Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Diablo Cody's Top Ten.

Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody(left, with AFF Film Programmer John Merriman) just listed her top ten DVDs in the Criterion Collection in their December newsletter.

Check it out to see her thoughts on Spike Lee, the Maysles Brothers and Louise Brooks.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Kelly Williams wins Excellence Award at IFFS 2008.

AFF Film Program Director Kelly Williams received one of the inaugural Excellence awards at the 2008 International Film Festival Summitt. At a special ceremony held at the Loews Lake Las Vegas
Resort, Williams received the Professional Award, which is presented to the programmer or other festival professional that has excelled in his or her position making a significant contribution to the success of the film festival. Special emphasis was placed on management of staff, execution of initiatives, and new initiatives from previous years.

Other award recipients were:
Piers Handling, Director, Toronto International Film Festival;
Holden Payne, Operations Manager, Seattle International Film Festival;
Andrew Rogers, Executive Director, RiverRun International Film Festival;
Marc Lhormer, Executive Director, Sonoma Valley Film Festival;
Git Scheynius, Festival Director, Stockholm Film Festival.

AFF Screenings Big Success!

AFF's recent Austin premieres of The Kite Runner and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story were big successes.

Following the screening of Walk Hard (with director Jake Kasdan, left, in attendance), was a concert from Dewey Cox himself, John C. Reilly:

Click here for more pics and description at Spin.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

AFF Alumni films get 2007 Independent Spirit Award Nominations.

Several AFF selections have been nominated for the 2007 Independent Spirit Awards! The full list of AFF nominees is below. Congratulations to all the nominees, the winners will be announced on Feburary 23rd!

Best Feature:
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Best Director:
Tamara Jenkins, The Savages
Jason Reitman, Juno
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

John Cassavetes Award:
Stephane Gauger, Owl and the Sparrow
Jeff Nichols, Shotgun Stories

Best Screenplay:
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Tamara Jenkins, The Savages
Fred Parnes & Andrew Wagner, Starting out in the Evening

Best First Screenplay:
Diablo Cody, Juno
Kelly Masterson, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Best Female Lead:
Ellen Page, Juno

Best Male Lead:
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages
Frank Langella, Starting out in the Evening

Best Supporting Female:
Tamara Podemski, Four Sheets to the Wind

Best Supporting Male:
Steve Zahn, Rescue Dawn (AFF selection in 2006)

Best Cinematography:
Mott Hupful, The Savages
Janusz Kaminski, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Two-time Semi-Finalist reaching deserved success...

The AFF Screenplay Competition entrants started early this year. Before the competition had even announced the 2007 finalists, semi-finalist Ian Shorr was already on his way with his script POWER TRIP. As a two-time semi-finalist in the screenplay competition, we were excited to catch up with Ian and find out about his recently sold script EXEMPT (previously titled POWER TRIP).

MARY: You were a Semi-Finalist last year with your script RIGGED. What made you enter the AFF Screenplay Competition again with POWER TRIP?

IAN: Despite my attempt to bribe last year’s judges with money and romantic favors, my script RIGGED never made it past the semi-finals. But I had such an awesome time at the festival, I knew I would have to try to come back the next year -- regardless of whether my next project would get me there.

MARY: Recently, POWER TRIP was sold. Can you share with us your journey with the script and who you sold it to?

IAN: POWER TRIP is an action-comedy about a group of teenagers with diplomatic immunity -- think FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF meets GRAND THEFT AUTO. It was my senior thesis script at USC, and I pitched it at the school’s First Pitch Fest in May. There, rather than pitching the whole story, I simply pitched the first scene (wherein a bunch of kids go joyriding a in a cop car while high on liquid ecstasy), and a. few days later, Benderspink signed me as a management client. They sold the script to Overture Pictures earlier this summer.

MARY: A lot of writers go back and forth on whether or not it is worth entering screenplay competitions. Do you believe that competitions help the writer? If so, how?

IAN: I believe that entering screenwriting competitions can help a writer immensely. Especially when it’s one like AFF, wherein the prevailing tastes don’t automatically tilt towards heavy dramas or indie misery the way they do at a certain other festivals (such as one whose name rhymes with FunPants.) A good competition will help make your name known, or failing that, give you a strong indication of how you can improve. In my own experience, getting into the semi-finals with RIGGED was what got the attention of an indie company back in LA, who ended up producing the movie themselves. You don’t have to win a contest, or even make it into the finals, to get noticed.

MARY: Have you attended the Austin Film Festival and Conference before? And if so, how was that experience? Would you encourage others to attend?

IAN: Last year was like a geeky writer’s dream come true for me: I got to see a bunch of good movies (as well as Uwe Boll’s BLOODRAYNE), read some great scripts in the library, hang out with writers from all over the country, and basically gorge myself on swag and live music. Plus I got to meet my childhood screenwriting idol, Shane Black, and that alone was worth the flight down. It was like a bizzaro version of Hollywood, where writers get to be rock-stars for a few days.

MARY: Do you have any advice for your fellow writers?

IAN: As far as advice for other writers... here’s how I broke in: I made myself write one movie per year since I was a kid. I started a fake agency out my bedroom in Utah when I was 18, and got my first meetings that way. I met a bunch of smart people with similar interests who helped make my stuff stronger. I joined up with a co-writer who constantly pushed me to write better. I entered every contest I could get my hands on (including the AFF, which lead to my first feature.) I answered every writer-wanted ad on the job-listing board at USC (and then ripped the flier off the wall so I wouldn't have to deal with competition.) I learned how to pitch like a madman, and finally, stuff started happening. Basically I broke in through a combination of scheming, hustling, shameless self-promotion, borderline sociopathic and/or illegal behavior, and an obsessive work ethic. Plus, you guys.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Austin Film Festival 2007 Screenplay/Teleplay Competition winners announced!

This year's competition winners were announced at the 2007 Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14 2007.

Sitcom Teleplay Winner - Scrubs: My Hot Mess written by Ashley Lyele

Drama Teleplay Winner - Grey's Anatomy: Reality Bites written by Scott Richter

Latitude Productions Winner - Flower of Fire written by Patrick Hegarty

Sci-Fi Winner - Keys to the Kingdom written by Geof Miller and Troy Hunter

Comedy Winner - Pocket Protector written by Severiano Canales

Adult/Family Winner - Slugger written by Jimmy Miller

Congratulations to these winners and to all of our Second Rounders, Semi-Finalists, and Finalists! We look forward to reading your entries for the 2008 competition.

AFF 2007 Film Competition Winners announced!

Announcing the Austin Film Festival 2007 Film Jury Award Winners!

(Click any title to learn more about the film.)

Narrative Feature :: Shotgun Stories
Writer/Director: Jeff Nichols

Documentary Feature :: Hijos de la Guerra (Children of the War)
Director: Alexandre Fuchs

Narrative Short :: Deface
Writer/Director: John Arlotto

Narrative Student Short :: Salt Kiss
Writer/Director: Fellipe Barbosa

Documentary Short :: Absolute Zero
Director: Alan Woodruff

Animated Short :: Over the Hill
Director: Peter Baynton

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Get AFF schedule info on your cell phone via SMS

Use your cell phone to get the panel and film times on your cell phone via SMS text message. Here's how:

- Text bside fe aff2007 to SMS # 47647 (you only have to do this once to set your phone to AFF)
- Text bside help for a list of common commands
- Text bside show now for a list of upcoming movie/panel times
- Text bside show [title] to see a particular event (e.g. bside show blood car to get showtimes for Blood Car)
- Text bside rate [title] [1-5] to rate a film (e.g. text bside rate big wednesday 5 to rate Big Wednesday 5 stars out of 5)
- Visit and create an account, then add your cell number to your profile. Your SMS ratings will be automatically added to your profile!
- Send bside buzz for a quick list of the top-rated films so far!

AFF Filmmaker Interview: Daniel Kraus

Toddy Burton's great interview with 2 time AFF filmmaker Daniel Kraus is below. You can see Daniel's next screening Sunday the 14th at 7:30pm!

You've directed multiple documentaries and one narrative feature. What's your take on docs versus narratives and do you ever feel that it's a difficult transition from one to the other?

Documentary work informs narrative work and vice versa. For example, thinking carefully about shot composition in narrative features feeds into the compositional ideas you come up with on the fly when working on docs. Feature filmmaking is like performing a piece of music that you've composed, revised, and rehearsed. Shooting docs is like taking all of that knowledge and sitting down at a piano and improvising—it's sink or swim and you need to have the goods to make it work.

What was your original vision for this film and how did it develop throughout the production process?

The final product is remarkably close to what I wanted it to be—namely, something that turns the idea of a "concert film" inside out. With Musician, you keep waiting for the concert—and it does come eventually—because what you're mostly seeing is Ken Vandermark move heavy equipment back and forth. You expect a movie called Musician to be filled with music, but that wasn't my expectation or my experience. That's the fun of these movies: the jobs are never what you expect.

What were some of the difficulties you encountered during the production phase?

The shooting was very smooth. The biggest difficulty was the same difficulty I have with all of my docs—the fact that I make them alone. The challenge, on a moment-by-moment basis, is framing, zooming, focusing, irising, and riding two channels of sound while walking backwards down a flight of stairs. That and carrying all the equipment. By comparison, the interpersonal stuff was easy.

People say documentaries are "made" in the editing. What was the process like for you and how much would you agree with this statement?

Absolutely, it's all about the cuts, particularly with the Work Series (, because the whole idea of the series is that I'm showing the parts of people's jobs that most filmmakers would leave on the cutting room floor. It's the off-moments that fascinate me the most: I'm talking about the hauling of equipment, or the mountain of paperwork, or the smoke break, or whatever little moments or movements a person goes through when dealing with their daily life.

What do you consider to be the goal of this film and what do you wish that audiences take away from it?

The goal of Musician is the same goal as Sheriff—and it's the same goal shared by the entire Work Series: Despite the omnipresence of video cameras, we're increasingly isolated as a culture. Seeing the minute struggles of regular people you see everyday—whether it's the CEO of your company or the person cleaning the toilets at night—humanizes them and allows for parallels to be drawn between their lives and our own. We're all in this together, you know?

It seems that you've been influenced by the work of Frederick Wiseman in verité style and even your titles (Sheriff, Musician). What are your influences and how have they shaped your work as a filmmaker?

Frederick Wiseman and Studs Terkel are the obvious touchstones—I admire their tenacity and patience. Aside from that, it's hard to think of any others; I'm really trying to develop my own Work Series aesthetic. Everything I do is sort of influenced by the original Twilight Zone TV series, but I'm not going to explain that statement—I'm going to leave that a mystery for now.

What's next for you?

I'm forging ahead with the Work Series. I'm just about to choose the subject for Work #3, though I can't announce it quite yet. Work #4, Professor, is already shot and I think it's going to be the best one so far. Also coming up, I hope, are Preacher, Social Worker, and Gravedigger. The nice thing about this concept—and the tough thing about it, too— is that the possibilities are literally endless.

Conference schedule updates for Saturday, October 13

• 9 am - Groundbreaking TV : A New Era has moved to the Driskill Citadel Club

• 9 am - What Gets Producers Excited has moved to the Driskill Ballroom

•9 am - The Writer/Director: Creative Compromises has moved to Stephen F. Austin, Assembly Room

• 9 am - Doing It Yourself has moved to the Maximillian Room

• 2 pm - From Strip to Screen has moved to the Driskill Hotel, Chisolm Trail Room

• Jim Hart’s Tell Your Story has been moved to 2:30 pm at the Driskill Bar. Join Jim for a drink!

• This afternoon at 2pm join Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman for a panel in the Driskill Jim Hogg room for Juno: Script to Screen.

Download the daily newsletter for Saturday as a PDF.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

New Panelist Additions

New panel additions welcome Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman to the 2007 Austin Film Festival Conference.


Writer Diablo Cody penned her debut screenplay JUNO while working as a phone sex operator/insurance adjuster in Minneapolis. She did not attend Harvard.
Cody has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, Playboy, Elle and JANE, among others, and has appeared on CNN, the FOX Morning Show and Late Night With David Letterman. In 2004, she authored the infamous and critically acclaimed memoir "Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper." Most recently she wrote and co-created a half-hour series, The United States of Tara, to be executive produced by Steven Spielberg for Showtime. The pilot is beginning pre-production with plans to shoot later this year. Cody is also working on her second book and various top-secret spec scripts.


Jason Reitman made his feature film directing debut with the 2006 hit THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, based on the acclaimed 1994 novel by Christopher Buckley, which Reitman adapted for the screen. In the wake of the success of THANK YOU FOR SMOKING Reitman and his producing partner, Daniel Dubiecki, formed a new production company, Hard C, which is based at Fox Searchlight. Hard C is developing a number of projects, including the spec script “The Ornate Anatomy of Living Things. Reitman was born in Montreal on October 19, 1977. The son of director Ivan Reitman, he spent most of his childhood on or around film sets. Reitman’s short films have played in over a hundred film festivals worldwide. He has received honors from the Cannes commercial awards, the Addys, as well as the highly coveted One Show. Selected clients include Heineken, Honda, Nintendo, BMW, Kyocera, Asics, Amstel Light, Baskin Robbins, GM, Burger King, and Dennys.

Join Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman for the following panels throughout the festival!

Writer/Directors: Creative Compromises
Saturday Oct. 13th, 9- 10:15 a.m.

Join these filmmakers as they take you on a journey from script to screen. Learn about the creative compromises that must be made and what it takes to become a modern auteur. This panel is sponsored by Script Magazine.
Ed Solomon , Harris Goldberg, Robin Swicord, Terry George, Jason Reitman, Andrew Shea - moderator
(Driskill Hotel, Maximilian Room)

High Concept Comedy
Saturday Oct. 13th, 10:45 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Why is it some comedy scripts seem to be greenlit immediately while others languish in development for years? High concept comedies that can sell themselves on their imaginative premises alone have forever changed the way movies are made and marketed. Learn from the pros the advantages of gearing your writing towards high concept.
Diablo Cody, Dan Petrie Jr., Herschel Weingrod , Karl Williams, Josh Weiner - moderator
(Stephen F. Austin, Assembly Room)

Juno: From Script to Screen
Saturday Oct. 13th 2 -3:15pm

Find out more about the creative duo behind one of the most buzzed about film of the year. Learn about the creative process of getting Diablo Cody’s script to the big screen with Jason Reitman directing and the success that has followed.
Diablo Cody, Jason Reitman
(Driskill Hotel, Jim Hogg Room)

Tell Your Story: Diablo Cody
Sunday, Oct 14th, 1 - 2:15 p.m.

Come meet Diablo Cody screenwriter of this fall’s Juno and join the casual conversation on the couch.
(Driskill Hotel, Chisolm Trail Room)

Tell Your Story: Jason Reitman
Sunday, Oct 14th, 2:30-3:45pm

Come meet AFF Alumni and filmmaker Jason Reitman of Juno, Thank You For Smoking and In God We Trust and join the casual conversation on the couch.
(Driskill Hotel, Chisolm Trail Room)

JUNO film screening
Sunday, Oct. 14th, 4:30 p.m.
(Paramount Theatre)

TBA #1 Will be The Go-Getter!

Half road film/half French New Wave love story (including a wonderful recreation of the Madison sequence from Godard's Band of Outsiders), the film chronicles the story of a young man who steals a car to find his lost brother. Amazingly, the car's owner(Deschanel) not only doesn't want to arrest him, but strikes up a relationship with him via her cell phone. The chemistry between Pulci and Deschanel is infectious, and the coming of age story can help but leave you moved.

AFF is proud to be screening The Go-Getter as TBA #1 on Thursday, October 11th!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Five films off your radar- Frank Edition.

AFF staff and programmers are picking five movies each that might be off your radar, but are worth checking out. You may not have heard of them now, but these films will blow you away.

Frank Kearl, Production Manager

1. Superheroes- What a great performance by Dash Mihok in this film. Deeply sad and yet suspenseful at the same time, this is really a great showcase for an actor that not enough people know about.

2. War/Dance- I fully expect this will get an Oscar nomination this year. Really amazing subject matter, its an uplifting film amongst all the tragedy of Uganda. It would behoove you to see this film.

3. First Saturday in May- My favorite sports movie of the year, this doc makes you care as much about the horses as the people who devote their lives to training them.

4. Year at Danger- Ground level in the Iraq war- from a filmmaker's perspective. Austinite Steve Metz's story is touching and deeply affecting but never grinds a political ax to the left or right.

5. Owl and the Sparrow- This won the audience award at LA Film Fest, and is a really great little film. It's like a cross between Wong Kar Wai and Francois Truffaut, with some amazing performances by child actors.

TBA #4 will be Grace is Gone!

We are very proud to announce that Sundance favorite Grace is Gone is going to be screening at AFF as TBA #4!

Come out to the Bob Bullock Theater on Thursday, October 18th at 9:30pm to see a film that is already garnering Oscar buzz.!

More info here.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Add These Film Panels to Your Schedule

Interested in film? Join in on these panels to experience the best of what the Austin Film Festival has to offer:


Meet and Greet: Narrative Competition Filmmakers
Driskill Hotel, Maximilian Room
3: 15 - 4:30 p.m.
Come meet some of the Austin Film Festival’s 2007 narrative competition filmmakers. Learn more about their creative processes and the stories behind their films. If you’re looking to connect with people who can show you how to get your film project off the ground, this session is for you.


The Writer- Director: Creative Compromises
Driskill Hotel, Maximilian room
9 - 10:15 a.m.
Join these filmmakers as they take you on a journey from script to screen. Learn about the creative compromises that must be made and what it takes to become a modern auteur.

Doing It Yourself
Driskill Hotel, Citadel Club
9 - 10:15 a.m.
With digital technology and an industrious spirit, today’s filmmakers can really do it ALL themselves. Come hear DIY filmmakers talk about what it takes to make indie films. If money is an issue, come discover what you can do to stretch your time, dollars, and talent effectively.

A Conversation with Oliver Stone
Driskill Hotel, Ballroom
10:45 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Meet 2007 Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking Award recipient Oliver Stone, the legendary director, producer, and writer behind Midnight Express, Scarface, Platoon, and Born On The Fourth of July, among many, many others.

Meet and Greet: Feature Documentaries
Driskill Hotel, Maximilian Room
10:45 a.m.- 12 p.m
Come meet some of the AFF’s 2007 competition filmmakers. Learn more about their work and the stories behind the creation of their films. If you’re looking to connect with people who can show you how to get your project off the ground, this session may just be indispensable.

How Did You Get Your First Movie Made?
Driskill Hotel, Maximilian Room
2 - 3:15 p.m.
Come listen to filmmakers’ experiences creating their first films. What mistakes did they make? What worked, and what didn’t? Hear firsthand stories on the process of producing films.

A Conversation with John Milius
Driskill Hotel, Ballroom
2 - 3:15 p.m.
Meet 2007 Distinguished Screenwriter John Milius, writer of Jeremiah Johnson, Big Wednesday, Apocalypse Now, and Conan the Barbarian, among many, many others.


Budgets: Talking to People, Working the Numbers
Driskill Hotel, Maximilian Room
2:30 - 3:45 p.m.
Despite all the creative energy behind most films, the number crunchers are the ones who make finished projects possible. Find out how production managers and others determine the most efficient and economic way to get films made.

Docs: From the Beginning
Driskill Hotel, Jim Hogg Room
4 - 5 p.m.
From securing sponsorship to budgeting and shooting on a tight schedule, here we discuss what you’ll need to get your documentary off the ground.

To attend AFF panels, you must be registered for an AFF Badge! Follow the following link for information on how to purchase one:

Add These TV Panels To Your Schedule

Interested in writing for TV? Or the production of Television?

The Conference has several panels focusing on Television today, find out more about those panels below and add them to your Festival Schedule.


TV Drama Today
Stephen F Austin, Assembly Room
9 - 10:15 a.m.
Learn how professionals create TV drama while working within the specific requirements of timeslots, outlets, and styles. Find out how to identify and capture the tone, characters, dialogue, and themes of a good drama series.

Writing Comedy for TV
Driskill Hotel, Citadel Club
1:45 - 3 p.m.
Questions about how to write comedic material that actually works on TV? Join in on this panel and have all your questions answered.

A Conversation with Glenn Gordon Caron
Driskill Hotel, Ballroom
3:15- 4:30 p.m
Join in and listen as Glenn Gordon Caron talks about his career and writing and creating Moonlighting, Now and Again, Medium among many, many others.

Late Night TV
Driskill Hotel, Jim Hogg Room
3:15 - 4:30 p.m.
Come and discover more about the genius teams of writers behind the jokes and sketches on your favorite late night talk show!


Groundbreaking TV: A New Era
Driskill Hotel, Ballroom
9 - 10:15 a.m.
TV buffs, this is the panel for you. Come and hear from some of the creative forces behind today's groundbreaking TV series!

Tell Your Story: Thomas Schlamme
Driskill Hotel, Chisolm Trail Room
10:45 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Come meet Thomas Schlamme, creator of The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and join the casual conversation on the couch.

Production Team: Friday Night Lights
Driskill Hotel, Jim Hogg Room
3:45 - 5 p.m.
Learn all about what goes into making this series from the cast and crew themselves.

To attend AFF panels, you must be registered for an AFF badge.

Friday, October 05, 2007

TBAs? Whaaa?

So what's a TBA? Why do I want to go to a movie that wasn't announced beforehand? TBAs can be anything from studio films we had to keep secret to indie gems that were late additions to the festival roster. In past years AFF TBAs have included Rushmore, Death of a President, Nightmare Detective, and The Queen. Expect more great films this year!

All the 2007 TBAs will be announced next week. Check back Monday morning for our first TBA announcement!

Five films off your radar- Kelly Edition.

AFF staff and programmers are picking five movies each that might be off your radar, but are worth checking out. You may not have heard of them now, but these films will blow you away. Kelly Williams, Film Program Director

1. Good Time Max- This is James Franco's second film at the festival (the first was The Ape at AFF ’05). You may not realize it, but James writes/directs/stars in personal projects when he is not on big Hollywood productions . Along with producer Vince Jolivette (who is also in the film) and co-writer Merriwether Williams (who also happens to write for SpongeBob SquarePants), this trio of friends create unique and offbeat looks at male friendship.

2. Don't Eat the Baby- Two time AFF filmmaker Todd Berger brings his first feature to the festival this year, a funny and sad film about his home town: New Orleans. Berger's great comic timing gives a real lift to a film about the strength of New Orleans residents as they rebuild their lives and create the first Mardi Gras after Katrina, all while giving a history and pointing out the importance of the event. The doc also features a kick ass soundtrack from the Quintron and Miss Pussycat which sets a great tone for the film.

Four Sheets to the Wind- A truly indie movie, Sterlin Harjo's film is unerringly authentic look at life on the reservation in Oklahoma. It is also oddly funny, beautifully shot, and a great coming of age story with amazing performances.

4. Chasing the Dream/Big Wednesday- Two surf films play the land locked AFF this year. John Milius's 70s classic Big Wednesday will screen at the IMAX, which should be amazing to see the great photography and surf scenes on that giant screen. In competition, AFF alum Angelo Mei's Chasing the Dream recounts one big summer when some talented surfers to Huntington Beach, CA travel to Australia to take a shot at making it big. The film is narrarated by the singular Gary Busey, an homage to his role in Milius' classic.

Shotgun Stories- One of the most acclaimed films from an Austin based filmmaker in recent years, Jeff Nichols' Shotgun Stories marks a major debut from a deeply American, deeply Southern filmmaker. The film also features an amazing star turn from character actor Michael Shannon (you might remember him from William Friedkin’s Bug and Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center), by far one of the most unappreciated young actors working today.

AFF Filmmaker Interview: Todd Berger

UT grad, screenwriter, actor, documentary filmmaker and New Orleans native. Read Toddy Burton's interview for more on the cultural impact of Katrina, the comedy of Mardi Gras, and where to find queso in Los Angeles.

Also check out the trailers throughout the festival made by The Vacationeers, a sketch comedy group in which Todd is a member!

You’re a native of New Orleans and seem to interview various family members in the film. Don’t Eat the Baby resonates as a very personal film, but one that addresses the broad scope of Katrina’s impact. Why did you want to make this film?

The first time I went back after Katrina in December of ’05, it was like being in post-war Berlin – people going on with their daily lives while walking past destroyed buildings and boats still flipped over in the street. I went out to eat with my family on Christmas Eve in one of the few restaurants that was open and there was a trailer community in the parking lot where all of the employees lived - there was such a lack of low-income housing, businesses were offering trailers to workers just so they could stay open. I knew this New Orleans was such a unique time and place that needed to be captured on film. Mardi Gras was coming up, and there was already a firestorm of controversy over whether or not it should be held – if people should be partying at a time like this. I thought this would be a perfect backdrop to discuss the issues facing the city because Mardi Gras has always been something that most Americans have a gross misconception of, which to me is a symbol of them not knowing about what’s really going in the reconstruction efforts.

When my crew and I first went down to shoot, I planned to make the documentary very personal. As we shot more and more and talked to more and more people, though, I realized this film shouldn’t be about me, it should be about the city – because New Orleans is the greatest character of all. I wanted to try and capture the spirit of The Big Easy in its first celebration after being knocked down, and let the audience see for themselves how a whole city could come together. I did leave some personal touches, though, because I do think it’s important that people know the film was made by a local boy and not an outsider.

Your credits encompass primarily comedy, including writing, acting and directing for both shorts and features. How did you transition from straight comedy to an emotionally and politically charged documentary which so successfully traverses between comedy and tragedy.?

In a weird way, I’ve always thought of the documentary as a comedy. The laissez-faire attitude that New Orleanians have towards life in general is unlike anywhere else in America, and I thought it important that the film share the same tone. What people will find most surprising about the Mardi Gras after Katrina was how funny it was – parade floats of government officials depicted as devils, trailers covered with joyful decorations, costumes made out of the blue tarps FEMA used to fix roofs, etc. Mardi Gras isn’t just about partying, it’s about satirizing those in power – a tradition dating back to the Civil War Reconstruction when maskers in the streets would make fun of Ulysses S. Grant. The most common reply people on the street would give to us when we would ask if Mardi Gras should have been held was “Sometimes you need to laugh to keep from crying.”

Don’t Eat the Baby has a real sense of community involvement, as the filmmaking crew seems to be a part of the Mardi Gras proceedings. What was production like?

It’s hard for anyone not to get swept up in it all, but I wish we had been able to be MORE a part in the proceedings. Going to New Orleans for ten days to document Carnival is like being invited to an extravagant wedding reception and having the bride and groom ask you to film it instead of participating.

Everyone we approached – from people on the street to respected historians - was really open to talk to us; especially when they learned I was a local boy who would try and represent the city right. People were becoming more and more disillusioned with the national media’s sudden ignorance of the whole aftermath situation - Katrina was big news when it happened, but by six months later the national news had moved on to other things and nobody really cared anymore about the whole recovery aspect. I would be in Los Angeles, and it seemed as if half the people I talked to thought New Orleans was totally back to normal, and the other half thought it had been totally destroyed.

You’ve left Austin Texas and have been living in Los Angeles for many years now. How have you made that transition as a Texas Ex living in La La Land?

It was definitely a huge adjustment coming from Austin at first - you can’t find Lone Star here ANYWHERE - but eventually you learn how many ex-Austinites there are on the west coast and that a lot them stick together. The thing about Los Angeles is that it’s so vast both geographically and culturally, it’s easy to find things that remind you of home. You start to discover which grocery stores sell Shiner and which Mexican restaurants actually have queso. Did you know that the original Freebirds is just north of LA? It’s true. They don’t have the “Bad-Ass BBQ Sauce,” but we’ll take what we can get.

With over forty hours of footage, I’m sure your editing process was quite an adventure. What was your post-production experience on Don’t Eat the Baby?

We actually ended up with over forty hours of Carnvial footage and 30 more of just interviews. Luckily the writer in me had come out before we even started shooting, so I had a detailed outline of what I wanted to discuss and how I wanted to thematically present it. We used this outline as a guide while shooting and interviewing, and then used it to coherently organize all of the footage. Of course once editing started there were massive deviations from this outline - the original cut of the movie was almost 3 hours and now it’s 90 minutes - but all-in-all it worked out pretty well. We then had to do test screenings specifically for people who had never been to New Orleans or Mardi Gras before, because we had become so familiar with the customs and terminology that we started to forget that not everyone knows what a “krewe” or a “flambeaux” is.

It seems obvious that shooting in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, even in the wake of such tragedy, must have thrown you and your crew into the midst of some wild party environments. Can you tell us one of your more colorful production experiences?

Well at one point we got permission from Pat O’Brien’s – home of the Hurricane – to go into the establishment when it was crowded and just get some B-roll. I guess we looked very official, because a lot of the tipsy clientele were under the impression that A.) we were official Pat O’Brien’s photographers and B.) we were holding a still camera. So if you watch the footage from that night, you see all these groups call us over to their table and then pose – waiting frozen for a flash that never comes.

What's next for you?

On the writing front, I’m currently working on a project for Dreamworks Animation and recently optioned a script to the Jim Henson Company that’s sort of a crazy puppet film noir. I also have a voodoo-centric supernatural thriller set up at John Woo’s company that’ set in New Orleans, so if all goes well it will go into production on-location beginning of next year. As for directing, I just finished up a super-cheap indie dark comedy script that I hope to find some financing for and shoot next year. I’d also love to develop a sitcom set in a FEMA trailer park.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Five films off your radar- John Edition.

AFF staff and programmers are picking five movies each that might be off your radar, but are worth checking out. You may not have heard of them now, but these films will blow you away.

John Merriman, Film Programmer

1. The Cake Eaters - The first feature from writer Jayce Bartok and director Mary Stuart Masterson is a deliberately paced tale of loss and redemption, marked by strong characters and exquisite performances by Bruce Dern and Kristen Stewart.

2. Bolinao 52 - A survivor of the Vietnamese Boat People exodus confronts her deepest secret a long unspoken taboo in this deeply personal, deeply moving documentary.

3. Poor Boy's Game - Acclaimed writer/director Clément Virgo tackles the story of an impossible alliance between a father and his son's murderer set in the world of amateur boxing. Be sure and check out the trailer.

4. Taxi to the Darkside - Alex Gibney's powerful follow up to Enron: the Smartest Guy in the Room looks at the death of an Afghan taxi driver at the hands of US soldiers. Incredible.

5. La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon) - After his grandmother's passing, a young boy in Mexico tries to reconnect with his mother who is working illegally in the United States in this moving film.

Alex Gibney's Taxi to the Darkside

AFF Filmmaker Interview: Victor Fanucchi

AFF is proud to be hosting the World Premiere of Victor Fanucchi's hilarious college satire Beyond the Pale. Read Toddy Burton's interview with Victor to learn more about Vladimir Nabokov, no-wildness policies, and modal modes

How did you get started with this project?

The idea for "Beyond the Pale" started with my obsession with Vladimir Nabokov's novel Pale Fire. I had an idea It was going to be a fake documentary by an outsider, failed academic and unreliable narrator trying to force more established Nabokov scholars to accept his strange interpretation of Pale Fire, which is in real life a novel about an academic imposing his bizarre interpretation onto a work of literature. It might not have gotten past the daydream stage if I hadn't told my friend Jeff Wise about it, who just happened to be obsessed with Pale Fire too and was reading the Brian Boyd book about Pale Fire. Jeff contributed a lot of ideas for the script and would read drafts and tell me when I was getting too far out there. Of course, I didn't have the money or personal contacts to get permission from the Nabokov estate to use Pale Fire in any way. I had been making sensible legal arguments in my head about how it would be okay not to get permission, but finally I faced up to the fact that even a legal gray area could be a nightmare for the movie down the line. And so, at the 11th hour, the novel that the movie's about became a parody of Pale Fire called Pale Queen of Night, and the author in question a composite of Nabokov and a couple others. And it was all for the better, since I'd previously been unable to stop myself from loading up the script with endless Pale Fire details. Making it a fictional work allowed me to step back a bit and concentrate on my story instead.

You’ve written and directed award-winning shorts as well as edited award-winning trailers, but this is your first feature. How did you make the transition?

I decided to make the leap from shorts to features years ago. Unfortunately the people with the money to make the features weren't aware of it. I didn't want to be pushy. The time I spent editing trailers helped me a lot actually. While writing a script I think about which scenes would make it into the trailer. Are there enough of those trailer-worthy moments? Hopefully yes.

Beyond the Pale represents a clear understanding of the weirdness of academia, particularly endless PhD programs. How dud you manage so successfully to represent this world and to create such successful satire?

Teaching screenwriting and production at a university is very different than being a scholar of film history and theory. I'm not an academic, but I'm married to one and I'm surrounded by them at work. I get to call them "colleagues," which is great for a wannabe like me. So there are some details of the academic world I passively absorbed over the years, some things I got from research, and others I just made up. Wild inaccuracies. For instance, in the world of make-believe, student-professor affairs happen all the time, while in reality they're extremely rare. If they were commonplace, they wouldn't be so titillating and therefore wouldn't pop up in every single novel or movie about academia, mine included.

Central to your film is the fictional writer J.D. Nochpynne and his novel, Pale Queen of Night, both of which resonate as so real. While characters argue about Nochpynne’s identity and the book’s different meanings, it’s almost as if this novel actually exists. What was your process of conceptualizing this work?

Whatever reality there is to Nochpynne's Pale Queen of Night, it's stolen from Nabokov's Pale Fire. Did I mention that I love Pale Fire? And Nochpynne is a certain reclusive author's name rearranged phonemically. The initials J.D. are stolen from the other big recluse in 20th century American lit. So it's a big rip-off. Although I did spend a lot of time coming up with a crazy elaborate symbology for Pale Queen of Night that would parody the complex chess and butterfly references in Pale Fire. Of course there was no place in the movie for any of that, so that was mostly time wasting.

Where did you find the cast?

A friend of mine, Matt Nix, read the script and immediately thought of Hayes Hargrove, who had been in a short of Matt's several years ago. Hayes' Myspace page listed "modal modes" among his interests. Based on that and Matt's recommendation and Hayes' reel, I offered him the lead role over the phone. Then I worried that we might not get along in person, like a bad pheromone interaction or something, but we got along great as it turned out. And that's very fortunate, since he lived in our guest room for almost a month during rehearsals and the shoot. The other casting decisions were made by a computer, which turned out surprisingly well.

Any wild on set stories?

I enforced a strict no-wildness policy on the set. Even so, there was a little on-set wildness when we shot the frat-party scene. Two young women approached my assistant director and asked if we needed a girl-on-girl makeout session in the background. Of course, Danny the AD said, "No way!" and escorted them out of there. You will definitely not see them making out in the background in the scene where Anna comes to the house looking for Sasha.

What's next for you?

There's an excellent action/suspense/dark comedy script I'd like to direct called "Afghan Picnic," written by Jeff Wise. It's got dangerously high levels of irony, even by the strictest definition of irony, where the audience knows something the main characters don't. A pair of young Americans in Afghanistan are taken for a ride by their mistranslating guide, who's telling them one thing in English and another thing entirely in the Wakhan dialect of his fellow tribesmen. Our young adventurers think they're travelling to the site of lost archaeological ruins, while their guide is using them in a local power play, talking them up as army sergeants capable of calling in air-strikes with their mobile phone. It's funny, it's got guns, and it's conceived to be shot on a very low budget. And I've got a couple other scripts I'm writing, and there's a fairly high-concept half-hour comedy idea Hayes Hargrove and I are developing, getting it ready to spring on everyone! We're sitting on a comedy bombshell.

Development to Shooting and Beyond

Don't miss out on these panels at this year's Conference and Festival!

Photo from IMDB

Join Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg on October 13, at 2:30 p.m.for clips and stories from their cult hit Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and find out more about the soon to be released Harold & Kumar 2. See how this writing duo has taken the buddy comedy to a higher level and made the transition from writers to writer/directors.
The duo recently wrapped production on their directorial debut, the much-anticipated sequel in the Harold & Kumar franchise set to be released in early 2008. As producers, they are currently in development on All You Can Eat, a comedy set in the world of competitive eating.
Photo from IMDB

How do you take a comic strip and turn it into a 90 minute animated feature? Join Mike Fry, co-creator of the Over The Hedge comic and Tim Johnson, director of the Dreamworks Animated feature as they discuss how to put a comic strip into motion. This panel will take place On Saturday, October 13, at 3:45 p.m.
Photo from IMDB

Also at 3:45, join the Producers of Friday Night Lights. Visit with the show’s production team and learn about their work process from script development to shooting and beyond.

For a complete Schedule of panelsand films, visit at Badges can be purchased online or by calling 1-800-310-3378.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Five films off your radar- Jesse Edition.

AFF staff and programmers are picking five movies each that might be off your radar, but are worth checking out. You may not have heard of them now, but these films will blow you away.

Jesse Trussell, Film Competition Programmer

1. The Rebel- What's the word I am looking for about this film? Oh yeah: badass. The first Vietnamese marital arts film, Charlie Nguyen's 1920s spy film epic is beautiful shot with crazy action scenes. It's sure to be one of the most buzzed about films of the fest.

2. Musician- The second in director Daniel Kraus's continuing "Work" series (following 2004 AFF selection Sheriff), this verite doc examines the life of a brilliant, award winning jazz musician who still struggles to just make ends meet.

3. Standing Silent Nation- Suree Towfignia's passionate and well observed documentary is a true David and Goliath story. When the US government forced the Lakota nation to stop farming industrial hemp, it challenged not only a crop but their chances to survive as a people on their reservation in South Dakota.

4. Year of the Fish- A rotoscoped version of Cinderella set in the underworld of Chinatown. If you're like me, that's all it will take to get you in the theater.

5. Mondo Capo- Made from all found footage, Austinite Calonico's film's hilarious editing and added text reminded me of the loose and experimental style of the French New Wave icon Chris Marker. It's like watching an old educational film made by the most sarcastic yet intelligent kid in class.

AFF Filmmaker Interview: Alex Orr

Alex Orr's hilarious black comedy/satire Blood Car is making its Austin Premiere at AFF on October 13th at midnight at the Dobie Theater. Read critic/filmmaker Toddy Burton's interview with Alex to discover more about indie horror, squirting blood and the influence of Roger Corman:

How did Blood Car develop from story to screen?

In September of 2005 Adam Pinney, Hugh Braselton and myself were in the car together throwing around ideas. Specifically today, ideas for horror movies because we heard a local guy sold his movie and we had seen the film and weren’t very impressed. We were bouncing ideas back and forth, stuff taken out of the headlines- like Sam Fuller plotlines and someone came up with a car that runs on blood. That sounded like it had potential and we all kept at it that morning and after lunch had a solid outline. Adam and I began on the screenplay that evening with Adam writing the first act in a mater of hours. Shortly after we got into the writing process (which consisted of passing scenes back and forth and trying to come up with more jokes and a third act) I was bitten by a house cat and had to spend about a week in the hospital where I wrote several scenes under the fog of heavy pharmaceuticals.

The script was finished about 2 weeks after we began and instead of passing it around, asking for opinions and revising it- I took a feature film in NYC to earn enough money to make the film. We shot the script we wrote, but in the editing room Adam Pinney and I wrote the final script because we changed many scenes, lost an entire subplot and did 3 days of reshoots. .

In writing the script both Adam and myself tried to stay away from plotlines and scenes that the audience would expect and then grow tired of. In addition to writing an entertaining film with an absurdist political undercurrent we chiefly wanted to keep people in a story that wouldn’t go where they expected it to.

You have a fair amount of credits to your name, and have worked as everything from cinematographer to assistant director to actor, but this is your first time directing a feature film. How did you make the transition to writing/directing?

My intentions have always been to be a writer/director since film school. But since I knew no one was going to write some inexperienced kid a big check to go make a movie I have been working in the film industry to learn about how the set functions and to primarily meet people and make contacts that could allow me to make a film with very little money.

I met most of the actors and crew that are in Blood Car on other films that I was a gaffer or AD on. Most of my acting credits are from people not showing up to set and someone throwing me in.

Sometimes to my disadvantage, I’m a really pragmatic person. I want to know how long it really takes to do something, if we can really put a camera in a certain spot-that kinda stuff, I really have been concerned with the logistics of filmmaking. Sometimes that means I get an idea and I know immediately that it will be impossible for a small production to accomplish that feat and I throw it out.

So if you are working in another department and want to transition into writing or directing- go get a DV camera and shoot some shorts. That was what I had done before Blood Car in that area. I would usually keep it pretty simple and just have a camera and some actors. Just to learn about the process of taking something from the page and getting it to the screen was a huge help. Also writing and directing and editing your own shorts help you treat your script like it was written by someone else, and edit your footage like it wasn’t shot by you- by that I mean that you can’t hold onto every word of your script or an awesome shot that was hard to get on set. You have to have an end product that works- that’s has been an important thing for me to learn.

Blood Car seems to pay homage to early Roger Corman films, particularly movies like Death Race 2000 or even Rock and Roll High School. How did these films influenced you?

I love Roger Corman stuff. I was obsessed for years by any movie that could hold an audiences’ attention without having a large budget so I watched a lot of those films. Blood Car is really influenced by a Corman movie called Bucket of Blood. In this movie a guy wants to get chicks and where he works all the chicks like artists. So he starts making sculptures but the sculptures are just dead bodies with clay over them. It’s a terrible film but the idea is really funny to me.

As far as approaching a wild B-movie asthetic- it was easy. We had no money so it looks cheap….because it is cheap. But you don’t need money to pull the gags we did, you just need the nerve to do it. I think that Blood Car would have never been made with a large budget just because of people’s fear of everyone not liking it. I think that’s the point. If I make a movie in the hopes that everyone can like it and no one will be offended, then I’m making middle of the road crap and I don’t really wanna watch or make that stuff. Satire is meant to provoke.

As for satire, that’s what I really love. Dr. Strangelove is one of my favorite films ever made and the silliness with which they treat very serious issues is used in Blood Car quite a bit. But satirical elements have always been in horror movies. Genre films can get away with working in the genre and sliding in satirical plotlines. Texas Chainsaw Massacre has that whole thing with the kids running out of gas and it was made just after the gas crisis in ’73. Don Seigel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is probably the best example of a B movie with big ideas. There are tons and tons of these films, one of the more recent is The Host. Satirical films are just a joy to watch and read into, and even more fun to write. Balancing horror or another genre with very established conventions with satire is the easiest I think. I think films like Little Children and Election have a much tougher time getting people to look deeper into the film to see what the filmmaker is driving at.

You’ve got a lot of fun gross out special effects in Blood Car. How did you pull off all that blood?

We squirt a lot of blood on this movie. About 60-70 gallons I think. To get the blood to properly projectile we used fire extinguishers filled with blood and air pressure. There is one effect in the film in which a man gets his legs chopped by the blood car. For this we used a small thing that looked like a pony keg, it held more blood and air pressure than a fire extinguisher. We were able to split the hoses and shoot blood from all around the actor. We also burn a character alive, shoot some people, and hit a guy with an axe. All of it is on the cheap, just using editing and basic tricks. Some of the effects we did just bombed but lucky they were associated with a subplot we lost quickly in editing.

One of the best effects in the movie is when the lead character, Archie, takes his own blood to test the Blood Car. He does this with a box cutter and a plastic tube. The effect works really well and even made a kid at the Sarasota film festival faint.

For make up we had to constantly match the amount of blood people had on them because we shot the film out of sequence. It’s a pain but not too much trouble for a good make up person and we definitely had one.

What we would basically do with the effects is write the effect we wanted and then try to find something close to that in another film and see how they did it, or we would get together with the production designer (Robert Paraguassu) and the blood team (Blake Myers and Will Sanders) between us we designed some of the effects or we would just use photoshop for things like gunshots.

How did you cast the movie?

The parts of Archie and Denise were written specifically for Mike Brune and Katie Rowlett. Adam and I have worked with them so much we tailored the parts for them. Its easy to write characters like those with a specific actor in mind.

Originally Lorraine was written as a morbidly obese Jewish girl but we changed it for Anna. Some of the other actors like Matt Stanton, Vince Canlas, Hawmi Guillibeaux, John Green and Marla Malcolm I worked with on other projects and really liked them. It wasn’t hard putting people I knew into parts, part of thinking about the characters to write them dialogue was thinking about who could play them.

I met Mr. Malt (carjacker) on the set of his music video (his rap group is the Scoundrelz) that I was the gaffer on. Adam Pinney was actually the Best Boy on that video and he got hit in the head with a light and had to go to the hospital. We both remembered that Mr. Malt had a great attitude and a really great look. We met with him and even thought he hadnever acted he killed the part so we cast him on first read.

Casting the children in the classroom was a mix of Craiglist and message boards and family and friends’ children. All of the random background agents are the crew. Instead of worrying about casting those parts we would just keep a suit around and throw someone in it when we needed an agent. The two goofball agents in the control room are played by Adam Pinney and myself; we really didn’t want to be in the movie but we shot those scenes as part of our pickup days. We got the idea after the fact and didn’t really want to cast or write lines so we did it ourselves and made it up as we went.

What's next for you?

I’m writing a movie about little league baseball. I just produced a short film written and directed by Mike Brune that I’m sure will have a great festival run. It’s a really interesting short with great performances and amazing camera work by Adam Pinney. We are developing a script by Hugh Braselton called Depth Charge, which is the story of a man whose life falls apart in four acts. Its comedy with elements of Raymond Carver and John Cheever in it. On November 6th the Blood Car DVD will be released so I’m gearing up for that too because we have lots of special features to finish up so we have a DVD full of info and entertaining bonus features. I believe that Mike Brune has raised the bar on DVD commentaries to a new level.