AFF is Awesome!
by Edward Kiniry-Ostro
Living my soul’s passion has been cute. Brené Brown would be proud. Authenticity is key these days and I am on this journey to thrive.
Weirdly enough though, dreams don’t pay the bills. I mean, cute works most of the time but not always. When the going gets tough, and it can get tough, it’s important to remember why you got into this in the first place. Beyond the superficiality of the money and red carpets and trophies (and oh my God those are all amaze!), what keeps us going when that luxe lyfe doesn’t show up? You still “cute”?
I was so lucky to be invited to last year’s AFF as a Second Rounder. I had heard nothing but exemplary things about the festival; the community, the networking, the prestige, the parties. So many parties! With barbecue! Done. Sold. I was there.
Only problem…I felt worthless. I literally had no money, I had just gotten married, and my professional career was figuratively spent. I was in a dark place, broke and broken.
Before Austin, I had been working on a web series that I co-created. Four years prior, we started a small project that surprisingly took off. It got some really nice attention from critics. People noticed it. We got a production deal with a big-time network that was moving into web content, but then the digital network shut down. Undeterred, we produced a second season. Again, notice and attention quickly came our way. We developed it into a half-hour comedy with fancy Showrunners attached. We had a beyond collaborative Production House and nice, super supportive agents who were repping us (really, they exist!). We pitched to some big networks, we got great feedback. We were live-action Lego’s singing “Everything Is Awesome” and then…silence. By the end of last Summer, we had exhausted all avenues. It was dead. Four years of hard work and then…poof. Nothing. No sale, no project, no future. Fun, right?
Fortunately though, AFF was approaching. Like a scared little prince stuck in his tower of doom, I saw this knight in shining armor heading my way. After much hemming and hawing between my right brain and my left brain (DREAMS vs RENT), I decided once again to follow my dreams and jump. I’d worry about the rent later.
I’m so glad I did. Austin Film Festival, my hot-to-trot knight, changed my life.
When I arrived in Austin, I didn’t know what to expect. I no longer had a co-creator to rely on. I was riding solo, feeling hyper insecure and unsure of myself. I had been to festivals before with a short film I wrote, produced and acted in a few years prior. While I had fun, I had found the festival circuit to be more miss than hit. Sure we got attention and nominations, but they were mostly lackluster. I was nervous that Austin couldn’t live up to the hype. Boy, was I right. It was not hyped enough!
I was there over Halloween weekend. Already winning. I saw parades and the normal ridiculousness that Halloween brings out. There was the city itself- charming and walkable, with that big friendly, helpful Texan charm you hear about, speaking with that Texan drawl, slow as molasses and honey. Most of the festival’s activities were within a five-to-ten-minute walk from The Driskill, a beautiful old hotel right in the heart of Austin. (As RuPaul would say: Category is…Wild Wild West Extravaganza). There was barbecue. So much barbecue. Truly though, all of this paled in comparison to what was given back to me over that weekend: my self-worth.
At AFF you are surrounded by writers day and night. You listen to some of the best producers, directors, reps and many others in the biz who offer their experiences, their highs and their lows. Much like the act of storytelling itself, the festival helps you transcend from your ego to become apart of a communal, shared experience. You forget your fears of bills and rejection and industry meetings and all the bullschnitzel that weighs you down. You make new friends, sharing battle scars and triumphs, and become the hero of your own story. You share a private, small lunch with a huge writer and see that the work and frustrations never stop, no matter what level you’re at, so enjoy the ride. At panels, you hear how the pros go about cracking the ever elusive rewrites and then finally selling it. It’s electrifying. Then you go to a screening of the film that you just heard the writer talk about. You (possibly) sob your way through it and like Oprah, you have your “AHA!” moment. You’re inspired, reawakened with a keener insight than you had before. It’s not rocket science. With perseverance, dedication and maybe a bit of luck, you too can see yourself up there one day. In fact, you’re already doing it. You’re there, aren’t you?
Recognized for your work. So keep going! Everything IS awesome! Now sing with me, “AFF is awesome…!”
Since coming back from this oasis, I’ve only gotten closer to the friends and colleagues I met at AFF. In fact, me and three kick-butt ladies started this writer’s group here in Los Angeles. We meet once or twice a month. I had the worst writer’s block I’ve ever had while working on a new pilot. They not only helped me break through it, but they also helped me create the strongest script I’ve ever written. I’m so proud of it. And I’m so proud of our work that we’ve only just begun together, as I know we will be pushing each other, reading each other’s work, and helping one another achieve our goals. The struggle is real, but I’m still here.
I’m less anxious these days. The money and accolades will come (fingers crossed!). Right now though, I’m focused on the work, getting better each day, and when the opportunity arises, I’ll be ready. Until then, I get to see my friends tomorrow at our writer’s group, where they’ll give me notes on this blog post before I send it off. New projects are on the horizon as I wait to hear about the fellowships and competitions that I’ve submitted the pilot to. My work progresses because of the relationships I’ve fostered at AFF. I’ve come to realize something, too. My soul’s passion is no longer cute. It’s hot as *BEEP*!
Swipe right, henny, cuz we’ve only just begun…!