The schedule is an overloaded buffet of screenwriting goodness, with up to a dozen events in any time slot. These include panels (on topics like “How to Give and Take Constructive Feedback”), “script-to-screen” analyses, and rounds of the pitch competition. The popular roundtables work on the speed-dating model: A table full of amateurs meet a series of pros for 10 minutes each and pepper them with questions. The first pro might be a young writer-director who’s just produced her first web series, the next might be a studio exec, and the third might be Mike Smith, writer of The Revenant.
Unlike at some other screenwriting conferences, the motivational rah-rah is kept to a minimum at Austin. In fact, you’re more likely to get a cold dose of reality. Here’s a sample from this edition. Identity Thief writer Craig Mazin, on a panel called “The Writer/Producer Dynamic: A Case Study,” on hooking up with the wrong producer when you’re desperate for your first gig: “You don’t question the nature of the person throwing you a life preserver when you’re drowning… And a year later you realize you’re a galley slave.” Or, more bluntly, Shane Black at “Black to the Future: Closing Remarks:” “Most of you don’t have talent.”
But there are also bursts of insight from people like This Is Spinal Tap and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off producer Lindsay Doran, in her talk on “The Psychology of Storytelling:” “Audiences don’t care about accomplishments. They care about the moment when a character shares the accomplishment with the person they love.”
At the concurrent film festival, there are the movies, of course: 2016 saw fresh titles like Robin Swicord’s Wakefield, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, Ben Younger’s Bleed for This, and repertory screenings like Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc?
My tips for doing the festival and conference right:
Lauri Donahue is an award-winning screenwriter and script consultant (lauridonahue.com).
Austin Film Festival 2016 ran October 12-20, 2016. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Winter 2017 issue. Photograph of Craig Mazin by Bobby Longoria.