Tuesday, January 31, 2012

“How To Get your Groove Back…”

 It’s funny what we’ll do to find inspiration.  When it comes to the creative process, it seems like all of us will do what we can to find that “a-ha!” moment.  Maybe it’s exercising, or visiting your favorite place.  Maybe it’s praying, or chanting, or turning to a higher power for help.  We focus so much on finding that one thing that will help us write that story, or paint that picture, or sing that song that we’ve been dying to get out.  As artists (and really also, as humans), that’s what we live for.

But, what happens when that moment hasn’t quite hit you yet?  When you haven’t found that creative spark in your life?

As a novice writer, I can tell you that inspiration doesn’t come easy.  I have one set of friends who say, “Just sit down and write, something will come to you.  What’s the big deal?” On the flip side, there is the other set who say, “No, you have to wait until something hits you.  It might take time, but it’ll happen when you’re ready.”  So the question is: which side do you choose?  

For a whole year, I have struggled with these sides, teetering back and forth, ultimately just settling on not writing anything because it became such a creative battle.  And, at the end of the day, it was easier to use the excuse of “I’m just waiting for some inspiration to hit.”

I labored under this thought until I attended our 2011 festival.  It was my first year both as a writer and as an employee of AFF.  Although I did not get to sit in on as many panels as I would have liked, I noticed that one common element seemed to stand out amongst all of the panelists: they each spoke of at least one person in their lives who was interested in what they had to say.

There, on that final sleep-deprived Sunday afternoon of the Festival, did I finally have a pivotal realization: inspiration comes from the support of those around you.  This realization came further into play when our Marketing Director, Taylor, asked if anyone wanted to contribute to our blog, read by thousands of writers, attendees, and panelists alike.  I hesitated to throw my name into the hat because I wasn’t sure what an Office Manager could say that would be of use to people.  Once again, I used the fall back of “not writing is easier”.  But it wasn’t until she said that it didn’t matter what my title was or what I do at the office every day, but that my voice is just as important as everyone else’s – that I have thoughts and ideas that should be shared.  I knew that that was exactly what I needed to hear, if even for this small project, to get my creative juices flowing again.  And thus, I landed myself a spot on this lovely little blog!

My advice to you, dear reader/writer, is this: surround yourself with the people who know what you truly want to do.  You may not have that “a-ha!” moment today, or tomorrow, or even 5 years from now.  But it will happen.  Because of her, as well as an equally supportive staff, I can now pass that same encouragement along to all of you.  Sure, maybe what you have to say won’t appeal to everyone... but I promise you that there will always be one person who believes in and wants to hear what you have to say. I hope that you, too, can find your inspiration through them.

-- Marcie Mayhorn, AFF Office Manager

Monday, January 30, 2012

LIVING RECORD: The Music Documentaries of DA Pennebaker

We will kick off the year on Wednesday, February 1 at 7:00pm, with our new series, Living Record: The Music Docs of DA Pennebaker. Partnering with Jo's Hot Coffee, we will be offering free screenings of this legendary documentarian's films at the downtown 2nd Street Jo's location the first Wednesday of every month. 

Pennebaker is renowned for his verite approach, replacing talking heads and intrusive voiceover with a simple record of seminal music events as they happened. After capturing hundreds of hours of footage at concerts, hotel rooms, and press interviews, Pennebaker told his story in the editing room, finding the moments that would resonate most with audiences. His films offer those who lived through these events a chance to recapture those memories while giving those who didn't an opportunity to feel intimately connected to our musical history.

The first film in the series is THIS WEDNESDAY - Don't Look Back, covering Bob Dylan's 1965 concert tour in the United Kingdom.
Pennebaker captures a young Dylan at the beginning of his ascent to superstardom - confident if not arrogant, confrontational and contrary, but also charismatic and charming. Along with transcendental performances by Dylan, the film also features Joan Baez, Donovan, Alan Price (who had just left The Animals), Marianne Faithfull, John Mayall, Ginger Baker, and Allen Ginsberg.

In 1998, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Jo's will also be offering drinks specials - $3 premium drafts, $3 house wine.
Don't miss these pivotal moments in music history:

February 1 | Music Docs of D. A. Pennebaker...DON'T LOOK BACK, @7pm, Jo's Downtown, FREE!

March 7 | Music Docs of D. A. Pennebaker...MONTEREY POP, @7pm, Jo's Downtown, FREE!

April 4 | Music Docs of D. A. Pennebaker...ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS, @7pm, Jo's Downtown, FREE!

May 2 | Music Docs of D. A. Pennebaker...ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE, @7pm, Jo's Downtown, FREE! 

And don't forget, AFF Members recieve a 10% discount at both Jo's Coffee locations! Interested in signing up? There will be a table at the events for more information, or visit our website.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Writers on Screenwriting - Herschel Weingrod

Herschel Weingrod at the 2011 Austin Film Festival & Conference
Photo credit: Jack Plunkett

We know how valuable it can be to hear another writer, especially a successful one, discuss their craft. It can inspire renewed commitment to one's work, give ideas for different ways to approach a story and remind us that we are not alone with our frustrations - and joys - in the writing process.

We've asked some friends of Austin Film Festival to share some of their thoughts on aspects of the writing process with us. Below, our good friend Herschel Weingrod shares some advice on preparing to tell your story.

Ray Bradbury once said, "Find out what your hero wants, then follow him." He didn't say lead him, he said follow him. If you've created your protagonists well enough, they'll take you where your story needs to go and, in doing so, you'll discover your theme rather than start with one and then hammer us over the head with it - the theme needs to be invoked rather than imposed. The trick is to get rid of all the facile cliches that are the first things you go for, the easy solutions to scenes and plot and character. Good writing can only begin after a lot of heavy lifting - a mountain of false starts and stops and what used to be crumpled paper. And then, if you're lucky, and talented, in return for your labor and humiliation you might wake up in the morning and know more about the scene you're about to write than when you went to sleep the night before...and, if you're really lucky, your characters will start to take you where they would go and do what they would do...and you'll experience the writer's equivalent of what athletes call being "in the zone".

- Herschel Weingrod, screenwriter Trading Places, Brewster’s Millions, producer Falling Down

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sundance Update

Stephen Jannise, Film Program Director, reports from Sundance.
Certain films are starting to pick up buzz at Sundance, sending audiences into a frenzy for tickets and distributors into bidding wars for the chance to put their name on the next “Like Crazy” or “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” But the films aren’t the only things making news. From angry Q&As to the loss of a beloved industry veteran, emotions have been running high in the past few days.

“Compliance” has enjoyed very solid word-of-mouth with the added bonus of contentious Q&As, suggesting that the film will be a surefire conversation starter. When a man claiming to be a police officer calls a local fast food restaurant and demands that the manager, Sandra, detain her young female employee, Becky, Sandra follows his orders. As the film progresses, Sandra continues to do what the man says, with horrific results for Becky.

The film examines how quickly we can bow to authority and how dangerous it can be to do so without question. “Compliance” is tense and terrifying, and after its world premiere, some audience members who felt that the film had gone too far loudly voiced their opinions. One filmgoer took offense to the violence against women depicted in the film, arguing that it was too exploitative, and the argument is certainly valid. This film is anything but tame and conservative, and it will surely elicit strong responses from its audience, whether positive or negative. Craig Zobel directs, and Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker and Pat Healy star.
Spike Lee was in town for the premiere of his new film “Red Hook Summer,” and his Q&A was also somewhat contentious. The film itself has received mixed reviews, but, as a fan of Lee’s films, I enjoyed it and think other fans of the director’s work will, too. You’ll find the unmistakable writing and visual style that has been the strength of his past films, particularly since the film is a sequel of sorts to “Do the Right Thing.” But don’t tell Lee that.
Using words that can’t be printed here, Lee asserted that the film is absolutely not a sequel and went on to claim that major studios “know nothing about black people.” As usual with Lee, the spectacle of his rant has overshadowed the fact that he has some good points. Lee is a filmmaker who puts a lot of thought and heart into his films, and it doesn’t seem so crazy that he would want his latest film to stand on its own merits, rather than being aggressively marketed as “Do the Right Thing 2.”

Lee’s dissatisfaction with the studio experience underlined the importance of indie film champions like Bingham Ray, who passed away early Monday morning. The independent film community has profited from Ray’s ambition and foresight for years; he played a significant role in the careers of indie masters like Mike Leigh, Lars von Trier, David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch. It is clear, based on the mood in industry parties, that he will be greatly missed, even by those who never got to know the generous and genuine man that he was.
Strong emotions were also felt at the screenings for two films that depict families struggling to cope when a loved one is sentenced to several years in prison. “Middle of Nowhere” follows a young woman with remarkable patience who finds herself waiting for five years for her drug-dealing husband to be released. Director Ava DuVernay wrote the screenplay after having conversations with several women dealing with an incarcerated spouse or partner, and she drew memorable performances from her lead Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lorraine Toussaint as a mother concerned that her daughter is throwing her life away, and the unceasingly charming David Oyelowo as a man who offers our heroine a second chance.
DuVernay is a talent to keep an eye on, as is Gina Rodriguez, who portrays the title character in the pulsating “Filly Brown.” This is an astonishing, star-making turn for Rodriguez, who plays an aspiring hip-hop artist trying to make the money she needs to bail her addict mom out of prison. The actress not only handles a very difficult role with aplomb, but she is also an incredible musician, leading several people in the audience to beg for the soundtrack. With great supporting performances from Lou Diamond Phillips, Edward James Olmos and the rest of this amazing cast, the film is so much more than an “8 Mile for Girls.” 

After the screening, “Filly Brown” received a standing ovation from the 1,000 people filling Sundance’s largest venue, which brought Rodriguez to tears. She took a bow and thanked everyone in the theater for sharing in the realization of her indie dream. At that moment, I couldn’t help but think about Bingham Ray. Those are the kind of moments that people like Ray spend their lives fighting for. We have lost another fighter.
For all of Jannise's Sundance reports, visit Austin 360's movie blog!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Read the award-winning scripts of the season

Around this time of year many studios post PDFs of screenplays online as part of their marketing for awards consideration. It seems very likely that most screenplay awards are handed out without most or any of the voting members having read any of them. Why would they even need to if they already saw the finished film? A good story is a good story, right? This is true for the most part but I think to truly appreciate a writer’s work you would need to read the script. Call me old fashioned. I was curious to see how some of my favorite films of the season were written so I downloaded a few scripts from their respective studio websites. One of those was Steven Zaillian’s adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo which was just as exciting to read as watching David Fincher’s interpretation of his script. Here’s a scene from the script where we first meet the heroine of the story, Lisbeth Salander:



Ms. Salander’s here.

Armansky breathes a defeated sigh, taps the intercom button twice to say ‘okay, let her in.’

Lisbeth Salander walks in: A small, pale, anorexic looking waif in her early 20’s. Short black-dyed hair – pierced eyelid - tattoo of a wasp on her neck; probably several more under her black leather jacket - black tshirt, black jeans, black Caterpillar boots. Frode is only middlingly successful in concealing his initial reaction to her. This isn’t punk fashion. This is someone saying, Stay the fuck away from me.

This scene comes across no differently on screen but it’s still fun to see how Zaillian wrote it out. What I always love and appreciate when I read a script, are the detailed descriptions that can sometimes get lost in the translation to screen. It’s moments like these in scripts that show the true style and character of the writer. Zaillian is one of the best working screenwriters today (he was the recipient of our Distinguished Screenwriter Award in 2009) and he has a one-two punch this year with Dragon Tattoo and Moneyball.

You can read the rest of the script in the link below. I also included downloadable links for other scripts of some of my favorite films of the season. Enjoy!

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" by Steven Zaillian

"The Artist" by Michel Hazanavicius

"Beginners" by Mike Mills

"Bridesmaids" by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig

"The Descendants" by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

"The Help" by Tate Taylor

"The Ides of March" by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Williman

"Moneyball" by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" by Bridget O'Cconnor & Peter Straughan

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Congratulations to Alec Berg on his WGA nomination for Best Comedy Series for "Curb Your Enthusiasm"!

Alec's television credits include Seinfeld where he was a writer and executive producer, and Curb Your Enthusiasm where he currently serves as a writer, executive producer and director, and for which he was nominated.

His feature film work includes writing the screenplays for THE CAT IN THE HAT (which was made into a terrible film) and EUROTRIP (which he produced and co-directed and is excellent.) His most recent writing and producing credit is THE DICTATOR, starring Sacha Baron Cohen and scheduled for release this May. He has also done extensive rewriting, having worked on films for Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, Will Smith, Ivan Reitman and Robert Zemeckis. Alec has been nominated for numerous Emmy awards, a WGA Award, a DGA award and a Razzie (yes, for THE CAT IN THE HAT, it’s that bad.)

Check out this clip on YouTube from one of Alec's panels last year in which he discussed the story process for Curb Your Enthusiasm. We're thrilled he'll be joining us again in 2012!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why the Awards Season Really Does Matter

The cinematic juggernaut that is The Artist continued steamrolling toward the Best Picture Oscar with several wins at the Golden Globes this past Sunday. Not too shabby for a black-and-white silent film from France that initially scared away several distributors before being picked up by The Weinstein Company. Anyone who has seen the film would say that these awards have been justly earned based on the film’s quality, and they would be correct. The Artist is an absolute delight. However, that doesn’t stop industry cynics from crediting this silent film’s accolades to one of the most aggressive campaigners in the history of awards, Harvey Weinstein, who is anything but silent.

The validity of film awards has increasingly come under question over the years, and the lengths to which awards campaigners will go to win awards for their films are the stuff of legend. Listen to rumors and hearsay, and you’d think that Weinstein stops just shy of threatening murder to get his films the recognition they deserve, which leads many to believe that these awards are meritless and unimportant. But I’d like to take this opportunity to make a bold statement: They’re wrong.

Ask any filmmaker or production studio, “Who do you want in your corner come Oscar season?” and you’ll more than likely hear them say Harvey Weinstein’s name. That’s because they recognize how important these awards truly are. The value of having “Academy Award Winner” stamped on a DVD cover is immeasurable; in fact, it is almost required if an independent or foreign film hopes to sell any copies at the local Target. That’s because, for the average moviegoer, the Oscars provide a quick summary of the best (well, one version of the best) films in a given year, films that an average moviegoer may not have had access to in their local movie theater.

I can speak to this issue from a personal angle. As a young film lover growing up in small-town Texas, my first chance at seeing a film like The Artist would’ve been home video. Films that run for weeks in LA or NYC cinemas never make it as far as Southeast Texas, so I used award nominations and critics lists as a guide to what I should look for at my local movie rental. Although the circumstances have changed a bit (rentals have given way to iTunes and Netflix), the basic facts are still the same: many great films don’t reach a broader audience until after they leave the cinema. That’s why these films need the awards season, and that’s why we need it, too.

-- Stephen Jannise, Film Program Director

Friday, January 13, 2012

Guest Blog Post - Kevin Rawls, Public Relations Senior, Texas State University-San Marcos

Hello, fellow film junkies and bloggers!

This is Kevin Rawls checking in for day #2 of job shadowing at Austin Film Festival. Before I get started on my little rant, let me begin by giving you a little of my background.

I am a 22-year-old senior at Texas State University-San Marcos majoring in Mass Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations and my minor is Sociology. It’s been a long, tumultuous five years in college, but I am glad to finally say I’ll be graduating this May! That is to say if everything goes well and they don’t magically manifest 12 more hours that I need to take. I was born in Yuma, Arizona, but I’ve done most of my growing up in Cedar Park, right here in Austin.

I chose Public Relations as my major because I love to interact and meet new people on a daily basis. The ability to communicate with others effectively is a priceless trait that others take for granted, and getting the opportunity to do that for the rest of my life is something I look forward to. My focus is on the sports side of PR because that is what I have always been interested in. If it has anything to do with sports then I’m trying to be in the middle of it, particularly basketball and football. I couldn’t begin to tell you how much of my day is dedicated to watching EPSN, but then again, what guy isn’t watching that channel 24/7? My dream is to someday move to Houston and work for the Houston Texans or the Rockets, two of my favorite professional teams growing up. Honestly, just working somewhere in Houston would be a great opportunity for me. All of my family, with the exception of myself, is from Houston and I would love the chance to live there and take advantage of all it has to offer! I know I probably won’t be able to make the jump there right out of college but I’m still hopeful and doing whatever it takes to make that happen.

That brings me to my next point, which is finding an internship. For some reason I never can land one and I think that’s in part of me just wanting to find a place where I can fit in and get the most experience. Most of my search has been this year, but nothing has come up yet. However, I am currently doing job-shadowing, which in my eyes is a precursor to landing an internship. One of my job shadowing sites is here at Austin Film Festival. The reason I chose AFF was because I applied for an internship with them earlier in the fall at Texas State’s Job and Internship Fair. The representative they had doing their applications just happened to be a girl I knew from two of my classes, named Kristen. She talked to me about what AFF was all about and how much she liked interning for them. Not only that, but I knew a former intern, Malcolm Rogers, who told me he loved being there as well and recommended it to me. The name Austin Film Festival sounded familiar to me, but I hadn’t really heard of anything else they did, so I thought, why not apply?

So far, my time here has been nothing short of spectacular. As soon as I walked in my first day, I felt so warm and cozy. I didn’t know their office was set up in a house so I didn’t know what to expect, but when I got there I definitely felt “right at home.” If I could describe AFF in one word, it would be CBS, like the channel. All their personalities and humor remind me of the sitcoms they have on that station, especially when I sat in on their staff meeting, seeing everyone in the same room bouncing ideas off each other. It makes you feel like you’re behind the scenes of some popular television sitcom and in front of you are all the writers and producers. When I got there, we all went over the gist of what Austin Film Festival is about and what they do, and then we were split up into our different departments. I was assigned to the Conference Department which is headed up by Maya Perez. Working with Maya has been real cool. She’s super chill and that’s kind of how I am too. Never getting too worked up, taking things one step at a time. She gave me a couple of assignments and was really helpful when I needed some assistance on something. If I get the opportunity to intern here, I think I’ll either apply under her department or the marketing department.

Well, I don’t want to give too much away about my experience! If you ever consider doing job shadowing or possibly interning for Austin Film Festival, go for it! I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback about them and my time here has definitely been pleasant. I’m really looking to get my foot in the door and get some experience somewhere and I think here is a great place to start.

-Kevin Rawls, Public Relations Senior, Texas State University-San Marcos

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012: The Year Film Marketing Gets Wise

Last weekend, the film industry was all abuzz over The Devil Inside, the first major film release of 2012. Made for pennies, the horror thriller ultimately grossed over $30 million in its first weekend, which immediately resulted in new production deals for its writer/director and talks of a sequel. Despite the poor critical response and even worse word of mouth from audience members, the film is a bonafide hit.

Being the intrepid film lover that I am, I simply had to see what all the fuss was about, so I attended a screening of the movie. I can now confirm what most people have already stated online: the film’s success is due more to its smart marketing campaign and fantastic timing than to any unique vision or narrative invention. In fact, the most intriguing part of my experience that night was not the film itself but the trailers that played before, many of which seem to suggest that The Devil Inside will not be the only box office success created by intelligent marketing this year. Take, for example, Project X, 2012’s official drunken high school blowout film. It may be nothing more than another in a series of Superbad wannabes, but I can’t help but be intrigued by the sheer excess of this trailer, which suggests a Hangover for the younger crowd:

I can’t help but notice that the trailer doesn’t offer a URL for an official movie website but instead directs you straight to the film’s Facebook page before offering the film’s Twitter hashtag. Immediately following this, we were treated to a preview of Chronicle with a delightfully unique structure:

Again, who’s to say if Chronicle will be a great film or a forgettable one. What I do know is that film marketing seems to be trying harder than ever before. In the past, studios would just throw hundreds of millions of dollars around to get their film on every network, billboard, and party napkin they could find. But those dollars don’t exist anymore, forcing the marketing department to get savvy, target specific audiences, and make smaller budgets go a long way. That’s how Paramount turned $1 million into $34 million with The Devil Inside, and that’s how other studios will find success this year. As moviegoers, we can only hope a few of these films will actually be good.

- Stephen Jannise, Film Program Director

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Start off the New Year right and WRITE!

At a New Year’s Eve dinner with friends, we all took turns proclaiming what our New Year’s resolutions are. While I don’t think I need to lose weight, don’t smoke (regularly), and certainly don’t want to stop drinking, I decided my resolution is to make 2012 the year I finish the screenplay that has remained in my head for so long.

What inspired me to make this resolution is my coworker who just recently finished her first screenplay. This time last year, I playfully made fun of her when she said she finished her 50 page feature script which is now a much more polished 89 pages. She has the last laugh now and I admire her for her persistence to finish her script. It has been nearly 3 years since I have completed a feature screenplay. I have another story that I am passionate about sharing, but all this time, I’ve only jotted down random thoughts and ideas in notebooks without any real focus. I can blame the long stressful hours working at AFF and the numerous amount of amazing scripts that I have to read (that not only put my previous work to shame), but who needs to make excuses? I know there are writers who probably work two jobs with families to raise and they still make time to write and are more prolific in one year than I’ve been in 3 years. I have a story; I just need to write the damn thing! For all us who are writers, this is a plight we all share. There never seems to be enough hours in the day to write but if we budget our time well, turn off the TV (except for Modern Family and Breaking Bad), and dedicate at least one hour a day to write, we can all have a polished screenplay by this time next year or sooner just like my coworker.

Even if the Mayans are right and this will indeed be our last year of life on Earth, what have we got to lose? Our stories may be all that remain anyway just like the ancient hieroglyphics of cave men. If you have a story you’re itching to share, join me and make 2012 your year to finish that screenplay.

-Matt Dy, Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Writers on Screenwriting - Jim Dauterive

Jim Dauterive at the 2011 Austin Film Festival & Conference

Next up in our series Writers on Screenwriting: Jim Dauterive, developer/executive producer “Bob’s Burgers” and writer/executive producer for "King of the Hill."

We know how valuable it can be to hear another writer, especially a successful one, discuss their craft. It can inspire renewed commitment to one's work, give ideas for different ways to approach a story and remind us that we are not alone with our frustrations - and joys - in the writing process.

We've asked some friends of Austin Film Festival to share some of their thoughts on aspects of the writing process with us. Here's Jim on how to combat feeling stonewalled by creativity:

When I was a younger writer, I used to dawdle, delay and wait for perfection that was never going to come until I had run out of time and had to write something, anything, and hope it was okay. Somehow, I almost always got away with it. But that's a cocky, immature young man's game and I no longer have a young man's nerves. I've got what old golfers call the yips. I hate the yips.

So this is how I cope; this is the deal I make with myself: I give my writing permission to be bad. I keep writing until I feel in my core it is good. That works for me. That's how I get words on the page. But the creative process is, I think, like grieving. It's a very personal thing. There's no way around it; writing is godawful hard. So if you're going to take it on, I suggest that you forgive yourself, love yourself, be hard but not too hard on yourself, and do the best you can.