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.

Who Inspires You: TV Writers Share Their Creative Inspirations

by Kelly Jo Brick

Whether a beginning writer or an experienced veteran, admiration helps fuel our creative endeavors. Writers from film and television share who has inspired them through the years.

JASON RICHMAN (LUCKY 7, DETROIT 1-8-7) – I always admired Lawrence Kasdan. First of all, as a viewer, as a fan of movies, but he was an inspiration because he did all kinds of different things. He wrote THE BIG CHILL, he wrote THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. I admire that, someone who has an idea that interests them, a world that interests them and then just goes where their creativity takes them. I think that he’s sort of the model to me of that person who just won’t be pigeonholed. To be so good in so many different genres is a real feat and to direct and do all those things is pretty cool.

DANIEL KNAUF (THE BLACKLIST, CARNIVALE) – Rod Serling inspires me. Harlan Ellison, and Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Charles Bukowski, a lot of prose writers. I think today, I love Joss Whedon’s work. I love Vince Gilligan’s work.

There’s some peers. John Eisendrath, is a terrific writer. Steven DeKnight, I worked with him on SPARTACUS and he’s a wonderful writer and showrunner. I just try to work with people I’m going to learn stuff from. I’m still a sponge.

STERLING ANDERSON (THE GABBY DOUGLAS STORY, THE UNIT) When I first started, Horton Foote inspired me, the movie that made me want to become a writer was TENDER MERCIES.

I liked those movies that didn’t have shoot ‘em up and helicopter crashes. I like character driven films like ORDINARY PEOPLE. One of my first really super favorite films was SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, Spike Lee. He inspired me. Probably those two were the biggest inspirations I had.

CRAIG SILVERSTEIN (TURN, NIKITA) – I remember really being impressed with Shane Black, his screenplays. A lot of people talk about his writing, like he comments on the page or he comments to the reader and stuff like that and it’s actually not that. What it is, is that he is very effectively giving you the feeling in the right amount of words of exactly how this moment feels and looks.

That’s something that’s sort of where screenwriting crosses the transom between prose and poetry. Are you able to break the rules of grammar and exposition and this proper stuff to say exactly, oh, I know exactly how that’s going to feel on screen? He does that.

LIZ TIGELAAR (CASUAL, LIFE UNEXPECTED) – As a TV writer, I am very inspired by other TV writers. I love when people kind of embrace TV and embrace what being a TV writer means and embrace that type of storytelling.

Certainly Winnie Holzman is an inspiration. Winnie’s such an iconic voice, a wonderful person and someone who really is able to infuse herself in everything she does.

Jill Soloway really inspires me because I feel like she took great control of her career. She kind of made it exactly what she wanted it to be and did it well, infusing a really personal story into it that also was incredibly timely, relevant, political and provocative.

So many of the women writers that are my peers really inspire me with what they do. There are so many great people, like Lisa Zwerling is someone I worked with and I found her very inspiring. Kerry Ehrin, I love how her mind works. She approaches everything in this really sideways, interesting, unexpected way. A lot of the women I work with are peers and mentors and writers I that would like to emulate and take certain skills that they have and incorporate them into my own writing.

LaTOYA MORGAN (TURN, INTO THE BADLANDS) – My favorite writer is John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath is my favorite book, just because it’s a family story. It’s a journey. Tom Joad is one of my favorite characters.

I am not a snob when it comes to storytelling, so whatever the genre or medium, I love it, so I love all kinds of sci-fi stuff like BATTLESTAR, THE X-FILES and then I love something gritty like SONS OF ANARCHY, GAME OF THRONES, fantasy stuff.

MARK GOFFMAN (BULL, LIMITLESS, SLEEPY HOLLOW) – John August is just brilliant and so inventive and a great spirit too. Aaron Sorkin was an early influence and somebody I’ve always looked up to even before I got the opportunity to work with him.

Tom Stoppard also, early on I really tended to gravitate towards both playwrights and people with a knack for dialogue. As a former speechwriter, I just love words and wordplay and people who are inventive with their language.

RAAMLA MOHAMED (SCANDAL, STILL STAR-CROSSED) – Who inspires me are people like Donald Glover, Issa Rae, Lena Dunham. People who have an idea, they act in it, they write, they have a vision. It’s not always perfect, but they go for it and they push the envelope. They have a clear point of view. I find that so cool.

I’m always impressed when I watch something and I’m like how did they come up with that. How did they think of that? I think there is a really cool new wave of people coming in who are in some ways like TV auteurs who are making such great TV.

WENDY CALHOUN (EMPIRE, JUSTIFIED)- Alan Ball, his work on SIX FEET UNDER I thought was fabulous. Elmore Leonard, only because I had to read so much Elmore getting ready for JUSTIFIED, and while I was doing JUSTIFIED, that I just fell in love with him. It wasn’t work at all. It was just fabulous, fun pop writing that the world needs more of.

I love The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read Roots as well and I really enjoyed Alex Haley. I’m so glad that his works were made for the screen as well, because I wouldn’t have been introduced to them, same as Alice Walker and The Color Purple.

ROB EDWARDS (THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, A DIFFERENT WORLD) – Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, they’re all guys who had started as stand-ups and then wrote for some variety, some sitcom, then wrote movies and then wrote and directed movies and I thought it’s just a great way to always be confident in your comedy, your sense of storytelling.


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.