Before I ever attended the Austin Film Festival, I marveled at how virtually every professional screenwriter I knew joined the pilgrimage from LA to Texas each October. At first I assumed it was because Austin is a great tourist destination, and the only thing writers like better than procrastination disguised as work, is a vacation disguised as work. AFF appeared to be both. So three years ago I bowed to peer pressure and joined the exodus East.
As quickly as you can say “IRS please don’t audit my research trip to Maui” I learned that this festival wasn’t just an excuse to eat barbecue and party with Richard Linklater while catching some interesting films in between.
While it is all those things, it is also an unpretentious, professional-level screenwriters conference where writers from all over the world come to learn from other writers. It is serious business (ahem, IRS) as well as chance for all of us to come together to kvetch, swap notes, and inspire each other to something greater.
The fact that AFF attracts top-notch speakers and films should come as no surprise. But what I found refreshing was the quality of the audience. AFF’s attendees span multiple generations, each in varying stages of their careers, but united in their desire to hone their craft. Where else can you listen to Norman Lear describe his future writing ambitions (at 93!) while you sit flanked by Oscar winning writers on one side, and film-obsessed high school students on the other?
…And possibly, to see how Shane Black handles a nine a.m. lecture the morning after opening night festivities. (Answer: flawlessly. The man is a machine.)
One of my favorite things about Austin is that, unlike other world-class film festivals where filmmakers are separated from the audience by velvet ropes, AFF encourages their attendees and speakers to mingle and get to know each other. The festival’s social gatherings are how I’ve come to meet so many of the writers who have gone on to become close friends, mentees, and mentors.
Lastly, everyone knows that the bar at the Driskill Hotel is where you go to slake your thirst after speaking on back-to-back panels, or to shake out your hand-cramps from taking copious notes. But what I love most about AFF is that I get to enjoy both sides of the festival experience in a single day — for even the speakers are there to learn.
…And eat barbecue.
– Nicole Perlman, writer Guardians of the Galaxy