We asked longtime registrant Rob Hampton to give incoming attendees some advice on how to get the most out of the Austin Film Festival & Conference. Hampton’s first year of attending the Conference was 2009 – the year we awarded Ron Howard, Mitch Hurwitz and Steve Zaillian – when he walked up and bought a Conference Badge at our Driskill Hotel Registration Center. He had such a great time that in 2010, he bought a Producers badge, AND introduced us to Emmy Award-winning writer Peter Murrieta (who came in that year), AND drove in a few days in advance from Florida to volunteer in our office which, at that point, is beyond crowded, hectic and crazy. Hampton is on board again this year and we are so pleased and honored to call him an AFF regular. We look forward to the day he joins us as a panelist. Heed his words!
Getting the most out of the Austin Film Festival & Conference by Registrant Robert Hampton
Getting the most out of the festival and conference is easy. If you’re coming in from out of town, just being in Austin is worth the cost of the badge, so you’re up already.
I discovered the Austin Film Festival in 2009 on the first day of the conference. I had an hour between when I bought my pass and started attending panels. With my superior sense of direction, it took me about thirty seconds to locate everywhere I needed to go, so it might take you a minute. You won’t be able to find one that’s not full of wonderful people being addressed by wonderful and accomplished people. The biggest problem is that there are several going on at once and you may think it’s unfair to have to choose between them. Well, life’s unfair. Pick one. Trust me, you won’t regret missing the one across the hall.
Where else can you hear writers talk about how impossible it is to work with studio executives and producers, and then have studio executives and producers talk about how exasperating it is to work with writers? No other place that doesn’t also have lawyers and a judge, let me tell you.
Why are you there? Answer that and you’ll be able to pick panels to best suit your goals. Writing for movies is great, but more writers are employed writing for TV. Last year I attended a panel on “How to be a Showrunner,” which is the head writer on a TV show. It wasn’t as well attended as panels on movies, even though the people running the panel actually employ dozens of new writers every year and are always looking for talent. One remarked on the irony.
Carry a notebook and take notes. People you meet. Thoughts. You can ask people to write their names and contact info, or copy the Pixar “formula” for success in it. I’ve done both! And have plenty of cards if you want to network. Entire forests are cleared for the card stock handed out at the parties. Writers aren’t the only ones there. People with mad skills in many areas are all over.
Stick around after the panels and ask a question, or just listen to other people ask questions. Many of these panelists are people you would never get close to in Hollywood. Seriously, if you approached them in a shop in Beverly Hills they’d mace you (I suppose). Here, though, they are generous with their time and eager to meet people who aspire to the industry. Don’t be shy!
This is the place to meet new friends. At my first Conference Wrap party in 2009, I simply approached a beautiful girl and asked “have you gotten funding for your project yet?” She laughed, and we’re still friends, though she was too shy to go over and meet Woody Harrelson or Mike Judge. Did I mention that Woody Harrelson and Mike Judge were at the party?
Hang out at the Driskill. Unless you’re doing something specific somewhere else. Last year I spoke to Phil Rosenthal (creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond”) in the lobby of the Driskill, at the Hair of the Dog Brunch over scrambled eggs, and after his movie premiere, we told jokes, shared info on the panels, and praised Austin. The year before, I was eating and drinking at the Driskill bar with Danny Rubin (Groundhog Day) and Shane Black (Lethal Weapon). This sort of thing almost never happens to me in my Florida suburb.
See as many movies as possible and meet the filmmakers. These are people who are actually doing the things that most people are only ever gassing on about.
Go to the script reading! The 2010 reading was epic. I don’t know how they’ll top it. Go anyway!
I was so impressed by my first festival that I started writing a screenplay (it’ll be done by this fest!). I also wouldn’t shut up about how great the AFF is. Seriously. The next year a journalist friend joined me. She got interviews with Dax Shephard and the cast of several of the movies showing there. We also got to hang out with the coolest writer in Hollywood – Peter Murrieta (Level Up, Wizards of Waverly Place, et al.), who was gracious enough to listen to me when I said he should be a panelist at the conference. We went record shopping and talked writing and baseball and steam punk. Before he left, he said “I’ll see you in L.A.!”
But I’m sure other people have cooler stories and better advice.
(I’d say something about parking, but there isn’t any. Good luck with that.)