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Austin Film Festival Journal: Part Three

November 10, 2019

Admittedly, this series turned out to be a bit less than daily.  Regardless: on to part three…

Friday was my first full day at the festival, and it started at 9 a.m: a Q & A with television writer Amy Berg.  The size of the session was limited, which I appreciated–it felt like an intimate round table discussion among friends.  If you aren’t familiar with Amy, she has authored upwards of fifty television scripts and produced eight different series, including “Person of Interest” and “Leverage.”  Amy was hilarious, and offered great advice and anecdotes from her career.  She also told what I think is the best story I heard at the festival.

When she was a production assistant at Nickelodeon, she wanted to break into writing, and was a huge fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”  She had written a “Buffy” spec and wanted to get it the show runner–a chap named Joss Whedon.  Unfortunately, show runners are not legally allowed to read spec scripts (in case a similar story turns up later on the show; thus, everyone is protected).  Not to be discouraged,  Amy pulled a genius move: she sent Joss a one act play.  The characters in the play were Joss and his writing staff, and the play was about why they should hire Amy Berg!  Three days later, Joss called her and interviewed her for a staff writing position.  She didn’t get the job, but the interview prompted Nickelodeon to hire her as a writer.  Thus, a career was born…

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My second session was also with an esteemed television writer: Tanya Bhattacharya.  Tanya has writing and producing credits on over thirty shows, is the show runner for the forthcoming “Ginny and Georgia” series on Netflix, and runs a television writing school. This session was entitled “The Mock Writer’s Room,” wherein we broke the pilot and first season for a re-imagining of the “Wizard of Oz” as a dark, gritty, drug-fueled street drama.  My suggestion that Dorothy (or Thea, as we called her) comes across a homeless woman who mysteriously seems to know Thea and is known on the street as “Auntie Em” went over very well.  It was a great exercise, putting us on the spot to be creative, building on each other’s ideas, and learning how to process and organize concepts.  I would love to be in an actual writer’s room–and I would really like to see this series.

The third session was with Lindsay Doran, who happens to be Emma Thompson’s producing partner.  Her session was called “The First Ten Pages,” and she randomly selected six screenwriting submissions and examined their first ten pages.  This was not for the faint at heart–if your script was chosen your first ten pages were projected on a giant screen while the estimable Ms. Doran described everything you did wrong to the entire audience.  I have to say, though, the criticisms were well thought out, and she presented them in the nicest possible way.  She pointed out things that were important to those first ten pages:  plenty of white space, clear character descriptions (that were not in conflict with character action), a quick pace. In short, your reader should not be totally confused by your first ten pages–if so, they won’t read any further than that.  It certainly convinced me to revisit the first ten pages of all of my scripts.

The rest of the day was spent with two social and networking events:  a barbecue dinner sponsored by the Texas Film Commission and a party sponsored by the Writers Guild of America, East.  The food was excellent at the former (you can see the view in the photo above), but the best thing about both events was all of the great people I met:  fellow writers Ruth Morrison, Erik Sternberger, C.M. Bratton, Morgan Eschmann, Michael Hubbard, Letitia Guillory, and Brigette ReDavid.  It was great to make connections, discuss our work, and have excellent conversations.

It’s always cool to meet fellow writers–especially when they feel like cool new friends.

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