Thursday, October 22, 2009

Austin Film Festival: Thursday Recap

Evidently I had to come all the way to the Austin Film Festival to meet some cool filmmakers from Chicago.

This afternoon, I met Chris, the producer of Left Field, a documentary about the anarchistic subculture of urban kickball. My initial reaction was, "I had no idea that people played kickball after third grade."

Chris quickly set me straight on how wrong I was. He talked about his movie with such enthusiasm that now I look forward to seeing it when it screens on Sunday...

Later in the afternoon, I sat in on a panel entitled "The Art of the Pitch" with three panelists: a VP of production at Paramount, the Creative Exec. Director of Development at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and a Manager / Producer.

Suffice to say that though their credentials were STELLAR, only the Manager / Producer really had much to say to an SRO packed room of aspiring screenwriters. He was direct, honest, and useful. The others kept saying how the facilitator's questions didn't really apply to them because they never took pitches by unrepresented authors, and they didn't work with spec scripts...

Still -- the information we got was good.

(Some key points:

* A pitch must have a Clear Concept that people can get behind.

* Eventually the moviegoer must get excited about going to see the movie. NOW, however, the agent / manager / producer must get excited about acquiring the property.

* DO NOT write a boilerplate query letter. Though there is a fine line between "creative" and "gimmicky," the query letter or phone call must give the industry pro the opportunity to recognize your talent and hear your unique voice. It must also convey your unwavering enthusiasm for your project.

* If you want a screenwriting career, be in it for the long run. Do not expect overnight success. Plan to work at it for YEARS.)

My main quibble is just that most of the stuff that applied to the audience came from only one of the three panelists.

While there, I met Clifford, a fellow attendee. We discussed projects and leads and had a great discourse on querying and marketing. We ran out of time, but will probably pick up that thread and run with it later.

Immediately after the panel, I met Dick Beardsley's wife, Jill, who graciously picked me up and took me out to meet two of her friends for dinner.

"Oh!" she said upon meeting me in the hotel lobby,"You're much smaller than I expected!"

Evidently my Facebook pictures add pounds. (Note to self: smash camera...)

We had a lovely dinner, during which we discussed movies, travel (Dick and Jill leave for Bermuda tomorrow and he is flying home from Illinois tonight), and both the script and book proposal for Against the Wind, Dick's life story. I daresay I did most of the talking (which should surprise no one) and thoroughly enjoyed getting the opportunity to meet Jill and her friends Beth and Cammie.

Then, it was back to the Conference. I stopped in at the Driskill, where I met a whole slew of filmmakers, producers, writers -- and one world traveler. Most were from... Chicago!

There was Laura, the producer of the short An Evening with Emery Long, who handed me one of the flat-out best pieces of postcard marketing I've ever seen.

There was Anna (who somehow knew my name before I said it), who -- among other things -- is an independent pilot producer, and Megan who works in marketing and production, and who is here to have someone kick her butt into finishing a script of her own.

And I am kicking my own butt because I can't recall the name of the Chicago transplant who now calls Austin home, who regularly takes several weeks or a month off of work to travel the world. She (literally) just returned from a jaunt in Peru and Equador, and held us mesmerized with tales of hiking sheer mountain cliffs, zip lining at 500 feet over a river gorge, staying in youth hostels, and cruise around the world in 100 days when she was a student in college. How exotic, and interesting, and cool...

Left the Driskill fairly early because I was just -- tired. Tomorrow starts bright and early with "How to Sell Your Spec Script." I'll let you know how THAT goes...

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