Sunday, October 25, 2009

Taking to the Stars in Austin (AFF - Day 3)

Regular readers know that while at the Austin Film Festival for the past few days, I have been dutifully attending panels and taking notes on various business-related aspects of screenwriting (Note #1: Don't Quit Your Day Job...). But I haven't actually gone to seen any films. Until tonight.

The evening began at the Paramount Theatre. At the door, a cheerful girl with an "AFF Crew" t-shirt checked my ID. As with all great theatre-going experiences, the smell of fresh popcorn greeted me as soon as I passed the hallowed portal of the oaken entrance. I was then ushered in by an austere gentleman in tuxedo, cummerbund, and bow tie.

I sat near the back and serendipitously met Bethany, one of Austin's newer residents and a writer for Film School Rejects. We struck up a conversation about ghosting, book authoring, and other subjects near and dear to my heart.

Then the lights dimmed, and a discussion on What Makes a Moving Story began, featuring panelists Ron Howard, Mitchell Hurwitz, and Steven Zallian.

Did I learn the One Thing that is going to help me sell my script the next time I pitch it. HA! No. But it was way cool to just sit and soak up the war stories of these pros.

Afterwards, they screened Apollo 13 to a packed house. Aside from recurring technical difficulties that I suspect stemmed from the projectionist's unfamiliarity with the old-school medium of film, it was one of those warm-and-fuzzy viewing experiences. It just felt good to be there.

When the film was over, they brought out no less than 9 panelists and a moderator. In addition to Ron Howard (director) and William Broyles and Al Reinert (writers), they had astronaut Jim Lovell, and members of the actual mission control crew from the Apollo 13 mission. The panel received a standing ovation for over 3 minutes.

More warm fuzzies...

Audience questions ran the gamut from craft to history:

Q: How do you make a story so compelling when people know the outcome even before the movie starts?

A: (From Ron Howard) The audience might know what happens, but the characters in the story don't. If the audience cares about the characters, they'll be swept along with the story.

Q: Was the film's 'lost at sea during wartime and following the phosphorescent algae trail home' story true?

A: (According to Jim Lovell) Absolutely true.

After the panel, I ran into Bethany again, as well as Neil, "Film School Rejects" publisher and editor. I was going to head back to my hotel before the streets got scary, but really wanted to see Caprica. Bethany and Neil, my two new best friends, were going to the screening and offered me a ride home afterward.

So off to the Alamo Drafthouse we went. What a great theatre! Cheesy "Mystery Science Theatre" films screen before the feature. You place your food order (coffee with cream, and pizza with fresh tomatoes and basil for me -- thanks!) and eat while watching. What could be better?

How about writer Jeff Reiner and actor Esai Morales in attendance?

Though I was a huge, raving fan of the original "Battlestar Galactica" series 100 years ago, I have never seen an episode of the new BSG. Maybe that would have better informed my take on "Caprica."

I thought it was OK. I liked the Ceylons, which were very cool. But I felt like I was watching a show mostly about modern families on Earth instead of watching something that happened "out there."

It's not like I'm pining for the lame effects the original series inflicted on us viewers. But I am a bit wistful for the clearly drawn "other world" that series brought us.

Still, Mr. Reiner and Mr. Morales were wonderfully generous with their time and their comments to audience members afterward. I wish good things for both of them...

And that about wraps things up -- for today anyway.

Tomorrow is the last day of the screenwriting conference. Further bulletins as events warrant.

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