Today’s Guest Blog is from writer and AFF Screenplay Comedy Award Winner (2010), Julie Howe who has traveled through the ups and downs of developing a script. Read on for her account of Development’s good, bad and ugly.
When Matt Dy first rang me back in 2010 to say Joyce San Pedro, a producer based at
Sony and an AFF judge and panelist, wanted to meet with me about my script, I was
thinking he must have meant to call someone else – some OTHER writer who may have
had the same last name as me – and he hit my number by mistake. Happens, right?
Thankfully, it wasn’t a butt dial.
I’m one of those lucky writers who caught a break thanks to Austin Film Festival; as
well as to an army of fellow writers who were generous and kind, brutal and honest,
and most of all just plain supportive. As a result, my 2010 AFF comedy script is in
development with Joyce San Pedro and Alex Siskin. It’s not a studio deal; it’s a handmade
independent production deal. And I didn’t leave the baby on the doorstep and
walk away. Instead, I made an arrangement with the producers that included
involvement from start to finish. I wanted to learn, I wanted to know what it was really
like to make a movie, to be part of a team. I didn’t know if I would be chewed up and spit
out like a stale Chiclet or be able to hold my own. Not to mention being able to hold my
tongue when necessary while still holding true to my vision.
As luck would have it, I was taken under the wings of the good guys and I’m thanking
the gods of screenwriting I didn’t end up stuck to the bottom of somebody’s Nike. Those
who championed the script from the beginning, Joyce San Pedro. Michael-Ryan
Fletchall and Alex Siskin, opened the door for me and I ran through it like my hair was
on fire. Let’s face it, I’m not a kid. I’m staring down the point-blank barrel of middle age.
I want my shot before Medicare kicks in or I start thinking my purse belongs in the
I owe my tenacious attitude not only to the opportunity afforded me by Austin Film
Festival but also to an amazing writer’s group called 5150 whose founder, Max Adams,
won the comedy screenplay award when AFF was a pup. From the beginning of my
tenure in the group, Austin Film Festival was touted as THE festival. Everyone in the group aspired to
place well in the screenplay competition. Needless to say, winning was unbelievable
and surreal. Like I had brought home 5150’s version of the Stanley Cup (yeah, I’m from
a hockey state!). I would not be where I am without the help and guidance of these
wickedly smart, talented peeps.
Although this all sounds like rah-rah cheerleader fluff, the development business is no
bed of roses. There have been some unfortunate bumps in the road that left the project
drifting a bit. Things looked uncertain and bleak and hopeless and all those terrible
words used to describe lost causes. I tried burying St. Jude upside down in my back
yard but apparently that only works if you’re Catholic, and what self-proclaimed pagan
has time for all that catechism stuff?
I’ll be honest. It’s been challenging. When someone asks me what it’s been like, I tell
them it’s agonizingly blissful…like having a root canal and an orgasm at the same time.
Some of the players have changed and we’ve had to take the project down a notch and
steer it in a different direction but that’s all par for the course, I’m told. It’s what
independent filmmaking is all about. It’s getting your hands grimy. It’s a million paper
cuts. It’s organize, then reorganize. It’s the coolest thing on earth! Maybe. Definitely.
The point I’m trying to make here is that regardless of the problems, regardless of the
heartache, I’ve been part of the process. I’m learning how hard it is to make a movie.
It’s giving-birth hard. It’s scaling Half Dome hard. It’s the kind of hard that creates
profound respect for those who have made it happen.
I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. But just when I was about to tell the bad and
the ugly to kiss my ass and never, ever darken my door, something amazing happened:
the good came around again. (Note to self: don’t tempt fate by telling it to kiss your ass
lest it tells you back “You’ll never have another shot, you ingrate!”)
Just like an acceptance speech at the Oscars where the winner thanks their high school
tormentor for making them stronger, I feel compelled to cover all the bases just to be
Thank you, Fate! I used to think you were an asshole. But now? You’re fucking
Now that I have that out of the way, I’ll get serious.
I’m beyond thankful to those who have helped me and continue to help me. I’m thankful
for Austin Film Festival. As writers, AFF is our home. Our living room. The place
where we don’t need coasters and the furniture isn’t covered in plastic. The place we go
to verbalize our dreams. When we descend on the town every October, not only do we
turn every hotel into our own private flophouse, we create a unique, living, breathing
creature. In its chest beats the mighty heart of the screenwriter; and, at its core the soul
and essence of the independent filmmaker.
To hell with conventional wisdom. For me, development is about as far away from hell
as it gets.
That may sound corny, but I don’t care. Matt told me I could say anything I wanted.