Today concludes the 23rd annual Austin Film Festival – an event I honestly never pictured myself being a part of, but this year, I was! Let me explain.
I know I’ve mentioned that I have had a recent interest (turned to minor obsession) in screenwriting, and back in May of this year, one of the many screenwriting podcasts I listen to suggested to get involved in your local film community, especially if there was a film festival.
Well, hello Google, and voila – turns out the Austin Film Festival is one of the biggest, most anticipated film fests of the year. Whoa. So, I signed up to volunteer. If you volunteered for 10 hours, you earned yourself a pass to see any and all of the films at the fest for free. Work more hours and you could get into panels, contests, parties, and roundtables.
But honestly? I just wanted to see what this world was all about.
In August, I heard from the volunteer coordinator and things got started. Immediately, we were invited to free movies and events to created to help us meet each other and be a part of the event. It was really exciting right from the start.
In late August, I attended an orientation session where I learned that not only were we going to be volunteering with one of the biggest film festivals, but it was also a massive writers conference. Wow! Without knowing it, I’d signed up for something that was going to benefit me in so many ways – ways I couldn’t have even imagined.
At the orientation, we were also informed of the areas in which we could help. There were tons of jobs to do – in fact, much of the work of the festival is completed by its volunteers. I knew immediately that I wanted to work on areas of the writers conference, but I’d have to sign up for the shifts first.
And I did. I signed up to help with two very special events: the pitch competition, where participants are given 90 seconds to pitch their feature film or tv series, to a panel of judges, in attempts to win a badge to next year’s conference; and then the script library, as a part of the screenplay competition.
I also signed up to help with some of the pre-festival activities, such as stuffing swag bags, and filing registration forms.
Naturally, the pre-fest stuff wasn’t glamorous, but it did a lot of good for me a few weekends ago: for starters, it got me out of the house. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a bad habit of staying indoors all weekend catching up on sleep or reading or TV.
So, the volunteering got me out of the house, and it also got me downtown (I live in North Austin), and I got to meet cool people, all while stuffing 3500 giveaway bags for a massive festival. Not too shabby!
Last Saturday, I signed up for a 9-hour shift (I was feeling really eager), and it was going to be 9 hours of the pitch contest. The coordinator for this event was really nice, and she let me be the timer – meaning I had to time each pitch and raise my hand at the 90-second mark for the pitcher to quickly wrap up.
I knew the pitch competition was going to be fun and cool – hearing everyone’s ideas for TV and movies. However, what I didn’t expect was the other half of this event: getting to hear the feedback from respected professionals in the industry.
I kid you not, these panels were LOADED with talent. There was a writer from “Thor” and “X-Men”, a writer from MTV’s “Awkward” and “The Fosters”, a writer from “Justified, writer from “Adventures in Babysitting”, writer from “The House on the Left”, a producer from “Lost” and “Castle”, and so many more. Y’all… my jaw was on the floor for pretty much the entire 8 hours.
There were so many cool aspects of this competition: 1. All of the amazing, diverse ideas that were pitched, 2. How kind and supportive everyone was to each other, and 3. The positive and constructive feedback the judges gave to the contestants.
At the end of my 9-hour shift, yes, I was exhausted, but I was also so inspired. I am just now dabbling into screenwriting – researching it and finding out how to even construct a script – and it was so, so cool to see people (both amateurs and professionals) come together on a mission to improve their craft.
On Sunday, my shift was in the script library – a room within the Intercontinental hotel that houses all of the semi-finalists and finals in the screenplay competition. There are scripts for feature films, tv series, and hour-long dramas, and there are all sorts of genres. The screenplays are all neatly printed and bound and laid on a table in alphabetical order, meant for anyone attending the conference to come in and look at and/or read any of the scripts.
Uh, yes! My shift was about five hours, and I read several scripts during my time there. I read a paranormal crime thriller, a romcom with a devilish twitst, and a spec for “Broad City”, among many others.
Many of the writers of the scripts even stopped in to see their own scripts, take photos, and read others in the room. It was a really neat experience, to say the least.
Coincidentally, my weekend ended at The Ritz in downtown Austin, seeing a viewing of “E.T.” in the theatre.
I had a new perspective on it, watching it as an adult, and as a person who just got a crash course in script-writing, and a new outlook on the craft of writing.
As a child watching it, of course, there were parts that really scared me. As an adult, though, I could relate to Elliot (pretty much the cutest kid ever) on so many levels – on going through a parent’s divorce and remarriage; on not fitting in at school or with family; and doing what we do when we need to connect – finding it anywhere, whether it’s via a stuffed animal, an imaginary friend, a long-haired sassy cat, or a wrinkley extra terrestrial.
It was perfection – the movie – and the weekend.