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What I Did At Austin Film Festival 2017

October 10, 2018


I could pontificate about the panels, the superstars, the midnight discussions; new friends I made, old friends I missed. The utter lack of sleep, compounded by the overabundance of liquor.

But you can learn about those aspects of Austin Film Festival yourself online: Their screenwriter conference, the roster, videos via their On Story series, even panel highlights posted by diligent attendees.

This was my sixth AFF (seventh?). And the thing is, each one has been different. Each iteration has bestowed upon me unique gifts depending on who attended; whom I ran into, where I was professionally and emotionally, what I sought out, and a hundred other interwoven variables. And those variables make AFF a wildly different animal for each and every person.

So I decided that the best way to wrap up last year’s festival was to throw the question out to an assortment of writers, directors, producers, and the like: What did you take away from Austin Film Festival 2017?

I’ll go first.

I got the chance to speak to the writer/director of a film I worked on (which, as a background actor, you are never allowed to do) and thank him for possibly the most amazing on-set experiences of my life. I connected with a filmmaker whose profound narratives have resonated with me for years. And another incredible director’s encouragement pushed me to ramp up my directorial efforts by shooting several shorts when I returned home.

Jim Picariello, screenwriter/filmmaker: I found it valuable to hear working writers, during a panel about “failing and failing better,” share the precise number of times they had submitted to screenplay competitions (very many) and how often they placed (rarely, if at all), and how the whole competition process had little or nothing to do with their overall career successes.

Heidi Willis, writer: AFF has been about hanging with my screenwriter tribe … soaking up the creative energy and talking story with my fellow story nuts. I walked away from the jam-packed conference energized to tackle all of my projects.

Jeana Poteet, writer/director: I've been directing a feature-length documentary, incurring many challenges. A friend introduced me to Kyle Portbury, experienced with documentaries. Following my synopsis, he gave me ideas on how to approach presenting the film. Each allowed me to see it in a new light. I received more insight in that 10-minute conversation than in hours of film study.

Glenn Battle, writer/producer: AFF is always a deadline for me; a self-imposed need to get things done. But this year not only did I finish a first draft of a feature while sitting in the Driskill Wednesday, AFF also inspired a new project (fiction podcast) that I managed ten pages on the Monday after the conference.

David Margolis, writer/director, AFF Enderby Entertainment Award finalist: Every day I felt neural pathways connecting, the impossible seeming plausible. I met wonderful people, reconnected with old friends, freaked out before an important meeting, and lost my voice. It was a wicked cocktail of panels, socializing and enthusiasm — enough to question my accepted introvert and shyness levels. I arrived short on confidence and left with bucket loads of the stuff and a plan.

Stephen Nolly, writer/director: If you want your writing to be great, you have to invite the monsters to play with you. No one can do that but you. But, knowing that there are others that have learned how to do this — and talking to them about how they work — this creates camaraderie and kinship … The knowledge that others are sharing the same experience can help you make it through the blank page.

Kelly Jo Brick, television and documentary writer: Austin Film Festival 2017 had such a strong theme of surrounding yourself with good, supportive people and that’s what I loved about my time at the festival. I had the opportunity to visit with friends I’d made at past AFFs, make new friends, and have conversations with many of the writers who inspire me as we all shared our love for film and TV.

Randall C Willis, writer and story coach: Although I expected it to be a topic of conversation, I was surprised at how often the Weinstein situation and power predation against women in the industry overtook the discussions of the panels I attended. These were important conversations to have, in full view of the industry’s present and future, and it definitely gave a different spin to the topic of “The Heroine’s Journey” [a panel about writing female protagonists in a male-dominated industry].

Nadia Madden, screenwriter: One thing I learned is to take a slice of time out to have a meal with one or a very small group of people. Choose those whom you’ve never met in the flesh (Facebook friends) or someone you’ve met at AFF from a prior year, but don’t know well. It’s a good opportunity to deepen and strengthen relationships — a great time for quality over quantity.

Richard Michael Lucas, screenwriter and novelist: Monday was my birthday; what a thrill to see Shane Black present The Predator at the stately Paramount Theater. When life forces you to cut AFF short, you soak up the best parts: A warm environment with great people who share the passion to create magical stories that will hopefully make it to the big screen one day. And if not, have a blast trying.

Just imagine, if you go to Austin Film Festival next year, what inspiration and drive you might take home with you.

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