Austin Film Festival – Day 1October 23rd, 2010 at 11:41 am by Suzanne VanRandwyk under Photo/Video
The main thing that I wanted to do on the first day of the Austin Film Festival was to find out how it all worked. As a “first-timer”, just trying to figure out WHERE to start was the hardest part! After reading about the different panels, I decided to try “The Business of Screenwriting” and “Breaking In and Staying In”.
The first panel, “The Business of Screenwriting”, featured John August, Edward Burns, Franklin Leonard. All three kept returning to the same idea/thought…”You need to know about the screenwriting business before you can get into the screenwriting business”.
Ed Burns emphasized using the Internet and new media technology like Twitter, Facebook and building a website for yourself of your film. He uses all of these when promoting his projects. Additionally, he suggested tracking what scripts are being produced by reading the “trades”, magazines like “Hollywood Scriptwriter“. There are also websites like “Writing-World.com” that list links to other sites involved in the screenwriting business. The key, for Burns, was to look for agents who sold brand-new scripts from unknown writers. That proves that they can sell a “new” talent.
Franklin Leonard stated that, at the end of the day, it’s all about quality. The Internet can help new screenwriters get discovered but, ultimately, if the writing isn’t great, it won’t go anywhere. He added that the odd thing going on in Hollywood right now is that there is a panic for good material yet it’s harder than ever to get anyone to read your script. And when they finally do, then you run into a wall with the studios, who are more prone to spend a lot of money on a “sure thing” or a little money on an “unknown risk”…which means, when you finally DO get noticed, you’ll get a shoestring budget. A low budget can really create a push-pull relationship between the writer and the studio. Leonard made a point to get it clear that in this business, you have to be able to have conversations with people you don’t like or even respect. Courtesy mixed with being hard-headed is invaluable at this phase in your project.
John August started out by taking a two year training program. His advice for new screenwriters was to simultaneously learn your craft and find mentors in the business. August added that it’s all about networking now. You push your friend’s projects and they push yours. Ultimately, you cannot be a hermit. You MUST be able to mix and mingle in total comfort with anyone else in the business all the while being able to crank out 100 pages on demand with those very same people.
All three panelist did agree on one thing. Because Hollywood is making fewer films, it’s now much easier to make “indie” films. People are still interested in great writing and strong characters. Indie films give you the opportunity to keep a bit more control over the end results. They also agreed on one of the down sides to the business and that is the fact that, once you sell the script, you no longer have any control over it. Of you want to maintain control over it…you need to WRITE the movie yourself and MAKE the movie yourself.
The second panel, “Breaking In and Staying In”,featured Gayla Nethercott, PJ Raval, Alex Smith. Their topic was ”Do you need to live in Los Angles or New York to make it in the screenwriting business?” Oddly enough, I don’t think they really answered this question. Or, at best, they answered “yes” AND “no”.
Gayla Nethercott felt that it really depends on luck and timing, no matter where you live, so if you feel like you should be writing, then you need to write…whereveryou happen to live. But she added, if you want to make “feature” films or work in television, then you really need to live in LA or NY. Nethercott added that in spite of this view, she is a poster child for not having to live in LA. Even so, she believes things are “morphing” in the screen writing business right now and nobody is really quite sure what it is or how it’s going to end up. So writers outside LA and NY might just end up on the better side of the deal but regardless of this, first and foremost, built yourself an infrastructure of supportive friends and family. They’ll get you through the years as you try to “make it” in the business.
PJ Raval, a University of Texas alum, didn’t want to be pressured by Hollywood standards. He never really thought of specific steps to “make it” in the business. Instead, he focused on “making work”…writing and writing. Then he would travel to LA and stay with friends for a week or two while he pitched his script. Raval added that he knew he needed to move up the budget chain within the movie business and that it can be a long and discouraging trek but well worth it in the end when the project finally takes off.
Alex Smith didn’t go to LA until he “had something to bring” and once he was there, it took another seven years to get noticed. The main problem he had was that he was so busy with meetings that he didn’t have time to write anything new. As for making contacts with decision-makers, he added that the best way is to put yourself in the path of any films any way you can. Volunteer at film festivals, get an entry level job in a production company. Anything to make contacts. Make commercials and music videos, just make sure you stay around the film industry.