as well as Entourage’s Contance Zimmer.
Outsiders unite in the 4:00 showing of SHORTS PROGRAM 9 – THE VIEW FROM THE OUTSIDE. Don’t miss your chance to see the literary Student Short Competitor BELLA FLEACE GAVE A PARTY and the uplifting period piece from Russia, another Student Short Competitor, LISA.
Print them out! Pin them up! Put them in your pocket! Below are PDFs of the 2012 Film Schedule grid and Conference Schedule grid. 2012 AFF Film Schedule 2012 AFF Conference Schedule
Print them out! Pin them up! Put them in your pocket!
Below are PDFs of the 2012 Film Schedule grid and Conference Schedule grid.
Another edition of Short Focus by Lauren Means featuring the Documentary Short Competition Films. THE BRONZER Possibly the last traveling salesman in America comes to you on the big screen in this powerfully told story. Stue Larkin isn’t just your average salesman. He is easily the most passionate person about his job that I have ever seen and has a personality all of his …
Possibly the last traveling salesman in America comes to you on the big screen in this powerfully told story. Stue Larkin isn’t just your average salesman. He is easily the most passionate person about his job that I have ever seen and has a personality all of his own. Stue doesn’t sell cars or magazine subscriptions, he sells bronzed baby shoes. A trendy tradition in the 80s but lost in today’s world, Stue tries to make bronzing mementos popular again. Come feel his passion in the Documentary Shorts Program 12 at the Hideout Theatre, Saturday, October 20 7:15pm, or Tuesday, October 23 3:00pm.
THE DEBUTANTE HUNTERS
In The Debutante Hunters, Director Maria White provides an intimate look into a way of life most people perceive as a man’s domain: hunting. One woman eats only the meat she kills herself, another uses it as a way to spend time with her mom, while yet another goes out alone to become one with nature. You’re sure to fall in love with this film as the people at Sundance Film Festival did giving it the Audience Award. Come see it in the Documentary Shorts Program 12 at the Hideout Theatre, Saturday, October 20 7:15pm, or Tuesday, October 23 3:00pm.
GOOD KARMA $1
Lock the doors, don’t make eye contact, pretend to look at your phone. People deal with homeless people in different ways. More often than not it involves ignoring them. However, praised ad-guru Alex Bogusky approaches the situation in an unusual way. He collects the homeless signs as a way to understand one of the world’s most simple forms of communication. Along his journey, he makes friends and learns a heart-warming lesson. See my this Audience Award winner of the DC Shorts Festival in the Documentary Shorts Program 12 at the Hideout Theatre, Saturday, October 20 7:15pm, or Tuesday, October 23 3:00pm.
Everyone has different opinions about illegal immigrants, but what about their children? This documentary short offers an interesting perspective on their unique position through a series of interviews with the children, policymakers, and educators. Director John X. Carey seeks to raise the consciousness level of the public concerning the significance of immigration reform beginning with the Dream Act. If you feel passionate about the issue after watching the film like I did, feel free to check out their mission statement at illegalmovie.org after seeing it in the Documentary Shorts Program 12 at the Hideout Theatre, Saturday, October 20 7:15pm, or Tuesday, October 23 3:00pm.
It’s not often one finds a good comedy documentary short. But comedian Randy Kagan’s Jewphoria is exactly that. In a personal account of his trip to Israel, Randy finds not only laughs but also adventure. He manages to both confirm and break Jewish stereotypes. Come see this World Premiere and laugh out loud in the Documentary Shorts Program 12 at the Hideout Theatre, Saturday, October 20 7:15pm, or Tuesday, October 23 3:00pm.
SEE THE DIRT
Baseball cards, superhero figurines, stamps – we all collect different things. But one boy has taken his passion in a different direction. Scott MacMillan collects vacuums. In fact, he has hundreds of the bulky, loud machines. At age 14, he has found a hobby to last a lifetime when most never find hobbies at all. This documentary short delves into the lovable quirks that everyone has. Scott brings out the goofy, awkward kid in me all over again. Don’t miss the chance to see it in the Documentary Shorts Program 12 at the Hideout Theatre, Saturday, October 20 7:15pm, or Tuesday, October 23 3:00pm.
What happens to all the clothes you throw away? This short follows your unwanted clothes all the way to Panipat, Northern India where they are shredded and recycled back into yarn. The story centers on Reshma, a kind and bright woman, and the other women workers of the factory. Our unwanted clothes are tales of the West to them. They use their imagination of how an American could have worn a dress that has a neckline down to the belly button. This beautifully shot film opened my eyes to how a foreign country might view us. See how our trash can become someone’s treasure in the Documentary Shorts Program 12 at the Hideout Theatre, Saturday, October 20 7:15pm, or Tuesday, October 23 3:00pm.
Piano + Bike = Piano Bike? Pianist Gary Frank Skaggs roams around the streets of San Francisco playing his distinctive piano, which happens to be on top of a bike. This unwieldy beast is St. Frankenstein; a piano that Gary found on it’s way to the dump. Transformed with different parts, hence it’s name, it provides this fun documentary short with original music that is sure to put you in a good mood. Come see it play before RISING FROM ASHES at the Imax, Thursday, October 18 7:30pm, or at the Texas Spirit, Wednesday, October 24 8:00pm.
We now have both the original script and shooting script for CHRONICLE available here! Registrants interested in attending the script-to-screen of CHRONICLE with Max Landis are encouraged to read these over in advance. During the panel, Landis will dissect the film with script in hand and film on screen while discussing his writing process, what worked, what didn’t, what needed to be changed for film …
We now have both the original script and shooting script for CHRONICLE available here!
Registrants interested in attending the script-to-screen of CHRONICLE with Max Landis are encouraged to read these over in advance. During the panel, Landis will dissect the film with script in hand and film on screen while discussing his writing process, what worked, what didn’t, what needed to be changed for film production and why. This is a great case-study of the script-to-screen process for a celebrated film that can be applied to your own works.
The panel is Saturday, October 20th 11:00am – 1:00pm
Download the PDFs:
Another installment of Short Focus – a new blog series by AFF’s Film Department interns highlighting this year’s Short Film Line-Up. Narrative Short Competition Films, by Alex Gadway. My Left Hand Man As the title suggests, MY LEFT HAND MAN shows a twisted tale of unhealthy co-dependence and tumultuous relationships. Samuel, 17, Beckett, 19, and their father, Warren, are living in a world of debt …
Narrative Short Competition Films, by Alex Gadway.
My Left Hand Man
As the title suggests, MY LEFT HAND MAN shows a twisted tale of unhealthy co-dependence and tumultuous relationships. Samuel, 17, Beckett, 19, and their father, Warren, are living in a world of debt controlled by loan sharks. They are constantly trying to play catch-up, performing Shakespeare in the street as a means to scrap by while still finding time to escape their dismal lives; Samuel secretly reads his “Cardinal Comet” comic, and his father drinks and gambles. The aesthetic of the shots alone make this film successful. Having previously dabbled in photography and oil painting, writer/director Antonia Bogdanovich’s intuition and creativity shine. This short also stars Thomas Drodie-Sangster, who is unbelievable in this film, and who I am sure you’ll recognize from LOVE, ACUTALLY and NOWHERE MAN. Despite the film’s dramatic genre, it is still accessible to everyone. Bogdanovich teaches us that we always have hope and can learn to persevere onto better things. See it in Shorts Program 3 – Postcards from the Battlefield at the Hideout Theatre, Sunday, October 21 7:15pm, or Tuesday, October 23 9:30pm.
This film is a fantastic coming-of-age fable about one Somali boy, Asad. Writer/director Bryan Buckley made it his mission to tell this story after coming across thousands of displaced Somalis in Kenya during his work on a short subject documentary (NO AUTOGRAPHS) in 2010. While the Somalis’ stories of escape and survival were harrowing, Buckley and his crew found their sense of pride and humor astounding. This film’s entire cast is composed of Somali refugees who fled to South Africa. Harun and Ali Mohammad, the two leading boy actors in the film, come from a family of sixteen children. Before the start of this film they had never attended school. Imagine being completely illiterate and having to memorize nineteen pages of dialogue in front of a camera crew and for a director who only knew how to say “yes” and “no” in Somali! ASAD has already screened at multiple festivals, and has won the “Audience Award” at the Los Angeles Film Festival as well as “Best Narrative Short” at the Tribeca Film Festival. See it in Shorts Program 6 – The World Comes of Age at the Hideout Theatre, Saturday, October 20 4:30pm, or Monday, October 22 5:30pm.
Peter at the End
This film is universally relatable because it takes place at home during a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving. Peter (Jon Heder, from NAPOLEON DYNAMITE) returns home after an unexplained absence. As Peter looks for ways to connect with those he left behind, the audience can undoubtedly feel anxiety and frustration as his friends and family don’t realize that there is an “end.” Director Russ Lamoureux allows Peter’s “end” to remain somewhat abstract and ambiguous, but what’s important is that there is an imminent one. Overall, this film gives a hard look at the flaws of humanity. As much as we have experienced our own “ends,” we may never truly grasp something’s significance until it’s truly gone. Like the end of this film, with or without concrete resolution, the end inevitably always comes. See it in Shorts Program 2 – The Search for Ourselves at the Hideout Theatre, Friday, October 19 7:15pm, or Thursday, October 25 6:30pm.
In short, Yardbird tells the tale of a small girl who takes on the town bullies that come to torment her dad. But the way this film came to fruition has an even more rewarding back story. Director Michael Spiccia (who studied design at the Western Australian School of Art and Design) and writer Julius Avery met through mutual friends and colleagues at Cannes (Julius Avery’s film Jerrycan screened at Cannes in 2008). Both hail from Western Australia. Both are the same age. Both have uncannily similar upbringings. That is, neither considered himself a “cool” or “tough” kid, and so both were inspired to use their childhood as a means to focus on themes like control and bullying. Main character Ruby (Mitzi Ruhlmann) portrays a perfect mix of both, without using a single world of dialogue. Yardbird was an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. It is Michael Spiccia’s first film at Cannes. Even better? It’s his first film. Period. See it in Shorts Program 2 – The Search for Ourselves at the Hideout Theatre, Friday, October 19 7:15pm, or Thursday, October 25 6:30pm.
Struggling to come to terms with his mother’s tragic death one year later, FRIDAY is an emotional, intense, and thrilling short. This is no cookie-cutter plot. Director Sebastian Rice-Edwards starts the film with many things left unsaid. It’s what makes this film so intriguing, and it’s what allows us to put the pieces together as the plot unfolds. Just like the main character’s emotions, our feelings toward him fluctuate between sympathy (for his mother’s death) and hatred (towards his own intolerances). But despite our own judgments, this piece remains very current and relevant. See it in Shorts Program 6 – The World Comes of Age at the Hideout Theatre, Saturday, October 20 4:30pm, or Monday, October 22 5:30pm.
This fascinating film transcends Western media’s portrayal of war to show that life continues beyond. This film focuses on the lives of unlikely friends: a charismatic street boy, Ahmad, and a defiant blacksmith’s son, Rafi. Director Sam French inspires his audience by showing the boys’ determination to realize their dreams, despite their chosen destinies and despite their war-torn country. This film was shot entirely on location in Kabul, Afghanistan, by an alliance of Afghan and international filmmakers. It was produced through the Afghan Film Project, a non-profit foundation that tells Afghan stories and builds its country’s film industry. Through the creation of this film, more than a dozen Afghan filmmakers learned new skills and techniques in which they have been able to continue building their film industry. See it in Shorts Program 6 – The World Comes of Age at the Hideout Theatre, Saturday, October 20 4:30pm, or Monday, October 22 5:30pm.
La Vitesse du Passé
Translated as THE SPEED OF THE PAST, here writer/director Dominique Rocher toys with our concept of time in a completely new way. While some films show time through a series of non-chronological events, this film portrays it at varying speeds. While Margot and Joseph are renovating their countryside home, Joseph’s sense of time freezes as he’s falling off the roof. On the other hand, Margot’s life continues on normally. This scientific phenomenon is bizarre, imaginative, and thought-provoking. Rocher’s shots and editing are aesthetically pleasing and put the past, literally, right in front of us. While such a loss would stay with us emotionally, in this film it is physically present as well. Rocher succeeds in showing the mortality of humans, and more importantly, the fleeting (or not) nature of time. See it in Shorts Program 1– The Space Between Us at the Hideout Theatre, Sunday, October 21 9:30pm, or Tuesday, October 23 5:30pm.
When N.A.S.A. closed its shuttle program on July 8, 2011, the last launch (Atlantis) brought about a public audience unseen since the days of the Apollo moon missions. In this movie, specifically, we see “hope” as two people — a photographer and a 10th grade science teacher (played by Kate French and Jason Ritter, respectively) — come together. ATLANTIS strongly portrays nostalgia using a grainy aesthetic and black and white images. The film’s informative and inspiring nature transported me back to my middle school days where I dreamt of becoming an astronaut. The film also portrays the N.A.S.A. Program itself as well as the unknown future of Titusville, previously a thriving factory town. I found ATLANTIS to be enjoyable and also accessible to all audiences. See it in Shorts Program 1– The Space Between Us at the Hideout Theatre, Sunday, October 21 9:30pm, or Tuesday, October 23 5:30pm.
DAMAGED ONES suitably describes the story of these teenagers. The plot is relatively simple; the beautiful Bella has a new boyfriend, but her friend Cissi always finds herself one step behind. However, it is Bella who makes one bad decision and is completely unaware of the terrible consequences that are to follow. Director Johanna Paulsdotter allows the audience to harshly judge these teens. But what we all must remember is that being a teenager is really a game of survival filled with angst, confusion, and frustration. Never forget, we’ve all been there too. See it in Shorts Program 4 – Dirty Laundry at the Hideout Theatre, Thursday, October 18 9:40pm, or Monday, October 22 9:45pm.
PRAY exists in an alternate reality, where a girl can be sentenced to be buried-alive. Everything writer/director Theylia Petraki portrays is realistic. Everything, that is, except that this death sentence is so commonplace. Petraki places heavy emphasis on the inevitability of her looming death, and the girl seems to be the only one with the common sense and desperation to save herself. Even though the girl is able to escape home to research survival tactics, inevitably her hearse arrives to take her to the cemetery. It’s like a nightmare: no matter how fast you run (always in slow motion, of course), the person chasing you always catches up. You can try and escape, but Petraki successfully lures you into this bizarre reality that you can’t help but experience. See it in Shorts Program 2 – The Search for Ourselves at the Hideout Theatre, Friday, October 19 7:15pm, or Thursday, October 25 6:30pm.
Our talented Film Department interns have created a new blog series, Short Focus, highlighting this year’s Short Film Line-Up. First up, Lauren Armstrong explores the 2012 Animated Short Competition Films. Head Over Heels In ten minutes, director Timothy Reckart manages to steal the heart of even the most cynical viewer with his film HEAD OVER HEELS. In this endearing animated short, made using stop- motion …
First up, Lauren Armstrong explores the 2012 Animated Short Competition Films.
Head Over Heels
In ten minutes, director Timothy Reckart manages to steal the heart of even the most cynical viewer with his film HEAD OVER HEELS. In this endearing animated short, made using stop- motion animation, Reckart tells the story of an old married couple who has grown apart, literally. She occupies the ceiling of the house and he lives on the floor. I found myself “awwww-ing” at the husband’s cute attempts to reignite the flame between him and his wife. The fact that absolutely no dialogue is used to tell the story is even more impressive. The animation of the character’s faces conveys all the emotion and words would have been superfluous in this sweet and charming short. See it in Shorts Program 1 – The Space Between Us, at the Hideout Theatre, Sunday, October 21st, 9:30 pm or Tuesday, October 23rd, 5:30 pm.
Sleight of Hand
SLEIGHT OF HAND has recently been nominated for Best Animation at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts, and it’s no wonder why. This charming animated short was created using the stop-motion technique, in which the puppet is moved frame by frame. It takes 25 separate moves to create one second of the movie… that’s over 14,000 individual shots for this one, 9-minute short. The film is essentially a tongue-in-cheek movie about the technique itself and follows a puppet trying to create what writer/director/animator Michael Cusack did in creating the puppet himself. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the technique come to life on the screen, and the puppet’s facial expressions are truly a work of art. AFF is proud to feature this patiently created stroke of genius. See it in Shorts Program 7 – A Glimpse Into Another World, at the Hideout Theatre, Saturday, October 20th at 9:30 pm, and Wednesday, October 24th at 7:30 pm.
From A to B and Back Again
FROM A TO B AND BACK AGAIN stands out amongst competition because of the unique story it tells. The film is part of BBC’s ‘Seeking Refuge’ series that seeks to tell real-life stories of asylum seekers in the UK. Director Andy Glynne tells the story about a young girl and her family fleeing from religious persecution. In a world where animated film is often used for fairy tales or stories for kids, I found it refreshing to see an animated short with such a relevant message behind it. The story compels the audience to care about the family and their issue at hand, while also raising awareness in an interesting way, in this case, through animated re-telling of a true story. See it in Shorts Program 6 – The World Comes of Age, at the Hideout Theatre, Saturday, October 20th at 3:30 pm or Monday, October 22nd at 5:30 pm
If you enjoy animated films that are more on the bloody side and involve mature themes of questionable nature, then JAMÓN is the film for you. A graduation film from Iria López, the film follows a teenage pig, José, who is struggling with his identity as the only pig in his family. When a questionable neighbor moves in and involves himself with “interesting” activities, José learns that he may have more in common with the neighbor than he thought. The film uses traditional animation technology and silkscreen printed backgrounds that allow for a very classy look and a thoroughly enjoyable experience. See it in Shorts Program 2 – The Search For Ourselves, at the Hideout Theatre, Friday, October 19th at 7:15 pm, or Thursday, October 25th at 6:30 pm.
PASTEURIZED is a cute animated film about a cow making pasteurized milk in space. When a cat in a space shuttle comes to check out his laboratory, his world is rocked, literally. Director Nicolás P. Villareal is also a published children’s author- and it shows. The film brought out my inner child and took me on a ride to outer space with a mischievous cat (is there any other kind?) and an interesting-looking green cow. The film has no dialogue, and the score provides all the sound needed. I found myself bouncing along with the cat and the cow on their boisterous, 7-minute journey and was reminded how fun animated movies can be. See it in Shorts Program 11 at the Alamo Drafthouse Village on Saturday, October 20th at 1:00 pm or at the Hideout Theatre on Sunday, October 21st at 3:30 pm.
Buy Buy Baby
In our recent recession, what can be more relevant than an animated short about a baby hanging out at a Wall Street office and unknowingly tearing the place apart? Kids will love the funny anecdotes in the short, and adults will enjoy the not-so-subliminal message of the stock market tumbling with Baby Betty on the loose in the roaring twenties. Gervais Merryweather directed this as his graduation film, and has since won accolades at film festivals all over the world. I was really amused by this film and enjoyed the animation style, as it brought me back to the old school cartoon days. See it in Shorts Program 11 at the Alamo Drafthouse Village on Saturday, October 20th at 1:00 pm or at the Hideout Theatre on Sunday, October 21st at 3:30 pm.
In four minutes and thirty-five seconds, director Andrew Cadelago manages to draw two very distinct characters, an old lady and a punk teenager! I found myself laughing through SNACK ATTACK, and curious to see how it all ends for the bitter old lady. The film has a very professional, Pixar-like feel to it (Cadelago has worked in the animation department at Pixar), which should make it a fan favorite. The old lady even resembles the beloved character, “Carl,” from UP. See it in Shorts Program 11 at the Alamo Drafthouse Village on Saturday, October 20th at 1:00 pm or at the Hideout Theatre on Sunday, October 21st at 3:30 pm.
Heidi Haaland recently interviewed AFF panelist Pen Densham for a series on Producers for BlueCat. She was generous enough to share her interview with all of us! The Producer: Pen Densham of Trilogy Entertainment Group Pen Densham is a man of many hyphenates. Along with Trilogy Entertainment Group partner and co-founder John Watson, he has created 15 films, including Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and …
Heidi Haaland recently interviewed AFF panelist Pen Densham for a series on Producers for BlueCat. She was generous enough to share her interview with all of us!
The Producer: Pen Densham of Trilogy Entertainment Group
Pen Densham is a man of many hyphenates. Along with Trilogy Entertainment Group partner and co-founder John Watson, he has created 15 films, including Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and more than 300 hours of television, notably The Twilight Zone reboot. He has also thought deeply about what it means to create in a business that often seems at odds with that impulse, and his conclusions can be found in Riding the Alligator: Strategies For A Career in Screenwriting (Michael Wiese, 2011), a candid manifesto/how-to manual that explores its subject with pragmatic humanity. Between post-production for the Todd Robinson-directed Phantom (starring Ed Harris and David Duchovny), and commitments at the upcoming Austin Film Festival, this producer-director-writer took time to share insights and encouragement about the satisfactions and challenges of the creative life.
HH: What script first made an impression on you?
PD: When I was very young my father was involved with South Hampton Television and I often saw scripts from various shows and although they weren’t dramatic scripts, I was fascinated by them. But the very first dramatic script I read was F.I.S.T. This came my way via Norman Jewison. I can still recall how overcome I felt reading it, and when he asked me to comment…well, I was like the country mouse. I had one suggestion, which made it into the film. But I never considered myself a writer until much later.
HH: As the son of filmmakers, was there ever a Plan B for you?
PD: I was encouraged along those lines, but at fifteen, I already had my entrepreneurial instinct. I actually pitched a series idea to South Hampton. My father was absolutely shocked and I did get in a bit of trouble for that.
HH: Marshall McLuhan, best known for “The media is the message,” was a mentor in Toronto. What did you take from this?
PD: First of all, it was a time of growth and excitement. There were arts grants available, because Canadians had decided to be defined by art, in order to differentiate themselves from their neighbor to the south. They weren’t a military power, so they used art to protect their boarders.
I was working as a production assistant- carrying cameras, writing presentations- at a company that was developing a film opposing a freeway that would cut Toronto in two. McLuhan was involved and I would watch as he and others gathered around the conference table for these very cerebral debates about public policy. I also observed him during a conference call to do with the naming a Canadian satellite: Anik. He spoke about the resonances of the word, how it felt, and the mood it created.
As a young guy, seeing highly intelligent people discussing how you create emotion with words had such an impact on me. I didn’t know it then, but realized later that it was like a door had opened in my head and that I was free to walk through and explore. McLuhan was just an awesome guy. And I’ve always been attracted to underdogs who push to get their point across.
HH: What turned your attention to narrative film?
PD: My very first project, If Wishes were Horses, came about because there was funding available for dramatic films, and everyone was doing documentaries. I had never written a script, had no knowledge of formatting, so I wrote it like a short story. Luckily I was mentored by people who went through it line by line and helped me, not only with the organization but also things like visual expression. They’d say, “You write that he’s angry; how can you show that?” And I’d say, “You mean, if he threw something?” And in it would go.
HH: Was this your directorial debut as well?
PD: And one of the most painful experiences in my life. I’d never directed anything. Never knew any actors. And on top of it all, I’d written for horses, not taking into account what they might or might not be willing to do. There were difficulties with the crew, too. I was certain it was disaster, the whole thing in pieces and patched together in the editing. And then it won 14 awards. I thought, No, no, you people don’t understand– It was a disaster! But Norman Jewison saw it and chose me to be his guest director, in Los Angeles.
HH: How would you describe him?
PD: Norman is overwhelmingly powerful and astonishing is his accomplishment and he has always made things he believed in. There is no one type of film he is identified with. No one style. He follows his intuitions as well as the causes that matter to him.
HH: Did Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier’s characters IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT influence the pairing of the English Christian and African Muslim characters in your re-imagining of ROBIN HOOD?
PD: Subconsciously, perhaps, but not consciously. That, for me, came out of having a son. My mother died when I was very young. And I grew up at a time when Catholics and Protestants would just shoot each other. Arabs and Jews, as well. I thought if I could put religious enemies together, it would be valuable. So it was a tone poem to my son about heroism. I didn’t go into it knowing what I was doing. And I was told it was a stupid idea by studios, so overcoming those objections made it worth the effort.
HH: In retrospect, those reactions seem very strange.
PD: When we were nearly done with the script, we discovered a competing project was out there and did debate finishing it. I’d already abandoned one story under similar circumstances and didn’t want to do that again, so we moved forward. And that was also part of the lesson: not giving up.
HH: I jumped ahead, but how did you branch into writing?
PD: John and I had optioned a book. At that point, we had only worked with Jewison and Sylvester Stallone, but we were heroes at MGM for helping flesh out ROCKY II and were given a chance to develop something of our own, so we hired a writer because we didn’t know what to do. That was incredibly revealing.
He turned in a 150 page draft, but it was written to his taste, not ours, and our agent was his best friend so the politics were not effective. Finally we decided we might as well write it ourselves, because we believed we could do at least as good a job and if we stayed true to our taste, then it would be even better. We told MGM that we would write the script for our supervising fee and that if they didn’t like it, we would find another writer.
By the time John and I arrived in Los Angeles, we had 10 years of experience. We were creative entrepreneurs, interested in people who got things done. We came here to study them. We noticed immediately that the producer lasts longest. The writer or the director can be replaced. We became writers to defend our own ideas.
HH: How does Trilogy choose projects? What is it about a script that makes you pause and think, This is my next movie?
PD: We are drawn to characters who act on their own behalf. We like novelty. I’m a romantic, so that is always present, but I also like a certain dark optimism. I want to make movies not talkies. The camera is an entrancing participant, so I design films to be visual, not just verbal.
We’re attracted to films with positive outcomes, not pyrrhic ones where everyone’s worse off. I find it hard to put my soul into that. I am moved by resolutions involving reconciliation, where people learn to treasure each other.
Sometimes as I read, I will think, This script doesn’t need me. Because it’s not calling out to the nooks and crannies in my creativity. There’s a kernel and a spiritual center in the stories I am drawn to and as long as I don’t give that up, projects can vary enormously.
Our current project, PHANTOM, is what I call a ‘life script,’ one that’s written out of passion, because it had to be written. It’s my observation that those projects are made more frequently and not the one written toward the market. Film making is a life bond and you want to work with people you can share that with. It’s too painful otherwise.
HH: The amount of writing you’ve done is remarkable. Was that a strategy, or did projects just keep winging their way to you?
PD: I have personally chosen to work this way because I’m always certain that I haven’t worked hard enough, I’m not getting enough out of myself, getting contacts, reaching out, inventing my own future. It’s been like that since I was a teenager. And that has been massively, painfully stressful.
When I was teaching at USC I once saw a student get up and run out of the room, right in the middle of a pitch. I went after him and spoke to him, because I really suffer from stress. I try not to cause it and I work collaboratively to alleviate it. As a producer, I want to be both an ally to the director- because I know that emotional state – and a sort of catcher’s mitt.
HH: Trilogy films are not cheap-to-make indies, but you also aren’t out there hawking lunch boxes. Is financing for the middle-ground as dire as we keep hearing?
PD: There’s an illusion that we chose what we want to get made. We develop an enormous rate of things that don’t get made at all. The ones where you are lucky enough to find a spark of financing that you can fan into a flame are in the minority.
Truthfully, this whole process is so uncertain. No one searches you out. People who succeed do so by pushing for what they believe in and when you make that effort, you expose yourself to the vulnerability and pain of rejection of your work. You may have something that doesn’t look like what other people are buying and if you worry about that you end up making bad clones.
The thing I say is, ignore everything that goes against your creative instincts. That approach may not reward you financially, so you have to use the process to develop your life.
HH: What habits are important for writers?
PD: The most potent thing is to discover who you are and find your tribe. Reach out and find other people who are struggling to create and achieve, and by being with those people you can swap information and discover you’re normal and celebrate the creative process. Networking, fundamentally.
HH: What you describe sounds much richer than networking.
PD: It’s not cold-hearted networking, but emotional networking. Wishes were Horses came out of that. A friend told me about the opportunity and that started everything. Try the impossible. You have to wind yourself up. But by not trying you are guaranteed 100% failure, and errors of omission are the hardest to live with.
We spend a lot of time at Trilogy thinking about the right opening line on a conversation. So, find a way to make the call and then make the call. Write the letter. This is all part of a desire that I’ve written about to feel valuable and not disposable. And being authentic and moral is a healthy strategy in this business, because you come in contact with all kinds of people. People respond to people with an optimistic attitude.
HH: What was the genesis of Riding the Alligator?
PD: My book was written because a former employee came to visit one day and said that in all the places he’d worked, he’d never met anyone who articulated the writing process as helpfully as I and he wanted me to write a book on creativity. I felt, Who am I, writing a book? but my partner John, who is on the faculty at USC, invited me to teach a pitching class to MFAs and I saw this as a chance test it.
I hadn’t written much prose, so I wrote one chapter and began with “Passion,” though I wasn’t sure how the students would react, if it would seem cliched, if I’d be laughed out of the room. I wrote from the heart, shared what I wanted to share and gave them copies of the chapter. And they responded well, and one or two of them really adopted me and gave me feedback. In essence, I gave my paper to the students for marking.
HH: It seems like another book is out there for you.
PD: And that is a matter of finding time. But this time out, I want to write more generally and explore creative entrepreneurism. Also the relationship between our personal vulnerability and the need to find systems to- and I don’t like this word- “evangelize.” To build the bridge backward to the people who don’t understand the value of what you’re doing.
There are so many models of accomplishment, yet Edison “ached” to give up on his work. It’s important that we tear down these heroic images because they’re destructive. People think that they have to be geniuses. Einstein didn’t think he was: “I just stayed with the problems longer.”
HH: Many people struggle to find writing time. Advice?
PD: If I’m trying to write an original idea it takes a lot of time, nights and weekends. My family is deprived. Part of my head is missing. But the worst thing that can happen is an inability to write because doubt fills the vacuum that is created when you don’t write: You begin to think, I have an idea, but I’m afraid I can’t do it, so I won’t.
HH: How do you get around that?
PD: Try to initiate a few things to circumvent the block. Write what impassions you. You have to rely on your brain because it will provide answers, but not always in a logical or orderly form. So whatever comes out of my brain, I write down. I jump out of the shower. I have Sticky notes everywhere. I have an environment that allows me to capture my thoughts.
Another thing, I just open the file, once a day. Even for just one line. Because generally that one line leads to another. Pull over to the side of the road if you have to- write it down. It’s not coherent or logical, but you must do it. At its best, it’s like a love affair when you can’t wait to see the person and I’ve had that experience with a script a couple of times. God, I want to write like that always, when it pours out of you like dictation from the gods.
PD: It has to be a spiritual process when you write. You’re writing to reassure yourself that your words are valuable. If you can emancipate your true voice, there is a deep resonant bell in your soul that is participating in your story process. All these things have an emotional logic. When the work is original and different, not repetitive and banal, you will fight for it because you understand it.
Material from the heart and from the instinct gets made because it brings the writer’s authentic emotional A game. Sometimes people will tell you what to write- what they think is right- but if you write what you think is right, you may be helping them find the very thing they are groping toward.
Follow Pen Densham on Facebook or his blog at Scriptshark.com.
Heidi Haaland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The stars were out as the beautiful city of Toronto rolled out the red carpet for another edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. Ryan Gosling, Dustin Hoffman, Ewan McGregor, Ben Affleck: you name ‘em, they were there to present the latest and greatest films that will compete for your attention and for Oscars next February. Some of the highlights: SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – David …
The stars were out as the beautiful city of Toronto rolled out the red carpet for another edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. Ryan Gosling, Dustin Hoffman, Ewan McGregor, Ben Affleck: you name ‘em, they were there to present the latest and greatest films that will compete for your attention and for Oscars next February. Some of the highlights:
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – David O. Russell returns with his latest film, a heartfelt, convention-defying film that features one of the finest acting ensembles this year. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence give career-topping turns, and Robert De Niro delivers his finest performance in years. The streets of Toronto were buzzing after the film’s premiere, catapulting it to the top of Oscar prediction lists everywhere.
THE SESSIONS – After this Sundance crowd pleaser hits theaters in October, anyone who wasn’t already familiar with the talented John Hawkes certainly will be. After memorable supporting performances in WINTER’S BONE and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, Hawkes finally takes center stage, to the great pleasure of everyone who watches this film. But Hawkes isn’t alone, as this film features another extraordinary ensemble, including the always reliable Helen Hunt and William H. Macy. This film has now won over Sundance and Toronto, with the rest of the world soon to follow.
QUARTET – Having enjoyed one of the most highly praised acting careers of all time, Dustin Hoffman has made the move to directing with QUARTET. The transition to the other side of the camera could not have gone more smoothly. In his directorial debut, Hoffman has been put in charge of a formidable British cast, including all-stars like Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon. Certainly, everyone went into the film excited to see how Hoffman would fare as a director. Based on this evidence, we are witnessing the beginning of an exciting new chapter for one of our most beloved filmmakers.
The list goes on and on. From ANNA KARENINA to CLOUD ATLAS, TO THE WONDER to A LATE QUARTET, Toronto offered up a wealth of riches to get the fall film season started with a bang. Stay tuned for AFF’s Film Lineup announcement on Tuesday September 18, when we will be announcing our slate of world premieres, foreign finds, and yes, a few of these TIFF treasures.
Harrison Glaser, AFF Conference Department Intern, takes time out from Festival planning pandemonium to interview 2012 AFF panelist, Ashley Miller (writer THOR, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, AGENT CODY BANKS, Fringe, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Andromeda) Harrison: You’ve been writing a lot of sequels and adaptations of works that are already beloved by many people. What sort of pressure do you feel from these types of …
Harrison Glaser, AFF Conference Department Intern, takes time out from Festival planning pandemonium to interview 2012 AFF panelist, Ashley Miller (writer THOR, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, AGENT CODY BANKS, Fringe, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Andromeda)
Harrison: You’ve been writing a lot of sequels and adaptations of works that are already beloved by many people. What sort of pressure do you feel from these types of projects and what steps do you take to ensure you’re being faithful to the source material and its fans?
Ashley: There’s always pressure to do your best work and tell the best story you know how to tell. Certainly, there are more eyes on you when you’re interpreting a story that’s already been told, and is already beloved. But you can make yourself crazy if you try to serve every individual detail of those stories that someone out there might love. You have to serve the essence and experience of the original work, and develop an eye for the things that make it what it is.
Step one for me is that I have to love the original material, myself. When we started Thor for example, the conversation with Marvel began with the fact that I’ve loved Thor since I was a kid. I have the complete Walt Simonson run of the book in my collection – I had a subscription. The damn things came in the mail. My parents would send them to me when I was at summer camp because I couldn’t bear to miss an issue. So the first fan I set out to please is me. It was much the same thing with X-Men. No one had to tell me who these characters were. It was very easy for me and Zack to imagine them in those circumstances and let them do their thing. X-Men was a little different in that we were also trying to be faithful to a previous interpretation – and on top of that, explore the emotional roots of that interpretation. If it were about “that time Professor X still had hair”, First Class would have been a failure.
We see Starship Troopers through a completely different lens. Paul Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier have interpreted it once already. Zack and I both love that film for what it is. We’ll cheerfully defend it to its detractors, while recognizing the very significant differences between that film and the book that inspired it. Our hope is to translate the novel in a way that matches the tone, intent and many of the details that Heinlein brought to it. We want to capture that experience in a new way rather than remaking an existing film.
Fundamentally, we approach every adaptation with the same pitch: “Hey, you know that book you bought the rights to because it’s awesome and people love it and there’s a movie in there? Let’s do that.”
Harrison: Can you talk about how you write with a partner? How do you divvy up the script, so to speak? What’s your writing process? What happens if you have a disagreement?
Ashley: Zack and I have been working together now for fifteen years. We met on the Internet, during an ugly little flame war. For the first 3 years of our partnership we never met – we never even saw photos. It was all telephone and email because we were 2500 miles apart. This turned out to be great because it forced us to be organized and disciplined. We had enormous email trails that laid out what we wanted to do with stories and helped identify what worked and what didn’t. The process we developed was pretty simple: first, outline. Plan like the invasion of Normandy. Then we split the story by acts and write individually, before bringing it all together and beginning a series of rewrites and polishes that continue until we’re both happy.
We developed two rules that have served us well in the partnership and to some extent in collaborating with other writers, directors and executives. First, don’t be precious. The story is boss, and every choice serves it. We don’t write to save darlings. Second – and this one is not for the weak of heart – the first writer proposes, the second writer disposes. What that means is that whoever has the draft for a round of polishing is assumed to know what hell he’s doing. If Zack changes something and I think it’s a mistake I get to make the case for why he should reconsider, but I’m not allowed to just flop it back. Zack gets the last say in that case, and vice-versa. What’s great about the rule is that it forces us to examine our darlings and really articulate how they serve the script…or how they don’t, and why they have to go.
We never, ever write in the same room. Some partners stand over each other’s shoulders and pitch dialogue, etc. Not us. There would be blood. We can’t function that way. On the plus side, one of the reasons we came together was that we recognized a similarity of voice and that we had compatible sensibilities. Almost no one can tell our raw pages apart or correctly assign who did what. Over time, we tend to forget that too.
Harrison: There seems to be a fine line between ridiculous, inaccessible fantasy and fantasy that’s really effective and believable. What do you think is the difference between good fantasy and bad?
Ashley: Good fantasy is emotionally real, and exists in a world that has rules. You can imagine the version of it that exists without the fantastic elements, or what would happen if those elements went away. This is true even if you’re exploring the consequences of that fantastical element, because the consequences that truly matter are emotional. They’re about character. Wordsworth once defined poetry as powerful emotions recollected in tranquility — he could just as easily have been talking about the visceral experience of film. Fantasy or science fiction that hews to this will succeed as well as anything else.
Bad fantasy is often about itself. There is an expectation that the audience will see whatever you’re showing them and think how cool it is. It isn’t cool, because there is no context. The audience doesn’t know what it means – usually because it doesn’t mean anything at all. Or there is no attempt to impose dramatic discipline on the story. What I mean by that is there are no rules governing the action of the characters or the story elements. Rules are the most powerful tool a writer can have. Rules establish limits. The imposition of limits and subsequently overcoming them is the essence of drama. If anything can happen in a story, then nothing happens at all.
The other benefit of a rule is that it helps you flesh out a world and create details and grace notes that communicate to the audience that you are telling the truth. The Lord of The Rings is the best example of this. Tolkien created an incredibly detailed world with rules, and thought through the consequences of those rules. That makes the world immersive. It gave Peter Jackson the opportunity to come in and populate it with more richly realized versions of the characters for the screen, real people who could connect emotionally with the audience.
Harrison: How do you go about creating a world for your characters and story to inhabit? Do you develop the world before you start writing or does it come to you through the process?
Ashley: Zack and I generally work from the outside in, and then back out. What I mean by that is we imagine a world first. We talk at length about how that world works, and why it works, and the interesting things that fall out of it. We hypo test the shit out of it. Then we start imagining who lives in that world — not just individuals, but institutions and cultures. Our protagonist and antagonist generally emerge at this point, although we usually have a rough idea who they are from inception. We just try not to be married to our first idea. Sometimes we start with an idea for a character and then ask ourselves how their world had to work to get them where we found them. Specifics vary, but we’re always thinking about why things happen and why people do things.
When we start to write, little details will emerge in scenes we otherwise might not have thought about. That goes for the world as well as the characters. The most amazing thing that happens in this process is when we’re working on separate sections and unconsciously one of us will set something up that the other pays off…without knowing the other piece exists yet. That’s how we know we’ve done our homework and really prepared adequately to write.
Harrison: Your films often feature comedic scenes or lines that break up the tension. What’s your process of inserting these into the stories? How do you find the balance where the comedic elements help smooth out the story but don’t overpower it?
Ashley: We never, ever set out to write a comic set piece. When comedy occurs, it’s because it emerges naturally from the drama. The character tells the joke or does the funny thing because that’s who the character is. We’re allergic to winking at the audience, or letting comedy undercut emotion. It works best when it’s most human. Judd Apatow says to write comedy, you have to write drama first, then go back and find more of the funny stuff. We follow pretty much the same rule — there is no moment where we say, “insert hilarity here.” It’s there because it wants to be there.
After several months of sifting through a record number of over 6500 entries involving unique stories, memorable characters, and exemplary dialogue, we have finally narrowed down the field to the celebrated Second Rounders (top 10%) and the Semifinalist scripts that are still in contention. The full results will be posted on our website next week but in the meantime, notification letters should be arriving in …
After several months of sifting through a record number of over 6500 entries involving unique stories, memorable characters, and exemplary dialogue, we have finally narrowed down the field to the celebrated Second Rounders (top 10%) and the Semifinalist scripts that are still in contention. The full results will be posted on our website next week but in the meantime, notification letters should be arriving in mailboxes before then. Regardless of the outcome, you have already taken an admirable step in your writing career by completing a story and putting it through the gauntlet. Evaluating screenplays at this level is a complicated process that is, by nature, extremely subjective. The measure of your success as a writer is not forecasted only by the outcome of a competition. Whether this was your first or nineteenth time submitting in AFF, rejection is never easy but it is an important part of growing as an artist. Without rejection, there would be no incentive to improve and no reason to push further to succeed. And when you do succeed, the rewards are far greater and the experience much sweeter. To those of you who advanced in the competition this year, congratulations on receiving a distinction that is achieved only by few. As a writer, you are of course only as good as your next work. If writing is your passion, please continue to pursue it.
- Matt Dy
Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director
Recent stirrings surrounding Andrew Hacker’s NYT article, “Is Algebra Necessary?” have generated an outpouring of debate. Inevitably, reactions to his piece have bled into larger questions confronting our generation, resurfacing the most important factor (no pun intended) to the evolution of civilization: education. At least we are asking questions. Hacker’s arguments to do away with algebra are simplistic and thus flawed. There are deeper roots …
Recent stirrings surrounding Andrew Hacker’s NYT article, “Is Algebra Necessary?” have generated an outpouring of debate. Inevitably, reactions to his piece have bled into larger questions confronting our generation, resurfacing the most important factor (no pun intended) to the evolution of civilization: education.
At least we are asking questions.
Hacker’s arguments to do away with algebra are simplistic and thus flawed. There are deeper roots tied to algebra, not the least of which is using the power of abstract thinking and transferring such thought into concrete, practical terms.
Still, his skin-deep postulations are enticing. Like many artists, I go cross-eyed over the prospect of having to calculate when two trains will pass if one left the station at 80 mph and the other departs two hours later but 20 mph faster. My mind goes bezerk. Gosh, I think to myself, I hope they are on different tracks. And why didn’t people take the faster train? The math query is obviously insinuating that it’s getting to the destination first. Maybe it was sold out. Or more expensive. Do I have A.D.D.?? I invariably drift to wanting to cut to the chase and make a film about the train pulling up to the station with all safe and sound….
Wait… they already did that one….
Regardless, I understand the relevance of working through problems such as this. They help provide a foundation to think critically. It is not necessarily about getting the correct answers, but the acquisitive process.
Education is the one pillar that should nurture individual freedom and create equality of opportunity for everyone. In modern times, these ideals cease to have hope without it. Yet, in the most advanced society in history, our educational system continues to under-deliver as we subject it to inexcusable, short-sighted policy and politics. I cannot begin to wrap my brain around the vastness of human potential already lost.
At a minimum, our schooling should prepare and assist us in becoming well-rounded humans, equipped to think on our own and handle life’s variables. Alas, it seems kids were more well-rounded and adept at critical thinking when they studied philosophy, mathematics, science and literature in ancient Greece. That was 2300 years ago!
In any event, we ought to fix education, not eliminate it.
Personally, I cannot help but wonder where the arts stand in Hacker’s Hierarchy of Educational Relevancy. If he considers algebra too abstract, what of poetry, beauty and expression?
Tangential as this may sound, the arts fall victim to the question of necessity far more often than that of mathematics. Art under fire is – to me – as detrimental as any other academic purge. The arts are a pioneering force for innovation and allow students to think and grow independently and creatively. They take us from self-awareness to awareness; from self-consciousness to consciousness; from self-centeredness to our true potential.
In their most indoctrinating nature, the arts take the shape of stories that endow us with the ability to learn from the past and flourish in the future. They serve as both literal and allegorical interpretations of our thoughts and decisions, ultimately furthering the frontier of accomplishment and intellectual capacity.
Art is not about the correct answers, but rather the correct questions. It is about creation and response, which is really the proper recipe for any societal infrastructure. It is about the sometimes wordless, sometimes wordy message and parallel interpretation. It is about our mixed-up world of the necessary and unnecessary and how the two can coexist to provide balance.
It’s powerful stuff.
Uncle Ben said it best: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” As artists, we must confront our role in all of this. We must also ask the question: are we fulfilling our responsibility to educate through art?
I’ll take a shot at it, although, in the film industry, this is somewhat akin to answering when and where the two trains meet. Years of trial and error have rendered both successful and distressful results.
To channel my own experiences, I have found film, in particular, to be a very influential venue for educating, serving as an extension of ourselves and our purpose. But I often wonder if we are imparting the stories that should be told, or indulging those that would rather be heard.
Either way, it is interesting to consider the scope and imprint we make. As the media offers innumerable and varied venues, we should also consider our role as consumers. Those of us residually living off our education have the duty to continue nourishing our way of thinking. As proponents and prisoners of culture, we gather and divulge a landscape of opinions, approaches and execution determined in large by media. Our responsibility, as in education, lies not in eliminating outlets or opportunities, but working to build better ones.
Though there are many disputed components surrounding the film industry, I believe there is a notable silver lining for the silver screen: the film festival.
Film festivals were birthed for the underdogs, and any artist is naturally inclined to root for the underdog. Festivals umbrella a collective of artists who may not always come out on top, but refuse to give up. Resorting to surrender in any pursuit – education especially – is largely derivative of a lack of resources. This is an all too familiar obstacle for many (specifically independent) filmmakers.
One thing ancient Greece didn’t have right is that we are not victims of a predetermined fate. Artists have paved the way to shed the mask of Oedipus.
Festival circulation continually yields a new generation of artists and art: sometimes raw, often mind-blowing (especially when you consider their budgets), and always purer. For you arts-challenged, sports-lovers out there, think of the difference between college football (the fests) and the highly-paid professional teams (Hollywood).
Not only do fests across the world set a stage for networking and distribution, otherwise typically unavailable, they also combat the monopolization of Hollywood with a broader range of content, much of which challenges the norm.
The increasing popularity of the film festival has resulted in a strong presence across the globe. If Hacker’s Hierarchy doesn’t eliminate economics, then we can attribute such success to rising supply and demand emanating from quality of the product. Contributors and participants are deliberate in thought and pay respects to the festivals’ capacity to inform.
Film festivals are a summit for the exchange of ideas. Whether they ignite conversation about techniques, testimonies or two trains traveling, they serve the ultimate – and oldest – form of art and education: Storytelling.
-Erin Hallagan, Conference Director
I sometimes feel that there are two types of people in this world: those who believe in the power of movies, and those who simply view it as entertainment. Seriously – try taking a random assortment of friends to a film. Afterwards, ask everyone what they thought of it. What are the responses? You will have the few friends who adored it, who related to …
I sometimes feel that there are two types of people in this world: those who believe in the power of movies, and those who simply view it as entertainment.
Seriously – try taking a random assortment of friends to a film. Afterwards, ask everyone what they thought of it. What are the responses? You will have the few friends who adored it, who related to the characters, suffered with them in their sadness and had their heart skip a beat when they found happiness. The other group simply says that they enjoyed it, but couldn’t get into it because: it’s just fiction.
Tonight, AFF is screening RUBY SPARKS at the Alamo Village here in town. I’ve not done any research on the film, nor do I know a thing about it. You could call it stellar marketing, or maybe something about it clicked with me. Either way, I watched the trailer for the first time tonight and needless to say – I was hooked.
I couldn’t quite say what it was specifically that hooked me, but I think it winds down to the connection between Ruby (Zoe Kazan) and Calvin (Paul Dano). In that two minute trailer, I was already fascinated by their connection. But what about it? Another “boy meets girl” film – where is the hook in that?
I then realized that the reason I was hooked was because I was relating their connection to my own life. I thought of my wonderful, charming boyfriend: how we first met, the time we’ve spent together, everything in two years for some reason was narrowed down in that two minute trailer about Ruby and Calvin’s relationship.
I know there are those of us who look at art as a means of entertainment – something to take our mind off of the present. Art will always be known as that type of outlet for people, but sometimes I also believe it helps us self-reflect. A girl I knew once told me, “Why would I want to watch a sad film, or a film similar to my own life? I’m already living that.” True as that may be, sometimes we need to look at our own situations through a different set of eyes in order to learn how to figure it out. Sometimes, we need a two-minute romantic comedy trailer to realize the great things that we might already have in our own lives. And sometimes, we might just need that masked superhero or daring leading lady to help us make the right choices in our everyday life.
Now try telling me you don’t believe in the power of movies… If you still don’t, maybe we can have a conversation after RUBY SPARKS tonight and see what category you fall under. See you then!
- Marcie Mayhorn, AFF Office Manager
by Brian Helgeland Frank Pierson has died and the film and television world justly mourns his passing. Frank’s first writing credit, as far as I can tell, was an episode of Have Gun Will Travel in 1959. His last credit was a 2012 episode of the series Mad Men. That’s a 53 year career to save you the math. Are you kidding me? Six decades? …
by Brian Helgeland
Frank Pierson has died and the film and television world justly mourns his passing. Frank’s first writing credit, as far as I can tell, was an episode of Have Gun Will Travel in 1959. His last credit was a 2012 episode of the series Mad Men. That’s a 53 year career to save you the math. Are you kidding me? Six decades? If longevity is one measure of a writer’s life – and believe me it is – then Frank could rest his laurels right there. Of course, the quality and integrity of his work stands the test of time as well. Add to that a history of service and giving back, particularly to the Writer’s Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science, and you have a career unrivaled from where I sit. And, oh yeah, he wrote COOL HAND LUKE and DOG DAY AFTERNOON.
I first met Frank in London in January 1996. I was there to direct an episode of Tales From The Crypt that I had written. I had never been to London before, so already it was the culmination of a longtime dream, never mind that I was directing the for first time. I had a weekend off during prep and I visited Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus. For years I had been futilely searching for a copy of the COOL HAND LUKE soundtrack (Lalo Schifrin – now there’s a movie man). Low and behold, there it was! I found it on a German label in the import soundtrack bin. This was the Holy Grail to me. I didn’t know if it even existed, but for years I couldn’t leave any record shop without checking to see if they had it.
I was staying at the Athenaeum Hotel across from Green Park and it was with a spring in my step that I headed back that way, bound for my room where a CD player awaited. At the front desk I stopped to change some dollars for pounds. It was there facing away from the lobby that I heard Americans speaking. Or an American would be more like it. A man was explaining a trip to Kenya he had just returned from. Waiting for my dough, I turned to clock him.
Frank Pierson. There he was. Pontificating. A group of four or five gathered around him. I recognized him at once. He was a hero of mine and I was compelled to do something I have never done before or since. I stepped over to introduce myself. I stopped a respectable distance away and waited for him to finish, to take notice of me and see what I wanted. But he didn’t. He kept talking and talking. At a certain point even those listening to him started to get embarrassed for me. It was obvious Frank was carefully avoiding me, making a point of not noticing me. I felt like an intruder because that is what I was. All the same though, give me a break.
Finally, I shuffled back a foot or two and started away. At that moment, he turned toward me and said, “Yes? What do you want?” Completely at a loss, I mumbled something about me being a screenwriter and him being Frank Pierson. He was fully aware of who he was and he then quite sarcastically said, “Let me guess: you became a writer because of me.” Intruder or not, now I was pissed. I wanted to slink away, but I managed to mumble that, while he was not the oak tree my acorn had fallen from, I did very much admire COOL HAND LUKE. To this I got, “Oh, COOL HAND LUKE, good for you. Is there anything else?” In fairness he was tired, jet-lagged and cranky. In fact, the Frank Pierson I knew was not an easy man and that is eternally to his credit.
But at that moment Kismet came full circle. Yahtzee descended. Call it what you will, but I presented him with Lalo Schifrin’s soundtrack, music his words had in no small part inspired. I handed it over, gave it to him. He had never seen a copy of it himself, though unlike me he hadn’t searched the world for one either. There was a processing silence, followed by the magic words, “Meet me at the bar at five o’clock.”
I drank with Frank that night for several hours during which he raconteured his way through the 1960s and 70s. He asked me about my young career and offered a helpful observation or two. It was a fantastic day and night and I got much more than the handshake I was hoping for. I met Frank several times after that. Almost always unplanned and strangely, for better or worse, almost always at some odd moment when I kind of needed to see him. He took me down a peg more than once and at other times lifted me up. Like the time he came up out of nowhere and hugged me in valet parking at the Beverly Hilton while I was waiting for my car after I won the WGA award in 1998. For some reason deft ennui had owned that night and it had left me lonely and out of sorts and suddenly there was Frank bear hugging me and slapping me on the back and everything seemed right. Perfect even. There were other moments, but the last time I saw him was over a year ago in a restaurant in West Los Angeles. I was having lunch with a producer and I saw Frank walk by to where he was eating his lunch with someone else. He looked like he was having a bad day. He didn’t see me and after thinking it over I decided not to step up and interrupt him as I had in London 15 years earlier. I wish I had. I won’t get another chance. I wish he had looked up at me after making me wait two minutes and said, “Yes? What do you want?”
I would have finally told him the truth. “Frank Pierson, I wanted to tell you I became a writer because of you.”
BRIAN HELGELAND has written and adapted many features during his career as a screenwriter, including the Academy Award winning film L.A. CONFIDENTIAL for which he received the Oscar for his work. Among his credits are his original screenplays for CONSPIRACY THEORY, GREEN ZONE and A KNIGHT’S TALE, along with his adaptations of PAYBACK, MAN ON FIRE, and MYSTIC RIVER. Helgeland also wrote the upcoming 42.
It seems like we can’t go a week without sweating over some perceived fadeout of film criticism in America. Between the millions spent on targeted marketing for major studio extravaganzas and the broader concerns over the waning of print journalism, many argue that film critics lack the power that the Pauline Kaels and Roger Eberts once had to affect moviegoer decisions, going so far as …
It seems like we can’t go a week without sweating over some perceived fadeout of film criticism in America. Between the millions spent on targeted marketing for major studio extravaganzas and the broader concerns over the waning of print journalism, many argue that film critics lack the power that the Pauline Kaels and Roger Eberts once had to affect moviegoer decisions, going so far as to label any potential blockbuster as “critic-proof.” But I would argue that two remarkable stories in the past week alone go a long way toward proving that critics are still having their say, and that people are still listening.
First, the trades have been abuzz in the past couple days over death threats being issued to critics who have dared to dislike the latest Batman epic, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. In fact, Rotten Tomatoes has seen fit to remove the comments section from its DARK KNIGHT RISES page, as the vitriol and cruelty being spewed back at critics by Dark Knight defenders were apparently too distasteful even for the Internet, which is truly saying something.
I’ll let someone else speaks to the ills of our society reflected in these comments, but the point I want to make from this overwhelming response is that average moviegoers are clearly still reading the critics’ reviews. Indeed, considering that all of this is happening days before the film even opens, it seems that people are reading them as soon as they can get their hands on them, desperate for a hint as to whether or not a film will meet their expectations. Sure, these people are likely to go see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES regardless of what they read in the reviews. But the opinions contained in those reviews obviously still mean something to readers. Apparently, they mean a great deal.
Second, while DARK KNIGHT is clearly the theatrical release on everyone’s minds, last week, a little film that could was the home video release that had all the critics talking, loudly. Kenneth Lonergan’s latest film, MARGARET, had a truly extraordinary (for some, excruciating) journey to its ultimate Blu-ray/DVD release last Tuesday. The woes of the film have been well-documented but, long story short, the film was originally scheduled for release in 2007 yet ultimately didn’t make its way to theaters until last September.
While YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, the last film Lonergan directed before MARGARET, was an Oscar-nominated indie hit, Lonergan himself was certainly not a household name. In other words, while the film was languishing in post-production and then on studio shelves, there wasn’t a legion of fanboys fighting tooth and nail for its release, a benefit that filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro or Peter Jackson would certainly enjoy. So who was responsible for the growing tide of support that ultimately washed MARGARET to the shores of theatrical and home video release? You guessed it: the critics.
One by one, film critics got the chance to see Lonergan’s film and immediately began declaring it a “thwarted masterpiece,” a “cinematic wonder.” Then something extraordinary happened, and it happened on Twitter. Followers who kept up with these critics’ tweets began to notice an overwhelmingly positive consensus forming around MARGARET, and these followers decided they wanted to see the film for themselves, resulting in the hashtag #TeamMargaret. The number of tweets begging for the film to be released continued to grow, all featuring this hashtag, until the film was finally released in theaters and, now, on home video in both a theatrical and extended cut.
Go back and look at just about any film critic’s Twitter feed from the past few weeks, and you’ll see that MARGARET was the focus of everyone’s attention. From debates over the theatrical cut vs. extended cut to links featuring Lonergan’s Q&As that followed recent MARGARET screenings, the critical ardor for this film has been all-encompassing and infectious, guiding thousands of followers to band together and resurrect a film long thought lost.
That’s why I struggle to worry too much about the state of film criticism in this country. Beloved critics like Dana Stevens (@thehighsign) and Matt Zoller Seitz (@mattzollerseitz) are some of the liveliest presences on Twitter. Last week, I enjoyed a vigorous debate between A.O. Scott (@AOScott) of the New York Times and Richard Brody (@TNYFrontRow) of The New Yorker on the merits of BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, carried out entirely on Twitter. Sure, we must acknowledge the economic implications that might prevent critics from earning a living writing for print or online periodicals, which is where they do their most fleshed-out work. Stephanie Zacharek (@SZacharek), one of the finest critics writing today, was recently released from her post at Movieline, robbing that site of a great journalistic voice. But they can’t take her Twitter followers away from her. And that’s why everything is going to be okay.
Considering the dozens of box office records that have been broken (and continue to be broken) by THE AVENGERS, it may be tempting to label this Marvel blockbuster the success story of the summer. But, despite all the big numbers these superheroes are racking up, I would argue that the numbers worth talking about are the somewhat smaller but equally impressive crowds showing up for …
Considering the dozens of box office records that have been broken (and continue to be broken) by THE AVENGERS, it may be tempting to label this Marvel blockbuster the success story of the summer. But, despite all the big numbers these superheroes are racking up, I would argue that the numbers worth talking about are the somewhat smaller but equally impressive crowds showing up for R-rated male stripper movies and explosion-free comfort films. Let’s talk about the adults for a change.
Indeed, it’s hard to get Hollywood to think about anything except the treasured demographics of children, teenage boys, and the all-important 18-25 year-olds. That explains why we have THE AVENGERS, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES all showing up at the local multiplex within a few weeks of one another: Hollywood wants to get those young folks into the theaters and convince them to stay until the first school bell rings in August. But, as the art houses and indie cinemas of America have proven over the past couple months, grown-ups want to go to the movies, too, and they’re looking for something original.
We’ve had the record-breaking per-screen averages of Wes Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM, the holdover power of Richard Linklater’s BERNIE, and the shock success of Fox Searchlight’s THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (lovingly nicknamed “The British Avengers” for its shimmering, all-star British cast), not to mention that TO ROME WITH LOVE looks like it will carry over Woody Allen’s good fortune from MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and audiences are only just being introduced to BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, which wowed festival crowds from Sundance to Cannes. Add to that this past weekend’s double triumph: Seth MacFarlane’s R-rated raunchfest TED and Steven Soderbergh’s defrocking of Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, MAGIC MIKE. Adults are going to the movies in droves and making a huge statement by doing so.
Are we witnessing a sea change in moviegoer demographics, or is this all just a fluke? I have a theory that we are seeing what happens when the first generation to come of age during the “blockbuster era” grows up. Before 70’s megahits like JAWS and STAR WARS launched the opening-weekend-focused blockbuster trend, movies were held over at local theaters for weeks at a time. My grandparents grew up in a time where GONE WITH THE WIND would be the only movie playing on the only screen in town for a few months, meaning that you would see a movie once and then find yourself waiting a few weeks before something new came out.
So what happened when that generation got older? Numbers suggest that they continued to see only one or two movies every few months, even though the blockbuster phenomenon meant that there were new films in the theater every week. Hollywood took notice and stopped trying to provide content for older audiences.
But now, moviegoers who were 16 when JAWS came out are now 53 years old, and they’ve been conditioned to expect something new every Friday night. Unfortunately, many of them no longer find killer sharks, caped crusaders, or alien invasions intriguing. So who’s going to give them what they want week after week? If Hollywood is paying attention, they’ll recognize that these little success stories aren’t flukes but signs that a new demographic is there for the taking. The grown-ups are staying in the picture.
Guess what? It’s late June! If you round up, it’s basically July. And really, July is always such a fleeting month. After the 4th it just sort of fades away before you know it. So really, you can pretty much call this August. But everyone in Austin knows how hot and miserable August is; it’s a month we try to forget here in Central Texas, …
Guess what? It’s late June! If you round up, it’s basically July. And really, July is always such a fleeting month. After the 4th it just sort of fades away before you know it. So really, you can pretty much call this August. But everyone in Austin knows how hot and miserable August is; it’s a month we try to forget here in Central Texas, so let’s go ahead and forget August and say that it’s practically September. And what is September except an introduction to October? What I’m trying to say is that October 18th is pretty much right now and Austin Film Festival is basically today. So I hope you already got your badge. And since the only thing that stands between us and the fest is a negligible 115 days, it’s time to start planning, wouldn’t you say?
As a conference intern, I’ve been working to help build the one hundred-ish top-notch panels and organize the countless incredible panelists. After two months of doing this, I’ve gotten extremely familiar with what the panels are going to look like, and while more are still yet to be announced, I have quite a few that are already on my Must List. If I wasn’t going to be working throughout the entire festival, these are the panels I would love to take part in:
A Conversation with Kent Alterman
For those that don’t know, Kent Alterman is the Head of Original Programming and Production at Comedy Central. And for someone who’s been watching Comedy Central as long as I have, that is awesome. He’s overseen such hits as the COMEDY CENTRAL ROAST series and the new and unbelievably funny sketch series KEY & PEELE. Learning about the business of funny from such a big figure in comedy programming will no doubt be fascinating.
A Conversation with Damon Lindelof
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a giant LOST fan. It’s one of the most unique and intricate storylines ever developed, and while it might not have necessarily delivered (I’ll keep my opinions to myself), it’s nonetheless an amazing achievement in television and continues to shape TV shows to this day. With that said, I can’t overemphasize how cool it is that the co-creator, head writer and showrunner of LOST is stopping by Austin for a series of panels including a conversation. Also the writer of PROMETHEUS and the upcoming STAR TREK 2, Lindelof has become one of the more famous and controversial film and television writers in recent years. He’s experienced a whole lot of love and vitriol, usually at the same time, and will no doubt have some really interesting stories to share.
Marvel vs. DC
This panel actually came up by accident when we realized how many of our panelists incidentally have written comic book adaptations in the past (or are working on them now). We decided it would be great to bring them together and talk about what it’s like to write for Marvel and/or DC, two competing comic book companies-turned-giant movie studios. Writing for these companies is definitely an exciting opportunity, but I imagine it’s also a huge amount of pressure, since you have to adapt stories and characters that already have a vast amount of history and are fiercely and obsessively loved by millions of fans. I would love to learn how these movies are written.
Writing Comedies with Improv
Recently, a whole bunch of comedies have been including a lot of improvisation from the actors instead of pre-written dialogue. Take, for instance, RENO 911, BRIDESMAIDS, and all the other Judd Apatow films, which are also some of my all-time favorite comedies. I’d love to learn how they come about from a writer’s perspective. When a scene is nothing but improv, how much influence does the writer have? How can a writer steer a scene without writing dialogue and what does an improvised scene even look like in a script? I would love to learn the answers to all these questions.
So there’s my list. Now it’s time for you to make your own. After all, the time it took you to read this blog is that much less time until the festival starts. So get to it!
Despite being advised that his brain would rot, Damon Lindelof spent the majority of his childhood watching television. After a brief flirtation with movies by way of a film degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Damon hopped in his car and traveled west and eventually took a job as a writer’s assistant on Kevin Williamson’s ABC Drama Wasteland. Shortly thereafter, and the show …
Despite being advised that his brain would rot, Damon Lindelof spent the majority of his childhood watching television. After a brief flirtation with movies by way of a film degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Damon hopped in his car and traveled west and eventually took a job as a writer’s assistant on Kevin Williamson’s ABC Drama Wasteland. Shortly thereafter, and the show was cancelled. Damon went on to write for Nash Bridges and then moved on to NBC’s new drama Crossing Jordan. Then Damon got Lost. Within twelve weeks of complete insanity, he and co-creator J.J. Abrams managed to make a ridiculously untenable and vastly expensive pilot for ABC that centered on the survivors of a plane crash in the South Pacific. Despite this, Lost won a Golden Globe and Emmy Award in its freshman season. Damon concluded Lost, after six seasons and still doesn’t quite understand what it all meant. A life long Trekker, Damon also is a producer on J.J.’s STAR TREK reboot, which was released in May 2009. Damon is currently writing and producing the sequel to STAR TREK and the Sir Ridley Scott movie PROMETHEUS. In his spare time, Damon also wrote this Bio.
Since LOST you’ve written almost exclusively in the science fiction and fantasy genre. What draws you to the genre and have you ever thought about branching out?
I think about branching out all the time, but genre stuff is where my imagination always ends up taking me. Perhaps I will write a romantic comedy one day, but you can bet your ass it’ll have robots in it.
A lot of your projects are, by their nature, overanalyzed, freeze framed and nitpicked for details by hordes of fans. Does that level of scrutiny add pressure to your writing? How do you address that?
It’s surreal to have fans of the stuff I’m working on apply that level of scrutiny to it, but as a fan myself, I LOVE this aspect of the movies and TV shows… the idea that after viewing, I’m required to seek out other fans with different perspectives and interpretations.
It seems like since LOST wrapped, television executives have been desperate to find “the next LOST.” We’ve seen FlashForward, The Event, Alcatraz, V, etc. and none of them end up being successful. What are the studios missing? Is there such a thing as “the next LOST” and if so, what would it look like?
I think it’s an unfair label to stick on a show that it’s the “next” anything. When LOST came along, we were desperate to rip-off/steal from any existing narrative format so that we didn’t have to go home at 4AM every night, but living in a more original mindset ended up being totally liberating. My guess is that no show WANTS to be “the next LOST” any more than we wanted to be “The Next TWIN PEAKS” (even though we were massive fans of that show).
You often talk about the importance of character in science fiction and fantasy. When you start a science fiction or fantasy script, do you start by creating the characters or do they come naturally from the world you create first?
It’s a little bit of a chicken or the egg scenario where you have to think about both simultaneously. Obviously, if you don’t care about or understand what the character wants, the world becomes irrelevant… but sometimes the construction of the world itself dramatically affects/inspires character work. When it works best, you have to use pencil instead of pen on both the characters and the world so that they’re constantly evolving and riffing off each other. I will let you know when I figure out how to do this correctly, but until then, it sure SOUNDS good.
What other writers/shows/movies/books do you draw inspiration from or have had an impact on how you write?
That list is so long and extensive I don’t know where to begin. Really good movies and TV have a dual effect on me — inspiration and intimidation. When I see something as good as INCEPTION or BREAKING BAD, I am so humbled that it’s hard to look in the mirror and consider myself a writer. But in the wake of my I’m-Not-Worthiness, my brain gets completely fired up on the sheer audacity of the storytelling I’m seeing. I really do feel there are still rules to break and new ways to tell stories… and the only way to find them is to build on the foundation that’s already out there.
In your career of coming up with strange plot twists and character deaths, have you ever had to fight to keep something in a script that producers thought was too much or too out there? How did that end up?
JJ and I famously tried to kill Jack, our hero, in the Pilot of LOST. The head of the studio made a very compelling argument as to why this was a catastrophically bad idea and thank God we listened to him.
What are you most proud of having written? A particular scene, or character, or line of dialogue?
I’ll let you know when I write it. Seriously. I think I suck. (insert internet agreeing wholeheartedly here)
We asked our AFF Marketing Interns to put together a list of their top summer movie picks. Check out what they are most looking forward to seeing! Celia – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World As a devoted Office fan and PRIDE & PREJUDICE enthusiast, it is impossible for me to ignore a film that stars both Steve Carell and Keira …
We asked our AFF Marketing Interns to put together a list of their top summer movie picks. Check out what they are most looking forward to seeing!
As a devoted Office fan and PRIDE & PREJUDICE enthusiast, it is impossible for me to ignore a film that stars both Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Sure, the basis for the plot could be slightly happier—say, a colossal ball of cotton candy is hurtling toward Earth instead of an asteroid—but even so, I can’t help thinking that if any two actors can make a movie about the world’s final days exceedingly enjoyable, these are them. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (NICK & NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST), SEEKING A FRIEND seems to strive for the perfect balance of drama and comedy, and I can’t wait to find out whether or not it succeeds!
Yes I am a college student, and yes I am 21 years old, but no I cannot contain my excitement for Disney Pixar’s BRAVE in theatres tomorrow!
Set in Scotland, BRAVE is about the daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor, Merida (voice of Kelly MacDonald), a talented young archer. As the story unfolds, Merida is determined to create her own destiny and challenges ancient rules set before her time. However, her actions end up causing major problems in the kingdom, and Merida must learn the true meaning of bravery to break an evil spell before it is too late.
This animated film is rumored to be one of the most detailed of Disney Pixar’s creations, making it seem as life-like as possible. I admire and envy the Pixar team’s design abilities, and I’m impatiently waiting to see what the Pixar team was able to master this time, seeing as this film includes scenes inside castles and forests. Although I’m mostly looking forward to the detailed animation, I must admit I am also looking forward to listening to Scottish accents for an hour and a half!
In a film season full of superheroes, SAVAGES offers a grittier alternative to the typical summer fair. SAVAGES is written and directed by Oliver Stone, who in recent times has watered down his edginess in comparison to his past films such as PLATOON or NATURAL BORN KILLERS. Stone’s last two major films, WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS and W., were both decent albeit timid. However, some moviegoers this summer are looking for a movie that crosses the line in that classic Stone fashion. The storyline is simple enough – two pot dealers and their mutual girlfriend get involved with a drug cartel – perfect. We do not need a complicated story line, just intense moments, good acting, and hopefully spurts of violence thrown in for good measure. John Travolta, who appears as a DEA agent in the film, said in an interview that “it [is] the PULP FICTION of now.”** Myself, and a lot of other fans alike hope he’s right.
** Source – http://www.joblo.com/movie-news/awesome-featurette-and-scene-from-oliver-stones-savages
Don’t get me wrong! I love watching a good balls-to-the-wall comedy that’s going to knock me on my ass laughing, and Andy Samberg, comedian and star of CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, has been known to do that, but it’s a dramedy that really tugs the strings of my heart.
I’m looking forward to CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, not only because it’s a genre preference of mine, but because it takes a look into the unconventional lives and relationship between a young couple trying to maintain their “best friend” relationship status while going through a divorce and seeing other people.
I know, I know… It might sound like another traditional romcom, but the trailer, which was recently released, showed me otherwise. It appears to have elements of pain and sadness while still incorporating some dark humor. It’s a trend in movies lately (50/50, EVERYTHING MUST GO, YOUNG ADULT, etc.) I know, but it’s just the kind of roller coaster of emotions in a movie I like to see.
I’m not expecting a happy ending, but I do, however it may end, expect I’ll be satisfied with CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER.
Haesil – Brave
I’ve always looked forward to Pixar films, and BRAVE is no exception. BRAVE is Pixar’s first film to feature a female lead, but Princess Merida isn’t your typical fairytale princess waiting for her prince’s arrival. She is free spirited, independent and full of passion and her wild, red curly hair shows it. It’s a fresh new look at fairytales and I definitely will be following the adventures of Princess Merida as BRAVE opens in theaters this weekend! A must see summer film for any Disney/Pixar fan, independent women, kids, and all animation geeks who love to witness technical and visual innovations. Besides, who can really deny a good summer animation film about the adventures of Pixar’s bravest female?
Just when we thought the triumphant trio had conquered all, Manny, Diego, and Sid are back and embarking on yet another adventure when their continent is set adrift. I still remember being 12 years old and watching the journey of an odd group comprised of a saber tooth tiger, a sloth, and a wooly mammoth trying to return a lost infant to his tribe along with the comedic subplot of Scrat the squirrel making attempts to bury his beloved acorn.
In theaters July, 13, 2012, Ice Age 4: Continental Drift is sure to keep the audience entertained as Scrat’s pursuit of his beloved acorn has world-changing consequences— a continental cataclysm that forces Manny, Sid, and Diego on a new and unforgettable venture. In the wake of the upheaval that separated them from their family, Sid reunited with his long-lost cantankerous Granny, Diego finds himself a love interest, Shira, and the three encounter a ragtag menagerie of seafaring pirates determined to stop them from returning home.
Even though I am 21 now, I am excited to see the new adventure these three have ahead of them and if Scrat is ever able to secure his beloved acorn that always seems to cause excitement.
Flashback to the year 1997, Bill Clinton was president of the United States, we said goodbye to Princess Diana, and James Cameron became the king of world. It was also the year that I fell in love with movies. I was seven. On December 25th of that year I saw “Titanic” and everything about it to me was perfect. When the film was re-released in …
Flashback to the year 1997, Bill Clinton was president of the United States, we said goodbye to Princess Diana, and James Cameron became the king of world. It was also the year that I fell in love with movies. I was seven. On December 25th of that year I saw “Titanic” and everything about it to me was perfect. When the film was re-released in April to commemorate the 100th year anniversary of the sinking, I saw it in IMAX 3D. I even ignored the pain of paying the ridiculous $16 admission price! And yes, it is still perfect.
In October of last year, I was at a career fair for the UT College of Communication and was on the lookout for film-related internships. I found my way to Austin Film Festival’s booth and met someone named Kristen Washington who told me all about the Festival. I was immediately interested and turned in my resume and application 15 minutes after meeting Kristen. I knew Austin had a festival but as poor college student on a budget it was always out of the question to attend the event. A few weeks later I received and email from Maya Perez, the Conference Director to see if I was interested in being a conference intern. I had never had face-to-face interview before and I had no idea what to expect. I came in about 15 minutes early because I have a fear of getting lost, and for a second I thought I was because instead of an office building, I saw a little green house. I had my interview and got offered the position at the end of it. It was very exciting to embark on this internship. I had a lot of experience writing film reviews and film- related articles for UT publications but my experience at AFF has been incredible and eye opening and I have only been here for 6 and half months with many more months to go.
The majority of my time here has been transcribing 80 minute panels from past festivals which was interesting at times but incredibly mind numbing as well (so glad that is over now!) Transcribing aside, I have got to experience some awesome events. From Ted Tally going through his Academy Award-winning script “Silence of the Lambs” to Rob Thomas using his unaired pilot of “Party Down” as a screenwriting tool, these events are just a taste of what the Festival in October holds. This year’s list does not disappoint. Many of the writers and producers are from my favorites shows like “Once Upon a Time” and “Psych,” as well as some of my favorite films, “Rachel Getting Married” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” The thing that I admire most about Austin Film Festival is that so much of the attention is focused on the writers and not celebrity appearances, something that I think is lost on other festivals. October cannot come any sooner!
As we gear up for the Festival & Conference, we’ll be posting interviews with our incoming panelists here, on our blog. The questions come from our newsletter recipients, interns, volunteers, and facebook fans – so feel free to send your interview questions for an incoming speaker to Conference Director Maya Perez at email@example.com. Scroll through our blog first to make sure we haven’t already posted …
As we gear up for the Festival & Conference, we’ll be posting interviews with our incoming panelists here, on our blog. The questions come from our newsletter recipients, interns, volunteers, and facebook fans – so feel free to send your interview questions for an incoming speaker to Conference Director Maya Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org. Scroll through our blog first to make sure we haven’t already posted an interview with that guest then be sure to type their name in the subject line.
This week’s interview is with Etan Cohen and the questions come from Conference Department intern Harrison Glaser.
Etan Cohen is one of the most sought after comedic minds in the business. Named “Comedy Writer of the Year” at the 2009 Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, Cohen has proven himself one of the most prolific writers in recent years. His screenwriting credits include TROPIC THUNDER, MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA, Beavis and Butthead, It’s Like, You Know, King of the Hill, IDIOCRACY, and MEN IN BLACK III.
Interviewer: You’ve written scripts targeted at young children, specifically episodes of Recess and MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA. How do you get yourself in the mindset to write something children would find funny?
Etan: I don’t think you can be in your head too much. You just have to write what’s funny to you and then get rid of the stuff that doesn’t fit in a family movie. Fortunately, me and my kids often find the same stuff funny.
Interviewer: It seems like most big budget sequels are written by a team of writers. How did you end up writing MEN IN BLACK III on your own without any connection to the other two films?
Etan: I wrote a comedic take on Sherlock Holmes for Sony (Sacha Baron Cohen as Sherlock, Will Ferrell as Watson) which hasn’t been made — yet! — but which I think showed them (along with TROPIC THUNDER) that I could handle mixing action and comedy.
Interviewer: Have there been any reactions to scenes or jokes you’ve written that surprised you, either because they fell flat or because they got a bigger laugh than you expected?
Etan: I think as a writer you can get too precious about words and forget about the power of physical comedy or just the presence of your stars. In TROPIC THUNDER, I was always amazed at how big the laugh was when the directer gets blown up. And on MEN IN BLACK III, when we were testing the movie, people just want Will Smith on the screen.
Interviewer: Do you normally write scripts that you would laugh at or do you target another type of audience?
Etan: Well… it’s hard to second-guess what other people will like. Easier to just write for yourself.
Thanks, Etan, and we’ll see you in October!
I’d like to start off this blog entry with a story, because I think it’s a fitting illustration of what it’s like to work at Austin Film Festival and how it’s never quite what you expect. The first time I visited Austin Film Festival was for my interview as an intern. I was fairly nervous because I hadn’t been interviewed for a job in something …
I’d like to start off this blog entry with a story, because I think it’s a fitting illustration of what it’s like to work at Austin Film Festival and how it’s never quite what you expect.
The first time I visited Austin Film Festival was for my interview as an intern. I was fairly nervous because I hadn’t been interviewed for a job in something like three years. I spent the night before researching everything I could and spent the morning making sure I was dressed very professionally. I made it to the address they provided and noticed that it was simply a small green house in a neighborhood of other houses. I would have assumed I wrote the address incorrectly if it weren’t for the Austin Film Festival poster displayed in the window.
I parked my car and approached the house, psyching myself up for the interview. I wasn’t really sure what to expect inside. I imagined the house would be totally transformed with cubicles and computers and offices everywhere. However when I opened the door I found that the house looked exactly like a house, including a couch-filled living room and a fully stocked kitchen. The next thing I noticed was about ten people lying on the floor of the living room doing Pilates. Considering that everyone was wearing their workout clothes, I suddenly felt extremely overdressed. “Uh…” I said, since what else do you say when taken by surprise like this? One of the exercisers stood up. “Are you Harrison?” she asked. I replied in the affirmative and she said “I’m Maya. Walk around the screenplay competition director and follow me into my office.”
And that’s how the Austin Film Festival office works. It’s fun, it’s weird, and it’s always a little unpredictable.
I’ve only been a conference intern here for a few weeks now, and I’m still getting acquainted with its inner-workings. I feel like I have a different job every day, and while not all of them are glamorous (turns out transcribing a 75 minute panel takes a lot longer than 75 minutes), I’m always excited to do what I can to contribute to the big event this October.
Truth be told, I wasn’t that familiar with the festival before landing the internship, but the more I learn about it and the more I’m seeing this year’s festival come together, the more I realize that this is a freaking sweet event. Seriously, have you guys seen the panelists coming this year so far? These people are no slouches. Some of them have helped define my childhood by putting their words into my favorite characters’ mouths (one of them is a writer of Shrek, for God’s sake!). Others are currently redefining the pop culture landscape as we know it. I haven’t met any of the panelists yet, but some have already made me laugh (e.g. Danny Rubin, who wrote Groundhog Day and Etan Cohen, who wrote Tropic Thunder). Others have made me cry (e.g. Jenny Lumet who wrote the crushing Rachel Getting Married). Some of them have helped write or direct some of my favorite things ever put on film. I’m a giant Lost fan, and guess what? Lost co-creator, head writer and showrunner Damon Lindelof is attending! He also wrote Prometheus, which I can’t wait to see. And all of these people are coming to Austin, the coolest city in the world, at the same time! What!? How have I not heard of this sooner?
Whatever the reason, I’m glad I know about it now, and I’m glad I can consider myself part of the team working to make this festival happen. I’m really not sure what my job’s going to look like when October hits, or even tomorrow, but I’m excited to keep on working in this weird little green house that offers Pilates on Fridays.
This is the first year Enderby Entertainment is participating as the sponsored award judge for the AFF Screenplay Competition. The new Enderby Entertainment Award is a sub-category of the Screenplay Competition and is open to feature scripts in all genres with an original concept and distinctive voice that can be independently produced under $5 million. Enderby Entertainment will review the top scripts submitted in this …
This is the first year Enderby Entertainment is participating as the sponsored award judge for the AFF Screenplay Competition. The new Enderby Entertainment Award is a sub-category of the Screenplay Competition and is open to feature scripts in all genres with an original concept and distinctive voice that can be independently produced under $5 million.
Enderby Entertainment will review the top scripts submitted in this category and will determine the Semifinalists, Finalists, and eventual winner. Finalists will be given the opportunity to meet with the production company during the Festival and Conference, which will be held Oct. 18-25, 2012. The winner of the Enderby Entertainment Award will receive a prize package including $2,500, reimbursement for airfare (up to $500) and hotel (up to $500) for attendance to the Festival and Conference, and the bronze AFF Typewriter Award. I was fortunate to interview the founders of Enderby Entertainment, Rick Dugdale and Daniel Petrie, Jr. Read their bios and interview below.
Rick Dugdale is the president of Enderby Entertainment and oversees all aspects of finance and physical production for Enderby. He serves as producer or executive producer on all Enderby Entertainment projects, including Cherry, starring James Franco and Heather Graham. Dugdale also serves as CEO of Tony-Seven Films, Enderby Entertainment’s thriller division; he served as executive producer on The Speak, Vile and 5 Souls and as producer on Silver Falls and No Tell Motel. Dugdale joined Daniel Petrie, Jr. & Company as Vice President, Production in 2003 before becoming a full partner in 2004. He then founded Enderby Entertainment with Petrie in 2006.
Enderby Entertainment partner Daniel Petrie, Jr. oversees creative affairs for the company. Petrie’s writing credits include Beverly Hills Cop, The Big Easy,Turner & Hooch, and Toy Soldiers. Most recently, Petrie was executive producer, showrunner and co-creator of the 13 episode TV series Combat Hospital, simulcast on ABC and Canada’s Global TV in the summer of 2011. He currently serves as Vice President, Programs of the Writers Guild Foundation and is a former Governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a former Trustee of the American Film Institute. Petrie has also been an active supporter of AFF since 1997.
Matt: Both of you have attended AFF several times in the past. Care to share any memorable experiences from the Conference?
Rick: Well the best way for me to answer that would be The Driskill Bar, only because it encompasses so many memories. You can always find great conversation there at any time of the night….literally.
Dan: I’ve been coming to the Austin Film Festival off and on since 1997 — I hate it when professional obligations prevent me from going. I always have a good time, but more importantly, I always learn something, or am reminded of something, important about screenwriting, both from my fellow panelists and from the up-and-coming writers attending the conference. So my dominant memory is of how I feel when I return to Los Angeles, recharged and revitalized about writing.
Matt: Previous AFF Semifinalists, Rachel Long and Brian Pittman, met the two of you at the Conference and Enderby Entertainment is now working with them on their script, “Stranded”. How did the meeting initially happen and what followed?
Rick: Well as I answered above, it all happened at the Driskill bar. Dan and I were there having a cocktail as Brian Pittman approached us and then when on to tell us about their script Stranded. We agreed to read it. We loved it and then over the course of the next 6 months we developed it with them and agreed to option it and produce it.
Dan: I always suggest to newer screenwriters that, rather than ask someone to read your script, it’s much better if that someone asks you if they can read it. As I remember it, Brian and Rachel handled it in just that way. They weren’t pushy, but they told us enough about the screenplay and how they came to write it that Rick and I asked if we could read it. And of course it didn’t hurt that their screenplay was a Semifinalist.
Matt: What excites you when you read a script and what advice would you give to writers wanting to enter in the Enderby Entertainment Award category?
Rick: I would say a great hook. Something fresh with great characters that we haven’t seen before. As for advice be realistic. It needs to be a makeable film that can be to a wide appeal in order to have options for financing. As much as I love hockey, a small indy drama about a hockey family is going to be a tough film to finance and get distribution. Same could be said for lawn bowling.
Dan: Audiences want to see something they haven’t seen before in quite the same way — that’s true whether the film cost $250 thousand or $250 million to make. I’m excited when I read a script that offers a fresh take, that gives us an original and distinctive voice, that brings to life unexpected characters in novel situations.
Matt: What common mistakes do you find when you read a script?
Rick: No scene headings. EXT. RADIO STATION — NIGHT and then by page 35 we’ve gone through 12 sets and 5 script days with no changes. It’s a script, not a book.
Dan: Screenplays should tell only tell us what we see and hear — and we can’t see or hear the character’s thoughts. Yet I often read description that says something like, “Joe stares out the window, and we can tell he’s thinking of that time in Barcelona…
Matt: Why should someone submit a script to AFF?
Rick: First and foremost, because you should try every angle to get to AFF. We tell every writer we know to submit their scripts to AFF in the hopes that their script will make it through and that we’ll see them there, not to mention the vast learning experience it is for many writers that attend. AFF has always been the best place to go if you’re a screenwriter.
Dan: Screenwriters starting out always have questions about how to get people in the industry to want to read their scripts. Well, one of the best ways is to win or place high in a prestigious screenwriting competition, and the Austin Film Festival’s competition is one of the most prestigious. And besides, as Rick points out, you get to go to the Austin Film Festival’s Screenwriting Conference, an outstanding experience for screenwriters at every career level.
To enter in the Enderby Entertainment Award, you must first enter in the Drama or Comedy screenplay categories. If you have already submitted in the competition but did not opt to be considered for the Enderby Entertainment Award, e-mail Matt at email@example.com to request to have the category added to your entry.
Click HERE to submit your screenplay. June 1st is the FINAL deadline. Good luck!
~Matt Dy, Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director
We recently announced our full list of industry judges for the Screenplay & Teleplay Competitions (click here for the list). From now through the final June 1st deadline, we’ll post a few interviews from this year’s group of judges. The first interview is with Richard Bever, a Los Angeles-based producer and co-president of Chill Films. Richard has attended AFF as a panelist and judge for …
We recently announced our full list of industry judges for the Screenplay & Teleplay Competitions (click here for the list). From now through the final June 1st deadline, we’ll post a few interviews from this year’s group of judges. The first interview is with Richard Bever, a Los Angeles-based producer and co-president of Chill Films. Richard has attended AFF as a panelist and judge for several years and is an all-around nice guy.
Richard Bever’s Bio
Richard is the former Head of Development and Production at Andrew Lauren Productions, which produced the Oscar-nominated film The Squid and the Whale during his tenure. Among his producing credits are In Memory of My Father; Audrey; and Against the Current (Sundance 2009). Richard and his partners at Chill Films are currently packaging: the horror project Blood Letter to be directed by David A. Armstrong (Saw I-VI); the crime drama NUM to be directed by veteran actor Brian Cox and starring Kiefer Sutherland; the sports drama Slugger (2007 AFF Winner) with director Mark Robert Ellis and producers Tamer Howard and G.Mac Brown (Men in Black; The Departed); the drama The Gardener’s Daughter by writer Steven Peros (Cat’s Meow; Footprints), to be directed by Dean Pollack (Audrey; Show and Tell) Richard recently executive produced the documentary Wish Me Away (Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Los Angeles Film Festival) and he is currently working on the documentary Rebels of the Third Age.
Matt: What excites you most when you read a script?
Richard: Succinct, realistic dialogue; well-thought out characters; and unforeseen events – and all within the first act.
Matt: What common mistakes do you find when you read a script?
Richard: Scenes that start too soon and end too late. Writers should look at their scenes and see if they can enter the scene a line or two later and then leave as soon as the goal of the scene is accomplished.
Matt: What’s the best advice you would give to a writer wanting to break out?
Richard: Know what types of stories the industry is hungry for and put your stamp on those genres.
Matt: Having judged for AFF previously, were there any writers that you connected with from the competition?
Richard: I’ve connected w/ countless writers from AFF – keeping in touch w/ writers from outside of my area and reconnecting in person with writers who are nearby. Every year I attend I see face after face, writers whom I know by name and know their work.
Matt: What is the best script you’ve read and/or best film you’ve seen lately?
Richard: Adam Gyngell and Fred Fernandez-Armesto’s “Deep Burial”, which was a winner at AFF in 2011.
Matt: Why should someone submit a script to AFF?
Richard: Every year I meet writers who have made their virgin AFF trek and they are universally amazed at the opportunities the festival provides for them and they vow to make it an annual journey. And this is why every year I know more and more of the writers.
June 1st is the final deadline for submissions. Enter your script for the opportunity to have your script read by our industry judges. To submit your entry, click here.
Brandon Dickerson has earned numerous awards for his work in commercials and music videos, including the coveted Cannes Gold Lion. He’s worked with a wide variety of artists from Moby to Switchfoot, Jonas Brothers to Cold War Kids. SIRONIA marks his first narrative feature film, and he is currently in pre-production on his second. Dickerson recently relocated from Hollywood to Austin with his wife and …
Brandon Dickerson has earned numerous awards for his work in commercials and music videos, including the coveted Cannes Gold Lion. He’s worked with a wide variety of artists from Moby to Switchfoot, Jonas Brothers to Cold War Kids. SIRONIA marks his first narrative feature film, and he is currently in pre-production on his second. Dickerson recently relocated from Hollywood to Austin with his wife and children.
I grew up behind the Orange Curtain in Southern California where my dream of being a film director was born. My family would go to the movies almost every weekend, and one October evening in 1979 we saw The Champ.
We went back two weeks later to see little Ricky Schroder idolize his boxing father, Jon Voight.
I cried again.
Even as a little dude, I realized this was a powerful medium if one could fully grasp what drama was coming and yet still be emotionally charged. I asked my dad, “How does it do that?” He explained to me how films worked and the guy at the helm was a “director”.
Amid schoolyard aspirations of being a fireman, dating Olivia Newton-John, and someday owning a Sony Walkman–I declared, “I want to be a film director”.
I wanted to be a part of stories so powerful they could make you cry. Twice.
CUT TO: Hollywood, CA – 2009
Living in Hollywood. Happily married. Two Kids. Well over a hundred music videos and commercials.
Zero Feature Films.
My wife’s mother is given six months to live so we abruptly move to Waco, TX to care for her. My colleagues call it “career suicide.”
It is in this season, away from the hustle, that the idea for Sironia is born with my crazy talented singer+songwriter buddy Wes Cunningham and actor+writer Thomas Ward who lived in Waco.
CUT TO: Austin, TX – 2011
The lights go down on the Premiere of my first feature film Sironia at Austin Film Festival. After production wrapped and my wife’s mom passed away, we had moved to Austin the year before. The season of “not another one” eye-rolls at a CA migrant had subsided – Austin is now home. Thirty-two Octobers had passed between The Champ and Sironia at Austin Film Festival. The journeys of life had shifted my desires from wanting to be a famous “storyteller” to one who was driven by the stories he had to tell. The themes of my first film are everything I’d hoped to share at 24 frames per second, and the fact that it premiered in the city that was becoming home was beyond profound.
CUT TO: Austin, TX – May 21st, 2012
It’s no surprise I fell in love with the Alamo Drafthouse when we moved to Austin. Tim League is a filmmakers’ hero — from programming to stellar projection to text free viewing. Monday night’s screening at The Drafthouse is a more recent dream-come-true as the kind folks at Austin Film Festival begin their Audience Award Film Series.
At every Q&A, I’m hopeful that no one asks me about what sparked my interest in directing. FULL DISCLOSURE: It wasn’t until I was deep into a career in commercials and music videos that I shared my director-desire-origin story to a gaffer, who revealed my dreams were built on a REMAKE of the 1931 Academy Award winning film by King Vidor.
Austin Film Festival annually recognizes outstanding filmmakers and screenwriters for their accomplished body of work and contributions toward furthering the art and craft of filmmaking. (Scroll down for the list of past honorees.) We have a master-list-in-progress of possible screenwriters and filmmakers to honor and we add names to it every year – and sometimes remove them: RIP John Hughes… . Several factors are considered …
Austin Film Festival annually recognizes outstanding filmmakers and screenwriters for their accomplished body of work and contributions toward furthering the art and craft of filmmaking. (Scroll down for the list of past honorees.)
We have a master-list-in-progress of possible screenwriters and filmmakers to honor and we add names to it every year – and sometimes remove them: RIP John Hughes… . Several factors are considered before deciding upon honorees to invite – how their style fits with our plans for that year’s program, their collective body of work, how their work has elevated and contributed to the culture of film and/or television, and, in the case of the Film and Actor Awards, their recognition of the importance of screenwriting.
While we have our list, we thought we’d ask some of our Conference participants – past and present – to tell us who they would honor – living or dead – with one of our awards and why?
First up is screenwriter/producer Pen Densham. Pen is the founder and co-chairman of Trilogy Entertainment Group, the author Riding the Alligator, and screenwriter of ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, MOLL FLANDERS, and HOUDINI.
Great question — off the top of my foggy head — Eric Roth — he has made written some deeply human and unconventional scripts that are worthy of time.
No longer living?
I had the privilege of seeing a brand new print of Sunset Boulevard with Billy Wilder. Fox made the print so he could see it one last time.
Frank Darabondt set up the screening. I watched with Billy in a wheelchair silhouetted in front of me against the screen. It was a touching and powerful life moment for me.
Sunset Boulevard is truly a writer’s script – and astonish-lying our business has not changed. It felt vital and in the moment – to my Hollywood experience.
Billy is amazing for many reasons – not just that he wrote all these powerful scripts in a second language. But he also wrote timeless drama and comedy – Some Like It Hot is still alive and kicking!
Years ago I used to stuff myself full of books on what I wanted to learn. I remember reading a book of great movie line quotes – to my astonishment — Billy Wilder quotes outnumbered by far every other writer included.
Past Austin Film Festival & Conference Honorees
Distinguished Screenwriter Award recipients: Caroline Thompson, David Peoples, Steven Zaillian, John Milius, Shane Black, Harold Ramis, Barry Levinson, Frank Pierson, Richard LaGravanese, Lawrence Kasdan, Buck Henry, Robert Altman, Bill Wittliff, Paul Schrader, James L. Brooks, Paul Mazursky, and Horton Foote.
Outstanding Television Writer Award recipients: Hart Hanson, David Simon, Mitchell Hurwitz, Greg Daniels, David Milch, Garry Shandling, David Chase, Tom Fontana, Darren Star, Mike Judge, Glenn Gordon Caron, and Gary David Goldberg.
Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking Award recipients: John Lasseter, Robert Rodriguez, Ron Howard, Danny Boyle, Oliver Stone and Sydney Pollack.
Extraordinary Contribution to Film – Acting Award recipient: Johnny Depp.
With the regular deadline for screenplays approaching next week on May 15th, I can only imagine the anxiety many of you are currently experiencing if you are planning on submitting. The typical neurotic questions that plague all writers are probably reaching a cacophony at this moment including: “Am I ready to send my baby out into the world?!”, “Will they like it?!!”, “Do I need …
With the regular deadline for screenplays approaching next week on May 15th, I can only imagine the anxiety many of you are currently experiencing if you are planning on submitting. The typical neurotic questions that plague all writers are probably reaching a cacophony at this moment including: “Am I ready to send my baby out into the world?!”, “Will they like it?!!”, “Do I need to do a 34th rewrite on my script?!!!” Unfortunately, these questions aren’t addressed in our Frequently Asked Questions page for the competition. However, you may be able to find answers to other questions and mitigate any other concerns you might have if you take a look at this page.
Lately, we’ve been receiving more and more calls and e-mails regarding the same questions. I’ve made a list of very frequently asked questions that may help you and make your submission process much easier.
Q: Do you accept international submissions?
- A: Yes we do! Each year we receive many submissions internationally including ones from Canada, Japan, and Ireland. Submissions, of course, must be written in the English language.
Q: I’m having issues submitting online and I keep getting an error message. What should I do?
- A: Due to possible high traffic on the website, you may need to wait a few minutes and try again. If you continue to have problems, try another web browser (Firefox or Explorer) or try submitting from a different computer. Double-check that the file is in a .pdf format and under 5MB. If you still cannot submit, contact the Screenplay Competition Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office at 512-478-4795.
Q: Did you receive my submission?
- A: As long as you paid through PayPal and have an e-mail receipt, then we have received your online entry form, script PDF, and payment. A separate e-mail confirmation from AFF is sent out at least within 5 business days. If you submitted through the mail, you will only receive confirmation if you included a SASE which we will send back to you.
Q: Who are this year’s judges?
- A: Many judges have already been confirmed and we will announce the list of confirmed judges very soon. Just a few already confirmed include Joyce San Pedro (Creative Executive for Alex Siskin and Escape Artists at Sony), Melissa Breaux (Manager, Washington Square Arts), Richard Bever (Co-President, Chill Entertainment), and Kyle Killen (showrunner, Awake and Lonestar).
Q: Do you accept scripts for animated features and television shows?
- A: Yes we do! Any teleplays for animated shows should be for primetime (i.e. The Simpsons, Family Guy, etc.).
Q: When are the deadlines?
- A: Postmarked or submitted online by Friday, June 1st 11:59PM PST ($50 for screenplay entries and $30 for teleplay entries). Regular screenplay submission closes on Tuesday, May 15th 11:59PM PST ($40 fee).
Read through the entire FAQ page if you have questions. If you don’t find the answer you are looking for, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at email@example.com or call our office at 512-478-4795.
If you’re submitting this year, you are taking a brave step in growing as a writer. You’ve got 8 days for the regular deadline and 25 days for the final deadline. Are you ready?
–Matt Dy, Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director
I recently read Gavin Polone’s article, “Who Really Determines the Fates of Aspiring Screenwriters?” If you haven’t read it yet, definitely take a look at his insightful piece. Gavin Polone is a film and television producer whose credits include Zombieland and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The titular question that Polone answers in his article got me thinking about the importance of screenplay competitions. With the current …
I recently read Gavin Polone’s article, “Who Really Determines the Fates of Aspiring Screenwriters?” If you haven’t read it yet, definitely take a look at his insightful piece. Gavin Polone is a film and television producer whose credits include Zombieland and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The titular question that Polone answers in his article got me thinking about the importance of screenplay competitions. With the current state of the studio system and the deluge of scripts in agency offices, it has become increasingly difficult for aspiring writers to break out. Winning or advancing in a screenplay competition may be more relevant than ever and could be what alters your fate as a writer.
With increasing numbers of submissions to agencies and production offices, it’s no surprise that the agents that Polone refers to don’t actually have the time to read everything. In screenplay competitions, EVERYTHING is read (or should be if you’re paying an entry fee). At AFF, each script is given careful consideration with each one read at least twice by two different readers before being eliminated. The readers we use are also carefully selected and interviewed in person and closely monitored during the reading process. In an agency or production office, it seems unlikely that there would be a consistent and efficient process for combing for quality material. Also, many screenplay competitions now provide constructive feedback for submissions which you almost never get from an agency.
Screenplay competitions have been around for a long time (AFF is now in its 19th year) and it’s nothing new that if you win or advance in a competition, the likelihood of your script moving up to the top of the stack in an agent’s office would be greater. Many success stories have come out recently from previous alumni of the AFF Screenplay Competition who are now signed with an agency or in production on their script. Some of those include:
- Christopher Cantwell, a 2010 Semifinalist, recently had his script “Off the Grid” optioned by Indian Paintbrush (Jeff Who Lives at Home). Christopher e-mailed me a few months ago to tell me that his current agent at ICM first reached out to him literally as his plane was landing upon returning from the AFF Conference. He credits this to placing in AFF. His script also ended up on the 2011 Black List.
- Julie Howe, the 2010 Comedy Screenplay Winner, signed an exclusive deal with Experience Media Studios last year to produce her screenplay, and has since expanded the team to include Sony Pictures Entertainment-based producers Alex Siskin (Big Daddy, Mr. Deeds) and Joyce San Pedro (an AFF judge and panelist).
- Rachel Long and Brian Pittman’s 2008 Finalist script “Stranded” was previously acquired by Rick Dugdale and Daniel Petrie Jr’s production company Enderby Entertainment (this year’s sponsored award judge). The project is currently set to go into production this June with Petrie set to direct.
Other screenplay competitions also have had great success in helping their writers. The BlueCat Screenplay Competition has had similar success with getting their top writers signed with top agencies. The Nicholl Fellowship of course has always had a great track record with their finalists and winners each year. Many of our previous winners have also been Nicholl winners including last year’s winner, Dion Cook, and the 2010 winner, Andrew Lanham. If you’ve got the funds, submit to as many competitions as you can.
Submitting to screenplay competitions is a great start but don’t stop there; create a webisode series, adapt your story into a book or stage play, or even take the initiative and shoot the script yourself. The bottom line is: if someone at an agency doesn’t take notice of your script, make them take notice. Or make them wish they had if you succeed elsewhere. At the end of Polone’s article, there is a silver lining when he states, “Fear not, since, in my experience, truly good writing always finds its way to the decision-makers…” It’s nice to know we can still remain optimistic.
–Matt Dy, Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director
At a staff meeting this afternoon, my colleagues and I started up a discussion about one of our co-workers seeing THE HUNGER GAMES last night. Upon letting us know that he teared up at one of the scenes, I instinctively blurted out “Oh my gosh, when the girl dies, right?!” I didn’t specify any characters, but the whole office reacted as if I told them …
At a staff meeting this afternoon, my colleagues and I started up a discussion about one of our co-workers seeing THE HUNGER GAMES last night. Upon letting us know that he teared up at one of the scenes, I instinctively blurted out “Oh my gosh, when the girl dies, right?!” I didn’t specify any characters, but the whole office reacted as if I told them one of our good friends died. Responses like “Did you really just say that?!” and “I can’t believe you gave it away!” were tossed my way.
Needless to say, I felt pretty bad, as I know how popular the books and now movie have been these past few months. But then, another thought popped into my mind: how important an ending is in a story. Even though we might not know a thing about a storyline or plot, we still love the thrill of going on the hero’s journey. As someone who recently saw the film, I knew nothing of the back story – I briefly knew about the plot, but I was otherwise in the dark. Nonetheless, I knew exactly how my friends felt when they thought I had revealed the end, as if it was pointless to even attempt to see the movie now.
In a way, the revelation of an ending to a film or book can be as disappointing as if someone told you how things would end up in your own life: you don’t want to know, because you want to experience it for yourself. I think this is why people often say, “Don’t tell me!” when the inkling of some part of a film is revealed, even if you have no interest in it. As writers, we should all take a note on how important an ending can and should be – you can either forever hold or lose an audience in just one moment. Michael Arndt gave a great discussion on writing endings this past festival, and gave some great tips on what makes a good ending. (One of the few panels that I truly wish I could have attended!)
I encourage all of you to check out not only our panels on writing endings, but any of our panels that can help further your writing process; there is always something for everyone at our Conference. Hopefully I will see you there… and I promise not to blurt out any plot points to movies I’ve recently seen, either.
- Marcie Mayhorn, AFF Office Manager