Each year, Austin Film Festival honors selected Awardees who have made exemplary contributions to film and television with their spectacular storytelling. From Hollywood’s leading screenwriters to the creators of our favorite television shows, these writers all share one thing in common—an unrelenting drive to tell captivating and compelling stories that get to the heart of the human experience, and we’re looking back on a few of our conversations with them for some inspirational words on finding your voice and writing what matters to you.
Here are six tips for getting to the heart of your writing from past AFF Awardees and legendary writers/creators:
1. START WITH THE DEEP UNDERLYING QUESTIONS
I think if you’re the kind of writer you want to be, you look at your point of view about life and say, “What is life about? What is being a human being about? And how are we trying to all cope and deal with these drives that the ego has versus our heart? And where is God? And is there a God?” And you start that deep, quite seriously…that’s how deep it starts. Then you look at the characters and make sure that you have the conflicts that you need.
-2004 Awardee Garry Shandling (writer/creator/star The Larry Sanders Show, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show; writer Sandford and Son)
Up Close and Personal with Garry Shandling
2. CRAFT AUTHENTIC CHARACTERS
I strive to just believe my characters. I figure, if I’m asking an audience to believe them, I need to believe them first. So…I’m looking for a feeling of authenticity…I want to give them the best chance to suspend their disbelief and buy into the film. So, whether the character is a good guy or a bad guy or subtle or over the top…I want to understand the character the way they are. There has to be some psychological truth to the character on screen.
-2012 Awardee Frank Darabont (writer The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, co-creator The Walking Dead)
A Conversation with the 2012 Awardees
3. ALLOW YOUR STORY TO GROW AND CHANGE
There’s so many times that it’s only in retrospect that you understand why you did what you did, and I think the most interesting thing is—and it could be in a television series and it could be in a movie— is that it is an organic thing and you think you’ve begun doing one thing and it tells you what it wants to be and it begins to change before your very eyes and it begins to reveal itself. You fall in love with a character who you thought was minor. A subplot starts to emerge and suddenly takes on great meaning, and the key is to actually try to be present and honest with yourself and not overdetermined as this organic thing is happening.
-2014 Awardee Ed Zwick (creator Thirtysomething, Once and Again; executive producer My So-Called Life; writer/director The Last Samuri, Love & Other Drugs; director Legends of the Fall, Blood Diamond)
A Conversation with the 2014 Awardees
4. DON’T FALL PREY TO CONVENTION
Convention can be the biggest enemy you have when you try to write something, because then you start thinking about what it ought to be like…I find there’s enough internal problems to get in your way without worrying about what it’s supposed to be like and someone else’s notion of it, which you’re just making up anyway, and whatever is most interesting to you is going to be most interesting to other people.
-2017 Awardee Kenneth Lonergan (writer You Can Count on Me, Manchester by the Sea, Margaret, Gangs of New York)
A Conversation with the 2017 Awardees
5. WRITE WHAT’S IN YOUR HEART
You cannot let your audience tell you what to write. It’s not honest, it’s not what’s in your heart, and if people don’t like it, they don’t like it. You’ve got to do what you believe in, what you’re passionate about, and the hell with Twitter.
-2016 Awardee Marta Kauffman (writer/creator Friends, Grace and Frankie, Dream On)
A Conversation with Marta Kauffman
6. ENJOY THE JOURNEY
For me, doing what I wanted to do for a living made me a success, and then everything else was walking in on that journey that I’d set up for myself. So that way…I’m not crestfallen if something doesn’t happen. It’s not devastating to me, it’s just part of the journey. There’s ups and downs on the journey, and it’s all part of that…but I’m going to keep walking. Nothing’s going to knock me down and make me not get up.
-2018 Awardee Larry Wilmore (creator The Bernie Mac Show; co-creator Insecure; writer In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)
Want to hear from industry greats like these firsthand? Each year we honor our selected Awardees at the Annual Awards Luncheon, held on the Saturday of our Writers Conference. This year, the Luncheon will be held on Saturday 10/26 from 12:15-2:15PM at the LINE Austin Hotel overlooking Town Lake. 2019 Awardees will include David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (co-creators Game of Thrones) with more Awardees to be announced at a later date.
Tickets for the Awards Luncheon are $65 and are available to all Conference and Producers Badge holders. To purchase a ticket, you can click here or call our office at (512) 478-4795.