Kelly Jo Brick: Highlights from the Austin Film Festival & Screenwriting Conference

Austin Film Festival’s Matt Dy with writers Daniel Petrie, Jr., our own Kelly Jo Brick & Jimmy Mosqueda. Photo by Arnold Wells.

by Kelly Jo Brick

With days packed with panels, workshops and roundtables and evenings jammed with films and parties, the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriting Conference brings professional and aspiring writers and filmmakers together in a celebration of the art, craft, and business of writing.

In this, the event’s 24th year, attendees found a slate of educational, informative and inspirational panels on screenwriting, television writing, playwriting, and podcasting. TVWriter.com’s own contributing editor, Kelly Jo Brick, was in Austin as a panelist this year and she brings us highlights from the festival.

STARTING OUT

  • You have to be bad before you can be good and you’ll never get in the game if you haven’t written anything.
  • If you want this to be your job, you have to treat it like a real job. Give it your good hours, not your tired hours. — Dana Fox (COUPLES RETREAT, creator/showrunner BEN AND KATE)
  • Distinguish between what you love and what you are good at. Don’t just listen to your interests, but also to what comes out when you write. — Michael Green (co-creator/executive producer AMERICAN GODS, writer BLADE RUNNER 2049)
  • Don’t be discouraged if you’re coming to writing later in your career. People who come with experience from outside the entertainment industry have soared, because they often have great discipline, as they’re happy to not be in their old profession.
  • Have a community around you who supports you. Find your crew, including your fellow writers, family and friends.
  • You don’t have to wait for someone else to empower you as creators. You can make your own projects. — Gale Anne Hurd (executive producer, THE WALKING DEAD, co-writer/producer, THE TERMINATOR)
  • Remember to take time to have a life.

WRITING THE SCRIPT THAT GETS YOU NOTICED

  • Write about something specific that you are passionate about, an interesting world, a story never told, a hobby you know a ton about. — Megan Amram (writer/producer, THE GOOD PLACE, SILICON VALLEY)
  • People are getting hired off of short stories and plays, as well as TV and feature samples.
  • Character is key. Writers who can bring unique, diverse characters to life on the page stand out.
  • Many readers judge your script on the first ten pages alone. Make those first ten to fifteen pages as solid and interesting as you can. — Raamla Mohamed (writer/supervising producer, SCANDAL)
  • If you try to write something for the marketplace, it won’t sell. You succeed when you write something that personally connects with you. — Eric Heisserer (ARRIVAL, THE THING, FINAL DESTINATION 5)

COMMON CHALLENGES

  • Procrastination is a problem for many. Find an accountability partner, someone with whom you can check in regularly to keep you on schedule.
  • Set tiny, achievable goals and deadlines. If you feel overburdened, think only of the next thing you have to get done. Accomplish that then move on down your to do list.
  • Just finish your first draft. Nobody will see the script until you are ready to share it so don’t hold back. Write quickly. The fun comes when you can go back and build on that foundation you’ve set.
  • Recognize where your own internal resistance comes from. Don’t fight who you are naturally. Find a way that works for who you are. If that means writing early in the morning, late at night, in a coffee shop, at your dining room table, go with it. That’s how you’ll do your best work.
  • Imposter syndrome, don’t let it get in your head. You are in that meeting or in that room or working on that project because you are you. You deserve it. You earned it. Keep reaching for what’s next and be focused on where you want to be.
  • Get rid of the negative voices around you. That includes silencing your own inner critic.

WRITER/AGENT RELATIONSHIP

  • When first meeting with prospective representatives, listen closely to their thoughts and approaches toward your career. Do they talk exclusively about working on just one project? Are they talking more about their business goals and successes than you and your writing? Are they forward-looking, concentrating on your career?
  • You want someone who has a vision for you and your career and is dedicated to putting a plan together on how to get there.
  • As a writer, your job is to write. Focus, be creative and productive. Be the artist first and let your reps concentrate on the business side.
  • Always talk with your representation before writing a project. It’s not bugging them. They want to be involved from the idea stage. Agents and managers have a better beat on what has legs and what doesn’t.
  • A perfect client is someone who appreciates the craft, takes it seriously and understands the business. You are the CEO of your own company. Always be writing. — David Boxerbaum (literary agent, Verve Talent and Literary Agency)
  • The more people you have on your team, the more contacts and connections you have behind you, the further you can get. — Alisha Brophy (LICENSE TO DRIVE, WHITE GIRL PROBLEMS, SWIPED)

STAFFING

  • Be able to talk about who you are and your own story. What shows do you watch? Why did you get into TV?
  • Be yourself. Be likable. — Bradley Paul (LODGE 49, BETTER CALL SAUL)
  • If you get a staffing meeting, that means the showrunner likes your script. He or she meets with you to find out if the like you and want to hang out with you day after day.
  • For a good meeting, follow the flow of the conversation. It’s okay to veer off target and talk about other things if that’s where the meeting leads. That’s how you bond and develop the relationship. — LaToya Morgan (INTO THE BADLANDS, TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES)

PODCASTING

  • In a podcast, your primary job is to design a story that will serve the sound and vice versa.
  • Podcasts are very intimately consumed. It lets you tell a story as a fly on the wall.
  • Many make the mistake by thinking if they can’t make their film, they’ll just make it into a podcast. To be successful, you really need to lean in and take the medium seriously.
  • Actors do a lot of heavy lifting with their voices. Podcast scripts often contain more parenthetical instructions for actors as there’s a greater reliance on tone and inflection to convey the story.
  • Keep things simple. In an audio medium, less can be much more. More can confuse your listeners.
  • Bringing aboard name talent can draw advertisers. It can also bring its own set of complications, which can be challenging for first-time podcasters.

Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

Bri Castellini: ‘Ace and Anxious’ is Rocking Out – @brisownworld

by Bri Castellini

Happy November, everybody!

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for YOU! Have a lovely holiday!

The big news in Bri’s Own World this month is that my award-winning short film Ace and Anxious is officially streaming with REVRY!

REVRY is subscription streaming service created by and for the LGBTQ and allied communities which distributes short, medium, and long form LGBTQ content. You can find REVRY on its desktop site, it’s app, and on Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, and more.

Ace and Anxious and the entire Undead Burrito team couldn’t be prouder to be distributed alongside other incredible, diverse content.

The absolute, accurate, and thoroughly delightful REVRY desktop site is HERE

The version of Ace and Anxious that is taking REVRY by storm (mostly because it’s at REVRY) is HERE

Last year, I wrote just a teeny bit about Ace and Anxious on my blog HERE 

My pals at TVWriter™ wrote about Ace and Anxious earlier this year HERE

And, as you’ve probably figured out, you can see the whole darn film HERE (although I’d rather you watched it on REVRY because we just made this cool deal.

Happiness and thanks to all of you from all of…me!


Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Liaison at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. This article was originally published on Bri’s most excellent blog, the eponymous Bri’sOwnWorld. Watch Bri’s award-winning web series, Brains, HERE

 

Herbie J Pilato: Rose Marie’s “Laugh” Worth Its “Wait” in Gold

 by Herbie J Pilato

Wait for your laugh…your tears…your wonder…your amazement in anticipation before and after watching Wait For Your Laugh, the stunning new documentary about entertainment legend Rose Marie, best known as Sally Rogers on classic TV’s The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Carl Reiner, another TV icon, who created the Van Dyke Show (and has written, directed and been featured in countless classic television shows and films) has named Wait For Your Laugh one of the “best documentaries” he has ever seen.

Such praise is not unwarranted.

Every aspect of Marie’s lengthy and remarkable life and career is covered with professional and compassionate, yet objective precision in Wait For Your Laugh.Director Jason Wise and his co-writing wife Christina Wise have crafted a daring cinematic tale of truth with skill, care and unique perspective and technique rarely if ever seen in the documentary format.

Narrated by Peter Marshall, another still-vibrant performer, and the host of TV’s Hollywood Squares game show (on which Marie appeared for years), Wait For Your Laugh features never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage and images not only of the Van Dyke Show but from SquaresThe Doris Day Show (on which Marie also performed in a regular role), and her pre and post VanDorisSquares live performances, namely from her earliest live performances as 5-years-old as “Baby Rose Marie,” to much later in the hit senior pre-Golden Girls-esque-inspiring live show “Four Girls Four” (in which Marie starred along pal Rosemary Clooney, George’s aunt, Margaret Whiting, and Helen O’Connell, the latter with whom Marie notoriously and honestly clashed).

Delivered with dynamite details are, among other adventures, the tales of her truest love life with loyal husband Bobby Guy (the unheralded master trumpet player), and early career support from none other than Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel (who founded Las Vegas).

New on-screen interviews include those with Marie herself, Reiner, Van Dyke, Marshall, Tim Conway (who Marie discovered), writer/producer and Marie fan Dan Harmon (of TV’s Community fame), Georgia Marie Guy (Marie’s dedicated daughter with Bobby Guy), and Marie’s earnest publicist Harlon Boll (who also served as one of the film’s associate producers).

Each voice, face and unseen talent showcased behind and in front of the cameras of Laugh leaves the audience waiting for more of the film’s winning ways.

“Wait” unwavering celebrates the much-deserved Marie, who has brought so much love, energy, and talent to every aspect of not only her own personal and professional life, but every life she has ever touched or influenced, whether they were or remain close in her inner circle or the countless fans around the world who continue to be so inspired by her grand heart, humor, and persona.

So, until Wait For Your Laugh II hopefully, one day follows, don’t wait, but run to see the original Wait For Your Laugh…which holds at its center an original all of its own, in the guise of reining shining star Rose Marie.

For more information about “Wait For Your Laugh,” please visit: http://www.rosemariemovie.com/


Herbie J Pilato is the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, and the author of several classic TV companion books.  He is practically a founding father of TVWriter™ and is a Contributing Editor Emeritus. This article first appeared on Herbie J’s blog. Learn more about Herbie J Pilato HERE.

Laura Conway on Web Series: Production Day

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here it is. The sixth and – oh no! – final chapter in Laura’s series on the making of her very, very, very popular – over 3 million views – interweb series hit The Vamps Next Door.


Relax, Kid, You’re Not Making Star Wars
by Laura Conway

I try to be positive, but having a big imagination works both ways. Try to imagine the worst possible thing that can go wrong during your production. For me, that involves death, so if nobody dies, it was a great shoot. And when it’s over, you can happily say that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. You’re not making Star Wars here, so focus on the positives of the experience or you’ll miss all the fun.

Some practical things to do in preparation for shoot day: Set up the house as much as possible the night before. Have printed copies of the script and the call sheet. Print out the lunch menu and take orders in the morning. Have extra batteries, duct tape and blue painter’s tape (the kind that doesn’t stick to wood floors), have an opaque tarp in case you need to block out light from windows.

Have some wardrobe tape ready in case an actress has to tape her dress to prevent wardrobe malfunction, have a slate ready with dry erase markers and an eraser, designate a bathroom, including free counter space, for the makeup person to set up (they take up way more space than you would think), know which area of the house you won’t be shooting in and use it as a staging area for equipment, have all the props ready to go and a designated changing room for the actors. And make sure there’s plenty of coffee, water, snacks, etc.

One recommendation I have is to “check the gate” after each scene. That means watch the footage you just shot before moving on to the next scene to make sure it looks good… Remember the homeless guy, who works for food, that you picked up and put on camera 3? Make sure his shots are in focus. Vamps Director, Phil, never checks the gate, but I’m the editor and I can tell you that out of focus shots can’t be fixed well in editing… See what you can see:

When I showed up for our very first Vamps Next Door shoot, I didn’t know anything about anything. Now I know some stuff, but nothing can really prepare you for a low budget shoot except to expect the unexpected. Being obsessively organized helps a lot. Until it doesn’t…

Some of the unexpected things I’ve had happen while shooting:

My neighbor decides it’s cut down a tree day

There’s a dog in the back room whining (and it’s not my dog)

Fangs just fall out of the actress’s mouth

An actor shows up for pick up shots with a new beard and new hair color

The fake pee device supposed to wet the actor’s pants just makes a puddle on the floor

The Fire Marshall shows up and says we’re not allowed to really smoke from the bong

The cat won’t react when the script clearly says CAT REACTS

The homeowner is having a mental breakdown, tears included, over all the people in her house

And my personal favorite…The actress’s nipple is showing through her bra and we don’t notice until after we’ve shot it (Editing that nipple out was a bitch… see if you can see it at 4:45…

Every time I finish editing and posting a new Vamps episode, I say, “I’m never doing this again.”

But I do. Because I’ve also had some amazingly cool moments while shooting, like when actors nail my favorite lines, the way good lighting makes an actress’s skin look on camera, when I frame a beautiful exterior shot and it’s perfect, when the fake vomit looks real, when a joke line I wrote makes everyone laugh. And best of all when I look over at all the brilliant, creative people I work with.

So that’s my story about my strange kind of hobby, writing and producing web series. Now it’s your turn to make one!

Read Chapter 1 HERE

Read Chapter 2 HERE

Read Chapter 3 HERE

Read Chapter 4 HERE

Read Chapter 5 HERE


Laura Conway is the writer and producer of The Vamps Next Door web series, directed by Phil Ramuno. Subscribe to the Vamps’ YouTube channel to get notifications about new episodes.

Gerry Conway Sees GUARDIANS

by Gerry Conway

Finally had a chance to watch the Russian superhero film “Guardians,” and, wow.

It isn’t very good, but it isn’t very bad either.

It’s like a superhero movie made by people who kinda know what a superhero movie is “supposed” to look like but aren’t quite clear about why.

Most of the dialogue (I watched the subtitled version) feels like the sort of thing you write in a fast first draft, most of it of the placeholder variety. (I should have a character say something witty here; something somber here; a bit of introspection here; a wisecrack there– ToBeDetermined.)

It’s worth a view ‘cause it’s short enough that you won’t feel like you wasted an evening, and it’s always interesting to see another culture’s take on familiar tropes. And the bear-Hulk is unintentionally hilarious.

Yes, I said bear-Hulk.

There’s a bear-Hulk.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

Stel Pavlou: Never Give Up

by Stel Pavlou

When I was 12 or 13 years old, I visited a subterranean salt mine in Germany with my class. The weird geologic formations and strange colors lit a fire in my imagination. I remember there was a lake, and we all had to climb aboard this old wooden boat/floating pontoon contraption which ferried us across the Styxian water in complete silence.

The story of Daniel Coldstar was born that day, a boy trapped in a mine, yearning for freedom and adventure. Though he didn’t have a name yet and it would take many years and many false starts before the book would emerge fully, Daniel Coldstar has now been published, just two weeks shy of my 47th birthday. If life has taught me anything, no matter the obstacles placed in your way, no matter the trials you go through, persistence is worth it.

Never give up on a good idea.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to know what was over the next hill. The appeal of a new vista, a new experience, has always energized me. But by the same token, as someone who thinks deeply on just about everything, mulling through the permutations of consequences have often tempered my more impulsive instincts. Often, but not always.

Don’t be fooled, this wisdom, if you can call it that, has come through experience, not some innate ability to see the future. I’m the kid who tried doing “dangerous tricks” walking along the back of the sofa and banging up his ear spectacularly when he fell off.

I’m the kid who lost two front teeth riding too fast down a hill and a week later landing upside down on his head when he tried to launch his bike off a ramp with a flat tire. I’m the kid who poked jelly fish with a stick at the river’s edge and stole apples from someone’s yard, angry cries and stones whizzing past my ear chasing me back out fast.

I’m the kid who got caught doing a balancing act on a neighbor’s fence and having that same neighbor grab me by the ear and marching me back to my parents demanding I be punished. I’m the kid who would roll under the heavy iron gates of a nearby metal working factory, and run to the guard hut, hit the window and run back out, just to see if I could it without getting spotted.

My parents knew that all of these antics were caused by insatiable curiosity, and that this curiosity had to be channeled. Hence the trip to the mine. And the trip to the middle of the Sahara desert in southern Algeria the year before, and the trip to the Parthenon in Athens the year before that. In future years I would visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Day, I would visit the pyramids of Egypt.

And the thirst for adventure would continue, until as an adult I would voluntarily enlist in the Greek army without being able to speak a word of Greek, rather like Daniel surrounded by kids in the mines speaking Jarabic, a language he too does not understand.

But I’m also the boy who was bullied. Relentlessly. And betrayed by friends because I didn’t see the scheme behind the lie. I’m the kid who was accused of doing things that I didn’t do, by teachers who knew better. I still carry all those scars. They shape me, and serve as warnings, and impart one very valuable lesson.

Never give up on life.

All of these themes shaped the story of Daniel Coldstar, a boy who never gives up, who tries when everything around him urges him to give up. Daniel doesn’t know the answers. He doesn’t even know himself — quite literally, yet he finds his way, journeying through a galaxy filled with danger because of his sense of adventure and his sense of justice. He has an idea of freedom and he never gives up on it. He reminds us all of the value of possibilities.

Life got better for me.

It gets better for Daniel.

Life will get better for you too.


TVWriter™ friend Stel Pavlou is a British author and screenwriter now living in Colorado. He is the author of the bestselling novel Decipher, as well as short stories based on the TV series Doctor WhoDaniel Coldstar: The Relic War is his first book for young readers.

Visit Stel online at www.stelpavlou.com and at www.danielcoldstar.com.

Diana Black: Compelling Characters Make a ‘Real’ World

by Diana Black

Lulu: “Honey, so sorry, can’t make it tonight… no, it’s not my, ‘I’m washing my hair’ night …I’m just busy… No, you’re wonderful but.…”

A great story idea, well-written script, skillful cast and crew with an intelligent director and showrunner at the helm – surely the recipe for a winning TV Series, but what ‘essential ingredient’ compels us to ‘tune in’ religiously?

Is it the hooks and plot twists, the lighting, sound, mis-en-scene? What makes the fantasy drama, Game of Thrones, now going into its 7th Season SOOO interesting and compelling to watch? And not only by adolescent nerds but by, for all practical purpose, everyone?

According to A.G. Walton – a contributor to Forbes, who in turn is commenting on the findings of Josue’ Cardona of “GeekTherapy.com”, it’s a range of elements that include the following attributes: intellectually challenging and multiple plots; unpredictable twists; an intricate and elaborate story world, and dramatic events that border on the visceral.

But what of character?

In this epic panoply of political manipulation; one which would be right up there with Rome under Caesar, it is according to Walton, the creation, destruction, and resurrection of archetypes. So what is an archetype and why, having been ‘done to death’ long before Shakespeare took up a quill, are they still so useful?

Aspiring TV and screenwriters may think long and hard before referencing them – the Queen, the Trickster, disgruntled Prince, foul-mouthed Washerwoman etc. But they work, precisely because they’re ‘character’ in a neat package.

We instantly ‘get’ them. They come into ‘our space’ with their over-night bag stuffed with accouterments that we instantly recognize – greedy, debauched, vile, manipulative, pure, sweet etc.

But is that all there is to the Game of Thrones characters? Are they merely just a bunch of one-dimensional archetypes? No – in our jaded world of hardened, cynical ‘little box watchers’– it requires more than that; as the revolving door of short-lived TV shows attest.

The secret to these guys is that they not only shamelessly embrace their archetypal nature, to the hilt, everyone one of them has a level of complexity that makes them seem real and as a result hated, feared, loved, reviled etc.

We’re left seriously wondering what word or deed they’re going to express next. ‘Warts and all’ they reflect us mere mortals – who will no doubt have to deal with the same, albeit modern-day equivalent conundrums, issues, and angst, tomorrow or next week, come Tuesday.

And the moral of my story here is….drum roll…invest like hell in your character/s if you expect your actors to lift them off the page.

The quickest, surest path to having those words and deeds appear perfectly natural and justified is for the writer, as well as the actor, to get under the skin of the character; to become that character, for better or worse.

The old adage still and will forever apply, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)