Julie O’hora has been attending Austin Film Festival and Conference since 2003. During her first year at AFF, Julie pitched her screenplay PoolBoy (now titled American Summer) which is currently in production in New Orleans.
Linnea: You recently signed with a manager from LA, though you are based in Florida. How did you accomplish this, and what advice do you have for those trying to acquire managers themselves?
I created a marketing campaign for myself and my specs, targeting managers, agents and producers whose past projects implied they might respond to mine. I looked at produced films in my genre and noted who was involved. I emailed most of my queries and, whenever possible, I dropped the name of someone we knew in common in the subject line (with that person’s permission, of course).
For example, I saw that a well-regarded writer had worked on this one film I researched. I’d met the guy in chat on one of the screenwriting boards and he seemed nice enough, so I dropped him a note. I told him what I was doing and asked if he knew of anyone at the film’s production company who struck him as hungry and sharp. He gave me a name, allowed me to use his, and I queried the guy – a producer at Sony. The producer read my spec and, while it wasn’t for him or his company at the time, he responded to the writing and asked to see more of my work. (One year later, he’s at a different company and has a bigger title…)
My advice? Network, especially with well-placed people who are hungry and sharp. But before you do that, make sure you’re writing at a professional level. (If you have to show your stuff to someone else to be sure… you’re not there, yet.)
Linnea: Not only did you sign with a manager, you also sold your script, AMERICAN SUMMER, to a production company and the movie is currently shooting in New Orleans. When you received word that your script was being produced, what was running through your mind?
I was thrilled when the script (originally called POOL BOY) was first optioned but never allowed myself to really believe it would get made — even when the producer got talking about investors and locations. I didn’t really believe it until I pulled up to base camp my first day on set and saw dozens of trailers. I think what ran through my mind then was, “I made it…” On a more pragmatic level, I was – and am – very happy to be even indirectly responsible for bringing more film work back to New Orleans.
Linnea: On your blog, www.mentalorigami.blogspot.com, you say that writers sometimes feel disconnected from the production of the script. How did you handle this challenge?
By writing another one. I knew that if AMERICAN SUMMER actually got made, I’d want to leverage that into meetings where I’d need more to talk about than my one other script.
This kept me busy during the months of pre-prep and kept me from dwelling on the iffy-ness of the movie (and the business in general).
Linnea: Has the production process influenced your writing at all?
I have a better understanding now of what things cost in a script and what some of the challenges might be for the director and cast when it’s time to shoot.
And I now know I can write four drafts in two months, if I have to…
Linnea: You have attended the Austin Film Festival several times, and I’ve heard that you keep a notebook with quotes and notes from previous AFFs. What is it about AFF that continues to draw you year after year?
I live in a town thousands of miles from LA or NYC, where nobody but my husband gets me or what it means to be an aspiring screenwriter.
But for a few days each October, I’m in Austin, surrounded by people who are the same brand of crazy I am… and well-known pro-writers hang around with the rest of us and prove that our impossible career goal is not so impossible after all.
Linnea: Are there any quotes or notes from your notebook that have stayed with you?
I’ve got a bunch of quotes I’ve saved from various panels and roundtables over the last four years I’ve attended AFF. A few of my favorites:
To be a writer, you have to be in an atmosphere of support. It’s crucial to not be an alien in your environment. – Bill Wittliff
You start by asking “What is life about?” And then you make it funny. – Garry Shandling
What you’ve chosen to do is hard. It doesn’t get any easier. So when you get stuck, when you fuck up, you’ve just got to forgive yourself. – Shane Black
(“Forgive yourself” became my mantra for a while…)