05.08.13 | Erin Hallagan Wednesday, May 22nd, join Austin Film Festival for A Conversation with David Magee, writer of LIFE OF PI and FINDING NEVERLAND. The conversation will focus on adaptation, writing for imaginative worlds, and using language to articulate enchanting stories that have been so beautifully translated to the screen. Following the conversation will be a retrospective screening of FINDING NEVERLAND and post-screening Q&A. …
05.08.13 | Erin Hallagan
Wednesday, May 22nd, join Austin Film Festival for A Conversation with David Magee, writer of LIFE OF PI and FINDING NEVERLAND. The conversation will focus on adaptation, writing for imaginative worlds, and using language to articulate enchanting stories that have been so beautifully translated to the screen. Following the conversation will be a retrospective screening of FINDING NEVERLAND and post-screening Q&A. We sat down with Magee beforehand for a pre-interview about how he broke into the industry and his advice to screenwriting students. To hear more from David Magee and to join us May 22nd, click here.
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL (AFF): What did you do professionally before you became a screenwriter and how did you break into the film industry?
MAGEE: I started as a theatre actor, having a great time and earning no money, and I supported myself by doing voiceover. I narrated several audiobooks, which are usually recorded in full length and abridged versions. One day I went in to a recording studio with an abridgment of a novel that was horribly done – it was unfair to the original writer to record it – and I said to the producer offhandedly that I could have done a better job abridging it. She asked if I wanted to give it a try. It turned out that abridging was a perfect job for an actor who needed time to go to auditions and to regional theatres, and in the next five years I wrote abridgments of 85 books. Without intending it, I got incredible training in story structure. Toward the end of that period I began writing for the stage, which led to my opportunity to write FINDING NEVERLAND.
AFF: How does your experience as a theatre actor influence your writing style?
MAGEE: When I write dialogue, I am essentially performing the characters in my head, and thanks to my acting background, I know when a bit of dialogue gives an actor something they can sink their teeth into and when something sounds good on paper but can’t be said with a straight face.
AFF: On LIFE OF PI, what was your collaboration with Ang Lee like? How closely was he involved in the adaptation/writing process?
MAGEE: I worked very closely with Ang throughout the writing process. In the initial stages, I would write notes, sketch scenes, and so on. Once a week or so send what I had over to Ang and then join him in New York for lunch and an afternoon of throwing ideas around, then I’d head back home for another week of writing. Once we had a first draft, Ang began working with computer animators to plan out the filming of the sea adventure, essentially designing the film shot by shot. As I watched his visual ideas unfold, I revised the script to reflect what he was doing, and he changed the animation as the script evolved as well. I was in Taiwan for all of pre-production. Once the filming began I headed home – the script didn’t change at all during filming, which was a highly technical process that took place primarily in a wave tank – but when the editing process began, Ang invited me back regularly to tweak voiceovers and throw in my two cents worth on the process.
AFF: Initially you thought the novel was not filmmable. How did you make it work and how much research did you do?
MAGEE: Well, all of us made it work. Ten years ago, when the book came out, I couldn’t imagine how you could possibly film a real tiger and animals in a boat with a teenager, and the technology to create such amazing visual effects simply didn’t exist. I also didn’t imagine a studio would have had the guts to take on what I knew would have been an expensive and difficult film to make with no stars and an ambiguous ending. And if Ang hadn’t been directing, I don’t think I would have ever taken on the project myself four years ago – without a director of his caliber I don’t think it would have mattered what I wrote. My challenge was to tell a story about religious and philosophical issues that took place primarily in the mind of a teenage boy as he floated across the ocean in a lifeboat, and finding the actions that made his internal struggle visible onscreen, and the short answer to how I made my part of the process work was through a lot of trial and error, constant rewrites and input from a team of incredibly talented filmmakers.
Research was an essential part of the writing process. When I began I knew next to nothing about India, Hinduism, and even lifeboats for that matter. Early on, Ang and I met with Steven Callahan, a sailor who wrote a book called “Adrift” about his real life experience floating across the Atlantic in a five-foot round inflatable lifeboat. His stories about the ways in which the journey changed him physically and emotionally became an essential part of the story, and in fact Steve became our Survival Expert on the film, charting the exact journey through the ocean Pi would have taken, where he would have landed on the beach, where the island would have been located and so on. We also traveled through India to all the locations in the book before I had begun writing, and one of our associate producers, Jean Castelli, became our research expert on religious issues, prayers, different forms of Indian dance and the like. In a film with so many wondrous elements, you have to fully ground your story in the real to make the journey believable.
AFF: How did you decide what went into the film’s interpretation of the open-ended conclusion?
MAGEE: From the very beginning of the writing process, Ang and I saw this film not so much about religion as being about how different narratives help us get through the ordeals of our lives. A Hindu, a Christian, and an atheist can watch the same events unfold and come to different conclusions about the hidden forces at work beneath it all – but they all rely on a narrative to understand what they’ve witnessed. We didn’t want to force any one conclusion upon our audience, we simply wanted them to see the ways in which different views of the same story can add up to a larger view of our journey through life. Ideally, you own interpretation of what really happened to Pi on that boat says more about your world view than it says about what conclusions we wanted you to take from the ending.
AFF: Who are some of your favorite playwrights or screenwriters?
MAGEE: I’m going to stick with dead writers, because while I love a lot of writers working today, I also know a lot of them, and I don’t want to forget anyone or offend someone by not mentioning them. So… Shakespeare, Harold Pinter, Arthur Miller, Joe Mankiewicz, Billy Wilder, Ernest Lehman, Preston Sturges, Philip Barry, Tennessee Williams, Frank Capra, Frank Pierson and while he wasn’t a screenwriter, exactly, Buster Keaton. And I still feel bad that I left dozens of others off the list.
AFF: What do you find yourself telling your screenwriting students most? Any advice for up-and-coming writers?
MAGEE: The number one bit of advice I have is that if you keep showing up, if you keep working at your craft, if you always do just a little more than you’re asked and take your work far more seriously than you take yourself, eventually you will get your chance. It may be a small chance, and it may take many more chances along the way to get to your ultimate goal, but a door will crack open somewhere, and all that matters then is whether or not you’re prepared to step through it.
Austin Film Festival’s “Conversations in Film” program was created in 2007 and is sponsored by The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences®. It is a year-round series of film seminars and script readings that provide the public with the unique experience to meet and work with local and visiting filmmakers.
Monday, May 6th brings the close of this year’s Austin Film Festival Audience Award Series. One of our favorite year round event series, these “Best of Fest” screenings give the Austin community a second chance at seeing AFF’s Audience Award favorites. Our last screening in the series, SPINNING PLATES will take place on Monday, May 6th at 7:00 the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Writer/Director Joseph Levy will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A but AFF sat down with him beforehand for a pre-interview.
05.01.13 | Bears Fonté
Monday, May 6th brings the close of this year’s Austin Film Festival Audience Award Series. One of our favorite year round event series, these “Best of Fest” screenings give the Austin community a second chance at seeing AFF’s Audience Award favorites. Our last screening in the series, SPINNING PLATES will take place on Monday, May 6th at 7:00 the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Writer/Director Joseph Levy will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A but AFF sat down with him beforehand for a pre-interview. For more information on the screening, click here.
Austin Film Festival: Your film follows three restauranteers and various stages of their restaurant’s development. How did you find them and how did you know you had the right people to focus the film around?
Joseph Levy: Alinea was the easiest find since I already knew Grant Achatz. In 2003, I made a Food Network show called Into the Fire that looked behind-the-scenes at some of the nation’s most renowned restaurants. At the time, Grant was the executive chef of Trio, just outside of Chicago. The dinner I had at Trio was the most incredible dining experience of my life (only to be surpassed by later experiences at Alinea), and at 29-years-old, Grant was a fascinating, driven character. Several years later, he opened Alinea, which was soon named the best restaurant in the nation. Two years after that, Grant would receive a diagnosis thrusting him into a fight for his life. Grant is one of the most interesting and brilliant people I have ever met, and I really wanted to tell his story.
Breitbach’s Country Dining involves a much larger cast and is about the incredible relationship between a restaurant and a town. I had never heard of Breitbach’s prior to 2010, but I knew the basic blueprint I was looking for. I was looking for something like a particular restaurant I grew up with in Corpus Christi, Texas, called Andy’s Country Kitchen – a place where everybody seemed to know everyone else and the color of your collar didn’t matter. It was a place where community just happened around food. But Corpus has about 300,000 people and I wanted to find a place where the stakes were higher – where the restaurant was the heart of the town. Because of their 150-year-old history and some of the things that the restaurant and the town went through that are talked about in the film, it wasn’t long before I found myself in Balltown, Iowa – a town of about 70 with a restaurant that seats 400 that on some weekends serves 2000. But at the center of this family-owned legacy is a very special and beautiful relationship with its community, and an amazing story of how that relationship was put to the test. Breitbach’s was everything I was looking for and more.
The third restaurant, La Cocina de Gabby, was a very hard find and took months of searching. I knew the story I wanted to tell – an ethnic restaurant run by owners who came to the U.S. in search of the American Dream. I also knew that I wanted the drama driving their story to be incredibly true. Most of the drama that people know of the food world today comes from what’s shown on television – screaming chefs and mystery basket competitions. I have nothing against that programming, but it’s entertainment… it’s manufactured and it’s an incomplete picture. This is the story of a couple trying to save their home from foreclosure and keep their family together while providing for their 3-year-old daughter. I feel it’s a very important story to tell because it’s incredibly prevalent and a very real snapshot of a part of the restaurant world that doesn’t get shown. So how do you find a restaurant that’s struggling because not many people know about it? After many food trips to different cities (one in particular comes to mind in San Diego that involved eating at 8 restaurants in 8 hours) and hours of searching on the internet for restaurants with only enough presence that I could find them, I found La Cocina de Gabby. I got on a plane to Tucson the next day, got to the restaurant in time for lunch, took in the atmosphere (and food) for an hour, and then finally introduced myself to the owner. Within minutes he was baring his soul to me with his wife and daughter at his side, and there was no question in my mind that this was the restaurant for the film.
AFF: Food is so ‘hot’ right now on television, and obviously made a great subject for your film. Why do you think America is so obsessed with chefs, celebrity chefs and food culture right now?
Levy: Food is universal. Everyone eats. And for the most part, even people who don’t consider themselves ‘foodies’ or food-lovers might have an unforgettable memory of a meal their grandmother once cooked for them when they were young. We can superimpose emotion upon food, much like music. Just as one might remember the first song they danced to with their spouse, they probably remember the first meal they ever shared. Food is familiar… food is comfort… food is love.
But suddenly, in the last decade or so, food is sexy… trendy. And whereas before, a great cookie recipe would make you incredibly popular at your family’s holiday party, now it can win you a baking competition, make you a TV star, get you a new career and get you a hundred thousand followers on twitter.
But most of all, food is fun. Almost everyone loves eating out. And now finding the newest great restaurant is something that’s almost become a sort of online community sport. But at the end of the day, whether it’s a bowl of tomato soup from mom or a lobster mac & cheese empanada from a trendy pop-up, we love being nurtured through food.
AFF: Shooting a documentary always involves collecting far more film than you could ever use to catch the right moments. Was there anything you left out of the final edit of the film that you found to be really interesting? In the end, why did you cut it?
Levy: Truthfully, our total footage shot is unbelievably low. We were very surgical and very conservative – drilled in on story from day one. But I do have about 5 hours of the most fascinating interview footage with Grant Achatz. Probably less than 10 minutes of it made it into the film. I’ve always thought I could have just released that interview and called it a day.
AFF: Many people have said that documentary films are more popular now than ever before. Do you think that’s true? Why or why not?
Levy: I think docs are perhaps more accessible than ever before. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that they watch countless documentaries on Netflix. And I imagine the audience has grown substantially as a lot of people who once thought of documentaries as sterile, academic films have eventually come to think of the genre as being just as entertaining as narrative.
AFF: Our film competition is running right now, with a late deadline of July 15th. There are probably many doc and doc short filmmakers putting the final touches on their film right now. Any advice for them?
Levy: As a life-long musician and film-scoring major, music was critical to me from the start. I spent about a month putting the temp score together and was fortunate enough to get a spectacular score from an amazing composer – Ed Shearmur. If I had any advice for those last few months, it would be to make sure the score isn’t just accompanying the film, but really taking it to a higher level.
AFF: Bonus question: it’s you last meal before a 1 year oatmeal smoothie fast. What do you want?
Levy: I’d go to a great food city and have a multi-hour, multi-restaurant progressive dinner throughout the city, eating a little of every type of food. I also call this “research.”
For more information on SPINNING PLATES, to watch the trailer, or for tickets, click here.
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AFF Interview: Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy discuss their new Netflix Original Series: Hemlock Grove
04.17.13 | Erin Hallagan This week AFF has been bringing you our favorite TV pilots and how they’ve impacted our love for television. In today’s AFF Interview, we sit down with AFF Alum Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy to discuss their new Netflix Original Series Hemlock Grove and the shift they see in the future of television. AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL (AFF): What was your relationship …
04.17.13 | Erin Hallagan
This week AFF has been bringing you our favorite TV pilots and how they’ve impacted our love for television. In today’s AFF Interview, we sit down with AFF Alum Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy to discuss their new Netflix Original Series Hemlock Grove and the shift they see in the future of television.
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL (AFF): What was your relationship before you started working on this project? When did you start collaborating? What is your process like as writing partners?
SHIPMAN: Brian and I started writing together after meeting in graduate school in Austin in 2004 and discovering we shared the same peculiar, often downright deviant, sensibilities. Finding the right writing partner is as difficult and rare as finding the right romantic partner, especially one into all that dirty business.
MCGREEVY: We were in the same graduate program (the Michener Center for Writers) and fast friends. We became screenwriting partners out of both mutual respect and mutual laziness: it was half the work!
AFF: Brian, the show is based on your novel. Did you always intend to turn it into a script, and if so, how did this affect the writing style in your novel? How did you both approach the adaption process and how much does the show diverge from the novel?
MCGREEVY: The novel, during the writing, was its own beast. Naturally I would daydream to some extent what an adaptation would look like, but as someone who works in different media I’m an advocate of focus: concentrate on the step you’re currently taking, not the one five down the line.
AFF: What makes Hemlock Grove different from other supernatural shows?
SHIPMAN: As much as we love the genre, we consider ourselves drama writers not horror writers. There is a supernatural element to our show, but to quote Joseph Conrad, “The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; Man alone is quite capable of every wickedness.” It’s a theme that runs through a lot of our work: the more civilized we think we are, the more we forget we’re all just animals — and will be grimly reminded of that.
Preparatory to shooting, our producing-director Deran Sarafian hosted weekly screenings of our favorites in the genre, and invariably they fell under the largely gore-free sub-genre of Psychological Horror: Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy, etc. It’s what we’re interested in and the only real way to sustain a series like this. That said, we don’t give a fuck who we kill.
AFF: How did Eli Roth become involved with this project? What was it like working with him?
MCGREEVY: We interviewed potential producers in the spring of 2011, and really connected with Eric Newman, who is Eli’s producing partner. Everyone agreed on the best direction to take the material, and by the end of the year the deal was in place.
AFF: All 13 episodes will be released at once on Netflix. Did this affect the way you designed/organized your first season? Does it make the writing process more exciting or frustrating? How do you anticipate this release platform affecting the future of television?
MCGREEVY: It is the future of television.
SHIPMAN: One of the more remarkable and atypical advantages of the full series order and our schedule of production was that we were able to write almost the entire season before we shot a single frame. Rather than scrambling week to week, we had the rare opportunity to take our time and craft this story into what can almost be looked at as a 13 hour movie. For two guys coming out of the features world, it was an intuitive model and quite forward-thinking on the part of Netflix.
I think what they’re doing is the future of TV. Just as we were looking to get into that world we saw the House of Cards announcement and knew immediately we wanted to jump in bed with them.
AFF: What are some advantages with Netflix releasing all 13 episodes all at once? Disadvantages?
MCGREEVY: I see no disadvantages, frankly. Traditional television holds no interest for me, and the direction things are going is being dictated by the audience, myself included. I haven’t personally owned a TV since 2008.
SHIPMAN: I haven’t had a TV in a while, so almost exclusively binge watch on a laptop. The traditional model will only continue to fracture and evolve, and as both a writer and viewer I toast it.
Watch the latest trailer for Hemlock Grove here: (warning, NSFW)
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04.10.13| Bears Fonté On Monday April 15, Austin Film Festival debuts its brand new AFF INDIE SPIRIT SERIES with the film VIRTUALLY HEROES, an action comedy from Executive Producer Roger Corman. AFF Alum G.J. Echternkamp (2011’s CAPTAIN FORK) directed the film, a meta-narrative about two Vietnam War soldiers who realize their never-ending mission is actually a video game that systematically regenerates. Echternkamp will be in …
04.10.13| Bears Fonté
On Monday April 15, Austin Film Festival debuts its brand new AFF INDIE SPIRIT SERIES with the film VIRTUALLY HEROES, an action comedy from Executive Producer Roger Corman. AFF Alum G.J. Echternkamp (2011’s CAPTAIN FORK) directed the film, a meta-narrative about two Vietnam War soldiers who realize their never-ending mission is actually a video game that systematically regenerates. Echternkamp will be in attendance for the screening at the Texas Spirit Theatre at the Bob Bullock, but AFF had a chance to ask him a few questions about the film before his arrival.
Austin Film Festival: Virtually Heroes had a very different path to the cinema. Can you tell us a bit about where the idea came from and how you went about it?
G.J. Echternkamp: Roger Corman has quite a few Vietnam action movies in his vaults from the late 80′s and early 90′s. He approached me with the idea to shoot a new, extremely low-budget picture using as many of the action scenes from those films as possible. Our initial script was a fairly straight-forward thing, but Roger rejected it, wanting a hook that would make the film more relevant to today’s audiences. Somewhere along the way we came up with the idea to make the film set in a video game like “Call of Duty”. Not only would it be more entertaining, it would allow us to re-use the old footage in a more thematic, almost comical way, letting the audience in on the fact we were obviously recycling scenes.
Our writer came up with a script based around the setups in the other movies, and I went ahead and edited them all together, to have a sense of how the new footage would have to be shot to intercut with the stock. Ultimately it was very complicated, as the backdrops, eyelines, color correction, and so on had to be very carefully thought out for the editing to not seem completely jarring (or ridiculous).
The final product is admittedly a little ridiculous! But hopefully in a good way.
AFF: What’s Roger Corman like to work with?
GJE: Roger is intimidating as hell. He’s extremely smart and extremely to the point. But the great part is that once he signed off on the script he trusted me enough to let me shoot it with no interference whatsoever. It’s definitely not easy making an action film with very little money, but having that creative freedom made it all worthwhile.
AFF: We’re you a big Corman fan before? What are some of your favorite films of his and why?
GJE: I was very much a Corman fan. I definitely like the classics; LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, BUCKET OF BLOOD, THE TRIP, etc. But I love the Edgar Allen Poe movies he directed, which less people seem to talk about. THE MASQUE OF RED DEATH really stands out to me as a great film that transcends its B-Movie origins.
AFF: Our Earlybird Film Deadline is coming up (May 1st). You’ve certainly got a lot of experience playing the festival circuit with your films. What sort of advice can you offer a filmmaker starting that journey?
GJE: Well, I guess the biggest advice I could give is to understand that it’s is a very long journey. You have to keep making projects and keep putting them out there for as long as it takes. When I started I had some magical idea that you make a student film and you screen at Sundance and then you get signed and suddenly you’re directing the next STAR WARS. Bottom line, that’s stupid. For every Wes Anderson there’s a thousand other filmmakers who don’t find that level of success until they are much, much older. And that’s fine. Every little thing you do will slowly pay off down the road, even if you can’t see it at the time.
AFF: What are you working on next?
GJE: I’m in pre-production for an adaptation of a documentary I made back in 2008 called Frank & Cindy. We hope to get things off the ground very quickly to shoot in June. If that doesn’t work out, who knows? I’ve been talking to Roger about directing the sequel to Sharktopus….
VIRTUALLY HEROES plays Monday, April 15th at 7 pm at the Texas Spirit Theatre at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum located at 1800 Congress Ave, 78701. Tickets are $5 for AFF Members and $8 for the general public and available here.
04.03.2013 | Erin Hallagan In anticipation for our Wednesday, April 10th Conversation with Brian Helgeland and Advance Screening of his new film 42, Austin Film Festival sat down with Brian for a sneak peak on his thoughts on screenwriting, filmmaking, and his research and process. Joins us Wendesday for a Conversation with Brian Helgeland where we will discuss his career, inspirations, and advice for writers, …
04.03.2013 | Erin Hallagan
In anticipation for our Wednesday, April 10th Conversation with Brian Helgeland and Advance Screening of his new film 42, Austin Film Festival sat down with Brian for a sneak peak on his thoughts on screenwriting, filmmaking, and his research and process. Joins us Wendesday for a Conversation with Brian Helgeland where we will discuss his career, inspirations, and advice for writers, particularly sharing his experience on directing his own scripts. For more information on the Conversation, and for tickets, click here.
AFF: You are originally from the Northeast and were a fisherman before you became a screenwriter and filmmaker. What made you decide to start writing screenplays?
Brian Helgeland: I was in a bookstore in between fishing trips in 1984 looking for something to read on the boat. I have been reading voraciously since I can remember. I had graduated a year before from college with a degree in English. I couldn’t find a job and as the only male member of my family who had never been to sea… I went to sea. Browsing through the store, a ‘Guide to Film School’ book caught my eye. I loved movies, but I literally had no idea you could go to school to learn how to make them. My second, cold winter of fishing was coming up; I had saved some decent money, and I cashed it in for the warmth of Los Angeles.
AFF: You’ve said before that you don’t like to call yourself a screenwriter. Why do you prefer the term filmmaker?
BH: I prefer filmmaker because that is what I am. If I wanted to write for a living I’d be a novelist. But I want to make movies; therefore I am a filmmaker. Screenwriting is just my end of it. I consider film editors to be filmmakers. Editing is just their end of it. If only the director is a filmmaker, then what are the cinematographer, the costume designer and the rest of us doing?
AFF: What excites you the most about writing a screenplay?
BH: The best part of writing a screenplay is full immersion. When I am working on a script, I don’t leave the house, I barely speak on the phone, I work seven days a week until it is done. It’s often frustrating and confounding, but I get to make a world, populate it and live in it, as imperfect as it might be.
AFF: How much research do you usually do before writing a screenplay?
BH: I do an inordinate amount of research. I try to read anything and everything I can get my hands on if it relates to what I am doing. There is no substitute. You cannot be smarter or know more than the actual reality of something. The key is when you think you finally know, then read one more book to make sure. And then another after that. I also interview people if it is appropriate for the story. When I was doing MAN ON FIRE with Tony Scott we spent a week in Mexico City simply interviewing people who had been kidnapped, families of kidnap victims, ransom negotiators, police experts and even former kidnap gang members. When you see the process shown in the film it is all real. On ’42′, besides the plethora of books available that touch upon the Dodgers 1947 season, I had the good fortune of being able to talk with Jackie’s widow Rachel and with former teammate Ralph Branca directly. Research becomes the breadcrumbs others have dropped before you to help lead you where you’re going.
AFF: How does your writing and process differ when you know that someone else will direct your work compared to when you direct the film yourself?
BH: My scripts are longer if I write for another director. I need to make what I am getting at clearer and easier to understand. The scripts I write that I direct are always 10 pages shorter.
AFF: 42 is based on a true story. What did you enjoy most about writing this screenplay? What were some of the challenges and benefits in writing something based on true events?
BH: In ‘A Knight’s Tale’ the character of William accuses Chaucer of lying. Chaucer’s reactive response is, “I’m a writer; I give the truth scope!” The trickiest thing for a screenwriter working on bringing to life a true story is to do their best not to lie. In ’42′ I tried my absolute best to document every major scene in the film. In fact, there is only one scene I made up and I felt I had enough circumstantial evidence to do so. Of course, ‘the truth’ can always be pushed left or right, but I did my best to avoid that as well. My job was to dramatize and structure so that, hopefully, the truth of two years of a man’s life could be boiled down to two hours.
Favorite moment/experience in making 42?
BH: The day Hank Aaron visited set, watched 20 minutes of footage and told me he thought I got it right.
Who are some screenwriters/filmmakers that have influenced your work?
BH: I am a big admirer of screenwriters who traded in their pen for the director’s chair. John Huston, Richard Brooks, Frank Pierson, Walter Hill. All bare knuckled directors who started out as bare knuckled screenwriters.
03.26.2013 | Bears Fonté This April Fool’s Day Austin Film Festival is bringing back one of the most talked about films of last year’s fest, the Narrative Feature Audience Award Winner JUNK, a behind-the-scenes satire of the film festival world. JUNK plays at 7 pm on Monday, April 1st at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Two B-movie co-writers, Kaveh and Raul, must reconcile after their long-languishing …
03.26.2013 | Bears Fonté
This April Fool’s Day Austin Film Festival is bringing back one of the most talked about films of last year’s fest, the Narrative Feature Audience Award Winner JUNK, a behind-the-scenes satire of the film festival world. JUNK plays at 7 pm on Monday, April 1st at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Two B-movie co-writers, Kaveh and Raul, must reconcile after their long-languishing film, ISLAMA-RAMA 2, finally makes its festival debut. Negotiating their way through pushy agents, brutish bodyguards, cutthroat colleagues, prima donna actors, and overly eager festival volunteers, the former friends piece together absurd horror film pitches for a mysterious speaker keynoting the film festival. JUNK is a ridiculous comedy about friendship, love, and crappy movies. For more information about the screening, and for tickets, click here.
Writer/Director/Star Kevin Hamedani will be in attendance at the screening, but AFF Director of Programming Bears Fonté e-sat down with him to discuss his film and experience making it.
AFF: Junk is about taking a film out on the Film Festival Circuit. What inspired the idea and how much of the film is based on things you saw happen/heard about?
Kevin Hamedani: After spending a year traveling the country to film festivals with my first feature, ZMD: ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION (2009), I got inspired to make a movie about the crazy, wild and surreal world of film festivals. It’s a strange, fun and at times, frustrating environment ripe with funny and interesting characters, scenarios, scenes, etc… The film is about 50% based on my own experiences and 50% completely fictionalized. I never wanted to make an autobiographical movie. My goal was to make a funny, poignant movie about bromance while capturing the strange world of film festivals.
AFF: You came to Austin Film Festival in 2009 with ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION, how was 2012 different?
KH: Honestly, not that much different. I had a great time both years. The main difference was the fact that Bears Fonté wasn’t there in 2009 and he’s a great addition to the festival. We had a wonderful time together.
I guess the other difference would be the fact that we won the Audience Award which made this year’s experience a bit more sweeter.
AFF: Is there any part of your 2009 AFF Experience in JUNK? What?
KH: Yes. There is a particular scene in JUNK when the two leads sneak off into the alley way during the screening of their movie and come up with a new movie pitch. In JUNK, the pitch is “Gremlins 3″ but in real life, it was actually JUNK. That’s where we came up with the idea so we decided to write that scene in.
The fun BBQ was very much based on AFF’s awesome BBQ party. We tried to capture that vibe.
AFF: You and your writing partner live on opposite sides of the country, how does that work?
KH: It’s very hard and I don’t recommend it but we manage. Lots of long phone calls.
AFF: You co-wrote this script, then directed it and starred in it. Are you crazy?
KH: Yes and I don’t recommend it. Only if you MUST play the role yourself. But doing all three with a low budget isn’t the best way to make an independent movie.
AFF: What was the hardest scene to film as a director/actor?
KH: The hardest scenes to direct were the ones involving a group of extras simply because we couldn’t afford that many so I had to spend time using tricks to make it look like the festival was packed with attendees.
AFF: Brett Davern from MTV’s Awkward is in JUNK. How did he get involved and how was he to work with?
KH: We actually grew up together and did stage in Seattle together for years. He starred in the first play I wrote and directed in Seattle. We’ve been trying to find a project to work together on and Billy is a great character for him.
AFF: OK Go has a bunch of songs and even appears in the film. How did that come about?
KH: A friend gave me their album while we were writing JUNK and Ramon and I just started listening to it over and over again, while finishing the script. During this time, we’d take a break and have lunch down the street in North Hollywood at this cafe every day. One day we realized the gentleman sitting next to us was the drummer for OK Go. So I approached him and he was kind enough to pass the script along to the rest of the band.
AFF: Our Screenplay deadline is coming up (May 1st, Late Deadline June 1st). Any advice on how to do one last polish on your screenplay?
KH: Do a live reading if you can. Get some actors to read parts in front of a small audience (not just your group of friends) but strangers who might be more objective and honest. Ask the hard questions, take the notes and don’t send off your script unless you are sure that every sentence, every line of dialog, every beat, works. You can’t polish a turd, and if you don’t have a great script you’ll never have a good movie.
AFF: Your film is full of crazy pitches. What’s the worst idea you’ve ever come up with? How far did you get on it?
KH: The worst idea we ever had was to remake Waxwork (1988). We got really far with it, made a pitch video, look book, the whole deal. We went to the high ups at Lionsgate and did an in person pitch. It’s a terrible idea but could actually make for an awesome movie…. if that makes sense.
Every first Monday at the Alamo Village, AFF will bring one of its Audience Award-winning films back to town, along with the filmmakers who made them, to showcase the very best in independent filmmaking. From humor to horror, docs to narrative, there will be something for everyone, and, as always, each film represents Austin Film Festival’s mission to emphasize the art and craft of screenwriting and engaging cinematic storytelling.
To keep up with the latest AFF News and all AFF interviews and blogs, subscribe to our RSS Feed.
03.20.2013 In anticipation of the Launching Your Writing Career panel in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 30th, we interviewed three of the panelists included in the discussion. The interview features Greg Beal, Director of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting; Franklin Leonard, Founder of The Black List; and AFF Screenplay Competition Director Matt Dy. For more information about the upcoming event, click here. Q: …
In anticipation of the Launching Your Writing Career panel in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 30th, we interviewed three of the panelists included in the discussion. The interview features Greg Beal, Director of the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting; Franklin Leonard, Founder of The Black List; and AFF Screenplay Competition Director Matt Dy. For more information about the upcoming event, click here.
Q: What do you consider a strong story?
GREG: For me, Graham Parker’s song title “Passion Is No Ordinary Word” should apply to every story. If the writer truly cares about her story, her characters and the moments of true feeling she’s conveying, it appears on the page and on screen. If she can make her characters live and laugh and survive, then I have the opportunity to live through them, feel with them and learn from them.
FRANKLIN: A beginning, middle, and end that keeps the audience interested in what happens next, elicits emotion of some sort of emotion (anything from fear to laughter to awe to sadness), and lives the audience viewing some aspect of their lives – no matter how small – differently than they did before being exposed to it.
MATT: A strong story is one that takes you on a journey without realizing it. When you’re reading a truly engaging script, the words fly off the page and you’re anxious to get to the next scene rather than thumbing through to see how many pages you have left. It’s easier said than done but it’s what every writer should strive for.
Q: What common mistakes do you find when you read a script?
GREG: If we’re talking about well written screenplays featuring intriguing characters and strong dialogue, then the missing ingredient is all too often conflict. Solid but inexperienced writers often suffer from following story templates and guru advice too slavishly, which can suck the life out of a script. If you’re referring to weaker scripts, then the problems run the gamut from poor writing to weak craft and execution to a lack of structure to all too little story.
FRANKLIN: The main (and biggest) mistake a writer can make is forgetting the human element. Emotional resonance, regardless of the genre, is the thing that will distinguish a screenplay (or any sort of storytelling or art more generally.)
MATT: I second Greg in that not establishing conflict is the most common problem with a lot of scripts. Conflict is what drives a story and moves it forward. Without conflict or greater stakes, there is no story. Also, a lot of first-time screenwriters will direct too much in their scripts and include long blocks of scene descriptions. Screenplays are considered the blueprint for a film but it still needs to leave room for the director’s vision.
Q: What’s the best advice you would give to a writer hoping to advance in a competition or make it on The Black List?
GREG: Submit your best work. Prior to uploading your script and paying the entry fee: Read the rules. Make sure you’re submitting an eligible and appropriate script for a particular competition. If you have questions about a competition, shoot an email to its administrators. Don’t trust everything you hear about competitions from online screenwriting forum “experts.”
FRANKLIN: I’m going to paraphrase Hayao Miyazaki’s definition of a popular movie: write something that is “full of true human emotion, no matter how base. The entrance should be low and wide so that everyone can be welcomed in. The exit should be high and purified. It shouldn’t be something that emphasizes or enlarges the lowness.”
MATT: Write something that truly stands out. Write the most daring and uninhibited story you can think of and in the most cinematic way that can draw in an audience. There isn’t a dearth of screenwriters in Hollywood so what the industry needs and is looking for is the next great original voice. Screenplay competitions hope to infuse the industry with new, exciting talent so you should do whatever you can to stand out.
Q: Could you share some success stories?
GREG: We have plenty, but let’s focus on the immediate. Destin Cretton’s “Short Term 12,” which he directed from his 2010 Nicholl Fellowship-winning script, just premiered at SXSW. 2002 fellow Creighton Rothenberg co-wrote “Olympus Has Fallen,” opening in theaters on March 22. 2012 fellow James DiLapo recently signed a two-script deal with Warner Bros. Jason Micallef wrote “Butter,” which opened theatrically in the fall of 2012 after being the opening night film at the 2011 Austin Film Festival; “Butter” was Jason’s 2008 fellowship-winning script. 1992 fellow Andrew Marlowe is the creator and executive producer of the ABC series “Castle.” 1999 fellow Rebecca Sonnenshine is an executive story editor on the WB series “The Vampire Diaries.” 2003 fellow James Mottern is currently in post-production on “God Only Knows,” which he directed. 1998 fellow Karen Moncrieff is currently in post-production on “The Trials of Cate McCall,” which she wrote and directed.
FRANKLIN: The annual Black List has seen its share of success stories, though it’s important to clarify that those who made the movies deserve the credit for the films themselves. It is worth noting however that over 250 scripts on the first seven years of the Black List have been produced. Those films have made over $16 billion in worldwide box office, been nominated for 159 Academy Awards and won 30 of them. Three of the last five Best Pictures were Black List scripts, as were seven of the last twelve screenwriting Oscars. As for the new platform, in just over five months, more than a dozen writers have already found representation with major agencies or management companies. I also believe we’re now up to a half a dozen script sales/options, and one writer – whose name I can’t yet reveal – just closed a two script blind deal at a major studio.
MATT: Several of our top writers placing even in the Second Round (top 10%) have found great success after advancing. 2010 Finalist Christopher Cantwell had his script “Halt & Catch Fire” (co-written with partner Chris Rogers) ordered by AMC as one of four projects this year to go to pilot, with filming slated to begin this year. Appearing on the 2012 Black List are 2011 Comedy Screenplay Winner Max Taxe for his winning script “Goodbye, Felix Chester” and 2012 Drama Finalist Austin Reynolds for “From New York to Florida”. 2010 Comedy Winner Julie Howe currently has her winning script “Jasper Milliken” in development with Sony-based Zhiv Productions. Julie will also participate in the panel discussion in LA. 2010 Second Rounder Lee Hoverd had his script “Ex-Men” optioned by Mike Fry (“Over the Hedge”) after hearing Lee’s pitch as a judge in the annual Pitch Competition during the Conference. Kevin Miller, 2010 Comedy Finalist, signed with manager Peter Meyer through a relationship that began at AFF and his script “Mother’s Day” was quickly optioned after placing in AFF by Sony producer Harry Gittes (About Schmidt). VJ Boyd, 2008 Teleplay Finalist, is currently a staff writer on the FX show Justified.
Q: What is the best script you’ve read or best film you’ve seen lately?
GREG: I still have some catching up to do from awards season but I really enjoyed “Argo” and “Lincoln.” Given my daughter’s love of all things animation, I have to mention “Wreck-It Ralph,” which was wonderful and unexpectedly moving. I recently watched four seasons of “Breaking Bad,” two seasons of “Sherlock” and the first season of “House of Lies” and was impressed by those achievements. And whenever I run across “Lawrence of Arabia” on TCM, and I can’t stop watching.
FRANKLIN: Best film I’ve seen lately: THE INTOUCHABLES, if only for Omar Sy’s performance.
MATT: I have two favorite films from last year: “Moonrise Kingdom” for its pure joy and originality and “Perks of Being a Wallflower” for its simple yet eloquent writing. I also read the scripts for both and I particularly loved the interactive storybook version of the script for “Moonrise Kingdom” released by the studio.
Q: Screenplay competitions are obviously not the only way a writer can break in. What other ways can a writer get attention?
GREG: Making short and feature films independently. Working on other filmmakers’ independent shorts and features. Working in Hollywood at an agency, production or managerial company. Working on film and television productions when they shoot in your region. Attending film festivals and screenwriting conferences. Attending film school. Connecting with college alumni in film and television and asking for advice. Targeting well-selected agents and managers with query emails, letters and phone calls. Et cetera. Finally, be persistent – and most importantly, keep writing new screenplays.
FRANKLIN: The Black List (http://www.blcklst.com)
MATT: Writing is such an isolated craft that the mere sound of the word “networking” can make any recluse screenwriter shudder. It’s so important though to meet and work with the right people that can help get your script made or get you hired for a project. I recommend joining a writer’s group and attending screenwriter’s conferences (like AFF of course!) to build a strong network of friends and collaborators. While it’s not entirely necessary, consider working in LA if you’re not already. Get a job working at an agency, production company, or TV studio. In the land of feature films, screenwriters don’t always get their due credit but in the world of TV, the writer is king (or queen). A lot of TV writers get hired to write features. And of course, keep writing and stay persistent.
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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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Next week at the Alamo Drafthouse Village, Austin Film Festival will present AFF’s Best of Fest (Shorts 2012) as part of our monthly Audience Award Series. This evening of award-winning shorts from last year’s festival includes two Oscar-nominated films and Animated, Documentary and Narrative shorts all together in one program. Bears Fonté, Director of Programming, sat down (or e-sat down actually) with a few of …
Next week at the Alamo Drafthouse Village, Austin Film Festival will present AFF’s Best of Fest (Shorts 2012) as part of our monthly Audience Award Series. This evening of award-winning shorts from last year’s festival includes two Oscar-nominated films and Animated, Documentary and Narrative shorts all together in one program. Bears Fonté, Director of Programming, sat down (or e-sat down actually) with a few of the filmmakers to discuss their films and their take on being a Shorts Filmmaker.
Bears, AFF: What do you consider a strong story?
Zach Endres, Writer/Director THE TELEPORTED MAN: “The strongest stories are those that make you look at life at a slightly different angle. They provide a unique perspective in a way that makes you feel something, whether it be joy or heartbreak or fury. The best stories lead you to empathize with a new point of view. They broaden your mind, either by allowing you to wear someone else’s shoes or revealing the truth that you’re not the only one wearing your particular shoes. With that knowledge you face your everyday life with a new tilt, hopefully in a positive direction.”
Jason Berger, Director GOOD KARMA $1: “A strong story to me is really just something that pulls an emotion or feeling out of me. A comedy can have a really strong story the way that a drama or epic period piece can. “
Bears, AFF: How long did the writing process take you and when (how) did you know that it was ready for production?
Christoph Kuschnig, Writer/Director HATCH: “It took about six months from the idea to the script that I actually shot. It’s never ready – even rewrites on the day of shooting a scene. There is a point in writing when you know, you’ve done everything possible to make it as strong as you can. Then it is time to bring in your collaborators to ascend it to the next level.”
Zach Endres: “Writing took place over a couple of months, but I would have loved more time. Being my undergraduate thesis film, this entire project had to be completed within one semester, including script revisions. So in all actuality, production just kind of happened whether the script was ready or not. But that pressure kept me vigilant. I wrote draft after draft, squeezing as many revisions into that time as possible. I tweaked the script throughout rehearsals and into production, and oddly enough even well into post-production. It’s impossible for a script to reach perfection, but that doesn’t mean you should settle. Actively critiquing your creation until the end is a way to ensure you’re creating the best product possible, albeit at the expense of your sanity.”
Bears, AFF: What was the biggest challenge making the film?
Chelsea Hernandez, Director SEE THE DIRT: “The biggest challenge in making the film was determine how to edit the story together. Erik and I did not have an idea of how the structure of the film would be and there was no event to really cover that would create a narrative arc. We knew we wanted to highlight Scott and allow the audience a peek into his life. So, it was hard to determine how to make a “day in the life” short documentary flow and keep one’s attention. Also, I filmed and edited the movie, it was hard to cut down the film. I was so attached to certain scenes because I was present at the shoot. It was heart wrenching to loose certain scenes, but in the end it worked much better.”
Christoph Kuschnig:“Shooting at an actual baby hatch. We asked for the three nights but only got one. We had to cram in 24 setups in less than 12 hours of shooting with an actual baby on set, heavy traffic outside the baby hatch – and still we were able to make it look quiet.”
Bears, AFF: Working within your budget, what type of compromises did you have to make along the way? Were there any that were particularly painful to you?
Chelsea Hernandez:“We started shooting “See the Dirt” in standard definition because (co-director) Erik and I both owned Panasonic DVX100s that we just couldn’t let go of yet. I wished we would have filmed it in high definition, but stepping back now, I’m glad we did shoot in SD. Since the movie is about Scott’s unique vintage hobby, it gives it a nostalgic, novelty look. And it leads the audience to focus more on Scott.”
Zach Endres: “Making a science fiction film on a shoestring budget is always a challenge. We had to make compromises with almost every aspect of the film. While these changes seemed painful at first, I’ve found that I make my most creative decisions when the greatest limitations are placed on me. Some of the moments in the film that I’m most happy with are not even close to how I imagined them in the writing process. I’m a firm believer that you must embrace limitations, because they often lead to a better movie if you know how to manipulate them to your benefit.”
Bears, AFF: What advice do you have for shorts filmmakers?
Zach Endres: “Keep it simple. A short doesn’t have to be a compressed feature film. The strongest shorts are often those that tell a story that fits their timeframe. It’s all about efficiency. Start late, leave early, reduce locations, combine characters, simplify simplify simplify. The clarity of brevity allows for even the smallest of stories to leave the biggest of footprints.”
Jason Berger: “Just have fun. If you’re not having fun, then don’t do it. And do it for yourself. I think you should submit (your film to film festivals) – you’ve just got to do it. I think it’s a good exercise in getting your film out there. And even if your film doesn’t get in, it’s a learning experience. If you want to be into making films, you can’t really be worried about whether people are going to like it or hate it. You want to get as many eyeballs on it as possible. The goal is to get people to see it.”
Bryan Buckley, Writer/Director ASAD: “There are tons of film festivals out there. Take the time to know the festivals you submit to. Look at their past winners. Look at how they screen. Make sure that they recognize the type of work you’ve created. Traveling 1400 miles to see your film screen in front of eight disinterested people is about as disheartening as watching Mitt Romney trying to explain his take on foreign policy.”
Bears, AFF: What have you learned or do you must appreciate, after working the festival circuit?
Jason Berger: “I really appreciated the audience laughing at the parts that we laughed at!”
Bryan Buckley: “If you look at Austin’s track record for picking films that are socially noteworthy, it’s pretty damn ridiculous. As a writer/director I also like that Austin is such a writer’s festival – I mean look at the award – it’s a typewriter! We couldn’t help but put Austin at the top of our festival submission list. Warhol said ‘in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ I wonder if it was his way of predicting the rise of the short.”
Zach Endres: “I’ve learned to not take rejection personally. In fact, rejection is just a challenge to do even better work the next time around. On top of that, I’ve learned that some people actually do want to see my films. Appreciation of that fact is key: focus on the positives, bear the negatives and use them as fodder to build upon your past work.”
AFF’s Best of Fest (Shorts 2012) plays Monday, March 4th at the Alamo Drafthouse Village at 7 pm. Films will include SEE THE DIRT (Doc Short Jury Award Winner), GOOD KARMA, $1 (Doc Short Audience Award Winner), ASAD (Oscar-nominated and Narrative Short Jury and Audience Award Winner), HATCH (Student Short Jury Award Winner), THE TELEPORTED MAN (Student Short Audience Award Winner), and HEAD OVER HEELS (Oscar-nominated and Animated Short Jury and Audience Award Winner). Filmmakers from SEE THE DIRT and THE TELEPORTED MAN will be in attendance. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.
In preparation and excitement for our upcoming MAKING YOUR FEATURE FILM event, panelists Emily Hagins (MY SUCKY TEEN ROMANCE), Brandon Dickerson (SIRONIA), John Fiege (MISSISSIPPI CHICKEN), and Jeremiah Jones (RESTIVE) reflect on some of their experiences, joys and trials as filmmakers. Don’t forget to mark your calendars for much more insight and advice during Austin Film Festival’s next Conversation in Film! AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL …
In preparation and excitement for our upcoming MAKING YOUR FEATURE FILM event, panelists Emily Hagins (MY SUCKY TEEN ROMANCE), Brandon Dickerson (SIRONIA), John Fiege (MISSISSIPPI CHICKEN), and Jeremiah Jones (RESTIVE) reflect on some of their experiences, joys and trials as filmmakers. Don’t forget to mark your calendars for much more insight and advice during Austin Film Festival’s next Conversation in Film!
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL (AFF): What do you consider a strong story?
HAGINS: I think a strong story is one that you feel passionate about as a writer, because you’re able to really bring all the details of the world your characters live in to life.
DICKERSON: I gravitate toward true stories I find will translate to screen in an authentic and honest way..
FIEGE: A strong story portrays the world from a distinctive perspective.
AFF: What were some of the biggest challenges with making your film?
HAGINS: One of the biggest challenges was keeping the narrative concise with a simple, character-driven story. There were a lot of character moments we could’ve expanded on, and themes we could’ve explored– but it would’ve deviated from what the big picture really was. Understanding what the movie would ultimately feel like in the early stages was definitely a necessary but difficult step for a movie like this.
FIEGE: Finding the story tends to be the hardest part of production. With documentary, even when you think you’ve found a great story, you’re never sure how it’s going to play out. Following strong documentary stories is, by definition, a risky endeavor; and one of the hardest parts of production is pouring everything you have into such an uncertain process.
DICKERSON: For SIRONIA, we were pulling crew from Austin+Dallas+Los Angeles as well as working with locals in Waco. Every one of those cities has its own vibe. Crew from each city has their own unique approach to production. It was a challenge to be at the helm of those different personalities within an abbreviated 20 day shoot with little prep time. A film crew needs to work as a passionate family with a unified vision and we had to create that connection on a train that had left the station. It all worked out in the end.
JONES: Finding money to make a film is always a big challenge. I have only made ultra low-budget films, so scheduling and moving efficiently to get what you need with not much time is another big challenge. When people come into a project and spend a lot of time and resources working, you need to make sure that you are on the same page and have the same expectations. The indie environment can be kind of all hands on deck, so just talk everything out.
AFF: Working on a low-budget, what type of compromises did you have to make along the way? Were there any that were particularly painful to you?
HAGINS: Luckily we had an amazing cast and crew that really went above and beyond when things were tough– like one day we shot 9 pages in a location with 100 extras, and everyone really worked hard to get everything done in the best way possible… I really don’t feel like we had to make compromises, because this story was designed for a budget we would be able to work with.
JONES: I try to hopefully make the most out of the current situation that we are facing. I don’t think it’s compromising, it’s problem solving. Make the most out of what you have in that moment and don’t let one moment bring the movie down. A lot of challenges can be happening all around the set but you only see what goes into the frame.
FIEGE: Art is a compromise between a vision and the representation of that vision. I have to constantly make difficult choices about how to spend extremely limited resources of time and money. Yet, it is these choices that result in a particular artistic representation of a story. I always wish I had more time and money, but I also believe that when I figure out how to tell a story in a stronger way, more time and money will become available somehow. As Robert Bresson wrote, “One does not create by adding, but by taking away.”
AFF: What was one of the most memorable parts of shooting?
JONES: If it is possible and the schedule allows, I like picking up the cast from the airport. An actor puts a lot of faith into you – they read the work, we talk on the phone about it, the details or business get worked out – but I always find myself still hoping that they get on the plane. Meeting them at the airport is when I have the realization of” Hey, they actually came. We have a chance – let’s get this thing done.”
FIEGE: Seeing the story appear before my eyes for the first time.
DICKERSON: The first day [of SIRONIA] was insane. I had fallen on my sword that we needed to shoot at an actual rodeo with real Mutton Bustin’ so it moved up our shoot two weeks and became the first day of filming. It turned out that the time the rodeo had generously given us to film the dialogue sequences was during a pre-concert so we had to shoot between songs. On top of this, the reality that you were finally doing what you wanted to do since you were eight years old felt like an astronaut taking off for the moon.
HAGINS: The day we shot 9 pages was definitely the most memorable for me. We were working with one of our lead actors for the first time, difficult lighting, 100 teenagers, stunts, and one of the most emotional scenes of the whole movie… I felt like a different person at the end of it, and very grateful for the people involved in the production.
Hear more from Emily, Jeremiah, John and Brandon on Saturday, March 2nd at 12PM at the George Washington Carver Museum. The conversation will continue with panelists offering tangible advice for aspiring filmmakers including creative ways to raise money, find marketing and distribution, and utilize acquired tricks of the trade. Click here to get your tickets.
Despite being advised that his brain would rot, Damon Lindelof spent the majority of his childhood watching television. After a brief flirtation with movies by way of a film degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Damon hopped in his car and traveled west and eventually took a job as a writer’s assistant on Kevin Williamson’s ABC Drama Wasteland. Shortly thereafter, and the show …
Despite being advised that his brain would rot, Damon Lindelof spent the majority of his childhood watching television. After a brief flirtation with movies by way of a film degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Damon hopped in his car and traveled west and eventually took a job as a writer’s assistant on Kevin Williamson’s ABC Drama Wasteland. Shortly thereafter, and the show was cancelled. Damon went on to write for Nash Bridges and then moved on to NBC’s new drama Crossing Jordan. Then Damon got Lost. Within twelve weeks of complete insanity, he and co-creator J.J. Abrams managed to make a ridiculously untenable and vastly expensive pilot for ABC that centered on the survivors of a plane crash in the South Pacific. Despite this, Lost won a Golden Globe and Emmy Award in its freshman season. Damon concluded Lost, after six seasons and still doesn’t quite understand what it all meant. A life long Trekker, Damon also is a producer on J.J.’s STAR TREK reboot, which was released in May 2009. Damon is currently writing and producing the sequel to STAR TREK and the Sir Ridley Scott movie PROMETHEUS. In his spare time, Damon also wrote this Bio.
Since LOST you’ve written almost exclusively in the science fiction and fantasy genre. What draws you to the genre and have you ever thought about branching out?
I think about branching out all the time, but genre stuff is where my imagination always ends up taking me. Perhaps I will write a romantic comedy one day, but you can bet your ass it’ll have robots in it.
A lot of your projects are, by their nature, overanalyzed, freeze framed and nitpicked for details by hordes of fans. Does that level of scrutiny add pressure to your writing? How do you address that?
It’s surreal to have fans of the stuff I’m working on apply that level of scrutiny to it, but as a fan myself, I LOVE this aspect of the movies and TV shows… the idea that after viewing, I’m required to seek out other fans with different perspectives and interpretations.
It seems like since LOST wrapped, television executives have been desperate to find “the next LOST.” We’ve seen FlashForward, The Event, Alcatraz, V, etc. and none of them end up being successful. What are the studios missing? Is there such a thing as “the next LOST” and if so, what would it look like?
I think it’s an unfair label to stick on a show that it’s the “next” anything. When LOST came along, we were desperate to rip-off/steal from any existing narrative format so that we didn’t have to go home at 4AM every night, but living in a more original mindset ended up being totally liberating. My guess is that no show WANTS to be “the next LOST” any more than we wanted to be “The Next TWIN PEAKS” (even though we were massive fans of that show).
You often talk about the importance of character in science fiction and fantasy. When you start a science fiction or fantasy script, do you start by creating the characters or do they come naturally from the world you create first?
It’s a little bit of a chicken or the egg scenario where you have to think about both simultaneously. Obviously, if you don’t care about or understand what the character wants, the world becomes irrelevant… but sometimes the construction of the world itself dramatically affects/inspires character work. When it works best, you have to use pencil instead of pen on both the characters and the world so that they’re constantly evolving and riffing off each other. I will let you know when I figure out how to do this correctly, but until then, it sure SOUNDS good.
What other writers/shows/movies/books do you draw inspiration from or have had an impact on how you write?
That list is so long and extensive I don’t know where to begin. Really good movies and TV have a dual effect on me — inspiration and intimidation. When I see something as good as INCEPTION or BREAKING BAD, I am so humbled that it’s hard to look in the mirror and consider myself a writer. But in the wake of my I’m-Not-Worthiness, my brain gets completely fired up on the sheer audacity of the storytelling I’m seeing. I really do feel there are still rules to break and new ways to tell stories… and the only way to find them is to build on the foundation that’s already out there.
In your career of coming up with strange plot twists and character deaths, have you ever had to fight to keep something in a script that producers thought was too much or too out there? How did that end up?
JJ and I famously tried to kill Jack, our hero, in the Pilot of LOST. The head of the studio made a very compelling argument as to why this was a catastrophically bad idea and thank God we listened to him.
What are you most proud of having written? A particular scene, or character, or line of dialogue?
I’ll let you know when I write it. Seriously. I think I suck. (insert internet agreeing wholeheartedly here)