Monday, April 20, 2009

AFF First Look With Steven Puri and Matt Summers

The business of writing can be a confusing and frustrating one. After spending months, if not years, writing and re-writing draft after draft of what you're sure will be the hit of the Black List, it’s hard to believe the real work has just begun. Now that you have a finished script, what do you do with it? How do you go about turning your words into a paycheck? How do you get your work into the hands, and under the eyes of the right people? These are the questions the Austin Film Festival has been working to answer for aspiring screenwriters for the past fifteen years. Being the first and still one of the few festivals to concentrate so heavily on the development process of screenwriting, AFF has become an outstandingly unique industry experience.

AFF recently caught up with Steven Puri, Executive Vice-President of Kurtzman/Orci Productions and Matt Summers, Vice President of 821 Entertainment, a new indie financier/production company - AFF veterans both.

AFF: Steven, at Kurtzman/Orci and before that at Red Wagon, and Matt, now at 821 Ent., after years with Saturn Films, how do most screenplays come down the pike that you guys produce? How do you find most of your writers?
Puri: Most of our material here is based in other media – COWBOYS & ALIENS, ATLANTIS RISING/comics, DEEP SEA COWBOYS/article, THE BIG ONE/book, MATT HELM/remake. All writers come from licensed agents, managers.
Summers: In all honestly, most scripts I become involved with are from agents or managers. However, that is never a hard & fast rule and I look for material all over the place. A good story trumps all!

AFF: How, if at all, are you noticing the effects of the current economic crisis on the scripts being bought and films being produced out of Hollywood now? Do you foresee a shift in Hollywood favoring a simpler, more independent style of film?
Summers: It is much more difficult to get a script bought in this climate. My increasing the package of the project (i.e., attaching talent, filmmaker's, etc.) increases the odds of a sale. I feel the marketplace will become smaller (i.e. not as many films being released), and that most of those films will need to be accessible and relatable films that entertain and inspire.
Puri: It seems right now the big buyers have bi-furcated their focus: big events and small contained budgets.

AFF: For beginning screenwriters and filmmakers, do you think it's important that they physically make the move to LA, or is it not necessary?
Puri: Move to LA once you have gotten an agent or manager – until you do, keep writing, honing your craft. There’s no need to wait tables while writing here – it’s about what’s on the page.
Summers: I 100% believe it's important that up and coming screenwriter's live in either LA or NYC. LA is probably the best place.

AFF: Describe your dream screenwriting and/or filmmaking panel; who would be on it?
Summers: Off the top of my head: Orson Welles, Cary Grant, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Chris Nolan, one or both Coen Bros., Michael Bay and, of course, Steven Puri.
Puri: Scott Frank, James Cameron, Tony Gilroy, Ed Solomon, Woody Allen. I won’t mention anyone with whom I work or with whom I’m friends, as that’s not fair, right?

AFF: From your experience and perspective, what are the most beneficial aspects of the Conference experience?
Steven Puri: Hearing how the actual process of screenwriting happens. Not theory.
Matt Summers: The most beneficial aspect of the Conference is interacting with so many great executives from within the industry, but also having a direct connection with so many talented writer's and filmmaker's. That there are literally no boundaries makes the Conference a very intimate and unique affair.

Have your own questions for them? Matt and Steven will both be here for the 2009 AFF Conference, October 22-25.