Bringing you a little insights and words of wisdom from on of our 2016 panelists, Pamela Ribon:
Okay. You’ve got your flight set, your room booked, and I heard you’ve been training your alcohol tolerance to an impressively respectable level for both writers and Texans. You must be on your way to the Austin Film Festival.
Since you’ve got the three most important things covered, I’ll try to help you with the rest. This will be my fifth time at the festival. As I’ve gone from semi-finalist to finalist to panelist, from Austinite to Hollywood denizen, I’ve picked up a few tips I try to share with everyone I can who’s headed to the best damn writer’s festival in the best damn city in the world.
Before we do anything or go anywhere: it’s spelled “y’all.” Not “ya’ll.” Secondly: Texas does not consider itself to be part of “The South.” There’s “The South” and then there’s “Texas.” Oh, and it’s pronounced “Guadaloop.”
Don’t just go for the big names.
Unless you are already a big name, you’re probably attending AFF to get some questions answered. You’re hoping meet people either just like you or ones who are having the kind of career you’d like to achieve. I’m just guessing, but those big names are most likely a few steps ahead of where you are right now. While, yes, it’s interesting to find out how one of your favorite shows got on the air or how one of your favorite films almost wasn’t shot, but don’t miss out on the places where you can get important information. Imagine what a waste of time it’d be for a high school freshman to seek advice on how to survive lunch hour politics by asking a senior – who’s also captain of the football team? Vary your panels, meet people at all different levels, at different capacities. Learn how the business works from the top down and the inside out. Writers tend to hole up and freak themselves out. If you get all sides of the story, from agents to producers to directors to writers, you can learn how people develop their projects in television, animation, independent and big-budget. You can find new life where you’d lost hope, new inspiration where you got jaded. You spend all day trying to come up with stories. Let someone else tell you a few for a change. Which brings me to:
Sit in the Driskill Lobby.
You’ll notice that the mostly dead-animal-clad, heavily carpeted lobby area of the Driskill is almost never empty. That’s because it’s the unofficial hub of the festival, where everybody must pass at some point, usually on their way over to that giant, wooden, circular bar. The Driskill Lobby is a great meeting point or resting point, where you can finish a conversation over a drink or take a second to tweet “I JUST MET ROB THOMAS AND I FOUND A WAY NOT TO GEEK OUT ABOUT VERONICA MARS ALL OVER HIM. #YAYFF” If you are vegan, be warned: you can’t have your eyes open without seeing some form of former living creature.
Don’t forget the business.
It’s easy to start out star struck, quickly move on to over-imbibed, and then finish with a panel-skipping hangover that has you spending your flight or car ride home counting regrets instead of contacts. This festival won’t stop being fun, so it’s on you to remember you paid cash to get yourself out there. Here’s a list of things you need to have with you:
Access to a script or film or trailer or web series URL that you have finished.
At least two modest goals
Do your homework at night or in the morning over coffee. Email those scripts you said you’d send the night before. Click “follow” and “friend.” Call your wife or husband or partner or agent. I know, but call them again.
The finalists’ scripts will be available for you to read. If you get a chance, check them out (or at least be familiar with who they are) so you know when you’re standing right next to one of the writers at a mixer. Congratulate them on a good job. And if you do meet one of the winners, ask to see the trophy. It’s so pretty that I’m still sad I’ve never won one.
Identify the crazy people.
Contrary to what my mother taught me growing up, you don’t have to be nice to everybody. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t get stuck trapped in a booth with Spittle Me This, who shot at least half of his tongue juice onto your face during the five hours you were too nervous and/or nice to say, “It’s been great talking to you, but there’s this thing I have to get to.” Remind yourself that you paid to be here and this thing’s only so long. Then politely excuse yourself and find someone – anyone – who can save you into a new direction for the night.
(If you just read that and worried that you were the person I’m referring to, I swear you aren’t. If I met you, I found you to be delightful. But that’s also what I say to crazy people because I’ve found they anger/rage easily.)
Don’t be That Guy.
Conversely, don’t monopolize someone’s night. Don’t be a dick, don’t be stalky, and please don’t filibuster someone’s Q&A. And unless the show is on your resume somewhere, you are only allowed to mention The Simpsons once. Once! That’s it! You get one public mention and that is all. Do you understand?
Be careful of your antics and whom you invite to hang on the leather couches with you. People can see you, even if you think nobody’s looking. I was once in that lobby with two local friends who invented a game to see how long they could successfully expose certain areas of their anatomy without getting busted. The game was called “Dristicle” and I don’t want to talk about it.
Mingle, commiserate, participate. Strike up conversations. Most people are leaning around, scrolling through their phones because they’re stalling and probably just as nervous and awkward as you are. (I’m sorry I just called you awkward. Come back.) Ask people what they’re working on. If they’re not crazypants, find out what panels they’ve gone to. Are they participating in the pitch contest? Is this their first time at the festival? Hey, are you talking to the screenwriter of FIGHT CLUB? Don’t tweet that while you’re talking to him! Jeez, you are terrible at this!
Don’t waste your one-on-one time.
If you sign up for a roundtable, go in with a list of questions you want answered. Time is limited and you’re sitting with other people who have their own agendas. If you get a chance to talk with someone you’ve been hoping to talk to, make sure you ask questions and listen. Be ready to talk about your own work, but be more prepared to talk about the business, about your experiences, your stories. This is a festival, not a job interview. You bought a badge to get access to a relaxed, casual atmosphere filled with creative minds and amazing people who have all agreed to stay in one sanctioned place and talk with you. Take advantage of it!
Don’t skip the mixers. Don’t skip the screenings. Make sure you don’t oversleep through the panels. Take care of yourself. Go out to the drugstore and make sure you’ve got ibuprofen and bottled water and maybe some emergency Doritos. Make sure you see a bit of Austin while you’re here, because it’s the best city on this planet. You’re just a few wandering steps from all the action on Sixth Street, but a cab over to Trudy’s for a Mexican Martini won’t break your wallet. Visit the food trucks on South Congress and then cross the street to Uncommon Objects to fill the remaining space in your suitcase. Lastly: go ahead and buy that pair of cowboy boots, but you probably don’t want to wear them until you get home. You’ll want to break them in before you’re standing for hours, but I’m really telling you this because the rest of us are going to judge you, especially if we’re from Austin.
See you in October! I’ll be the one asking who wants to drive me to Lucky J’s on Sixth and Waller so I can get a chicken and waffle taco. Y’all, I dream of that thing nightly.
-Pamela Ribon, writer Moana, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Untitled Wreck-It Ralph Sequel, Bears, Samantha Who?; comic book writer Rick and Morty, SLAM!