With the final deadline for the Screenplay Competition coming up on May 20, we’re featuring a guest blog post from one of last year’s winners to share his thoughts on why you should submit your screenplay to AFF. Jared Frieder won the 2014 Comedy Screenplay Award for his script Three Months which is currently being developed with Oren Uziel (22 Jump Street), one the AFF judges who reviewed his script and a previous AFF winner. Who knows? You could have a similar experience if you enter your script by the May 20 deadline. For more information and to enter your script, CLICK HERE.
I submitted my screenplay Three Months to the Austin Film Festival a year ago for two reasons: 1) I read on one of those STOP CRYING THIS IS HOW YOU MAKE IT IN HOLLYWOOD blogs that it was one of the top screenwriting competitions in the industry and 2) I have a toxic relationship with Austin’s barbecue sausages. And while the competition is prestigious and the sausages irresistible, the power of the Austin Film Festival and its screenplay competitions derives from the fact that they reward, explore, and support good storytelling.
I never imagined that Three Months would win Austin. I had entered other screenwriting competitions with varying levels of success. A lot of the time, the judge’s feedback was along the lines of, “This is nice. But what about a hot girl! A car chase! A flash mob!” And while a hot girl car chase flash mob might have totally jived with my AIDS dramedy, it didn’t quite get to the heart of the story I wanted to tell: a story about a gay teenager’s resilience when he’s exposed to HIV the weekend of his high school graduation. I was afraid that I had gone too far down the indie rabbit hole to be recognized by industry screenwriting competitions. So when Competition Director Matt Dy called my name at the Austin awards ceremony for best comedy feature screenplay, I wasn’t prepared. “Uh…this is bananas,” was basically the thesis of my acceptance speech. I made the mistake of listening to Big Hollywood when they told me that only a certain kind of screenplay would find success in the film industry. I made the mistake of underestimating the Austin Film Festival: a place where they simply reward great stories.
After I got off stage, Oren Uziel (one of the competition judges, a former Austin winner, and the wildly hilarious screenwriter of 22 Jump Street) told me that he wanted to help me take Three Months from script to screen. And now, that’s just what we’re doing. I know it sounds like one of those super lucky and incredibly annoying success stories you hear people talk about at networking events, but that’s what Austin does: it gives you the platform to be your own super lucky and incredibly annoying success story.
But at AFF, the competition portion itself is merely the gravy on a very decadent Salt Lick brisket sandwich. The conference component of the festival gathers the finest storytellers working in film and television for master class sessions on story and writing for the industry at large. I learned just as much from that week as I did in a semester of my MFA program. (Where else can you share a beer and sweet potato fries with Daniel Petrie Jr. while he dishes out genius writing advice?) In an industry that places so much emphasis on the market, the director, and the actor, the Austin Film Festival centers itself around the screenwriter. And for that, I will be forever grateful.
So sure, submit to Austin so you can stop crying and yes, submit to Austin for the BBQ sausages. But do yourself a favor and submit to Austin because you have a story to tell. Submit to Austin because you want to make your screenplay into a movie. And who knows? Maybe you’ll leave with more than a trophy and a Salt Lick sandwich.