Guest Blog Entry
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.
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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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.”
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.
04.16.13 | 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.
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.
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.
To keep up with the latest AFF News and all AFF interviews and blogs, subscribe to our RSS Feed.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.