Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How to Rock AFF by Pamela Ribon

Photo credit Thomas Hargis

Pamela Ribon is a TV writer and best-selling novelist. She’s been in comedy rooms for both network and cable television, most notably the Emmy award-winning SAMANTHA WHO?. She has developed original series for ABC, ABC Family, Sony and 20th Century Fox Productions, some of which included adaptations of her own novels. She’s currently writing an original feature script for the Disney Channel in addition to developing Lauren Conrad’s LA CANDY as a television series with Gerber Pictures and Warner Bros. Studios. Her fourth novel will be released next summer through Gallery Books. Pamela is a former semi-finalist and finalist at AFF for the screenplay competition and teleplay competition, respectively. She’s also a former Austinite with a BFA in Acting from the University of Texas. Visit her popular, long-running website to learn more, like how she was recently entered into the Oxford English Dictionary under the word “Muffin Top.” That is not a joke. You can follow her @pamelaribon.

We love Pamela. Love her. Like a lot. Go to all of her panels, and not only will you learn everything you need to know about making it in this business as a writer, you'll also laugh, be inspired and encouraged, and be shamed into motivation by her work ethic. She writes ALL. THE TIME. You'll love her, too.

Pamela Ribon, Álvaro Rodríguez and Craig Mazin at the 2010 Film Texas BBQ. Photo credit Jack Plunkett.

How to Rock AFF by Pamela Ribon

Okay. You’ve got your flight set, your room booked, and I heard you’ve been training your alcohol tolerance to an impressively respectable level for both writers and Texans. You must be on your way to the Austin Film Festival.

Since you’ve got the three most important things covered, I’ll try to help you with the rest. This will be my fifth time at the festival. As I’ve gone from semi-finalist to finalist to panelist, from Austinite to Hollywood denizen, I’ve picked up a few tips I try to share with everyone I can who’s headed to the best damn writers’ festival in the best damn city in the world.

Before we do anything or go anywhere: it’s spelled “y’all.” Not “ya’ll.” Secondly: Texas does not consider itself to be part of “The South.” There’s “The South” and then there’s “Texas.” Oh, and it’s pronounced “Guadaloop.”

Don’t just go for the big names.

Unless you are already a big name, you’re probably attending AFF to get some questions answered. You’re hoping meet people either just like you or ones who are having the kind of career you’d like to achieve. I’m just guessing, but those big names are most likely a few steps ahead of where you are right now. While, yes, it’s interesting to find out how one of your favorite shows got on the air or how one of your favorite films almost wasn’t shot, don’t miss out on the places where you can get important information. Imagine what a waste of time it’d be for a high school freshman to seek advice on how to survive lunch hour politics by asking a senior – who’s also captain of the football team? Vary your panels, meet people at all different levels, at different capacities. Learn how the business works from the top down and the inside out. Writers tend to hole up and freak themselves out. If you get all sides of the story, from agents to producers to directors to writers, you can learn how people develop their projects in television, animation, independent and big-budget. You can find new life where you’d lost hope, new inspiration where you got jaded. You spend all day trying to come up with stories. Let someone else tell you a few for a change. Which brings me to:

Sit in the Driskill Lobby.

You’ll notice that the mostly dead-animal-clad, heavily carpeted lobby area of the Driskill is almost never empty. That’s because it’s the unofficial hub of the Festival, where everybody must pass at some point, usually on their way over to that giant, wooden, circular bar. The Driskill Lobby is a great meeting point or resting point, where you can finish a conversation over a drink or take a second to tweet “I JUST MET ROB THOMAS AND I FOUND A WAY NOT TO GEEK OUT ABOUT VERONICA MARS ALL OVER HIM. #YAYFF” If you are vegan, be warned: you can’t have your eyes open without seeing some form of former living creature.

Don’t forget the business.

It’s easy to start out star struck, quickly move on to over-imbibed, and then finish with a panel-skipping hangover that has you spending your flight or car ride home counting regrets instead of contacts. This festival won’t stop being fun, so it’s on you to remember you paid cash to get yourself out there. Here’s a list of things you need to have with you:

- Business Cards
- Gum/Mints
- Access to a script or film or trailer or web series URL that you have finished.
- At least two modest goals

Do your homework at night or in the morning over coffee. Email those scripts you said you’d send the night before. Click “follow” and “friend.” Call your wife or husband or partner or agent. I know, but call them again.

The Finalists’ scripts will be available for you to read. If you get a chance, check them out (or at least be familiar with who they are) so you know when you’re standing right next to one of the writers at a mixer. Congratulate them on a good job. And if you do meet one of the winners, ask to see the trophy. It’s so pretty that I’m still sad I’ve never won one.

Identify the crazy people.

Contrary to what my mother taught me growing up, you don’t have to be nice to everybody. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t get stuck trapped in a booth with Spittle Me This, who shot at least half of his tongue juice onto your face during the five hours you were too nervous and/or nice to say, “It’s been great talking to you, but there’s this thing I have to get to.” Remind yourself that you paid to be here and this thing’s only so long. Then politely excuse yourself and find someone – anyone – who can save you into a new direction for the night.

(If you just read that and worried that you were the person I’m referring to, I swear you aren’t. If I met you, I found you to be delightful. But that’s also what I say to crazy people because I’ve found they anger/rage easily.)

Don’t be That Guy.

Conversely, don’t monopolize someone’s night. Don’t be a dick, don’t be stalky, and please don’t filibuster someone’s Q&A. And unless the show is on your resume somewhere, you are only allowed to mention "The Simpsons" once. Once! That’s it! You get one public mention and that is all. Do you understand?

Just don’t.

Be careful of your antics and whom you invite to hang on the leather couches with you. People can see you, even if you think nobody’s looking. I was once in that lobby with two local friends who invented a game to see how long they could successfully expose certain areas of their anatomy without getting busted. The game was called “Dristicle” and I don’t want to talk about it.

Be brave.

Mingle, commiserate, participate. Strike up conversations. Most people are leaning around, scrolling through their phones because they’re stalling and probably just as nervous and awkward as you are. (I’m sorry I just called you awkward. Come back.) Ask people what they’re working on. If they’re not crazypants, find out what panels they’ve gone to. Are they participating in the Pitch Competition? Is this their first time at the Festival? Hey, are you talking to the screenwriter of FIGHT CLUB? Don’t tweet that while you’re talking to him! Jeez, you are terrible at this!

Don’t waste your one-on-one time.

If you sign up for a roundtable, go in with a list of questions you want answered. Time is limited and you’re sitting with other people who have their own agendas. If you get a chance to talk with someone you’ve been hoping to talk to, make sure you ask questions and listen. Be ready to talk about your own work, but be more prepared to talk about the business, about your experiences, your stories. This is a festival, not a job interview. You bought a badge to get access to a relaxed, casual atmosphere filled with creative minds and amazing people who have all agreed to stay in one sanctioned place and talk with you. Take advantage of it!

Go out.

Don’t skip the mixers. Don’t skip the screenings. Make sure you don’t oversleep through the panels. Take care of yourself. Go out to the drugstore and make sure you’ve got ibuprofen and bottled water and maybe some emergency Doritos. Make sure you see a bit of Austin while you’re here, because it’s the best city on this planet. You’re just a few wandering steps from all the action on Sixth Street, but a cab over to Trudy’s for a Mexican Martini won’t break your wallet. Visit the food trucks on South Congress and then cross the street to Uncommon Objects to fill the remaining space in your suitcase. Lastly: go ahead and buy that pair of cowboy boots, but you probably don’t want to wear them until you get home. You’ll want to break them in before you’re standing for hours, but I’m really telling you this because the rest of us are going to judge you, especially if we’re from Austin.

See you in October! I’ll be the one asking who wants to drive me to Lucky J’s on Sixth and Waller so I can get a chicken and waffle taco. Y’all, I dream of that thing nightly.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Update on short film SAND, which screened at AFF 2010

SAND is screening as part of Docuweeks in Los Angeles Aug 19-25, which qualifies it for Academy Award Nomination!

and here's some buzz:

Filmmaker Cari Ann Shim Sham credits AFF, saying the success of SAND is in large part due to it screening at Austin Film Festival last year. "Thank you for helping the film rise and be seen!"

Thank you, Cari Ann, and good luck!

Friday, August 12, 2011

AFF for the First-Timer by Jennifer Westcott

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

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

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

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


AFF for the First-Timer by Jennifer Westcott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 08, 2011

Announcing 2011 Script-to-Screen Panels!

The 2011 Script-to-Screen conversations will include examinations of FIGHT CLUB with screenwriter Jim Uhls, THE GRADUATE with screenwriter Buck Henry, and “Veronica Mars” with creator Rob Thomas. During the Script-To-Screen section of the Conference lineup, film and television writers go in depth about their triumphs and tragedies as they worked to bring the project from script to screen.

Advance sign up is now open to Weekend, Conference and Producers Badge holders only for THE GRADUATE with Buck Henry and "Veronica Mars" with Rob Thomas. Advance sign up is open to Conference and producers Badge holders only for FIGHT CLUB with Jim Uhls.

If you already have a Producers Badge or Conference Badge, just forward your confirmation e-mail to with the title/s in the subject line: FIGHT CLUB, THE GRADUATE and/or "Veronica Mars."

If you have not yet purchased your Badge, you may purchase here and then send an e-mail including your name, mailing address and phone number to with the title/s in the subject line: FIGHT CLUB, THE GRADUATE and/or "Veronica Mars."

If you have a Lone Star or a Weekend Badge, you can call our office at 800.310.3378 to upgrade your Badge and then - you guessed it - send an e-mail including your name, mailing address and phone number to with the title/s in the subject line: FIGHT CLUB, THE GRADUATE and/or "Veronica Mars."


Script-to-Screen: FIGHT CLUB with Jim Uhls

In 1997, Chuck Palahniuk's manuscript for the soon to be published FIGHT CLUB had made the rounds all over town and been rejected by everybody as being "unadaptable." Laura Ziskin, then the executive running Fox 2000, a branch of Fox newly created with the mandate to do more experimental and serious film projects, was convinced the novel could be a film and hired screenwriter Jim Uhls to write the adaptation. David Fincher was brought on to direct and develop the script with Uhls, and FIGHT CLUB, starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter, went on to become one of the most controversial and talked-about films of 1999, turning the book into an instant cult classic.

With script in hand and film clips on the wall, screenwriter Jim Uhls (FIGHT CLUB, SEMPER FI, JUMPER - full bio available here) will dissect his critically acclaimed screenplay FIGHT CLUB, discussing his writing process, what worked, what didn't, what needed to be changed for film production and why. This case study will contain information that screenwriters and filmmakers can apply to their own works.

Attendees will get the most out of this session if they have watched the film and read both the screenplay (coming soon) and Chuck Palahniuk's novel (available in libraries and bookstores.) Date & time TBA.

Script-to-Screen: THE GRADUATE with Buck Henry

"...funniest American comedy of the year." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, 1967

Ranked as the seventh greatest film of all time on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies, THE GRADUATE is a 1967 classic comedy-drama directed by Mike Nichols and based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Charles Webb. The screenplay was written by the prolific Buck Henry, Oscar-nominated screenwriter (for his adaptation of THE GRADUATE) and director (for HEAVEN CAN WAIT, along with co-director Warren Beatty), and the film went on to receive Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture, as well as acting nominations for Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, and Katharine Ross. Mike Nichols won the Academy Award for Best Director.

On Saturday afternoon, October 22nd, from 2:15 - 4:15PM, with film clips on the wall, Buck Henry (whose screenwriting credits also include TO DIE FOR, WHAT'S UP, DOC?, THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT, CATCH-22, as well as the original television series "Get Smart" - his full bio available here) will dissect his critically acclaimed screenplay THE GRADUATE, discussing his writing process and the film's production, what worked, what didn't, what needed to be changed and why. This case study will contain information that screenwriters and filmmakers can apply to their own works.

Attendees will get the most out of this session if they have re-watched the film and read both the screenplay (coming soon) and Charles Webb's novel (available in libraries and bookstores.)

Script-to-Screen: "Veronica Mars" with Rob Thomas

"Best. Show. Ever. Seriously, I've never gotten more wrapped up in a show I wasn't making, and maybe even more than those... These guys know what they're doing on a level that intimidates me. It's the Harry Potter of shows."

- Joss Whedon

"Nancy Drew meets Philip Marlowe, and the result is pure nitro. Why is Veronica Mars so good? It bears little resemblance to life as I know it, but I can't take my eyes off the damn thing."
- Stephen King

Rob Thomas' critically acclaimed TV series "Veronica Mars," starring Kristen Bell in the title role, premiered on September 22, 2004 during television network UPN's final two years, and ended tragically prematurely on May 22, 2007. During the series' run, it was nominated for two Satellite Awards, four Saturn Awards, five Teen Choice Awards and was featured on AFI's TV Programs of the Year for 2005.

With script in hand and film clips on the wall, television producer, screenwriter, and author Rob Thomas ("Veronica Mars," "Party Down," "Cupid," "90210" '08, DRIVE ME CRAZY - full bio available here) will dissect his pilot episode of "Veronica Mars." Using this episode as a case study for how a TV show comes together, he will discuss how the idea for the show came about, the research and staff writing process, and other aspects of the show's production.

Attendees will get the most out of this session if they have watched the episode - really, all seasons - and read the teleplay (available here.) Please note: this is the very first draft of the pilot, not the shooting teleplay, so attendees will better see the evolution. Date & time TBA.

Please note that all speakers and events are based on permitting schedules and subject to change and/or cancellation without notice.