#1–Bill’s top 10 highlights for the 2008 Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference

Over the next 5 days, I am going to post the highlights of this year’s AFF screenwriters conference.  Well, my highlights, that is.

To kick things off, here are numbers 1 & 2.


– – – – –

1. Hit a deer – Okay…I don’t know whether this qualifies as a “highlight”, per se.  More like a “lowlight”.  But it was a major event associated with this year’s trek to Austin.  A defining one, if fact.  That means it makes the list.  Hell, if anything, to honor the poor deer that gave its life in the name of getting our butts down there to participate in the conference.

First off, any illusions Robbye and I had of this year’s road trip being a replay of last year’s breezy cakewalk were pretty much killed by the time we got to Des Moines.  It started raining 30 miles into Iowa and continued the entire night—through every state—and didn’t stop until we pulled into the hotel parking lot.  The deer, however, was a little “adding insult to injury” the Universe tossed in for good measure.

It was 2:45 AM.  I’d taken over driving duties a few miles outside of said Iowan town, and we were about 10 miles south of Emporia, KS.  Robbye was sound asleep in the backseat.  The choices for the time being were heavy mist or fog.  It was a toss up which one I preferred.  They both sucked.  I had just passed though a patch of fog, when…


Right in front of me, a beefy buck, not more than five feet off the driver’s side front fender.  Saucer-eyed and doing the death-dash across I-35.  Thank god my reflexes were working.  I locked up the brakes for a second, slowing a bit, and turned with the deer.  That, if I say so myself, is what saved us from a much worse situation.  Well, for us, that is.

The deer, I’m sure, went instantly into the next world.  His head bounced off the fender and then took the mirror.  He spun around, I think, and hit the backdoor, where Robbye’s head was resting, and then he was gone.

The humans involved in the incident were, needless to say, a tad shaken.  We stopped a few miles up the road at an all-night gas ‘n sip and called the sheriff’s office.

“Yep.  That kinda thang happens ‘round these parts.”

The car, which was a rental, looked a little crunched, but it worked fine.  We’d bought the damage waiver, so we decided to keep going and call the rental company later when it was open.  See what they said.  They said, “Dang.”  But other than that they said go on with your trip.  So we did.

The good news, if there is any, is that it only added to our celebrity at the conference.  People we didn’t even know were grabbing us in the Driskill lobby and party venues.

“Aren’t you the people who hit a deer?”

“Umm…yes.  Thank you for reminding me.”

2. Chatted up Lawrence Kasdan – For nearly 30 years, Lawrence Kasdan has been one of my heros.  It all started with a little movie he wrote called RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.  You mighta heard of it.  He was cool.  HE wore a fedora, just like Indy.  And he wrote the coolest, snappiest dialogue I’d ever heard.

Then he wrote the script for a movie called THE EMPIRE STRIKES back (and, I learned later, basically wrote the production draft of STAR WARS…suddenly things made sense).  Stick a fork in me.  I was done—a fan for life.

I don’t think there’s a Lawrence Kasdan movie I haven’t seen.  But more important, as I got older, and my journey to a career in the movies took some unexpected detours, Kasdan’s story gave me hope.  He was a working guy.  He had a family.  He didn’t live in Hollywood.  He came into the game a little later than conventional wisdom suggests.  Yet, he wrote and taught himself the screenwriting craft, and when he thought he was ready, he went for it.

My good friend Carol, whom I met somewhat serendipitously 5-6 years back, turns out is one of Kasdan’s best friends.  She edits nearly all of his movies, and her husband has been DP for many of Kasdan’s films, too.  And every time we would get together, she would tell me, “You have to meet Larry.  The two of you would get along so well.  You come from such similar backgrounds, and your sensibilities are similar, too.”

Uh…let’s see.  Meet my screenwriting hero.  Okay…sign me up.

Unfortunately, schedules and the like never quite lined up.  And then…

It’s Friday night at the AFF, and Robbye and I are waiting for the bus to take us to the Texas Film Commission BBQ.  Who do you think is standing five feet away?  Yep.

Robbye was nudging me.

“Say hi to him.”


“If you don’t, I will.”

That worked.  I hate it when she calls my bluff.

I’d sat in on a panel he’d done earlier in the day, so I opened up the conversation on that…seemed like a decent opening.

“I enjoyed your panel.”

Sheer genius, in fact.

Well, maybe not, but it got the ball rolling.

I got to tell him about our mutual friend, and he perked up immediately.  And that’s how I got to talk to Lawrence Kasdan the entire bus ride.  He asked me about what I was doing there, and I got to tell him about winning the AFF in ’05 with RUNAWAY.  And he congratulated me.

Lawrence Kasdan.  Congratulating me.

When I said good-bye to him, we were talking about possibly making the get-together Carol had been talking about happen sometime when we were all in LA.

And as I walked off the bus, my only concern was whether or not I’d wet myself.  After our very pleasant conversation, that woulda been…you know…awkward.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s