Knock! Knock! Knock! Housekeeping..!

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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.

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Another thing I know is that I will be covering the conference on behalf of filmcatcher.com.  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.

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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.

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