Wednesday, February 29, 2012

AFF at the Oscars

There were a lot of proud faces on television screens around the world Sunday night, as the Academy Awards presented their annual prizes to a few lucky filmmakers.  In fact, anyone who played a part in the triumph of an Oscar-winning film had reason to be proud, particularly those involved with the Best Picture winner, “The Artist.” Originally screened at Cannes, this little black-and-white silent French film that initially scared away distributors eventually charmed the world, taking home 5 Oscars by the end of the evening.

The thought of marketing a film like “The Artist” was naturally a concern for all involved, including festivals like AFF.  Even though most of us who programmed the film had seen it at Telluride or Toronto and knew how great it was, convincing everyone else of that fact was a different matter altogether.  Ultimately, we at AFF decided to screen “The Artist” at the Paramount Theatre, Austin’s beautiful classic movie palace, and the experience of seeing that particular film in that particular cinema was truly unparalleled. The film went on to win our Audience Award, and we couldn’t be prouder to have our trophy join the growing number of statues on this wonderful film’s shelf.

Nothing brings the staff of a film festival greater joy than seeing one of its programmed films going on to conquer the hearts and minds of moviegoers everywhere. We were also so pleased to see “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” which won both our Jury and our Audience Award for Best Animated Short, go on to win the Oscar in that category.  I can remember the day that my fellow film programmer, Stephen Belyeu, and I watched that film for the first time.  We both knew we had just seen something very special, and we were so honored to introduce it to our festival audience and the Austin moviegoing community at large.  Those are the moments that make this job so rewarding, and we can’t wait to do it all over again this October.  Here’s to another year at the movies!

Interview with Liz Tigelaar

As we gear up for the 2012 Festival & Conference, we'll be posting interviews with our incoming panelists here, on our blog. The questions come from our registrants, fellow panelists, facebook fans, etc., so if you have questions for any of our incoming (or past) speakers, just send them to our Conference Director Maya Perez at You just might see your interview on here one of these days!

Our first interview is with Liz Tigelaar. Liz grew up in Dallas, Texas and Guilford, Connecticut, graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Scriptwriting and Politics. She got her start as an assistant on Dawson's Creek and Once & Again, where she worked under mentors like Greg Berlanti and Winnie Holzman. Her first staff writing job came on the NBC series, American Dreams, and went on to write for such shows as What About Brian, Dirty Sexy Money, Brothers & Sisters, Once Upon A Time, and Revenge. Tigelaar created the critically acclaimed series Life Unexpected which aired on the CW for two seasons. She currently resides in Santa Monica, California but likes to tell people she lives in Venice.

Diana Phillips is our interviewer. Although retired, Diana is a truly passionate supporter of the arts - she's a professional volunteer involved with the Long Center, One World Theatre, Paramount Theatre, Zach Scott, Austin Symphony, Austin Art Alliance, SXSW, Conspirare, Cine Los Americas, and Austin Chamber Music Center. She has been a volunteer for the AFF for 17 years because, "I love film but more importantly the behind the scenes work that makes it all happen."

1. Which do you like better, writing or producing or are they equally satisfying?

LIZ: Nothing is better than getting to produce what you've written -- to see the process through, from start to finish. What I like about being a writer/producer on my own projects is the control. Or at least pretending I have control. I love crafting a story in the writers room with a team, finessing it, changing it, strengthening it and then prepping it and seeing it come to life on set, seeing what the actors and director bring to it, and then I love how it all gets elevated in post, how performances are honed and crafted, what music does to bring out the emotion... I love being there from start to finish. That said, if I had to pick between only writing or only producing, I would pick writing because everything starts on the page. It's a direct line from your head which makes it fun.

2. You've worked on so many series through the years, going way back to Dawson's Creek. As shows have ended, how have you managed to keep your career on track and moving forward? And, do you ever get discouraged?

LIZ: I haven't made a conscious effort to keep my career on track but I feel like people I've worked with on staff have kept it on track for me. For instance, Josh Reims, my mentor from American Dreams, hired me on What About Brian and Dirty Sexy Money. And then Mark Perry, who I did my first pilot -- Split Decision -- with, hired me when he took over showrunning Brothers & Sisters and also again on Revenge. So I feel like really great people and mentors have been generous enough to bring me with them and hopefully I will do the same for the wonderful people who I've been on staff with -- I would take the entire Life Unexpected staff to every show if I could. And yes, I definitely get discouraged at times. It's a hard business, a lot of it breaks your heart, shows you love get cancelled and you have to say goodbye to people that have become family.

3. After Life Unexpected ended it seems like you've made a real effort to keep up with ex-castmates. Have you done the same with other series you've worked on or was this one special since you were also the creator?

Life Unexpected was definitely special. A group that bonds like that doesn't come along every day and especially what I loved was that the writers and actors bonded equally. There was no us against them mentality. It was really important me to have a family atmosphere and I knew that our friendships would extend beyond the life of the series. I think I modeled the show after what I saw Jonathan Prince do on American Dreams -- it was such a family, we were all such a team. And aside from LUX, I would say I'm still close to that cast, which was also a unique experience. We had a reunion a few years ago for Sarah Ramos's 18th birthday. I think we sent the evite out to 20 people from the show and said to spread the word... 100 came. I still keep in touch with the cast, especially Vanessa Lengies, who is one of my closest friends.

4. On past series like Once and Again and American Dreams you worked with young stars like Shane West, Evan Rachel Wood, and Brittany Snow. Did you notice their potential for success at such a young age?

LIZ: Oh absolutely. Evan Rachel Wood had that amazing story on Once & Again with Mischa Barton and I remember thinking how wonderful they both were. I was Winnie's assistant on that show so I didn't know them well... but on American Dreams, I knew the younger cast extremely well -- I was young, too, so I'd always been their chaperones to fun events -- and I knew from the minute I saw them how extremely talented they were. There's something about Brittany Snow's face that still breaks my heart in the best way -- she can convey every emotion so simply -- happiness, heartbreak. I adore her. I remember at the end of the first act of the pilot of American Dreams, her character is watching the TV, looking at American Bandstand with so much hope and joy, like it's all that matters... that's how I felt watching her watch Bandstand. I wanted to be a part of that show and write for that character. Still, even after creating my own characters, that character is one I feel so connected to. And don't get me started on how much I love Britt Robertson and Ksenia Solo. :)

5. Now you've been working on Once Upon a Time and Revenge. How have those experiences been for you?

LIZ: Great! They are two big hit shows so that feels amazing. I'm happy to have been a part of them both this year -- especially because they are so different for me and different from each other. It makes me hungry to create another show, for sure.

Have questions of your own for Liz? Write them down in your notebook and ask her yourself at the 2012 Austin Film Festival & Conference!

Monday, February 27, 2012

What I Learned From the Oscars

Even with some last minute changes to the predictions I initially posted, I still ended up predicting only 17 out of 24 categories last night.  Not my best by any means but alas, there’s always next year when the Dark Knight Rises will sweep the 2013 Oscars (one can still dream I guess).  It’s funny how obvious the outcome seems now in retrospect.  In this age of blogging, anyone can be an Oscar expert but the only ones who truly know the outcome in advance is PricewaterhouseCoopers.  Nobody knows anything and the best method to playing this game is to not over think it.  So instead of moping over how bad I did this year, I’ll reflect on what I learned from watching the Oscars:
  1. I realized I was born the same year Meryl Streep won her last Oscar for Sophie’s Choice.  I can’t wait to see her win another 29 years later when she won’t need makeup to play Margaret Thatcher again in The Iron Lady 2.
  2.  The telecast was rather dull and I wonder what Eddie Murphy would have brought to the show if he had hosted.  Heck, Ellen DeGeneres’ JC Penney commercials were considerably funnier.
  3. I did not realize Twilight belonged in the pantheon of great movie moments.
  4. Comedic anecdotes from presenters are almost never funny unless you can speak Mandarin like Sandra Bullock, or your names are Will Ferrell and Mack Zalifigakas.  
  5. My thoughts from watching the In Memoriam montage: “All those people are dead???”
  6. I would like to play a drinking game with the Bridesmaids.  “Scorsese!”
  7. Viola Davis is gorgeous.  I’ll predict she’ll win an Oscar in the future or at least end up on Joan Rivers’ best dressed list.
  8. Never underestimate the power of Harvey Weinstein.  Three of his films won Oscars (The Artist, The Iron Lady, and Undefeated)
  9. The Academy really needs to reevaluate its voting process for Best Original Song.  Only two nominees this year?  And it was a crime The Muppets didn’t get to perform the winning song, “Man or Muppet”!
  10. Christopher Plummer is just two years younger than the Academy Awards?
  11. Billy Crystal can read minds.  I’m glad we all finally know what goes on in Marty Scorsese’s and Nick Nolte’s heads. AND...
  12. I need to stop obsessing over the Oscars and get back to writing my script!
 --Matt Dy, Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Live Blogging: The Oscars!

Taylor here, AFF Marketing Director. Welcome to the Austin Film Festival's live blogging of the 84th annual Academy Awards. Stick around for updates throughout the evening!

7:25pm CST 
5 minutes 'til show time! Is is just me or does one of the commentators look like a mini Steve Martin Scorsese?

7:32pm CST
Two minutes in and we start the show with a George-on-Billy liplock.

7:36pm CST
First film mentioned: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Want a chance to own a signed script of the film? Get your Producers Badge before the end of February and you'll be entered to win one of two copies!

7:38pm CST
Bill Crystal's first musical number.

7:43pm CST
First award!
Best Cinematography: Robert Richardson - Hugo

7:45pm CST
Best Art Direction: Hugo

7:55pm CST
Best Costume Design: The Artist - Mark Bridges

7:56pm CST
Makeup: The Iron Lady

8:07pm CST
Foreign Language Film: A Separation

8:10pm CST
Best Actress In a Supporting Role: Octavia Spencer, The Help
So far, Matt Dy's been pretty on point with his predictions!

8:19pm CST
Christopher Guest's cast acts as focus group for Wizard of Oz! Hilarious!

8:22pm CST
Film Editing: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 

Now that signed script of GIRL we have is an OSCAR WINNING SCRIPT! Wanna a shot at winning it? Get your Producers Badge by Feb 29th.

8:26pm CST
Sound Editing: Hugo
Sound Mixing: Hugo

8:36pm CST
North by Northwest Peewee Herman lookalikes are bungee jumping around the Kodak Theater.

8:43pm CST
Best Documentary Feature: Undefeated

8:47pm CST
Best Animated Feature: Rango

8:53pm CST
Emma Stone is winning best dressed so far, in my humble opinion. Plus, she's hilarious.

A Chance to Own A Piece of Oscar History

The Oscars are tonight, and we at AFF are so proud to have a slew of 2011 AFF films like THE ARTIST, THE DESCENDANTS, ALBERT NOBBS, PUSS IN BOOTS, THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE, HELL AND BACK AGAIN, and RAJU represented at the Oscars. We can't wait to watch the ceremony on the 26th, and we've got our hands on some pretty exciting Oscar swag to make the event even more exciting!

Last week, we announced that everyone who has purchased a Producers Badge to the 2012 Austin Film Festival & Conference by Wednesday, February 29th will be entered for a chance to win a copy of the screenplay of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, signed by Academy Award®-winning writer Steven Zaillian!

Now, we're thrilled to announce we have not one but two copies of the screenplay of EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE, signed by Academy Award® winning screenwriter Eric Roth!
Roth has been nominated for four Oscars, winning in 1994 for FORREST GUMP. The 2011 film EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE, for which Roth wrote the adapted screenplay, is nominated for two Oscars.

Now you have three chances to win a signed Oscar nominated script and a piece of Oscar history. And to make the deal a little sweeter, everyone who has purchased a Badge by the end of February will be entered to win an upgrade to a Producers Badge! Your last chance to enter the contest is midnight, Wednesday, February 29th, so grab one before it's too late!

Tonight, make sure to check out the blog or follow us on twitter @austinfilmfest as AFF Marketing Director Taylor Cumbie live-blogs the Oscars!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Austin Film Festival's 2012 Film Poster Competition

The Austin Film Festival is excited to announce their first ever Film Poster Competition! AFF has chosen a series of five films from their 2012 year-round programming to feature the art of Austin's local artists. Interested designers can choose one of the films in the series and create an original film poster. AFF will choose one winner for each film, and a limited number of each winning poster will be displayed and sold at the screenings.

In addition, audience members and online voters will have a chance to vote on their favorite film poster in the series. The artist of the winning poster will receive a Producer's Badge to the 2012 Austin Film Festival & Conference ($695 value) and their poster on display at the Festival. This showcase is an invaluable opportunity to have your artwork seen by tens of thousands of people and viewed by an audience of filmmakers eager to find their next poster artist!

The Films:

The Silence of the Lambs
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Party Down (TV Pilot)
The Iron Giant
The Black Stallion

To submit your film poster, please send a high-res PDF to by March 12th, 2012. Winners will be announced March 15th, 2012.

Contact Taylor Cumbie

Final Oscar Predictions

Will The Artist sweep the Oscars?  Will Meryl Streep FINALLY win a long overdue second Oscar for lead actress?  All will be answered this Sunday night when the awards will be handed out.  The real question is… will people really care?  Compared to last year, most of the films nominated this year haven’t really polarized the general public as much while the current frontrunner is a black and white silent film most are hesitant to see at first.  Regardless, I’m still a faithful Oscar watcher and prognosticator (read my post from Feb 1) and I’ll still make my annual predictions.  Here’s who I think will win in all 24 categories.

Best Picture: The Artist
Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants
Best Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Best Actress: Viola Davis, The Help
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life
Best Art Direction: Hugo
Best Costume Design: The Artist
Best Makeup: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II
Best Visual Effects: Hugo
Best Editing: The Artist
Best Sound Mixing: Hugo
Best Sound Editing: War Horse
Best Original Score: The Artist
Best Original Song: “Man or Muppet”, The Muppet Movie
Best Animated Feature: Rango
Best Documentary Feature: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation
Best Live Action Short: Tuba Atlantic
Best Animated Short: A Morning Stroll
Best Documentary Short: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

And… to make a shameless plug, we have a special promotion in honor of the Oscars.  Anyone who purchases a Producers Badge to the 2012 Austin Film Festival & Conference by Sunday, February 26th will be entered for a chance to win a copy of the screenplay of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, signed by Academy Award®-winning writer Steven Zaillian!

Zaillian, who was awarded with the Distinguished Screenwriter Award at the 2009 Austin Film Festival, wrote both THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and MONEYBALL, each earning a handful of Oscar nominations.

And everyone who has purchased a Conference Badge or below by February 26th will be entered in a raffle to win an upgrade to a Producers Badge!  Click here to buy your Badge.

--Matt Dy, Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Guest Post: An interview with screenwriter Amy Talkington

Eilis Mernagh is a screenwriter whose latest short script, TIGER, is set to be produced this year, directed by award-winning director Cathal Nally. Eilis heard Amy Talkington speak at the 2011 Austin Film Festival and followed up with her for an interview. She generously shared her subsequent blog post with us. For more from Eilis, visit her blog, Dublin to Hollywood.

When you’re embarking on a venture it’s always good to hear from someone who’s been there and done that. So if you want to be a screenwriter, why not talk to an established writer?

One of the sessions at this year’s Austin Film Festival featured an interview with screenwriter Amy Talkington and her agent, talking about their working relationship. It was one of the most informative and interesting panels of the festival. I contacted Amy afterwards and she kindly agreed to answer some questions for this blog about her career to date and life as a working writer in Hollywood.
Amy Talkington

Amy is a writer and director based in Los Angeles. Originally from Texas, she graduated from Barnard College with a degree in art history and went on to achieve an MFA in film from Columbia University’s film division. Amy’s short films “Our Very First Sex Tape” (2003), “The New Arrival” (2000), “Bust” (1999), “Second Skin” (1998) and “Number One Fan” (1997) were selected for numerous distinguished festivals including Sundance. Second Skin earned her the New Line Cinema award for Best Director. She wrote and directed the feature film, “The Night of the White Pants,” released in 2008, which starred Tom Wilkinson, Nick Stahl and Selma Blair.

Amy has written screenplays for several major studios, including Fox 2000, 20th Century Fox, MGM, Summit Entertainment, Disney and New Line Cinema. She penned the remake of the Eighties teen movie “Valley Girl” for MGM and the remake of “Private Benjamin” for New Line Cinema with Anna Faris set to star. Most recently she worked on “Kicked, Bitten and Scratched” for Summit Entertainment and sold an original pitch to Disney, which she is currently writing.

 In TV, Amy wrote “Avalon High” for the Disney Channel (for which she won a 2010 WGA award) and the ABC family movie “Brave New Girl” which starred Virginia Madsen and Lindsay Haun.

While Amy’s primary focus has been on traditional narratives for film and television, she is also accomplished as an interactive, new media filmmaker, where she strives to experiment with new kinds of storytelling. She co-wrote and directed the world’s first 360-degree movie, “The New Arrival,” for which The New York Times named her “one of the few women to break out on the internet.” She also wrote and directed “Confessions,” an interactive web project which was released on in August, 2007.

Thanks for giving this interview! Can you give some details about how your interest in film developed and in particular your interest in writing for film? 

In my teens, I was a painter but I also loved to write fiction and I loved music. I wasn’t quite sure how to choose between them. But then, during college, I saw some inspiring art films and suddenly realized that writing and directing film would encompass all the things I things I loved.  

You wrote and directed five short movies at the start of your career – how did these develop? How did you approach the process of making what were (presumably!) low budget films?

I made my first two shorts while I was a graduate student in the Film Division at Columbia University. The film school setting provides a community to help develop and make a short. But, from the very first film, I strived to make the films as professional as possible and reached out to the independent film community in New York for my key crew and cast. I always encourage students not to settle and to reach for that composer or cinematographer or actor who you admire. You never know, if they like your script and they’re available, they might work on your film!

 Would you regard Second Skin as having been your “big break” and can you talk a little about how it arrived at New Line?

Yes, “Second Skin” was my entrĂ©e into both the independent film community and Hollywood. I traveled with that film to many film festivals and, through those festivals, got to know many people in the NYC indie scene. And then, when Columbia screened it in Los Angeles (because I’d won the award for “Best Director”), a young agent from United Talent Agency saw it and contacted me. She is still my agent today. As for the New Line Cinema Awards, New Line had a relationship with Columbia’s Film Division at the time and they sponsored two awards that “Second Skin” won. 

Night of the White Pants has an amazing cast. Can you talk about how you attracted actors like Tom Wilkinson and what it was like directing your first feature film? 

Tom just really loved the script. He also liked the idea of working with Nick Stahl again (they’d done “In The Bedroom” together some years before). I was really lucky that he happened to have a window of time and hadn’t done an indie in a while. Then, once Tom and Nick were in, the project was very attractive to many actors who wanted to work with them. It was 100 degrees in Dallas and every day was hard as hell but we had a great time making that movie.  

Is the finished movie very similar to the script or did you have to change a lot during production? 

We definitely had to make a lot of compromises due to the small budget and short shooting schedule but the movie is pretty close to the original script. The voice over was added in post, that’s one of the biggest changes from the shooting script. 

Can you talk a little about the process of “pitching” to the studios and how do you approach this?

Pitching is hell. And the way I approach it is by being as prepared as possible. I have a rock solid set of notes and I pitch “off” of them. I know a lot of people say you shouldn’t pitch off of notes, but it works for me. I practice a lot beforehand so that it doesn’t seem like I’m reading notes. I try to make it feel as casual as possible. 

Private Benjamin is a beloved film for a lot of people – it’s certainly one of my favourites! How do you approach writing a remake of a well-known movie? 

That was tough. I love the original too!! I kind of had forget about people’s expectations and just try to write the best script possible and one that felt as fresh as the original. It’s currently being rewritten by someone else so… we’ll see how it turns out! 

What’s your writing process like? Do you outline/write a treatment before starting? 

Yes, I do write a fairly detailed treatment and I work off of that. On the studio assignments you kind of have to. When I’m writing something for “myself” I usually have an outline but it’s less developed.  

What’s your writing schedule like – do you write everyday at a set time, for example?

I write five days a week, five to seven hours a day, depending on how much I have going on. I usually like to write in the mornings, maybe 8am – 2 or 3pm. 

The issue of “movies for women” often comes up at festivals. Do you feel that as a female writer, you can do a better job of telling a woman’s story? And do you feel that there are differences in the industry working as a female writer? 

Oh boy, that’s a pretty complicated issue. Not sure I can really tackle it here. I feel very capable of writing male and female characters. And, as far as the industry goes, I try not to think about the dismally low percentages of working female writers and directors. I choose not to focus on it and just keep working hard.  

You write for film and TV but also for the internet – what are your favourite things about writing for these different mediums? 

I am very interested in interactive storytelling. We are at an exciting time when a new kind of storytelling might emerge. I love to explore that.  

I saw an interview with you and your agent Rebecca Ewing at AFF and you seem to have a very good working relationship. Do you have any tips for young writers on a. finding a representative and b. working effectively with an agent once you get one? 

I really lucked out in terms of getting a representative so quickly and easily. But, I think the best way to find a good representative is to write a great script.  And as far as working effectively with an agent… I don’t know, I guess it’s the same as any working relationship — don’t be a jerk! 

Lastly, do you have any practical advice in general for writers starting out in their careers? 

Be prepared to work hard and face a lot of rejection. If you can’t handle either of those things than it’s probably not the right line of work. 

Big thanks to Amy for taking the time to do this interview!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Box Office Recovery

A few weeks ago, I wrote that 2012 might be a great year for film marketing.  So far, someone is definitely doing something right. Ticket sales have been soaring, breaking records and dragging the industry out of the minor slump that was 2011. Previously unknown directors and screenwriters have been spinning low-budget films into box office gold, establishing themselves as new voices and signing on to major new projects. But who or what is responsible for this 2012 uptick? 

It’s very difficult to say.  It’s always going to be hard to read a culture and understand why one film catches on while others fail. I stand by my argument that film marketing is becoming increasingly thoughtful and clever, doing more with less, and studios have become much smarter about targeting their efforts and marketing to the right demographics at the right time. But even these strategies won’t help sell an unsellable film, which suggests that the quality of product being released is better than usual. 

In recent years, studios have tended to dump their worst movies into theaters during January and February.  These months are essentially the “Oscar season doldrums,” when the films being considered for Academy Awards stick around in theaters as more and more people want to see what everyone is talking about.  This doesn’t leave much room in cinemas for additional thought-provoking fare, so studios counter-program with the kind of action film or romantic drama that isn’t likely to win over the critics, hoping to scrounge up a few million dollars in an empty marketplace. 

This year, it seems like studios have been mixing things up a bit, releasing films like The Grey, Safe House, and Chronicle that are as dependent on solid writing and assured direction as they are on Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington, and the superhero trend. These are films that could’ve held their own in the slightly more competitive months of March and April, yet here they are in January and February, cashing in their jackpots.  

Additionally, the studios have truly made an art out of not stepping on each other’s toes.  Generally, when two films that are similar in theme or feature the same star suddenly find themselves scheduled to open on the same Friday, one of the studios will budge and move to another date.  This ultimately is best for everyone involved, as each weekend brings a new option for different types of moviegoers without overcrowding the marketplace. There could be no better example than this past weekend, which saw four movies open with more than $20 million in ticket sales (The Vow, Safe House, Journey 2, Star Wars: Episode I 3D). This is a truly staggering testament to the benefits of studios playing it smart and counter-programming each other.  

For example, This Means War, the romantic-action-comedy starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy, abandoned its original plan to open on Valentine’s Day after realizing that it would have to directly compete with The Vow, which proved to be a wise decision. The Vow sold more tickets yesterday than any film ever has on a Valentine’s weekday. Now, This Means War can make its entrance this Friday with some of the excitement over The Vow having already died down.  If the studios continue to play it safe, and play nice, 2012 could be a particularly great year for the film industry.

- Stephen Jannise, Film Program Director

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Kids Who Write Good

Proper grammer and speling is important for writers of all ages and levels if they want to be more better writers.  If you aspire to be a professional writer and didn’t notice the errors in the previous sentence, you’ve got a problem (or you better have a good copy editor).  This week’s blog entry is not so much a lesson in grammar and dusting off your copy of Strunk & White; it is more about the importance of proofing your work before turning it in to someone who can either make or break your script.

I gained some perspective on this topic when I was asked to help teach the basics of screenwriting to an English class at a local high school as part of our Young Filmmakers Program.  The students were required to write a short screenplay for us to review and narrow down to one script which the kids would later produce.  The goal for the program is not only to help improve the students’ writing skills but to also provide them a real world experience similar to that of a working screenwriter in the industry (of course on a much smaller scale, not as ruthless, and without illegal substances).  Many of the kids submitted brilliant stories that were unfortunately marred by distractingly bad grammar, punctuation, spelling, and not to mention poor use of present progressive.  What we asked the kids to think about was: “Would you feel confident submitting this script to a studio?”  We gave the kids another opportunity to proof and refine their scripts before making our final decision.  In the studio system or a screenplay competition, there are no second chances like this once you’ve submitted a script.
Even in this age of text messaging and auto-correct, this is something not unique to today’s youth but to amateur writers in general.  I’ve come across many scripts in the competition with great stories but with poor grammar and spelling.  This is not necessarily a deal breaker for a script to advance in our competition; the quality of the story and writing always come first but the last thing you want to do is annoy your reader.  Your words should flow easily for the reader as if they’re going to fly off the page.  There is such a thing as spell check but it’s always best to have a new set of eyes copy edit your work before submitting it somewhere.  So just like those kids in class, ask yourself, “Do I feel confident submitting this script to a studio?”

Bad grammar may or may not make or break your script but, in an industry where thousands of scripts are passed around, why not make yours the most polished it can be?  The last thing you want is for your first impression to be the last impression.  Even though some Hollywood producers may still act like they’re in high school, it doesn’t mean you have to.

--Matt Dy, Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director

Thursday, February 09, 2012

David Milch on his mentor, Robert Penn Warren

We're thrilled that 2006 Outstanding Television Writer Award recipient David Milch has another terrific show on the air, LUCK, which airs on HBO Sunday nights. The show premiered this month and has already been picked up for a second season. Check out this clip of David taking about the influence of his mentor, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Robert Penn Warren.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Should I Stay or Should I Go: The Rise of Cinema-on-Demand

As you have no doubt noticed in recent years, there are more ways than ever to experience films.  Want to watch in the comfort of your own home? You can stream on Netflix, rent from iTunes, or order Video-on-Demand from your cable provider or video game system. Prefer the old fashioned method of going to the theater? You can choose the optical trickery of 3D, the pulse rattling grandeur of IMAX, or the pure insanity of motion seats. There truly is a wealth of options for movie lovers today, with more to come in the near future. 

This also means there are more options for studios and distributors to determine how they can maximize profits on a film’s potential, leading to a debate about whether or not indie filmmakers are being given golden opportunities or the short end of the stick.  On the one hand, you can now see films in Austin, TX, through VOD or iTunes that would, in past years, have only been exhibited in a handful of theaters in New York or Los Angeles, opening more eyes to new filmmakers and fresh ideas than ever before.  

On the other hand, this means that fewer indie filmmakers will experience the exquisite feeling of screening their film in a movie theater.  As far as we have come with on-demand movies, and as comfortable as most people have become with viewing films at home, the allure of the movie theater is still not lost on a majority of filmmakers.  Playing in an actual cinema remains the ultimate dream, but the low costs and accessibility of VOD are so appealing to studios and distributors that this dream is even less likely to come true. 

Not that most filmmakers are likely to complain if a VOD deal comes knocking on their film’s door.  In this economy, an indie filmmaker with a walletful of maxed-out credit cards will be more than happy to take any opportunity to get their movie watched and their debts erased. Luckily, these opportunities abound, with Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and others offering a multitude of channels through which a film could find an audience. 

Unfortunately, these opportunities also eliminate the risk-taking that sparked the independent film scene into vibrant life.  Would “Reservoir Dogs” have been given a chance on the big screen? Would “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” have been labeled a “small screen movie” and gone straight to iTunes?  It’s hard to say, but one thing is certain right now: if you don’t have James Cameron’s cameras or Peter Jackson’s special FX units or the Fox Searchlight/Weinstein Company/Sony Pictures Classics logos on your poster, you’re going to have a difficult time getting your film on the big screen. 

What does this mean for those of us who can appreciate the potential of VOD but ultimately still enjoy the rush of discovering indie films at the local arthouse? It means we should go, and go as often as we can.

-Stephen Jannise, AFF Film Program Director

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Conversations in Film: Writing Action!

We will be kicking off our 2012 Conversation in Film Series this month with a bang. Derek Haas (3:10 TO YUMAS, WANTED, 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS) and Ric Roman Waugh (ex-stuntman, FELON, the upcoming SNITCH and EVEL) will join us Tuesday, February 21st for a discussion on Writing Action. Using film clips and scenes from their scripts, Ric and Derek will talk about how to craft effective action scenes on the page that both further your story and convey the tension and energy that will translate to the screen.

Derek Haas is the author of several novels and co-wrote the screenplays for 3:10 TO YUMA, WANTED, 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS and THE DOUBLE. In 2008 he published his novel THE SILVER BEAR about the young contract killer Columbus. The sequel, COLUMBUS, was released in 2009. Derek is also the creator and editor of, where he publishes short stories by various authors. Haas explains that the site "grew out of a love for pulpy short fiction that used to dominate popular magazines in the mid-20th Century. I wanted to create a place where new popular short fiction could flourish, and Hollywood could have a new resource for cultivating great ideas."

Ric Roman Waugh began his career as a stuntman and became one of the youngest stunt coordinators at the age of eighteen. Gaining success as a writer, Waugh has developed, written, and rewritten over 20 studio-based feature film screenplays for producers such as Jerry Bruckheimer, Mark Gordon, Neil Moritz, Barry Josephson, Todd Garner, Mark Canton, Jim Sheridan and Nick Wechsler.  His latest screenplay, titled THE BRAND, is a dramatic thriller about the rise of the Aryan brotherhood with Leonardo DiCaprio set to star and Marc Foster to direct. His next feature film to start this fall will be EVEL, a biopic on the legendary daredevil, Evel Knievel. You can read more about EVEL in this article written for The Hollywood Reporter.

The event will take place at the Harry Ransom Center, and to kick off the series, we'll be having a reception in the lobby at 5pm prior to the Conversation. Take in the incredible exhibit created for the occasion from the amazing film collection at the Harry Ransom Center, including the storyboard panels from the burning of Atlanta scene in GONE WITH THE WIND (below), as well as storyboards from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, TOP GUN, and more.

 Storyboards from GONE WITH THE WIND

Conversations in Film: Writing Action! takes place at 6pm on Tuesday, February 21st at the Harry Ransom Center. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $8 for AFF members, and can be purchased online here.

Admission to the opening reception and exhibit is free! Doors open at 5pm.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

My Super Bowl

A friend recently asked me who I think will win the Super Bowl.  My response was: “The Super Bowl?  It’s this Sunday?  Are the Cowboys playing?”  Obviously, I am not planning to watch the game on Sunday (although I heard Madonna will be performing).  Lately, my focus has been diverted to my own version of the Super Bowl: the Oscars.  Some guys are into fantasy football; I’m into predicting the Oscars.

My earliest memory of the Oscars was in 1991 when Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture.  I was 8 years old then living in Southern California and my school took a field trip to watch the film at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood.  It was perhaps the first time that I had actually seen a film that was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture and I hoped it would win.  Instead, another film about a beauty and a beast would eventually win (Silence of the Lambs).  Since then, I was hooked on the Oscars.
Fast forward several years later and I would find myself a student in film school attending friends’ Oscar parties still debating who will win.  I would religiously read Entertainment Weekly’s coverage of the Oscars and frequent many Oscar message boards and blogs especially Sasha Stone’s OscarWatch site (now called Awards Daily).  I became obsessed.  Before the Academy cracked down on unofficial Oscar-viewing parties, I used to attend the Alamo Drafthouse’s annual Oscar party.   For two years in a row, I won their prediction contest and was asked to go to the stage to accept a fake Oscar and give a speech.

This may all seem silly, I know, but what makes predicting the Oscars so fun and interesting is that it opens a dialogue about a film’s merits.  Just because a film wins an Oscar, does it validate it as the best film of the year?  As I’ve come to realize firsthand as the director of a screenplay competition, judging art at any level is, by nature, extremely subjective.  The measure of an artist’s talent is not subject to the outcome of a competition or an Academy Award but it sure is fun to debate about it.

So who will win the Super Bowl?  Unless Meryl Streep is playing quarterback this Sunday, I have no idea. In the meantime, I’ll eagerly await my Super Bowl on February 26th.

In the weeks leading up to the Oscars, I’ll reveal my picks for each of the categories.  This week, I’ll give my predictions for the writing categories.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Will Win:  The Descendants should take this but the dream team of Zaillian and Sorkin for Moneyball might be enough to upset.

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Will Win: Midnight in Paris.  The Artist could win here but I think Hazanavicius has a better shot for Best Director and the Academy probably can’t resist giving Woody Allen another Oscar even though he probably won’t show up.

--Matt Dy, Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director