Monday, August 20, 2007

Austin Stories: I thought I was getting punk'd!

Here is another installment of an Austin Story by Karl Williams. Karl Williams won 3 awards in 2005 for "Punctured" and "Superego" in the comedy and sci-fi categories. His script "Punctured" is now in production and he will return to the festival this year.

When I got the call from the Austin Film Festival that both of my scripts had made the finals, my heart was in my throat. It stayed there for the next several weeks as we made the courageous (or incredibly dumb, I am not sure there's a difference) decision to bring our five-month-old son Jack with us to the festival.

As we pushed Jack in his stroller down the sunny streets toward the Austin Club, I confided in my wife Lisa that I "knew" I wasn't going to win anything. My elaborate theory included my multiple finalist scripts cancelling each other out, as well as the surely dawning realization all over the state of Texas that I was a no-talent loser. Appalled, Lisa requested I not sit near her and Jack at the awards luncheon, because I was ruining her appetite as well as forcing her to re-evaluate her choice of life mate.

Sandwiched between a legendary Hollywood talent agent and even more legendary writer-director, my wife chit-chatted amiably with her new best friends while I shyly sat frozen in despair, waiting for someone else's name to be called. And then the Sci-Fi Award was announced, and it sounded suspiciously like my name that was being called.

Thinking it would be bad luck to prepare remarks in writing, I had nothing ready, so I winged a standard acceptance speech (at least I remembered to thank Lisa and the AFF). I hustled off stage, relieved. I had won something, making the difficult trip with our baby worth it, my wife was thrilled, and maybe it would do something for my career. Never having won a thing in my life, I knew I'd treasure the AFF's cool bronze typewriter trophy, one of the best-designed awards a writer can hope for. And what's more, I was done – now I could eat, drink, and merrily savor the rest of the luncheon.

As I piled into my salad and chicken, the Comedy Award was announced and my name was read again, for the same script, "Punctured." Stunned and unsure if a mistake was being made, and believing I might have inhaled a crouton, I hesitantly took the stage and accepted.

Having nothing more to say, I mumbled something about needing prescription medication even as I noticed that Harold Ramis and Buck Henry were sitting directly in front me, smiling politely. I can only imagine what they were thinking as they watched some dude in a sweater vest win an award for writing comedy, a subject about which they have certainly forgotten more than I'll ever know.

After having been borne on a makeshift litter back to my seat by a helpful festival staff, an inaugural award from the University of Texas was announced, and my name was read an unbelievable third time. At this point, I was certain that I was being "Punk'd" and suspiciously scanned the room for Ashton Kutcher. I have no clue what I said as I got up on stage yet again, though I wish it was "You like me! You really like me!" The image frozen in my mind from that moment is my wife war-whooping at our table with our son in her arms.

The next night and day were a blur of hearty congratulations, calls from producers and agents as my manager got the word out about my hat trick, and conversations with some amazing people such as Shane Black. And, although it took some time, I ended up with an agent, my double-winning script "Punctured" sold, and it's now in pre-production for a fall shoot.

The best part of the festival wasn't winning, however: it was making a few new friends like Jeremy Wadzinski and Nick Sidorovich, talented writers and all-around great guys with whom I have stayed in touch. Both of them have also parlayed finalist status at Austin into success as screenwriters. To me, that sense of community with other writers is really what the AFF is all about, and the best reason for attending – and it's why I'll be there again in October.

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