I attended the Austin Film Festival and Writers Conference last weekend. It was a great time connecting with other talented screenwriters and filmmakers and gaining insights into the independent filmmaking industry. One of the best parts of AFF is that it isn’t in LA. It takes some effort and investment to go to the festival so everyone who is there is there because they are committed to their craft. It makes the connections and conversations thoughtful and rich. Plus, it is fun to watch rooms packed with introvert writers doing their best to be social and make good conversation. By the third and fourth day of the writer’s conference, I heard a lot of “I just want to go sit in a quiet room and stare at the wall for a few hours.”
While I was there I had the opportunity to pitch my script. The pitch competition worked like this: There were 10 pitch sessions. In each session around 12-15 people would have the opportunity to pitch their idea. The idea could be for a feature film or TV series. They have 90 seconds to make their pitch. Afterward, two judges have two-and-a-half minutes to give feedback and ask questions. Once all the pitches are complete, the judges select two pitches to advance to the pitch finale. I was the fourth person to pitch in my session and felt like I nailed it. The first words from the first judge were, "That was great". The second judge was in agreement. He suggested adding some details about the climax’s set piece but added it would be difficult to do that in a 90-second pitch. I also felt the room was with me and really engaged by the story. But in the end, only two pitches could advance and the judges selected two TV pitches over my feature pitch. To be fair, those two pitches were really great. I was disappointed that my pitch did not advance to the finals because I believe in the story and really wanted the opportunity to tell a large group of industry people about it. It turned out, the two pitches that advanced from my session went on to place first and third in the overall competition (and the woman who placed third, won the competition the previous year). My pitch session was pretty stacked. Perhaps had I been in a different session, well, who knows... That’s the business. That’s the way it goes.
I returned to LA late Sunday night thoroughly exhausted but inspired. My mind is spinning with new story ideas. I know my next script needs to smaller in scale, something that doesn’t require tens of millions of dollars to be made. I was also motivated to go back and revisit a script I wrote several years ago called “The Tinker Dreamer.” It’s a story that has a lot of heart but needs some fine-tuning.
Writers write and dreamers dream. That is my take away from the festival. We write because we have to. We dream because we need to. An audience may come or it may not. Fame or anonymity, it matters not. Answering the call is what makes the journey heroic. So I will continue to answer the call that says, “write write write.”
For those curious, this was my story pitch. It is not word for word what I said, but it will give you the idea. Every time I pitch the story, it is a little different.
The Resurrection of Dennis Munson is a four quadrant Fantasy/Adventure and Drama that is about the power of stories to help us connect with those from whom we’ve been separated.
Denny is a children’s literature author struggling with the loss of his infant son, so he writes a series of fantasy books where his son continues to live a life of adventure. The world adores him for his stories, but it comes at a cost as Denny’s relationship with his reality and his relationship with his wife crumble.
It is also the story of a boy, Anew, a young orphan who grows up in a fantastic world, raised by the fur-covered creatures of the Crescent Cove. The boy becomes self-aware of his differences and haunted by questions of his origin: Where did he come from? Why does he have no parents? He sets out on a dangerous quest through foreboding lands with malevolent monsters in search of answers.
The two story threads collide in a dramatic climax where the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred and Denny and Anew must decide if they will stay together or say goodbye and return to the own worlds.
A WRITER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES