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What I Did at Austin Film Festival 2018

December 5, 2018

Specificity is what makes story universal.

This is screenwriting advice I have heard from countless top-tier writers and directors, many of them at Austin Film Festival. The idea may seem counterintuitive, but we don’t reach the widest audience by creating the most broad-based characters and stories. The wild and enduring popularity of Nia Vardalos’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding proves this theory. Our shared humanity resides in the details, in the specifics.

Last year, I witnessed this truth in action at Austin Film Festival. As I sat with a group of friends, sharing personal festival highlights (and, yes, drinks), I realized that our widely varying experiences of the same event gave rise to a shared and unbreakable bond.

At this year’s AFF Screenwriters Conference, I asked friends new and old what was particularly meaningful to them about the event. The responses ranged from individual accomplishments to serendipitous meetings to migas taco nirvana. But the sum total of these diverse anecdotes offers a window into the experience that is Austin Film Festival.

Jennifer Mulligan, screenwriter: Every year at AFF, I take away nuggets of gold, whether that’s making a new friend waiting in line or attending a great panel. This year, in the “last but not least” category, I found myself looking at characters in a new way after the last session called “The Nutshell Technique” by Jill Chamberlain. Her insight distills characters and structure in such a way that I wanted to crack open all my scripts again with this new information.

Jonathan Fournier, creator, Unicorn Included: This was my first time going into AFF with tangible work to share and discuss (i.e. more than a script). As I prepare for the upcoming release of a web series, it was very heartening and helpful to have discussions and show off my trailer to like-minded professionals. It was like a friendly focus group in a way!

Vivi Gregg, writer/producer; producer, Gridiron Heroes: This was my 12th year attending AFF. I always look forward to reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. I have this thing about passing out business cards as if they are candy ... I DON’T DO IT! I only hand my card to someone with whom I’ve had a meaningful conversation or at least had a drink with. Over the years, I’ve cultivated friendships. An A-list writer-director flew to my hometown to play in a celebrity softball game for a cause close to my heart. I’ve had one of my scripts get sent to an A-list actress for consideration due to a friendship I made with a story editor. I’ve attended a Halloween party from an A-List writer whose characters are the inspiration for many Halloween costumes. Due to these friendships I’ve cultivated at AFF, it has made the transition moving to Los Angeles a smoother one!

Shruti Saran, creator, Gym Buddies: Hungover AND super motivated sounds a bit oxymoronic, and yet that is the only way to describe how I feel after the Austin Film Festival. This year was no different. I made new friends, connected with old ones, and made some useful contacts. I also met some Internet writer friends IRL, which is always the coolest! I feel totally re-inspired and ready to make stuff.

Gabrielle Lodl, writer and Story Broad: This year, people talked a lot about all the different ways there are to tell a story, ways that vary in medium and format and audience and platform and distribution. Multiple panelists made it very clear that you don’t have to wait for someone else to say “Yes” to you. You can do it yourself – and do it well. AFF was all about giving us the tools and resources to do just that.

Eric Cotten, founder/president, Baltimore Filmmakers Collective: I managed to score 30 minutes one-on-one with a successful producer. The subject: How to build a successful non-Hollywood-based team. As I walked away – excited, exhausted – a man approached, asked what my badge represented. I explained AFF. He told me that he heard about the festival and drove 80 miles to see what it was about. He explained his passion for writing, a series of tragic life events that prevented him from seeking his dream of being a screenwriter. He has written over 20 feature scripts based on book knowledge. I felt the passion and saw myself six years earlier in his eyes. We became friends and spent the next two days talking film and re-establishing his cinematic goals.

Via Bia, writer/director, These Colors Don’t Run: I see AFF as my “annual filmmaker hangout,” a festival filled to overflowing with legit storytellers and the opportunity to eat migas breakfast tacos four times per day. This year, thanks to panelists Kat Candler (Hellion, Queen Sugar) and Ed Solomon (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), I feel even more focused on writing work that is uncynical with honest emotionality - the kind of stories that reach out and connect us.

Andy Silverman, writer/producer, Texas Cotton, Buckle Up: AFF 2018 will always have a special place in my heart. Texas Cotton, a feature I helped write and produce, had its world premiere. This was an AFF project through and through. I met the director, Tyler Russell, on the opening day of AFF 2014. From that chance meeting we have produced a web series, two shorts, and finally our first feature together. The red carpet event at this year’s festival will be a memory I will cherish forever.

To hear more about Austin Film Festival and what draws the big names like Nicole Perlman and Kat Candler back year after year, check out my next article, AFF Wrap Up 2018: The Panelists.

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