Friday, May 27, 2011


Special Consultations for Screenplay Winners!

As an added bonus, we are excited to announce that Pen Densham, award-winning screenwriter, producer, and director will provide special consultations for the winners of the Screenplay Competition (Drama, Comedy, Dark Hero Studios Award, and Latitude Productions Award categories). Pen is responsible for writing and producing some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, such as ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, along with some of its longest-running television series including “The Outer Limits” He has also written the book, Riding the Alligator which explores specific screenwriting techniques and reveals his emotional philosophies and professional secrets. Visit his website for more information on him and his book at

New judges!

We are also proud to announce the following new additions to our panel of industry judges:
Edward Fee | Director of Development, di Bonaventura Pictures
Peter Murrieta | Showrunner, “Wizards of Waverly Place”, “Hope and Faith”
Channing Dungey | Senior VP of Drama Development, ABC Studios

Click here for a complete list of this year’s judges.

Also, don’t forget, you have until 11:59PM (PST) Wednesday, June 1st to submit your screenplay or teleplay. This is the final deadline so don’t wait!

For questions, contact Matt Dy, Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director at 1-800-310-3378 or

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Wolf Pack is back! (and the guy who wrote it)

Check out our exclusive interview with Craig Mazin, screenwriter of THE HANGOVER: Part II and 2011 AFF panelist. Craig Mazin is the co-writer of the hit comedies SCARY MOVIE 3 and 4. Most recently, he wrote THE HANGOVER: Part II with director Todd Phillips. Craig served on the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America, West from 2004 to 2006. He also runs The Artful Writer—a website for professional and aspiring screenwriters.

The sequel to 2009's smash hit comedy hits theaters this weekend, May 26th! Grab your friends and extended family members and check it out. Repeat.

AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL: How did your 'audition' process for THE HANGOVER: Part II go? Were you up against a ton of other writers, lobbying like crazy, knocking people in the knee caps?

CRAIG MAZIN: There wasn't really an audition. I've known Todd Phillips for years, and we've always made each other laugh as friends. So if there was any kind of audition, that was probably it. He was in a tough spot in terms of schedule, because he was editing DUE DATE while having to immediately get a draft going on THE HANGOVER: Part II, so he brought me in along with Scot Armstrong so that we could triple team it.

I wish there were more of a violent, bare-knuckles brawl story to tell about that, but it came down to this: "Hey Mazin, you wanna come write Hangover 2?" "Uhhhhh, YES."

AFF: Did you have table reads with the cast? Was there a lot of improvisation by the actors that made it into the final cut, or did everyone go straight from the script?

CM: We did have a table read shortly before we began shooting, which was really about helping us refine the script. Screenwriting is a big guess. Once you hear the cast perform the script, you can start to see where things might seem a bit too slow, or where a joke might not work. That said, I think the table read we had with the actors gave us a ton of confidence that we were in a good place with the script.

Most of the cast's improv and scene enhancement happened on the shooting days themselves. Todd and the guys would get the scene up on its feet in rehearsal, and then everyone would take a beat to figure out how to make the scene work as best as it could. At least in comedy, there's really no substitute for finding the right moment in the moment.

AFF: You went to Thailand during shooting and working on set isn't something screenwriters are always welcome to do. What was it like? Did you get to enjoy any of Thailand, or were you glued to your laptop the whole time?

CM: It was an incredible experience. Todd is great-- and smart-- in that he really appreciates having another storyteller with him on set to help get the most out of the pages. He's an excellent writer himself, so the funny thing is that he actually doesn't need another writer with him the way that many directors do... and yet he put a real premium on me being there, which is a testament to his confidence and sense of creative security.

Being on set is a job. I take that job seriously. There's nothing worse than being "that guy" on a set who isn't working. It's like being a non-combatant on a battlefield. Everyone else just stares at you like, "C'mon... do something or get lost." So yeah, I was glued to a monitor or glued to my laptop or standing with Todd and the cast while the guys got a scene up on its feet. I knew my role, and that was to watch and wait and be available for those moments here and there where I could help. The great thing about working with Todd is that he's the total package as a director. It's his set, he's the ultimate creative authority, but most importantly, he's really good at it. I trust him, the cast trusts him... and everything works as a function of that trust.

AFF: What are you working on now?

I'm writing and producing an animated feature film called "Turkeys," starring Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Steve Martin. I just finished an original screenplay that I did for producers Michael & Carla Shamberg and Stacey Sher. But as for what's next? You know, whatever Phillips wants to do. If he wants me there, I'm there. I don't care what it is. I just love writing for him.

AFF: You're a repeat offender at AFF. What's your advice for the uninitiated?

CM: If you don't like cigar smoke, avoid the balcony at the Driskill. That's our spot.

Have your own questions for Craig? Ask him at the 18th Annual Austin Film Festival, October 20 - 27, 2011!

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Letter from Michael Brandt and Derek Haas

Over the last ten years, each October means a trip to Austin for the Austin Film Festival, the no-bullshit best screenwriting conference in the world.

What makes it great? For one thing, it’s the style of the conference: laid back yet well organized. Topics are based on what participants actually care about and the list of screenwriters looks like someone stole Warner Brother’s secret rolodex. Best of all is an atmosphere that doesn’t allow for any of the typical Hollywood crap.

Over the years at AFF we’ve met: [Ted] Elliott & [Terry] Rossio, Shane Black, John August, John Lee Hancock, Randall Wallace, Robert Rodriguez, Craig Mazin, Rita Hsiao, [Jon] Lucas & [Scott] Moore, Matt Olmstead, Jessica Bendinger, Nancy Pimental, Jeff Lowell, [Phil] Hay & [Matt] Manfredi, the Weitz Brothers [Paul & Chris]… and the list goes on and on. And that’s just the screenwriters who attend… there are a host of huge executives and producers and agents who come in each year to talk about the craft as well.

There is a genuine love of the writing process in Austin, probably because Austin is such a great music town where the writer is still king! And here’s the kicker: everyone is excited to be there. We’ve always called it a spring break for writers… a week long party where all the participants and the speakers mingle all night long, talking movies.

We can’t recommend it enough. Look for us late at night at the Driskill… we’ll be the ones on the deck, smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, telling lies and maybe a few truths about screenwriting. Come pull up a chair…

Michael Brandt and Derek Haas
Screenwriters of THE DOUBLE ‘11 (Brandt's directorial debut!), WANTED, 3:10 TO YUMA, 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS
Derek Haas is also the author of the bestselling novels The Silver Bear and Columbus

Friday, May 20, 2011

Interview with screenwriters Jon Aibel & Glenn Berger about the upcoming blockbuster KUNG FU PANDA 2 starring Jack Black!

Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger are the writing team behind some of today’s most beloved and popular family films. To date, their movies have grossed nearly $1.5 billion dollars in worldwide box office. Aibel and Berger met right out of college while working as management consultants in Boston. It was there they both discovered their passion for comedy writing and lack of passion for management consulting. So they threw away their suits and briefcases and moved to Los Angeles. Since then, Aibel and Berger have written some of the most successful family films of the past decade, and have positioned themselves as two of the most talented and respected comedy writers in the industry. They pride themselves on scripting films that appeal to audiences of all ages, with a combination of character-based comedy, action, and emotion.

The pair recently finished writing and co-producing Kung Fu Panda 2, the sequel to their blockbuster film Kung Fu Panda, set for release on May 26, 2011 by Dreamworks. Their script for the third installment of the highly successful “Alvin and the Chipmunks” franchise, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked, is currently in production and set for release by 20th Century Fox on December 16, 2011. Other family film credits include Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, and Dreamworks’ first 3D film, Monsters vs. Aliens.

In addition to their work in film, Aibel and Berger were part of the original staff of the animated Fox hit "King of the Hill." They remained at the show for six seasons, and rose to become executive producers, garnering four Emmy® nominations and one win.

Interview with Jon Aibel & Glenn Berger

Q: According to producer Melissa Cobb, KUNG FU PANDA 2 will be more serious and dramatic than some might expect. Can you elaborate?

A: There’s a tendency to assume that an animated movie about a kung fu fighting panda is going to be just for kids, and we think audiences were somewhat surprised that the first movie actually took itself and its characters seriously. We wanted to push that even further on the sequel, to put Po on a journey in which he has to confront some of his deepest fears about himself and his identity. That being said, we also made sure we preserved the humor and heart of the first one.

Q: How did the process of writing KUNG FU PANDA 2 differ from the original? Did you find it easier to write for characters you already knew well? Did you have more or less creative control over the sequel?

A: When we started work on the first movie, it had already been in development for over three years. The characters had been designed, and the basic elements of the story were more or less in place. So we were working with a fair number of limitations. For the sequel, however, we were the first on the crew (in addition to our producer, Melissa Cobb.) So we really had an incredible amount of freedom to put Po in just about any story we could imagine. We probably spent a year outlining, just trying to key in on what would be the best story to tell. Then Jen Yu Nelson came aboard as director, and we really began refining the story before we finally sat down to write the first draft. It’s hard to overemphasize how collaborative these movies are. The script is really just the first step. Getting a scene from script to screen involves hundreds of people, which means you have to be able to explain and defend your ideas to the storyboard artists, the voice actors, the editor, the animators, the production designer, plus Jeffrey Katzenberg and the Dreamworks executives. I’m not sure anyone can ever have “creative control” over that many people. But Dreamworks gave us the chance to make our voices heard, to be there at recording sessions, in the edit bay, at test screenings. It was an amazing, if exhausting, experience.

Q: You began your career writing for television and were part of the original staff of the animated FOX hit “King of the Hill.” Please discuss the transition from TV to feature film.

A: What we loved most about “King of the Hill” was the way it offered us a chance to write three-act, character-based stories that were more like mini-movies than traditional sitcom episodes. When we left the show, we realized there weren’t many places on TV where you could still do that sort of thing. But a really good place to write movie-style stories was, well, in the movies. We found it a really comfortable transition and discovered that the things we learned at “King of the Hill” – how to write quickly, how to surgically address notes, how to work with actors – were invaluable in writing movies, particularly animated ones.

Q: Walk us through your process as writing partners. How do you approach the project? The drafting process? Rewrites?

We do almost everything together. We know a lot of teams will split up scenes but we’ve found that doesn’t really work for us. Maybe we’ll initially divide stuff up just so we can get a really rough don’t-show-this-to-anyone draft of the script together, but it’s really just so we have something other than the blank page to face when we really start getting to work. Outlining, writing drafts, rewriting, we approach it all the same way.

Q: Your experience is primarily in writing for animation. Do you prefer animation? Do you have any interest in live action feature films or TV? If so, are there any projects in development?

A: Actually, although most of our produced credits are in animation, we’ve written a number of live action movies. We currently have an action comedy starring Jack Black in development, and we’re writing “Candy Land” for Universal. We like to write big budget, family movies, and many of them just happen to be animated or contain animated elements. It’s usually our interest in the story and the characters that attracts us to a project. The means by which the story is told (animation vs. live action) is secondary for us.

Q: Working on “King of the Hill” with Austin’s own Mike Judge (and AFF’s 2005 Outstanding Television Writer Award recipient), you’ve been to Austin before, but this will be your first time to the Conference. What are some of your favorite places to go? What are you looking forward to at Austin Film Festival?

A: Austin was like a second home to the King of the Hill staff. We would take annual research trips to town. Favorite places? Lockhart, where we hit the BBQ troika of Blacks, Kreuz, and Chisholm Trail all in one afternoon. Plus County Line BBQ and Stubbs. (Hank Hill sold propane, so eating BBQ counted as research.) Other highlights? Hearing live music at the Continental Club, and hanging out at the Driskill. Do they still make those little peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the shape of Texas?

What are we looking forward to at the Austin Film Festival? Aside from the numerous BBQ eating opportunities it will provide, the AFF is one of the few festivals that celebrates the craft of screenwriting. And it takes place in one of our favorite cities.