Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The 2011 Austin Film Festival Day-to-Day

Thursday October 20th - Flew in non-stop from San Jose, got a lift to David Miller's house from David himself.

The last time I was here in 2009, when John and I were finalists, I spent all my time in the AFF bubble, the four-block area centered on the Driskill and Stephen F. Austin hotels in the heart of downtown. This time I was lodging in South Austin, 6 miles from the action, and I had a car to use (and, unfortunately, pay to park). This situation, and the fact I had nothing in competition this year, gave me a somewhat more realistic take on things.

Didn't do much more that day than get my laminates and meet up with some nice folks for some drinks at the Driskill Bar, seated right next to where Joh, our wives and I celebrated our win two years ago. Left, had Tex-Mex with David and got too hammered make the first AFF late-night party.

Friday October 20th - Made several panels. One, called "A Shot of Inspiration" with Shane (Lethal Weapon) Black and Jim (Fight Club) Uhls, was quite excellent and inspirational as advertised. Another, with some dev girl from Pixar, bombed out and went to questions after only 15 minutes. After excellent BBQ at the French Legation, waited in an immense line for the AFF screening of The Rum Diary.

Bruce Robinson (L) and Johnny Depp (R)
The film itself was fairly good, though there was something definitely wrong with it. Protagonist problems, perhaps. In the Q&A afterwards Johnny Depp is nothing short of charming and clever, but writer-director Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I) was reeling, sloppy, incoherently drunk. (All part of his bio, apparently). This threw off moderator Elvis Mitchell, who was snippy throughout the session. It didn't help that pinwheel-eyed Depp fans were asking questions like "I'm making a short film and I'm wondering, Johnny Depp, if you'd want to play God?" His response: "That sounds great, but… the research…" This debacle was the talk of the AFF for the rest of the weekend.

Attended a late-night party at Ruth's Chris Steak House. This was just as it was last year: A bunch of writers jammed into a room with free Dos Equis and 100dB conversational levels. Met a slick-haired fellow from Florida who made a film about an 18-year-old virgin stripper and, minutes later, a big-eyed young lady from Michigan who had a rather touching family story as a short in competition. Both these folks shot their films on Red One cameras in 2.35:1. See? Anybody can do it these days. Chatted up Lawrence Kasdan and met Thomas Jane.

Saturday, October 21st - My favorite moment came early in the morning at the Silver Valley Donut Shop on William Cannon Drive. The place was full of locals, Good Ol' Boys. As one fellow made for the door, his friend said "Have a good'un, Earl. Stay out of trouble."

Without breaking stride, Earl replied, "You can't tell me what to do! I might be fixin' to start something."

Typical Panel, Driskill Hotel Ballrooom
More panels at the AFF. John Lassiter gave a good talk about the Pixar writing process, which is diametrically opposed to the standard Hollywood process, where most producers are lawyers or agents-- which makes them spectacularly unqualified to give notes on writing, but do anyway. Takeaway quote: "Imagine taking a 747 from here to Tokyo-- and the pilot is a lawyer who 'always wanted to fly a plane.'"

Another Panel featured Rodrigo García, the son of Gabriel García Márquez. His talk was supposed to be about constructing complex characters but ended up being mostly about himself-- excluding the part about how his being a famous person's kid got him into the business in the first place.

After some fine BBQ at Stubb's with John and his Seattle posse, crashed for a few, then came back downtown that night for the Pitch Fest at the Speakeasy and late night party #2. This one was not quite as loud. Went back to South Austin and collapsed on the couch. David came back from a gig in San Saba at 2:30 a.m. and we stayed up 'til 5 talking old trucks (he has a '55 Panel, I have a '56 Panel) and finishing a bottle of Jack's.

Sunday October 22nd - Slept right through the "Hair of the Dog Brunch," the final party of the AFF weekend. After grabbing some migas at Casa Garcia (yum!) I made the afternoon panel-- "Endings: Good, Bad and Insanely Great," given by Michael Arndt. This guy wrote Little Miss Sunshine in 3 days, revised it 100+ times, and it won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 2006, a first for a first-time scripter. He also wrote Toy Story 3, which was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2010. Arndt obviously had had a lot to teach us-- and he did. By far, the best panel of the entire weekend, almost worth the steep cost of the badge.

Driving around rural Texas in a pickup
truck in the middle of the night.
After tearing up some Texas freeways in David's 1995 Chevy pickup afterwards (so I can cross 'drive a pickup in Texas' off my list of things to do) got a ride to the airport from the finest steel guitar player in all of Austin.

Overall, and excellent weekend in the finest city in Texas. Three summary observations on The 2011 Austin Film Festival:

1. It's definitely a bubble. in the Badge Zone of the AFF, you get to meet, chat up and even pitch ideas to people high up in the industry. Just remember that when you're back in the real world, you'll never get within 2 miles of these people.

2. Much easier to see said bubble when you spend a lot of time outside it. Got to visit the Broken Spoke Honky Tonk, Barton Creek Mall (for souvenirs), The Alamo Drafthouse South and got drive-thru at R. Terry's on Lamar. Out there, where the real Texas is.

3. As fun as the 2011 AFF was, it does not beat being there with a script in competition. Doesn't even come close. Still, here and there throughout the long weekend people remembered me for our 2009 win. And that felt pretty darn good. Who knows? I might be fixin' to start something.

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