The Austin Film Festival – Why Writers Should Attend
Thanks to Master Cat! Alvaro Rodriguez for his thoughts following this year’s Austin event:
In 2008, I didn’t know the Austin Film Festival from Adam. I asked an Austin filmmaker about it and was told that South by Southwest was the bigger deal. That fall, I was invited to lunch during the festival with a television executive and a well-known actor/producer/director and discovered to my surprise that AFF was the WRITERS’ FESTIVAL. What had I been missing? I pledged to buy my badge for the following year’s fest, attended, and changed my life.
In 2010, through the kind efforts of Cat! alum Melody Lopez, I was invited to attend the festival as a panelist. I would now sit on the dais with professional writers I felt I had somehow conned into thinking I was one of them: Shane Black, David Peoples, Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, Jeff Lowell, Craig Mazin, etc. I felt as if I had been adopted by a foster family of screenwriters and that soon my coach would turn back into a pumpkin. But by keeping the momentum from AFF, energized by the spirit of the festival, my coach has a new set of wheels. I’ve seen it happen to others, too. Like the song says, it can happen to you.
Here’s why AFF is a win-win investment for screenwriters at all levels of experience and exposure:
- No velvet rope. In its 20 years of existence, the festival has maintained a casual, often spontaneous feel while being structured and scheduled to the max. It’s an incredible balancing act, but one from which attendees reap the full benefit. Access is damn near unlimited, and conversation is king.
- Building your Rolodex. In The Graduate, young Ben learns the future is embodied in one word: Plastics. At AFF, that word is Networking. Whether or not you have representation, whether or not you have written two screenplays or 20, going to AFF with the mission that you are the Goodwill Ambassador of You is the key to building relationships. You’ll meet other writers, managers, producers, directors, and all-around creative types who are as eager to hear your story as you are to tell it. You’ll find, too, that it’s reciprocal; Goodwill Ambassadors are also great listeners.
- Panels, roundtables, parties, and more. Each year, I look forward to seeing the schedule of panels and panelists because the festival presents an ever-expanding array of subjects. This year I was lucky enough to present panels on everything from Dr. Strangelove to the Screenwriters’ Guide to Time Travel to The State of Independent Film to Capturing Nostalgia, alongside award-winning writers and directors like Kirk Ellis, Rian Johnson, Roberto Orci, and Scott Rosenberg.
- Cat! success stories. One of the coolest things I’ve found in attending AFF is reconnecting with other Cats. This year, screenwriter Richard Dane Scott, who attended a beat sheet workshop I led in San Antonio, was at the festival as a panelist and to promote his family feature, My Dog The Champion, which beat out countless entries to be screened at AFF.
- AFF is also television. Space may be the final frontier, but cable television is the new frontier that keeps expanding. This year, I moderated a Q&A with Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan after a sold-out screening of the first and last episodes of the show. I also participated in a panel discussion about a new cable network, El Rey, which launches this December. I’m one of the writers on its first original series based on the genre-bending 1996 crime-and-vampire film, From Dusk Till Dawn. But more importantly, there are countless TV-related panels and events to take in at AFF.
- Buy early and save. If you want to do the festival right, go for the full-meal deal: the producer’s badge. There are early bird specials that really make this the most affordable and best choice. The badge gets you in to damn near everything the festival has to offer: panels, screenings, parties, etc.
- Enter the AFF Screenplay Competition. Winners get the gold, but even semifinalists and second rounders also get their laurels printed on their ID badges. This is a great ice-breaker as you introduce yourself and get the opportunity to talk about you and your work.