Friday, August 12, 2011

AFF for the First-Timer by Jennifer Westcott

Jennifer Westcott on the set of LOCKED IN A GARAGE BAND.

LOCKED IN A GARAGE BAND, written and directed by Jennifer Westcott and produced by her sister Victoria Westcott, at the 2012 Austin Film Festival.

Sisters Jennifer and Victoria Westcott attended the Austin Film Festival for the first time last year, in 2010, and enthusiastically made the most of all the event had to offer – panels, films, workshops and most importantly, networking and introducing themselves to our guest speakers.

We thought they were the perfect people to have share their Festival experience as we announce our Independent Filmmaking Panel series planned for the 2011 Conference. They just wrapped production on their first feature film, Locked in a Garage Band, which was written and directed by Jennifer and produced by Victoria.


AFF for the First-Timer by Jennifer Westcott

My sister Vicky and I experienced the awesomeness that is the Austin Film Festival for the first time last year. Knowing that we were going to be shooting our first feature in the months to follow (I as the writer/director, she as the producer) we wanted to milk as much information, fun and networking as we possibly could out of our two producer badges. And milk those badges we did! We learned more in four panel-packed days than either of us thought possible, partied harder than since we were students, and made a ton of amazing friends that have since helped us survive the crazy that is making your first feature with their unshakeable support, guidance and all-round kickassery.

So here’s our Top Ten Must-Dos for Rocking the AFF:

1. Go Big. Get the badge that gives you the most bang for your buck. We went whole hog: The Producer’s Badge. It gets you into everything - movies, panels, pitch competition, awards ceremonies, round-tables, PARTIES. Yeah, it costs the most but it gets you the most. If you can even remotely afford it, get it. You will not regret it.

2. Get Your Priorities Straight. We knew we wanted to learn as much as we possibly could, so we split up. I hit as many writer/director panels as humanly possible (side note: if you ever get a chance to hear Michael Arndt give a talk about screenwriting, you must do everything in your power to attend - YOU MUST) while Vicky attended what some might see as the less glamorous panels about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. You might not think that compared to hearing Shane Black and Robert Rodriguez riff about story, delving into the legal intricacies of music licensing or learning how to assemble a competent no-budget film crew would actually be cool. But you’d be wrong. She walked away from those panels a crap-ton more knowledgeable than when she went in and that much more prepared to produce our feature. So figure out what you want to learn and plan accordingly. It’s all there.

3. Talk to Strangers. That’s right. Ignore what your parents told you. The only way to meet people is to talk to them! Sure, you’re alone and feeling dorky and maybe everyone seems way, way cooler than you (or maybe that’s just how I felt?) but I promise you, there are a bunch of other people in that conference room (or lobby, or bar) who feel exactly the same way, and they’re either pretending to be engrossed in their festival guide or riveted by their smartphone. Trust me. They’re not. TALK TO THEM!

4. Pace Yourself. If you’re really going to get all you can out of AFF, your days are going to be jam-packed learning stuff and your nights will be spent partying with your new friends talking about everything you just learned. It can be overwhelming. So make sure you eat - Austin has some of the best food anywhere. Enjoy it. Get some sleep. And I’m sure I’m going to sound like your shawl-clutching, pearl-clasping grandma with this next bit of advice, but take it easy on the booze. Hangovers make it hard to get out of bed in time to make the morning panels.

5. Choose Your Accomodations Wisely. Stay somewhere close. Preferably at a hotel or with a friend within walking distance of the Driskill (or better yet, stay at the Driskill!) Saving a few bucks on a hotel room further afield will just mean you spend it on cabs after staying out too late partying with all of your new friends.

6. It’s All About Location, Location, Location. Where you sit in the room, that is. Get to your panels/workshops/round-tables/table-reads early and get a good seat! Watching the hottest Hollywood actors read an amazing Black-List script is way better when you’re feet don’t hurt from having to stand at the back of the room.

7. Be Cool (otherwise known as Don’t be a Dick). This really belongs in the Talk to Strangers portion of our Must-Dos, but I didn’t want to put too much pressure on those readers who feel freaked out enough by having to speak to someone they don’t know, let alone having to worry about whether or not they’re coming off as a dick (truth be told, it’s been my experience that people who worry about being dicks usually aren’t dicks. Take from that what you will.) Be open. Listen. Be polite. Smile. Wanna make friends with a cool producer or star screenwriter? Don’t just shove your business card in their hand and mumble about having the next billion dollar script sitting on your laptop waiting to be discovered. Talk to them. Try to find some common ground...a mutual interest...a shared hobby...anything to forge some kind of genuine connection. Better yet, talk to everyone. You never know who the person you’re sitting next to will turn out to be. Last year I started up a conversation with a woman who’d snuck her chihuahua into a film screening - having three of my own, I was naturally impressed at her chutzpah. We got to chatting and she revealed that she was a development executive at a major studio. She requested my script, loved it and passed it along to the studio head who then purchased it in a high-seven figure deal that turned out to be the spec sale of the decade. Our two families bought a time share in Majorca last month. OK. That was all a complete lie. Especially the part about me having three chihuahuas. But it TOTALLY could have happened. So be cool.

8. Deets. Have business cards. Give them out (when asked! see Don’t Be a Dick for further study). A little tip: keep them in your badge holder, that way you always have them around and don’t have to rummage through your purse or man-bag to find them. Store cards that people give you in there, too. It’s a perfect little system. Thank you AFF!

9. See Some Movies. With everything going on around you, you might forget that there are a whole whackload of awesome films being screened all around you in some of the coolest theaters you’re ever going to get to see a movie in. Watching a film at the Alamo Drafthouse is an experience unto itself - there are servers who bring you food and alcohol (Yes. You read that right. Alcohol.) right to your seat. It is insane. So, go. See a movie there. Have your mind blown. Aspire to having one of your movies shown there someday. Dream.

10. Rinse and Repeat. That’s right, odds are, you’ll return to do it all again the next year. We are. See you in October!

Jennifer and Victoria Westcott both live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. We look forward to their submitting LOCKED IN A GARAGE BAND for the 2012 Austin Film Festival Film Competition!


Anonymous said...

Is there going to be a Funniest Filmmaker contest this year?

Austin Film Festival said...

No Funniest Filmmaker this year - sorry!