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 continue our journey, here are #s 5 & 6.
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5. Analyzed movies with Robbye – I think this was the highest highlight of the entire trip. We were driving home, and it was kinda quiet. Robbye was napping. I decided to use the time to try to work out beats in this new spec script I’m writing, based on a short script I’d written a few years back called MANIACAL ENGINEERING.
After miles of silence, this from the backseat: “Can I read your ‘Cat’ book?”
“Your ‘Cat’ book. The writing one.”
“You mean ‘Save the Cat’?”
She climbed into the front passenger seat.
“I think I’m learning something about the screenwriting thing.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “You’ve picked up quite a bit. But that doesn’t surprise me. You’re pretty sharp.”
She went on to explain that she’d been listening to me as I judged the pitch competition and in conversations, and she noticed I was using categorical phrases like “fish out of water” and “man in a box” to describe the types of stories that people were talking about. And she remembered me talking about INCARNATION as a “quest” story.
“I’ve been thinking about that movie, BLINDNESS, that we saw. That was a ‘man in a box’ story, wasn’t it?”
“But something like CHILDREN OF MEN—even though people are comparing the two—isn’t the same kind of movie. Because that’s a ‘quest’ plot.”
Next thing, she gets out her bumblebee notebook and a pen. She’s poised.
“What other types of stories are there?”
I rattle them off, and she jots then down.
For the next couple of hours, we found ourselves dissecting dozens of movies—what their A plots were, what their B plots were. What kinds of story structure they employed and how that structure was evident as the plot unfolded.
Every time she got a little stuck, I’d say, “Look at the inciting incident. The best clue to the type of story it is right there.”
To this, she said something that was cute as hell. “That inciting incident. It plagues me.”
I thought I was gonna drive off the road, I was laughing so hard.
We live busy, full lives. We find ourselves on the run most days, my beloved and me. The road trip down to Austin was supposed to be a time where we could slow things down a little and just be together. To reconnect.
As I’ve previously documented, the way to Austin was not exactly conducive to this reconnection. For my part, I found myself a little worse for wear having missed out on that experience. This moment, though…this was exactly what we were hoping for. Just what the doctor ordered.
It’s really cool when your friends are interested in what you’re passionate about. Even better when it’s your best friend.
I can’t adequately express my gratitude or my enjoyment of that small moment in time. All I can tell you is that I will treasure it as long I live.
And then… Robbye got that look on her face. The one where I know she’s committing to do something. The one where I know said commitment WILL be fulfilled.
“I was thinking that I might write a screenplay.”
“Is that dumb?”
“Are you kidding?!? No way, it’s not dumb. I think it’s a great idea. You’re a great writer. Better than me.”
It’s true. She’s got about the best natural voice I’ve ever read. I think she’d write a great screenplay, and I, for one, look forward to reading it.
6. Kicked ass at judging the pitch competition – Robbye and I got in the night before the conference began and decided to stay in and rest up. The AFF, after all, is a marathon, not a sprint. Plus, we were celebrating having met each other three year ago to the day. Champagne, jalapeño pretzels, beef jerky, and PROJECT RUNWAY. What else did we need?
Well, over the course of the evening, we got no fewer than four calls from people asking if we were coming out meet up at the Driskill Bar. One of the calls came from Monica Jones, who is the director of the AFF Pitch Competition.
“You’re a celebrity, Bill True,” was how she greeted me.
“Why thank you,” I replied. “But to what do I owe this proclamation?”
“You’re judging the first round of the competition tomorrow, and it’s sold out. And it’s the first session that sold out. We’ve never sold out the first round before, much less it selling out before other ones. I think it’s you. People have been talking about your feedback during past years, and other people want to hear you give critique.”
Wow. I was kind of speechless. And kind of tickled.
Then, the next morning, as I stared ahead at the standing room only crowd in the small pitch competition room, I was a little nervous. These people were there to hear what I had to say..? And though I was flattered when Monica introduced me, I was also a little anxious when she referred to me as the “favorite pitch competition judge from the past two years.” Ikes!
I was on the verge of psyching myself out, hoping I wouldn’t fall on my face or say something stupid or embarrass myself. Or worse…that I wouldn’t disappoint these good folks who’d put their money on the line to participate in this competition and relying on me to be on my best game. I decided to use a little SagePresence connection exercise to get out of the little feedback loop I was generating. As always, worked like a charm. Thank you, Dean Hyers.
In the end, the round went great. We all had a lot of fun, and people seemed to respond really well to the feedback. In fact, if I can brag just a little, one of the co-winners of the competition, Jim Macak, wrote to me afterward with this really nice testimonial:
I’ve written episodes for a number of TV shows including “NYPD Blue” but pitching was always a huge problem for me. The only reason I got the writing jobs that I did was because some producers like David Milch were forgiving enough to let me submit a written pitch. But those producers are extremely rare and I inevitably lost out on numerous others jobs. This year, I decided to give the Pitch Competition at the Austin Film Festival a shot. I was fortunate enough to go second-to-last in a session judged by Bill True. As I listened to his criticism of other pitches, I realized that what and how I intended to pitch that day would have left me in last place. I chucked that pitch and improvised one on the spot. And, yes, that’s scary as hell and I stumbled over some words. But it was enough to get me into the finals. Bill gave me additional some additional criticism after that – and I took every single note he gave me. There were 120 contestants in the pitch competition – and I ended up tying for first place. To say I would not have won without Bill’s advice would be a gross understatement. He’s got to be the best coach in the business.
Honestly, I am just glad that I can help. And it’s damned fun! I mean, how cool is it to be able to sit with your kind and dissect movies for an hour-and-a-half? And be a part of other people maybe getting their scripts sold or movies made, and seeing their dreams and all their hard work maybe come to fruition?
Twist my arm.
The feedback, however, is nice. And affirming. It tells me that I am on the right path. That, though it rarely be easy, it is truly worth it.
BTW – my good and talented friend, Troy Miller, took second place with his pitch for THE WOODS. In my humble opinion, the competition should have been a three-way tie, because Troy rocked the freakin’ casbah. Way to go, Miller!