If you were to ask any respectable human about their favorite Star Wars film they will say ‘Empire Strikes Back.’ Ask that same intelligent being about the best Indiana Jones adventure. ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, right? You bet. Heard of ‘The Big Chill’? Sure.
Now ask who wrote these films.
Screenwriters don’t usually get name recognition and that’s fine. A lot of careers have unknown workers. How many people can tell the mechanic who did their oil change just by their craftsmanship?
(Oh, by the way the force behind each of these scripts is Lawrence Kasdan.)
This last week I was in Austin for the Austin Film Festival, which rightfully so touts itself as a festival focused on the craft of writing for film. The festival begins at the Driskill Hotel and spreads itself across roughly four blocks of downtown Austin where I spent nine days in hopes of finding an unknown something. To become a better writer? That doesn’t seem right. You can’t ‘become’ a better writer forcibly in any amount of time. Was I there to sell my script? I wish that was possible, but no. That’s an impossible wish.
I flew to Austin willing to explore and learn how to make this love a career from those who have done it. I am not a sappy man but then perhaps I am. I don’t know. If I’m honest I would say that what I was there to do was to be inspired and be surrounded by writers, and that’s exactly what happened.
In the panels, you could watch John August, Zak Penn, Scott Z. Burns, or Damon Lindelof discuss the nature of their work as screenwriters and then hit the Driskill bar and grab a beer and stand next to them. Talk with them. It’s a wonderful thing, drinking with people. In any other city, they are just ‘guys.’ Nameless, with an unknown history. Here (there) in Austin they get to be rock stars, swilling alcohol in the humid tightness of the hotel bar.
And now a brief imagining of The Driskill Hotel bar – The hotel is the second oldest in Texas. A classic of dark wood and imposing ballrooms. Grand murals of Texas. The bar is dim, even in the day. The tables and chairs recede away from the bar. Shrouded. A chandelier hangs above. A bronze sculpture sits at the center, a cowboy rides an angry horse, captured fury. You can drink a four dollar beer or a six dollar beer, doesn’t matter. One is made of rye. Hearty and booze-filled. It’s humid in Texas, always, and the Shiner Bock goes down like water.
For the first four days of the festival the bar is packed but if you walk into the Driskill, head to the bar and grab a stool and whoever is at your side will be up for a good conversation. This is where I met screenwriter Ashley Edward Miller. Along with his writing partner Zack Stentz (not in attendance) he wrote Thor, X-Men: First Class, Fringe, Andromeda, and The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I had seen him on two panels, ‘Writing for Action’ and ‘Finding Your Anchor’, and was hoping I’d get a chance to run into him.
Miller is an incredible speaker, engaging and down to earth. Smart and well-spoken, he walked the crowd through the themes in Thor and X-Men, spinning each answer of his into a story. He was humble, amiable. Direct. Of his films, I’d only seen ‘Thor’ and enjoyed it, but over the course of the festival, he somehow turned me into a total Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz fanboy.
I should be embarrassed, but I’m not.
He got me excited about movies, his movies. All of those films he spoke of that I hadn’t seen in years. He got me excited to get back to work on my writing. Why the hell I am here in this room? I should be at my computer. NOW. This is the best outcome you could hope for in this situation. Genuine captured joy.
I had seen Miller wandering the festival for a day or two and I hadn’t said anything to him until…(suspenseful use of ellipses, a parenthetical and italics) I did.
He was sipping on a glass scotch, mingling, so I walked up and told him that I enjoyed his panels. We talked about Austin for a bit and chatted about the festival in general, he asked me a few questions and made a few jokes. He mentioned that he was a father so I asked him how he gets any writing done and he told me the key is to get up 4:30 AM and just write. Write every chance you get. Don’t wait for inspiration. Write. One. Word. After. Another. A few minutes passed and I excused myself and thanked him for his time. He was off to MC the pitch competition party and hadn’t figured out his remarks.
Over the course of the festival I spoke with a lot of professional writers that I admired, but what Ashley Edward Miller did that none of the others had done was look me in the eye when he spoke to me. It’s odd that I recognized that and strange that that’s what I remember from meeting him – but I did and I do.
I will not knock those other writers. This was their chance to be recognized. To be rock stars for the work that they had done. If they scanned the room for someone better to talk to while talking to me, so be it. I’ll live but for my money, Mr. Miller spread a lot of goodwill and gained a life long fan. Maybe I’m a sucker and fell for the oldest Hollywood trick in the book — talk to people like you actually want to be there with them, but that’s no bad is it?
Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz have a novel out on November 1st (Hey! That’s today!) titled ‘Colin Fischer’ about school boy Colin Fischer, a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. Get your copy at your local bookstore or order ‘Colin Fischer’ at Amazon.