Knock! Knock! Knock! Housekeeping..!

I know everyone’s been waiting with bated breath, and I can finally speak up and officially announce that I will once again be a panelist and pitch competition judge at this year’s Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference.

I am not certain in which panels I will be participating.  The conference folk have told me that I will be getting an email about that shortly.  I did, however, express my interest in moderating a panel or two again this year, since I had a lot of fun doing that last year.  Apparently that’s gonna happen, too.

Another thing I know is that I will be covering the conference on behalf of  The Filmcatcher folks, AFF folks, and I are having a conversation tomorrow about what exactly that means.  Filmcatcher would like to have me doing some on-camera interviews with festival luminaries, panelists, and participants.  If that’s not in the cards, I will at least be blogging again this year.

Which, I learned, (re: the AFF blogging last year) was quite the popular thing at ol’ Filmcatcher.  I was talking to my friend, Al Klingenstein (President of Filmcatcher and RUNAWAY producer), and he said my blog entries got a lot of hits.  He also said that they got a lot of comments that people thought my entries were both highly entertaining and informative.  That’s kinda cool.  I certainly had a lot of fun doing that as well.

I’ll let y’all know when I hear more details on Austin.  For now, mark your calendars for October 16-19.

As for the missus and me, I am hoping we’re in a position to repeat our road trip adventure of last year, sans having our car towed for bogus reasons.  We had an absolute blast driving down there and back last year.

In the meantime, Aadip Desai, President of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild (and fellow AFF panelist) asked me to respond to a few questions about the AFF for an FAQ his organization is putting together.  I don’t know exactly what he’s doing with this info yet, but here is how I responded.  Hopefully it helps some other folks considering attending the conference.

– – – – –

Why should I go?

You should go to the AFF conference because it is simply the event for screenwriters…hands down.  You’re going to learn more and meet more industry people in four days than you ever thought possible.  You’re going to gain insight and knowledge—particularly in the realm of how to move from serious amateur to professional screenwriter.  And you’re going to have access to Hollywood types that can help you move your career forward.  Some of the best professional relationships I have were begun at the AFF.

And you’re gonna spend four days with your people.  AFF is like the mothership from Planet Screenwriter.  It lands once a year to call its people home.

Which badge should I get? How much are they?

I know money’s always tight—especially for writers—and the “big badges” come with a hefty price tag.  But if you’re attending the AFF, there is no question that you should purchase the producer’s badge.

Yes…it’s $585 ($650 after Sept. 22).  But it gets you into EVERYTHING.  Most significantly, it gets you into the parties, where all the panelists and industry guests are hanging out.  It’s where all the networking is happening.  Not to denigrate the importance of the panels, but that’s where the industry talks at you.  The parties are where the industry talks to you…and they’re friendly (read: liquored up).

Which days should I attend?

You should arrive Wednesday night, get a good night’s sleep, and be prepared to do everything though the Hair of the Dog Brunch on Sunday morning.  Just assume you’re not going to get much sleep.

How do guests get into events without having to pay for a conference badge? I.e. how can our spouses/partners/friends go to parties with us?

I believe spouses need to purchase a producers badge to attend all the parties.  And I would encourage that.  Having my wife with me at networking events is like having another me promoting me.  And she’s much easier on the eyes.

If you don’t want to/can’t spend that much, I would suggest purchasing a weekend pass for them, which gets them into a few of the key parties and all the rest of the stuff.  Here’s where you go to get info on all the badge options.

Bottom line, though..?  You’re spouse is gonna be pretty bored (and a little ticked) if their stuck in some hotel room and you’re out mixing it up every night till 3-4 in the AM.

Where does all the action happen? Where should I stay?

Here’s where I defy conventional wisdom.

A lot of people stay at the Driskill (where all the action is) or the Stephen F. Austin.  That’s fine…if you never need to sleep and you want to overpay for your hotel room (upwards of $300).

Me..?  I’m a cheapskate.  And I think, why should I spend a ton of dough on a room when all I care about is a bed and a shower?  I can rent a car (which is a smart investment, anyway…I’ve made some great contacts just because of the words “Can I give you a ride?”) and a cheap room up I35 for less than half of what the downtown hotels cost.  AND have an honest shot at a few winks.

Plus, it’s out of the fray.  I’m an introvert (as I guess some of my fellow writers are, too), and I need that quiet every once in awhile to recharge my batteries.  It feels more healthy.

Do I need to rent a car to get around?

No…but see above.  I recommend having one.

Which events are a "must attend"?

As I mentioned above, all of the parties.  And hang out in the Driskill bar every night.  That’s where you meet people.

The other thing I would encourage everyone to try is the pitch competition.  It’s not expensive, and you get a chance to pitch your script in front of real, live production company folk.  The feedback you get alone is worth the price of admission.  But I’ve also seen writers get requests for scripts out of both preliminary and final rounds.  And the winner gets lots of cool stuff (including a producers badge for next year) and a national award for their resume.  Hmmm…

Oh yeah…and any panel where Bill True is speaking.

How does the pitch competition work? How should I prepare?

You should practice your pitch, if anything, to hone it to 90 seconds or under (which is the pitch competition time limit).  You’d be amazed at how many people have trouble with that.

I did an article for the Great American Pitchfest newsletter last November that speaks to some things I think can help pitch competition participants.

At AFF, each round consists of about 15 people delivering their 90-second pitch to two judges, who are industry folk (screenwriters like me or production company execs).  Each pitch is scored, and the top two from each round move on to the next round.  The winners of that next round (about 6-10 in total) go on to the final round, which is a really cool event unto itself.

How do the roundtables work? How should I prepare?

At the roundtables, you sit at a table with six other participants and the each panelist spends 15-20 minutes at your table.  When time is up, the panelist moves to a new table, and another one takes his/her place at your table.  The idea behind the roundtable is that it’s a conversation between the participants and the panelist.

The only preparation you need is to come armed with the burning questions you want answered.  Here’s your chance to ask them.

They’re well worth the time.

One tip, though…questions to NOT ask include: Can I give you my script?  Can I get your email address?  Can I give you my card/get your card?  These roundtables aren’t an appropriate place for you to hawk yourself.

You will sell yourself best by maintaining a position of poise, asking intelligent questions, allowing other people to talk, and really listening to what the panelist has to say.  Then, at a party later on, when you run into that panelist, you will impress them by saying that following: “Thanks for the great roundtable conversation today.  I really appreciated what you had to say about [insert favorite point here].”  Instant conversation starter.

What should I bring with me to the conference (business cards, leave-behinds, etc.)?

Bring business cards.  If you get in a conversation with someone, you want to be able to give them your contact information.

I wouldn’t schlep anything else around with you.  No scripts (if someone’s interested, you can email a pdf to them later), no one-sheets, no DVDs…no nothin’.  I can’t tell you how much stuff I get handed to me at these conferences, and (as much as I hate to admit) it all goes in the circular file.

Make it easy on yourself and the panelists.  They don’t want to be sold.  They just want to be people.  And they already are inclined to help you if they can.

What can our guests do while we’re in panels?

Sit next to you.  Or save a barstool for you at the Driskill.  Movies start at 5 PM, so that’s no an option.

What’s the weather like that time of year?

70s daytime.  Jacket weather in the evening.  It’s a beautiful time of year in Austin.  Perfect weather.

How do people dress?

Standard screenwriter attire.  I wear jeans and a collared shirt.  Always.  It’s casual, but I wouldn’t wear shorts.

And now for something completely different

My new and good friend, Chris Mulkey, is playing Saturday night (August 23 at 9:30 PM) at Rusty’s on the Santa Monica Pier.

He gave me a copy of his latest CD, Ride This One Out, at lunch last month, and it’s been a staple on my iTunes rotation ever since.

He’s quite the talented guy, that Mulkey.  As if being one of the most prolific character actors of the past 30 years isn’t enough.  How about I launch a music career, to boot?

What I like most about Chris, though, is he is one of the most authentic and gracious people I have met.  I’ll never forget…I knew the guy, like, two days and he’s saying to me, "next time you come to L.A., Karen and I will have you and Robbye over for dinner.  I’m gonna cook for you!"

And you know what?  He really meant it.

Knock ’em dead, Chris!

The hootin’ and hollerin’ you hear drifting over from the east?  That’s us cheering you on.

Writer’s Remorse

First off…a theme I notice in a lot of screenwriting blogs: the ever-present apology for long and unannounced breaks in posting.

Those of you familiar with this blog know that’s also the case in OLUniverse.

I can’t tell you why it happens to other writers, but I can tell you why it happens to me.  And I am guessing their stories occupy the same zone as mine.  When I am working on a new draft of a script it’s all-encompassing.

Okay…that looks lame now that it’s out there in black & white.  But it is what it is.

A while back, I wrote about the toll getting the last draft of INCARNATION took on Casa (and Office) True.  What I am talking about here is basically an extension of that.  The "zone" has a formidable gravitational force.  Once I am pulled into/back into orbit of the process it’s nearly impossible to break it.  That plays hell on the rest of everything in my life while I’m stuck there.

The blog, however, is victim to something of a double-whammy.  It’s on the outside of the zone, so it gets ignored.  It’s also–you know–more writing.  After a several-hours stretch toiling around Planet Movie Script, I’m exhausted.  Physically.  Creatively.  Wordally.

About the only thing I’m good for then is planting my ass in front of the tube and letting the latest episode of PROJECT RUNWAY or FAMILY GUY wash over me.  Yeah…it’s that bad.

So bear with me.  And bear with my other brethren (and sisteren).  Because we can’t help ourselves.

Hey…when we’re not blogging, you can be reasonably assured we’re being at least somewhat productive on story/script front.  …Or at least memorizing lots of clever and pithy "Stewies-isms", so we can entertain you at cocktail parties.

Okay…but that’s 296 words that have very little to do with either the title of this post or the reason I sat down to write it in the first place.

Oy, True.  Oy…

The last 4-5 weeks have been interesting ones for me.

Though the INCARNATION reading went very well, it also illuminated some significant…er…opportunities to improve the script.  Excitement by the various Hollywood players who want to get involved remained/remains high–and, in fact, some newcomers have poked up their heads.  The consensus around the playground, however, was that a new draft was in the cards.

That means work for me.  In this case, I knew it meant a lot of work.

And here’s the rub…it’s not that there was so much wrong with the script.  On the contrary, the script was mostly right.  It’s a relatively easy task, though, to diagnose problems in early drafts.  In those case, the problems are usually of the "low hanging fruit" variety.  Upon reading the thing, you’re all "Holy mother of Jesus in the sky!  How did I miss that!?!"

Badda bing, badda boom.  More often than not, the solution is right there in your face.  It’s hard to miss.  For me, the rotating orange lights and claxons are dead giveaways.  Done and done.  Fixed.

The later-draft problems are buggers.  They’re deep.  They’re hidden.

Most of the time, the only clue you get that you’ve come upon one is a vague tingling of your Spidey-sense.  And even when you uncover it, finding the solution is a matter unto itself.

All that adds up to Bill trying his damnedest to juggle life and rewrite.  Trying to not break the former, and trying to move the latter to a new and dazzling level.

For all intents and purposes, said process on said draft was put to bed on Tuesday evening.

And here’s the rubbier rub.  The point I really wanted to illuminate today.

Why is it when I am in the middle of the writing process and I am really jazzing on the writing, when I am putting hours and hours and days and days into it, when I am sure that I am challenging myself and not settling for anything other than an A+ result, do I think the shit sucks so badly when I finally read it?!?

Why do I feel like I wasted my time?  Like I can already see other people rolling there eyes when they read the thing?  Like the more I write, the worse I get?

Why do I wish I woulda just said no?  Just not started down the path in the first place.

Why do I have writer’s remorse?

I mean, crap!  I STILL feel it with RUNAWAY.  And it got great reviews!  And most everyone that comments on the movie points to the writing as one of its strong suits.

Yet, as recent as June, during the LA screening, I was cringing most of the time as I watched it.


WrpillsWhatever.  I mean, I know the answer–or answers.  Well, some of them.  You know…what’s behind it all.

What I wanna know today, though, is why it happens in the first place.  I spend a lot of time and energy creating and refining this stuff.  Isn’t it possible that at some point I am allowed to actually enjoy it?

There’s gotta be a pill for that.  Right?

And apparently I’m not the only one…

Courtesy of Yahoo! News:

WASHINGTON – Paris Hilton’s mother doesn’t share John McCain’s sense of humor.

McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, said last week that his campaign ad mocking Democrat Barack Obama with images of Hilton and singer Britney Spears was part of an attempt to inject humor into the presidential race.

On Sunday, Hilton’s mother, Kathy Hilton, a McCain donor, registered her disapproval.

"It is a complete waste of the country’s time and attention at the very moment when millions of people are losing their homes and their jobs," Kathy Hilton said in a short article posted on the liberal Huffington Post Web site. "And it is a completely frivolous way to choose the next president of the United States."

The ad plays on Obama’s popularity by dismissing him as a mere celebrity, like Hilton and Spears. The Obama campaign has said the ad is proof that McCain would rather launch negative attacks than debate important issues.

McCain on Friday denied that his campaign had taken a negative turn, saying, "We think it’s got a lot of humor in it, we’re having fun and enjoying it."

Kathy Hilton, however, was unpersuaded, calling the ad "a complete waste of the money John McCain’s contributors have donated to his campaign."

Kathy Hilton and her husband donated a total of $4,600 to McCain’s campaign earlier this year.

Wait..!  Do I suddenly find myself in the strange circumstance of agreeing with Paris Hilton’s mom?

Either a.) I have found myself mysteriously transported into the bizarro dimension, or b.) there is some kind of consensus on the overall crappiness of your "humor", John McCain.

Your guess as to which one it is.