Richard Dane Scott was a 2010 screenplay competition finalist with his drama “The Undercard,” which is now in development with producers and AFF alumni Dawn Wiercinski and Richard Bever of Chill Films. AFF alumni producer/director Greg Carter hired Richard DURING the 2012 Conference to pen two features – one of which is in pre-production called “Soul Girl.” Richard also has a feature called “Champion” starring Lance Henriksen, due out this Spring.
AFF IS MY BFF
When Austin Film Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary, I will be celebrating my tenth consecutive year of attending. When I look back at my first couple of years, I’m ashamed to admit that I was THAT guy. You know THAT guy. The guy who thinks he’s written the greatest screenplay ever on his FIRST and ONLY try. The guy who pitches to anyone who will listen, even if it’s standing at the glistening rock laden urinal of the Driskill. (Those ARE pretty rocks.) The guy who raises his hand at every panel to pitch his project by masking it with an undecipherable question. See? You know that guy.
I shot that guy and buried him alive. Austin Film Festival will not make your dreams come true by being an asshole. Can you pitch a screenplay at the Festival and sell it for millions? Sure. Is it likely? No. So then what’s the point of attending, you ask? You start utilizing AFF for what it actually does: it provides a haven of opportunities that can lead to those dreams. YOU have to make it work for YOU.
THE PANELS. So many aspiring screenwriters attend these panels looking for an opportunity to pitch when the panel is over. They rush the front to get in line, to open with a fanboy/girl compliment, and then squeeze in their pitch. In fact, they spend the entire panel mentally rehearsing this moment that they don’t even listen. It baffles me how so few people record or take notes. These panels are provided for education. And inspiration. Over the years, I have to admit I’ve learned less and less at the panels. But I never fail to get at least one valuable nugget. And I’m always inspired. ALWAYS. The point is, you have to keep learning the craft. You can’t get better, if you don’t listen. And most importantly, you can’t continue to chase your dream, if you don’t get that yearly shot of inspiration.
THE CONTEST. I’ve entered Austin Film Festival screenplay competition EVERY year. I’ve made it to the second round each year with 10 different screenplays. In 2008, I was a SEMI-FINALIST. In 2010, I was a FINALIST. If you’ve noticed, my placement got increasingly better. I’d like to think that my screenplays improved over the years. How? See the section about PANELS. I took down notes. I went home and rewrote. When I was a finalist in 2010, a producer turned to me at the Awards Luncheon and asked if she could make my movie. No joke. THAT screenplay is now in development and going out to talent. So you see, it CAN happen. But if you don’t play, you can’t win. And don’t talk to me about subjectivity. Yes, it’s a bitch. But perseverance and talent will eventually prevail and slap that bitch down. Trust me.
THE PITCH COMPETITION. I was a finalist for 3 consecutive years. Each time, I was approached with business cards and asked to send my script. Has anything panned out? Not for me. But what it can do is help you tell your story. It helps you break down the key components of your story and forces you to analyze and ensure you’ve done your job by including them. Also, most of us writers are recluses by nature. Otherwise, we’d be actors. The Pitch Competition can help you practice breaking out of your shell. It’s a terrifying experience, but one that’s overwhelmingly satisfying when your pitch is well received and talked about even years later.
THE PARTIES. I always say make friends first, and then pitching opportunities will come later. AFTER the parties. And sometimes after the parties, AND years later. But the most important things to do are foster your relationships, have patience, and don’t burn any bridges. In 2005, I met a producer at a party who subsequently asked to read a script after a follow up email. He didn’t read it. The following year, he apologized and asked me to send it again. He didn’t read it. This continued for the next three years and became an ice breaker joke for us each year. I didn’t show my inner anger and frustrations at wasting a few key strokes and building up any false hopes every year to eventually have them crushed. I just remained cordial, and most of all, I wasn’t pushy. 5 years later, he finally read it. He loved it. And now we’re developing two screenplays together, one of which is in pre-production. I’d like to think that had he read it five years earlier, he wouldn’t have loved it. And that relationship would’ve fizzled and died. But after five years of rewrites (see the section about PANELS), it was better. And I was more ready for him.
Last year, Austin Film Festival graciously asked if I would be a round table speaker. Needless to say, I accepted. I felt like I had come full circle from being THAT guy, to the guy who became a student of AFF and finally graduated. I went from being an asshole, to the guy whose dreams are coming true. But you have to want it. In all those years I had a full time day job. My genuine disgust for that job kept my drive going. I’ve written 35 screenplays. Over half of them suck. But each one is better than the last. You have to continue to learn. This is NOT a hobby to disrespect. This is a craft that demands time and dedication.
In my tenth year, I have five screenplays in various stages of development. Three of those were a direct result of me PARTICIPATING in what the Festival has to offer. I do not live in L.A. I do not have an agent or a manager. My father is not John Landis. If it wasn’t for Barbara Morgan and the Festival, I don’t know where I’d be today. If Barry Josephson hadn’t stone cold shot my pitch down in year one, I may not have quickly learned any lessons. And if EVERYONE requested to read my screenplay back then, I fear I’d have that many less contacts and my career would’ve died before it started. So if you want to be a professional screenwriter, don’t force the issue. Continue to grow. Never stop learning. Seek inspiration. And most importantly, attend Austin Film Festival.