Monday, June 29, 2009

First Look With David Hayter

"Watchmen" co-writer David Hayter is one of the biggest names in sci-fi and the film industry and we are honored that he’ll be joining us as a panelist at the Screenwriters Conference this October. David took time out from preparing to make his directorial debut on his thriller script “Wolves,” to answer a few of our questions.

AFF: You have received much acclaim for your screenplay adaptation of "Watchmen," especially for its accuracy being translated from a comic. When adapting any piece of work to screen, how important is it to be accurate to the original body of work? How much creative lenience should writers allow themselves?
HAYTER: Each adaptation is different. With WATCHMEN, I felt that Alan Moore's story, characters and dialogue were all exceptional, and should not be altered to any great extent. My philosophy is; When it's great, don't f#*k with it. I like to keep whatever elements really move me from the original material, and translate them into the screenplay. However, that does not mean that a writer should necessarily go for a word for word adaptation. Many times, the dialogue does not translate well from the page to being spoken out loud, or the pacing does not fit into movie a tight movie structure. (The debate over WM focuses on those very elements, btw.) There are adaptations I've done where I have just taken the basic concept and essence of the original work, and written the rest as I feel will best work on screen.

Adapting a novel as perfect as WATCHMEN is an extremely rare opportunity. In short, writers should use their best instincts when determining what to keep and what to change.

AFF: What was the impetus for co-founding Dark Hero Studios (with producer Benedict Carver and production efforts specializing in horror, comic book and video games), as opposed to continuing on independently?
HAYTER: Actually, Dark Hero Studios was created to give my work a shot at independence. I traditionally work on very big, expensive movies, produced exclusively by the major studios, and while this can be extremely rewarding, it can be difficult to maintain control of the material. Benedict Carver and I formed Dark Hero Studios out of a desire to bring top-level storytelling to more modestly budgeted movies. This was to give us a little more control of the material, and offer an opportunity for ownership. It can create more restrictions, to work at a lower budget, but you can also be forced into more creative, filmic solutions. And in the end, it just seemed like an exciting way to make movies.

AFF: What challenges do writers face when working with animated projects?
HAYTER: Well, occasionally some talking animal will drop an anvil on your head.

I have done a little outline work for Dreamworks Animation, but it was really only at the planning phase, so I haven't really experienced the whole process. I know that an animated film can take as long as four years, so there is a long commitment there. But, you also get to see the project all the way through. So that's a plus.

Also, many times you can just draw a door on the wall, and walk right through it.

AFF: You've done quite a bit of voice acting and understand the importance voice plays in animated features. When you are writing, do you ever imagine specific artists for certain roles? Do you try out voices to see what works best for the character?
HAYTER: I occasionally try to picture an actor playing a role. But I will more often try to create the role out of character traits -- "She's angry at her father, she's neurotically clean, she's had a lifelong desire to pick strawberries...", for example -- And then see how that character's voice evolves. It's always more fun when you get a great actor, someone you never thought of, and they bring their sensibilities to an original character. That way, the audience doesn't always get what they're expecting.

But, voice-work experience is also very worthwhile, in that it teaches you about the value of inflection, clarity, and decision-making in creating scenes. It gives you an interesting perspective.

AFF: For people new to the industry, what do you think are the best stepping stones to a career in screenwriting? What advice do you give to aspiring writers?
HAYTER: I tell them, and this is true, to enter their work into Film Festival screenplay contests. It is the best advice I know. You will have a great deal of difficulty getting your script read, much less appreciated, in Hollywood. It can be done, but without prior credits, you are fighting a severe uphill battle. It costs little to enter a number of world-wide script competitions, and if you win a prize or two along the way, that is something you can use to help get you noticed.

Plus, professional Hollywood types might read your work, and feel compelled to take advantage of your talent and low, low writing quotes.

AFF: Who have you not yet worked with that you'd like to?
HAYTER: I have met, but not yet worked with, Guillermo Del Toro, who is my favorite modern director. I also really admire J.J. Abrams, and James Cameron is my personal idol. Oh, also, Ridley Scott, Terry Gilliam, Stanley Kubrick and Robert Shaw. (I realize that a few of these may be long-shots.)

Have your own questions for David? Buy your Badge now and ask him at the 2009 Austin Film Festival & Conference, October 22-29.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

AFF Filmmaker Follow Up with Gary Lundgren

Gary Lundgren wrote and directed the short film "Wow and Flutter" in 2004. The film screened at more than thirty film festivals world-wide including Austin, AFI, Flickerfest and Gen Art. The film won Best Short Film at the Hampton’s International Film Festival and the Paste Rock ‘n Reel Fest. Recently, Mr. Lundgren wrote and directed the feature comedy "Calvin Marshall" which stars Alex Frost as a kid struggling to make his local junior college baseball team. The film will be released in 2010. Previously, Mr. Lundgren taught filmmaking and cinematography at Santa Barbara City College and the Santa Barbara Multimedia Academy. He also works as a screenwriter and has directed music videos and television. Mr. Lundgren resides in Santa Monica, CA with his wife, producer Anne Lundgren, and their daughter.

AFF talked with Gary about the background of "Wow and Flutter" and his upcoming film "Calvin Marshall".

AFF: Tell me about your film that screened at the festival.

Gary: Wow and Flutter is a 17 minute short film about a first crush that
played festivals in 2004-2005. The story follows David, a sheltered
high school freshman as he falls for an older girl and creates a mix
tape for her. It can currently be seen on

AFF: Was the films participation in festivals important for it’s

Gary: Screening at film festivals was our primary goal. Our three prints
stayed busy all year and played over thirty festivals. Highlights
were Austin, AFI, Gen Art and Hamptons where it won best short film.
It was amazing to see the film take on a life of its own with festival
audiences. This exposure was critical as it created a lot of momentum
for us.

AFF: It’s been said that Ethan Moskowitz was the last actor
auditioned for the part of David. How did you know he was the one?

Gary: Ethan was literally the last actor who read for David. We expected
to cast the part in Portland where we read over a hundred kids. Ethan
turned up a week later in Ashland. We were excited because he looked
the part and was the right age. He was also natural and confident
with a great presence. It was obvious he could carry the film when we
looked at the audition tape.

Ethan Moskowitz and Oliva Avila in "Wow and Flutter"

AFF: The movie is inspired by a personal story, but also your own love
for music. How did you go about choosing the music for the film? Was
there a balance between your own preferences and the needs of the

Gary: I'm a music junkie so it was critical that the tracks worked for
the story and also made a good soundtrack. I love introducing obscure
bands to people and I wanted this to be a facet of the movie. Most of
the songs were chosen before we began shooting.

AFF: How well does the story stay true to the personal story?

Gary: This was not autobiographical, although I had my share of mix tapes
and crushes in high school. Also, a friend of mine had a family with
a similar oppressive dynamic that I borrowed from. It's all pretty
much fiction though.

AFF: You have worked with your wife, Anne Lundgren, on several
projects. How does your close relationship outside of work affect
the work you do together?

Gary: Anne and I have been working together since film school in the
nineties so it's been a natural, fun part of our relationship. We've
never known anything different so it's comfortable and effective.
We've been lucky to also be working alongside producers Mark
Cunningham and Michael Matondi that make up our company Broken Sky

AFF: Is there an event at the Austin Film Festival that you
particularly enjoyed?

Gary: I have great memories of the Austin Film Festival and highly
recommend it. Austin is one of my favorite cities and the festival is
well run. The audiences were warm and friendly and the food and
parties were great. We met some people there in the film community
back in '04 festival that we're still in touch with.

Gary and Anne Lundgren at the 2004 festival

AFF: What are you working on now?

We just finished post on a feature called "Calvin Marshall" starring
Alex Frost, Michelle Lombardo and Steve Zahn. It's a bittersweet
comedy about Calvin's life long dream to play college baseball. It
has a similar tone/style as "Wow and Flutter" and also has a great
soundtrack. It's ultimately a story about overcoming disappointment.
We're excited to screen at festivals this fall and spearhead a
theatrical release in early 2010. Our website will
be up and running this summer.

Michelle Lombardo and Steve Zahn filming a scene for "Calvin Marshall"

Its not too late to enter your film!

Late post-mark deadline: July 3rd

Very late deadline: July 15th

Just one more you reason you should be at the Austin Film Festival & Conference in October...

This year's panel discussions will feature case studies of the writing and script-to-screen production process with the writers and creators for such films and shows as Twilight, "Lost", Valkyrie, Watchmen, The Secret Life of Bees, "Mad Men" and the HBO hit series "Entourage"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

AFF Filmmaker Follow Up with Alex Orr

Before a career in filmmaking Alex Orr was a ticket scalper and professional magician. He studied creative writing and theatre at Georgia State University. While attending GSU he met his fellow filmmakers and joined the film collective Fake Wood Wallpaper.

Alex Orr made his feature film debut at the 2007 festival with the dark comedy Blood Car. AFF talked with Alex about the journey of Blood Car and what he's up to now.

AFF: Tell me about your film that was screened at the festival.

Alex: "Blood Car" is a socially irresponsible B movie about gas prices hitting $30 a gallon and no one driving anymore. A teacher/spare-time inventor makes a car that runs on blood by accident. Bad jokes and grade school satire follow.

AFF: What was your motivation for submitting your film to the festival?

Alex: It's a known fact that Austin Film Festival is a great place to get your movie shown. It's a college town (good for my movie) and the concentration on screenwriting was something new to me. Submitting was a no-brainer, getting in was thrilling.

AFF: Do have a favorite memory of your time at the festival?

Alex: Oh yes. Jason Reitman announced during a small writer's Q&A with him and Diablo Cody that Kimya Dawson (a lot of her music is in "Juno") would be playing a gig in a little venue in town and that everyone should come out. I'm a Moldy Peaches fan so I went to the show, which was great. But my favorite memory was watching the crowd light up when her husband opened up for her. He was Swedish and played the guitar and drums with his feet and had an awesome John Lennon style rock voice. There were a bunch of filmmakers that came to the show and it was just a really fun night. I remember watching him set up and thinking, "where's the rest of the band?" it was awesome.

AFF: "Blood Car" was a unique mix of comedy and horror. Do you have a favorite genre?

Alex: Not really. I like whatever works. I can't say that I'm not into, or not a fan of a certain type of movie, because there is always at least one to prove me wrong. I'm not a "horror guy" by any means. I watch everything I can get my hands on in the hopes that it will get me excited and make me run out of the theatre screaming, "Buy your tickets! This movie is amazing!"

AFF: Was there a particular movie(s) that inspired you to make "Blood Car"?

Alex: I saw a lot of bad movies on the video store shelf and just spent weeks watching them all. And eventually wanted to be in the company of those bad movies on the video store shelf. I never thought I would play film festivals at all. I just wanted to walk into the video store and know that the first movie made it to an audience. I thought that would be pretty awesome for a first feature.

AFF: What's happened to the film since it played at the Austin Film Festival?

Alex: It made the video store shelf! We did a hybrid distribution to get the film out in the US. TLA Realing put it out in the US and Canada. And we sold the movie to Germany (Blut Auto! makes me laugh), Korea, Russia and are working on some more foreign territories. Chris Hyams and the awesome team at put together a super cool store on my website so people can see the movie for just a couple bucks, or they can buy T shirts and posters.

We also played a bunch more festivals around the world (which is still crazy to me) and even did a really tiny theatrical run that I booked from my apartment and grossed about $850 (Yes, i know. We did almost beat out Transformers).

AFF: What are you currently working on?

Alex: I'm trying to put together the next silly movie. So I'm writing, in between working on other's people's TV shows and movies in Los Angeles. There was some time travel at one point, giant pelicans, a white supremacist with a black hand, telekinesis, feral orphans, a machine that cloned Keith Davids for a foosball know, just business as usual.

More on "Blood Car"

Download "Blood Car" or shop "Blood Car" Merchandise

It's not to late to enter your film!

Late post-mark deadline: July 3rd

Very late deadline: July 15th

Just one more you reason you should be at the Austin Film Festival & Conference in October...

This year's panel discussions will feature case studies of the writing and script-to-screen production process with the writers and creators for such films and shows as Twilight, "Lost", Valkyrie, Watchmen, The Secret Life of Bees, "Mad Men" and the HBO hit series "Entourage"

AFF Filmmaker Follow Up with Angelo Mei

Angelo Mei grew up in Los Angeles, where he developed a passion for music, surfing and film. He received his Bachelor of Science with honors at the Art Institute of LA, studying all aspects of filmmaking but focusing primarily on directing. It is there he met mentor and soon to be colleague Maggie Carey, editor and co-writer of Chasing the Dream(Quiksilver/Metalstorm ent). It was under Maggie’s tutelage that Angelo directed the documentary short, "Film This!", a voyeuristic look into the life of a psychopathic surfer. "Film This!" was an official selection at the 2006 Austin Film Festival. Angelo’s short film "Howie", is a multi award winning dark comedy about a man in his late 20’s moving back in with his sexually active mother. Angelo’s commercial works include "Learn to Surf with Andy Irons" (Billabong/Transworld) and "Chasing The Dream" (Quiksilver/Metalstorm ent). "Learn to Surf", directed and co-written by Angelo, can be found in retail stores worldwide. "Chasing the Dream", narrated by Gary Busey, produced, directed and co-written by Angelo, an award winning feature length documentary about what it takes to become a professional surfer, was released on DVD in 2007 and can be found in retail stores worldwide. Angelo lives in Los Angeles where he is developing several projects, pursuing his passion for documentary and narrative filmmaking, while producing content for several clients on different formats.

AFF caught up with Angelo about the adventures and challenges of filming surf stories and more.

AFF: Tell me about your films that screened at the festival.

ANGELO: I had a short doc film entitled "Film This!" show back in the 2006 festival. My feature documentary, "Chasing The Dream" showed twice and was very popular at the 2007 festival. This was personal to me because John Milius was at the festival and showed "Big Wednesday", starring Gary Busey. Busey narrates my film and I had him do so because of his role in "Big Wednesday". "Chasing the Dream" is also a coming of age story, a journey into manhood like "Big Wednesday". So to meet Milius personally and give him a copy of my film was surreal. I also watched a film print of "Big Wednesday" with Milius at the festival so that was absolutely amazing too.

AFF: You have done a lot of surfing related films. How difficult is it to film on a beach? Any challenges specific to those locations?

ANGELO: Many challenges to this. Mostly with water cinematography though. Surfers just need to surf but when you are shooting film in the water, its expensive so the surfers do need to communicate and work with my camera man or we waste film and we don't get a good surf sequence. By communicate I mean surfing near the camera man and doing maneuvers where the camera is so I am not just paying guys to bob around like shark bait. Pro surfers get it but kids, like in "Chasing the Dream", need to be taught this.

Also, because my films are not typical surf films, meaning there is more story and dialogue than actual surfing (only a few waves) I, as a director need to analyze whats happening in the water and be ready to interview on the fly when the talent exits and enters the water. Like in "Chasing the Dream", there was drama at specific locations and if I was just sipping a cocktail on the beach or even surfing myself, I would have sacrificed and missed story points up and down the coast.

The actual land filming of surf is a touchy subject because you can take the best director in the world and put him on the beach with his favorite camera and tripod and he will probably not get a usable clip. Its something like a sport that takes lots of practice to do well and surfing cameraman have been doing it for years and are usually cameramen or women who's specific role is land camera surf footage. I did that way before I went to film school so I do pride myself on being a good surf cameraman.

Angelo Mei films his newest project, a lifestyle series for Billabong. Keep reading for more info!

AFF: Maggie Carey has been a very important figure in your filmmaking career. How did that relationship develop?

ANGELO: Maggie Carey is the editor and unsung hero of "Chasing the Dream". She was my professor in film school and really is the reason I pursued a career and found a passion in documentary. She went on to co-write and edit "Chasing the Dream" with me. She is a talented writer and director currently making her own show as well and being an alumni of AFF.

Maggie Carey and Angelo Mei at the Q&A for "Chasing the Dream" in 2007

AFF: Your film “Howie” is very different from your other films. Where did the idea for this movie come from?

ANGELO: "Howie" is really based off of some real life things that happened mixed with day dreams. I am currently working in documentaries but have a passion for writing/directing comedy and even love horror films. I love working with actors and do want to work on narratives in the future to pursue that love. In a perfect world, I will make documentaries, realities and narratives like many of my influences have.

AFF: Any favorite moments from your time at the festival?

ANGELO: Too many to mention really but I will try. Making friends for life at the 2006 and 2007 festival. Meeting John Milius and seeing "Big Wednesday" in the theatre with him there for the first time was surreal. Just showing "Chasing the Dream" to a sold out crowd of non-surfers and doing the best Q&A of my life was a gift I will never forget. The way I was handled and treated by all of the festival staff was like royalty. They were so intelligent and many were filmmakers themselves, making me feel like I finally found my true tribe hundreds of miles from any surf spot.

AFF: What are you working on now?

ANGELO: I am blessed by being hired by Billabong, a company I have worked with on various projects since 2005. They were the first company to hire me as a director for my first commercial work, "Learn to Surf with Andy Irons." I am directing their first lifestyle series for TV with their top athletes. There is little surf or action in this series but focuses more on the human side of board sports athletes, revealing the depth of these people while doing what they are famous for or floundering at things they are trying for the first time. Its a voyeuristic look into the life of the best board sport athletes in the world. In the last 3 months I have been to Bali, Australia, Tahiti and Japan filming with several surfers. All of whom are very different (culturally and personality wise) from one another.

Check out Angelo's full website at

Its not too late to enter your film!

Late post-mark deadline: July 3rd

Very late deadline: July 15th

Just one more you reason you should be at the Austin Film Festival & Conference in October...

This year's panel discussions will feature case studies of the writing and script-to-screen production process with the writers and creators for such films and shows as Twilight, "Lost", Valkyrie, Watchmen, The Secret Life of Bees, "Mad Men" and the HBO hit series "Entourage".

Monday, June 22, 2009

First Look With The Hollywood Reporter's Jay A. Fernandez

Once you sell your script, you won’t have time to strategize and think about how to best position yourself. You’ll be bombarded with input from various sources and may not know who to listen to. If you are successful, how do you manage all the different directions you’ll be pulled in?

Jay A. Fernandez, senior film reporter for The Hollywood Reporter, will be joining us as a panelist at the 2009 Conference, enlightening starting writers about publicity, self-promotion, what to expect in terms of treatment from studios, publicists, the trades, etc., and how to keep on top of these things should they succeed in a way that makes this stuff necessary.

Fernandez is usually the one to ask the questions, but AFF recently got him to answer a few of our own:

AFF: In your opinion, what are the most important aspects about marketing yourself as a writer?
FERNANDEZ: Well, write a killer, inventive, emotional piece of material first. After that, it’s self-promotion. Especially when you are starting out, it’s rare that you’ll land with any kind of management or agency rep who will work pro-actively on your behalf. And even if you do sell a script or get a credit on something, the studio or production entity will almost certainly leave you out of any press matters. This is a tricky balance in order not to piss off your studio employers, but you have to be forthright about selling yourself as a working writer. This is not some craven ego behavior. You have to think of it as a tool for getting you more work, and that’s the ultimate goal, right? You want to work. And while your work can and should speak for itself, it can only help to broaden your relationships on your own and especially seek out relationships with reporters. Because they’re (we’re) the ones who will put your story in front of producers, agents, managers, executives and stalkers. And if your reps aren’t doing it, you should be asking them to or be prepared to do it yourself. One aspect of this is having a good digital photo of yourself ready beforehand. That way, the moment anything happens for you, you can have your face in the story. This will help with recognition when you go in on meetings or attend events. And always have a handful of ideas at the ready at any one time, in case someone invites you to pitch one after they’ve flat-out rejected the other masterpiece you wrote.

AFF: What do you feel is the importance of AFF as a vehicle for developing screenwriting careers?
FERNANDEZ: AFF as I experience it is the only place with both the legitimacy and access that all striving screenwriters crave. There’s nothing more valuable to a serious student of film and screenwriting than face time with someone who has already found a way to work in the business. Books and random seminars are fine, but these working writers are the only true experts on the business because they’ve actually found a way to get paid to tell stories on film and TV. And after they speak to you for a few minutes out on Sixth Street, they’re heading back to their hotel to work on a script. Other than WGA events in L.A., which are sometimes closed to non-members, there is no other place to get that access, in panel format or one-on-one.

Who would be on your dream panel?
FERNANDEZ: Ben Hecht, Howard Hawks, Raymond Chandler, Henry Miller, Sophocles, Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, Robert Towne, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Paul Thomas Anderson and, uh, Megan Fox.

Actually, some of my favorites are frequent AFF guests already, Scott Frank, Brian Helgeland, Chris McQuarrie, Shane Black, Paul Thomas Anderson, Peter Morgan, Joel and Ethan Coen, Stephen Knight, Chris & Jonah Nolan, Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor

AFF: Favorite part and/or memory of Austin Film Festival?
FERNANDEZ: Spending a few hours at the Driskill Hotel bar drinking with Chris McQuarrie, hearing insane off-the-record stories about the vagaries of the business and behind-the-scenes machinations on a bunch of high-profile studio tent poles. It was exciting as a film fan and illuminating as a reporter and someone who has aspired to a job that apparently gets no less soul-crushing even when you win an Oscar®.

AFF: Having written for a variety of publications about the industry and screenwriters specifically, have you ever felt compelled to write your own full-length screenplay?
FERNANDEZ: I’ve co-written three full-length screenplays with a good friend of mine, and while we enjoyed the process we had a long way to go to achieve effective professional execution of our ideas. That was ten-plus years ago. I’ve sketched out a dozen feature-length and TV-pilot ideas since then, but never written them. I still plan to.

AFF: You have been the co-writer on some un-produced scripts - any developments on those?
FERNANDEZ: In the mid-’90s, when my writing partner and I were actively writing and sending out queries, we got several bites from agents and producers on a serial killer script called “Endgame.” We spoke with several and made an oral agreement with an agency in NYC to shop that one script around. Several high-profile producers eventually read it, but it did not produce any work for us. We moved on with our day jobs and split up geographically, so eventually we severed the relationship with the agent and effectively stopped writing together (though not discussing ideas).

Have your own questions for Jay? Ask him at the 2009 AFF Conference, October 22-25.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

AFF Filmmaker Follow Up with Jacob Medjuck

Jacob Medjuck splashed onto the AFF scene with his film "Summerhood" in 2008. The film, which centers around four friends (who just happen to hate each other) is a new twist on movies for and about children. 

We caught up with Jacob and talked about the challenges of "Summerhood", his lunch chat with Phil Rosenthal and other AFF experiences. 

1. Tell me about your film that screened at the festival.

I found my diary from when I was 10; a pink Pink Panther spring-locked bible of embarrassment. I thought, wouldn't it be fun to hear kids act this out loud, and quickly began the romantic adventure of SUMMERHOOD: Boy meets a Story. Boy wants to make a film. Story doesn't want to be a film, wants to be a TV series. Story settles, becomes a movie. Execs like the movie - it becomes a TV series. Boy gets movie, Story gets a TV series. Everyone lives happily ever after on blu ray. Somewhere in there - I landed at the Austin Film festival:

• From the Austin Festival I was invited to PIXAR to screen Summerhood for their genius artists. 

• From the Austin Festival I struck up continuing friendships with L.A. production companies that have since had me in to pitch new films, adapt books they've optioned, and or to consider directing their properties. 

• From the festival John August blogged about our film - on his website; part of a true nutritious breakfast. 

• We've been to 8 festivals now and won 5. 

• We were just invited to the Premiere of Harry Potter in Italy. They will open that festival and we will play the 2nd night, to a jury of 2,500 international teens. No adults. Very cool.

Summerhood has re-written the tone for films with children. Honest. Sincere. And heartfelt. No veneer. 

  2. Did you face any specific challenges when making this film?

There were MANY challenges in making the film, including the time my father showed up on set and threatened to kill me. But the industry challenge has been introducing a tone that is respectful of how teens actually feel without the "Leave It To Beaver" treatment that every major release seems to mandate. Putting a fig leaf on kid's emotions is SOOOOOO DISINTERESTING to me (and a brand killer too). Kids don't like it and they are abandoning the properties that talk down to them. Summerhood is fun. It's light. And it's sincere. Oddly ironic: as an independent filmmaker - All I could afford was "sincere." And I believe it to be far more fundamental than lasers or fairy dust if you're trying to entertain. Start with sincerity, add lasers.. stir. (...We have a don't ask don't tell policy at the office re: lasers).

  3. What great lessons about filmmaking did you take away from this project?

Develop the work.    

Re-write until you bleed. 

Then get someone else to type for you. Cut. Cleave. Create better scenes. Visual solutions.  

A 135 page screenplay - is the SHORTEST novel ever written. But it is not a movie script. 

Take the time to respect the budget, the schedule, the runtime, during prep. Prior. Get the script ready to shoot. 

....unless it's going to snow

Then just handheld your way into war and hope to finish. 

The balance: It's impossible to control the cosmos. Sometimes key elements align but for a brief window. I had the prospect of money, a location, weather and a script. So I called up my film ninjas. 
I asked my Production Manager, "How long to shoot a summer camp film?" 
He replied, "6 weeks."  
I asked him, "How long until its snows here?" 
His answer, "...8 weeks." 

With two weeks to prep, we cast, built and financed. We were literally up against the wrath of nature. And I will admit, that had us on set before I had a chance to cut the script down properly. I went to set with 135 pages. Never ever ever ever do that. I figured we'd shorten the film in post - but we actually had to re-write the PLOT in post - with only the available footage we'd shot. An unbelievably difficult but creative challenge. I can't believe we survived..  p.s. - it's also so much easier to change commas in Final Draft, then to digitally paint trees over actors on screen whose roles you've cut form the story. 

But as fates had it - on the last day of filming... it snowed. 

Our action couldn't have been a second later. And a year later - the economy collapsed and we wouldn't have managed financing. Sometimes, instincts are all you have. I shot a novel. The battle was waged along my hairline. Some good men were lost. But I walked away with a film, and more forehead to tan. 

Still - Don't ever do what I did: Financing during lunch breaks on set; Writing the script in post production; Offering to wash the child actors after an impromptu food fight.

Unless you want to make a film. Then do all of it

4. Was there a film or films that influenced "Summerhood"?

- I stole my camera height from E.T. - keep the camera at the height of the children, and the film takes place in their world. 

- I wanted to make a "spin-the-bottle" scene in the style of Deer Hunter. I learned the hard way growing up that spin-the-bottle is a poor cheat for breaking the ice with a crush. The bottle seemed to land on a lot of dudes before it finally pointed to the girl I actually had the crush on.

- Tonally - "Freak's and Geeks" got it right. The Judd Apatow TV show. I made my core team watch the whole series as we prepped. I even cast Joe Flaherty from it. I love that show. 

- The Wonder Years is 20+ years old. And while inspiring me greatly, it needing an update. And to me that meant: the "F" word. We snuck one in there. 

Kids today are "older ", they live in a world saturated by information. They process everything with a deeper capacity, awareness. That needs to be reflected in our writing. 

What got me off my ass to make Summerhood was the feeling that current movies don't seem to respect/reflect kids; how they actually are. And being the largest movie going audience, why would producers invest in turning them off the product. 

So, my film references were mostly contemporary romantic comedies. 

I'm a giant girl like that.

...Thanks a lot spin-the-bottle.

Jacob hashes out details with some of the "Summerhood" cast.

 5. Do you have a favorite moment of your time at the festival last year?

I'm sitting in a packed restaurant. Alone. 
A bright lanky fellow approaches my table, he whispers, "Is this where they sit the Jews?"
I laughed outright, and asked him to join me. We talked. Great guy. " Phil." 
As we talked, it unfolded that Phil didn't have a script in competition. He didn't have a movie screening either. WTF?
No film. No script? Big festival badge....  
oh yeah....
"Phil," I asked, "are you a panelist?"  
He was.
"Phil," I asked, "Are you Phil Rosenthal?" 
He was.
(Phil Rosenthal is the other half of the 500 million dollar syndicated mega-hit Everybody Loves Raymond).
While I gawk, Phil gets a text message. Barack Obama has just used in an election speech one of the jokes Phil wrote for him. Phil Rosenthal. Genius. Nice guy. Eating my fries.  
"Jacob, I was supposed to meet some friends for lunch." He tells me.
I fear our time has expired. Instead - he suggests they join us. He calls Larry to ask, "Larry, come over here instead."
Moments after, in walks Lawrence "Larry" Kasdan. Writer of Indiana Jones, Star Wars and The Big Chill. If I had eaten  anything earlier I'd have shit myself. With Larry is his son  Jake. I'm great with kids. Except this kid wrote and directed Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared and Walk Hard. I lack all the measures to present myself further with dignity. I lose my mind. After all - Raiders Of The Lost Ark was the first film I ever saw. And I saw it in Jerusalem; which is like seeing the film "in it's original packaging." 

The big deal was this: I was born in a time when movies were cheaper than baby sitters. At age 3, my parents used to leave me in movie theaters for matinees on end. The very first being Raiders.  "It's a film about Noah's ARK." Dad suggested. By the time the Nazi's face melted off - I had already lost the first 8 years of my childhood. 

I leveled Larry with an 18 minute dirge re: his archeology opus and the impact it had on me, with the B story being the circumstances by which I saw it and the resulting trauma decades since. 

Jake Kasdan's film, The TV set, steered me away from television altogether, while his Freaks and Geeks became aforementioned inspiration for the tone of Summerhood. 

After much debate - Phil and Larry turned to me and decided that MY parents were crazier (to have left me in the theaters as a baby), then the infamous crazy parents on Raymond that Phil built an empire around. 

It was a strangely cathartic and vindicating meal. 

Food for thought.   

Thank you Phil.

Thank you Austin Film Festival.  

  6. What event at the Austin Film Festival would you recommend never missing?

Just being in the hallways I had great discussions. Chat up the people in line with you. The festival "is" the event, the panels are secondary. We showered for a reason? Right? Meet everyone. 

Otherwise, I tend to enjoy the annual special screening of Summerhood.

Jacob at the 2008 AFF with AFI Dallas programmer James Faust
7. What are you working on now? Any projects lined up?

Ask me at the festival in October...I tend to shoot right before it snows.

Its not too late to enter your film!

Late post-mark deadline: July 3rd

Very late deadline: July 15th

Just one more you reason you should be at the Austin Film Festival & Conference in October...

This year's panel discussions will feature case studies of the writing and script-to-screen production process with the writers and creators for such films and shows as Twilight, "Lost", Valkyrie, Watchmen, The Secret Life of Bees, "Mad Men" and the HBO hit series "Entourage"