I received a letter in the mail on Tuesday from the Austin Film Festival. Most letters I get from festivals usually have some variation on the phrase “We had a record number of entries but unfortunately your work was not selected” somewhere about the second paragraph. This one was slightly different.
The letter said that a script I had entered in the screenplay competition portion of the festival had made it to the second round. Over 6,500 entries and 10% made it to the next step. I was one of hundreds, but I had not made it to the semi-finals. They tell you that you advanced but lost at the same time. Mixed feelings about that but it’s better than getting the letter telling me that I was one of the thousands who hadn’t advanced. I’ve gotten those far too often.
Here’s a brief story:
After college I was sleeping on a couch in Los Angeles. I paid $300 for the couch and the space underneath it. That was my closet. I worked for free at a production office, reading scripts and couriering scripts around town. This was about 2004 and I had entered a script in the Austin Film Festival and I got a letter in my p.o. box letting me know that I advanced to the second round. There was the letter, I have it somewhere, and emails telling me I should attend the festival. Go to the talks they have and see the films. Meet the people. Network. I had no money and thought that since I hadn’t won why even go?
I didn’t go.
I stopped writing for a few years and in 2009 starting to pick it up again. I think back, to what might have happened if I had gone to Austin in 2004 or if I had stayed in Los Angeles and as we all know hindsight is 20/20 but it’s also pointless. Don’t bother.
So now, again after a few years of trying, something that I wrote made it passed that first hurdle. A small accomplishment but in a hobby that offers very little in the way of encouragement you have to take what you can get. I should say this – I’m honored that my script was chosen to advance. That same letter also told me that once again I hadn’t made it to the semi-finals, but that’s okay. This was the boost I needed to stop myself from giving up on films, which I was on the verge of doing. I’m sure I’ll reach that ledge again, of course, but for now I have this pat on the back and that’s enough.
As someone who’s never attended, I borrowed (Stole! I’m not giving it back!) this brief explanation of the Austin Film Festival from the festival’s website –
“What AFF is probably best known for around the world is its annual October Austin Film Festival & Conference. The Film Festival & Conference was the first event of its kind to take the lead in bringing professional and amateur screenwriters (and now filmmakers) together to celebrate the role of the screenplay in filmmaking and discuss the considerable creative possibilities of writing for film and television. Equally important, the Conference brought producers, agents and screenwriters together to foster the sale of screenplays and launch long-term successful careers. Hundreds of writers’ groups, services and festivals have followed the Conference’s model over the past ten years, reinforcing the value of its continuing mission to recognize the art of screenwriting.
Past participants of the Festival & Conference include Sydney Pollack, Wes Anderson, James L. Brooks, Joel & Ethan Coen, Russell Crowe, Barry Levinson, Robert Altman, Darren Star, Robert Duvall, Buck Henry, Dennis Hopper, Lawrence Kasdan, John Landis, Claire Danes, Garry Shandling, Susannah Grant, Bryan Singer, Oliver Stone, Sandra Bullock, Jason Schwartzman, Harold Ramis and Owen Wilson, to name just a few.”
They haven’t announced the full schedule, but a few of their events have been posted, mainly these –
A Conversation with Paul Feig
Creator of Freaks and Geeks, director of BRIDESMAIDS and episodes of The Office, Arrested Development, and more.
A Conversation with Damon Lindelof
Co-creator and executive producer of Lost, writer of PROMETHEUS, writer/producer of STAR TREK sequel, and more.
A Conversation with Kent Alterman
Executive producer of MR. WOODCOCK, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, ELF, Upright Citizens Brigade, Strangers with Candy; Director/producer of SEMI-PRO.
A Conversation with Etan Cohen
Writer of MEN IN BLACK III, TROPIC THUNDER, IDIOCRACY, several episodes of King of the Hill and more.
So. This year I am going. My lovely and loving wife is helping me with my travel plans since that seems to be something I can’t quite handle on my own. The festival is from October 18th through October 25th and that’s a long time to be away from work without a paycheck, but I have the support system to back me up, mainly a great deal of family and friends who have done nothing but encourage me.
I’m nervous. Anxious. I’ve spent hours searching the internet for insight into what to expect for my first time at the Austin Film Festival and didn’t come up with much. What I was looking for was an honest opinion somewhere on whether I should go for the full eight days of the festival or if going only a few days is going to get the point across and what do I do once I’m in Austin? Who do I see and where do I go? What should I be on the lookout for that could easily be missed?
This right here will be the first post in a series as I gear up to go to Austin. Once I’m there more posts will follow. This is the goal – In the following years when there’s a kid who gets accepted into the Austin Film Festival and thinks about blowing off the chance to represent her work by flying to Austin, maybe she’ll find this series of posts and change her mind. Or confirm her instincts. I want to offer the kind of information that I was looking for this year and wish I had found back in 2004 but I know I can’t change my own fumbles. Hindsight is 20/20 but maybe if you can borrow someone else’s you’re golden.