In late 2017, I signed on to be an Associate Producer of Zero Issue, the world’s first superhero mockumentary with New York Picture Company (NYPC) in order to learn about film. When I started I’d never really been on set. But I signed on to produce a 50+ person cast and crew that shot simultaneously across three locations in a town I’d never been to before. By the time we wrapped, I felt superhuman. I was (and am) so proud of the work we did and the footage we shot. And I wanted to keep that high going. I set themes for my year, instead of resolutions. So I made 2018 the year of “doing what scared me.”
In March, I saw an ad for the Austin Film Festival – a competition I was too afraid to apply to the previous year. But this year I was determined to submit. And not with just any play, with my newest play, Good for You…which I hadn’t written yet. So to ensure I’d make the deadline for AFF, I also sent out reading invites for April with the logic that if the invites went out, I would have to finish it. And I did. I had the reading. I submitted the play. A few months later, I found out that Good for You was a Second Rounder.
I was very much on the fence about attending the Austin Film Festival as a playwright. Facing my fear of small talk and networking was on brand for my 2018, but flying to Austin, staying at an airbnb, and purchasing a conference badge could add up pretty quickly. But a fellow writer in Stillwater Writers Group, Sharon E. Cooper, was also a Second Rounder for screenplays last year. And Craig Nobbs, another Stillwater Writer, who attends every year and placed in past screenplay competitions, assured us, we “had to go.” I wasn’t totally convinced but, I figured at the very least, the festival was an opportunity to continue my film producer education. So, we took Craig’s advice and booked our tickets.
And I am so grateful we did.
At the opening remarks, they called for the winners of each category (Second Rounders to finalists) to raise their hands. And as they did, I realized the entire festival was full of writers. And while I knew that would be true, I didn’t know what that would be like. From writing plays to rehearsing them, I’m the only playwright in the room. But as people raised their hands, my fears about small talk were erased by my excitement. Outside of the writers groups I belong to, I rarely get to meet other writers, and I hadn’t found a new writers group in years. This was my chance. I had four days to meet as many writers as possible. The opening remarks ended and it was game on.
I met writers who spoke on panels, writers waiting on line for the panels or movie theaters to open, I met writers who randomly sat down next to me, or over drinks at the Driskill, or just running from building to building trying to figure out where the roundtables, parties, and special playwrights lunch with Peter Mattei actually were. There was a community of writers and producers to meet and learn from at every turn. I felt energized and ready to write and produce and pitch my plays and films to collaborators left and right. I felt more prepared to be a producer who can really bring a writer’s vision to life and a writer who knows what to look for when hiring a producer. I felt ready to conquer the world. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to bring this feeling of inspiration and boldness – this AFF energy behind. So I didn’t.
I did go back to New York (although I did think about “missing” my flight a few times), but I flew home with a badge-case full of business cards to ensure that inspiration, opportunities to learn, and community were never more than an email away. I was no longer waiting for my next writers group session to learn. I was (and still am) exchanging drafts with writers I met that weekend, who are based all over the country.
I expanded that network even more at an Austin Film Festival Podcast Event and a happy hour for festival alumni right in my own city. Before Austin, I might not have attended the New York events because of my small talk fear, but after AFF that fear no longer exists. Plus I spent the months post-festival, tackling writing and producing in New York with my Austin energy so I had a lot to talk about. I’d been guiding Zero Issue through post-production (on which I was promoted to Producer), going into pre-production for my first short film Seven Fishes (check Ali’s instagram for updates), rewriting Good for You, rewriting an old full length play I never got quite right, finishing a song cycle with Emily Rose Simons (…The F*ck Am I Doing?) that is going to be a part of the 2019 New York Musical Festival Concert Series this summer (developed and produced with The CRY HAVOC Company), and writing two new full length plays. So instead of being nervous, I was relieved to have yet another chance to be in a new room full of writer/producers to support and be supported by.
In the beginning of 2018, I submitted to the Austin Film Festival Competition because it was a scary thing. And I attended because two of my closest writer friends were going. In 2019, I am applying with multiple plays because I’ve been writing more than I ever have before and because I believe in my work (due to my time at the festival). And I’m attending this year to continue to learn, grow my network, meet more writers, and see old friends. Whether you write screenplays or stageplays, whether you are a writer who’s interested in producing, or a writer who produces their own work (because we all have to at some point), you must attend the Austin Film Festival. It will change the way you work.