If you’re a serious screenwriter, you go to Austin. That’s just what you do.
It’s like a religious pilgrimage, but instead of prayer and quiet contemplation, there’s beer, barbecue, and Shane Black. Sounds like a party, am I right? Okay listen, I’m not a born networker. The act can feel awkward on my soft, supple body. But it’s different in Austin. I think it helps that almost everyone who attends AFF is a writing nerd like me. We exist in LA, but you have to seek us out among the starry-eyed glamazons and biz bros who care less about the films they’re making and more about the mentions they get on Deadline. At the festival, you are among your people! And some of those people will end up becoming your good friends. I guarantee it.
Let me rewind a bit. When I entered the competition last April, I was at a crossroads. I’ve been writing for years, gaining some traction, but I still had lingering questions, mainly: Who am I? and What am I doing with my life? Austin answered both of those. Placing as a finalist in the Comedy Feature category with my script VALEDICTORIAN was like an affirmation. I am a writer, and people like what I write! It provided the recognition and validation I needed to attack my projects with renewed vigor. It may seem ridiculous to think a screenplay competition can do that, but hey, I think we can all agree it feels good to be recognized for what you do. And it’s not like Austin is some fly-by-night competition either. Ask any industry person and they will say it’s absolutely top tier. So shove it, Fresno County Screenplay Competition!
As for the festival and conference itself, it’s hard to pin down what that experience is like, because it can be vastly different depending on how you approach it. You could spend all your time attending the myriad of high-caliber panels and roundtables populated by some of the best in the biz. You could throw your hat into the pitching competition, which culminates with a fun, booze-soaked final showdown at the end of the weekend. Or you could post up at the Driskill Bar and throw back a few while you catch people coming and going. Or you could try all three and not get any sleep!
You choose. Can’t lose.
My most memorable moment from the festival was being caught in a wicked thunderstorm on the second day. My phone quickly buzzed with a flash flood warning… and then a tornado warning… but I didn’t blink an eye, and neither did the group of writers I was with. We all stood firmly in a downtown Episcopalian church thinking: if this is it, then at least we died doing what we love… listening to a panel on screenwriting. All joking aside, that is some DEDICATION. And that speaks to the type of people you’ll find at Austin: passionate, committed folks who don’t mind risking a little bodily injury in order to improve their craft.
These are my people. And I can’t wait to see them again in October.
Jimmy Mosqueda placed as a finalist in the 2015 Comedy Screenplay Competition with his script Valedictorian. He was signed by his managers after they read the script as judges in the AFF competition.