From Writer to Producer: Thanks, Austin Film Festival!

I’m late to the party as far as writing goes. Especially writing anything like a screenplay. I wrote short stories as a kid but not with any kind of real focus. I lived primarily in my head and made up stories that would never see the light of day, mostly about being anywhere but the dreaded Midwest.  I burst forth into this world asking directions to the nearest bus station….the quintessential anywhere-but-here kid.

Not much has changed. I still thrive on seeing new places but do it from my home base in California.

As a kid, I conjured stories of making the trek to my very own Mecca, the American West. Anywhere above sea level of 450’ that had hills and mountains and all that fascinating stuff John Denver sang about.  I can still remember the first time I saw the Rockies. I trekked up a hill and when they came into view, it felt like a tsunami of emotion. It sounds corny but it literally took my breath away. I can still conjure that feeling. I was about 9 or so. We traveled to Denver in one of our many Ford station wagons. It didn’t have wood on the sides.  I desperately wanted one with wood on the sides and a back seat that folded up and faced backwards so you could see where you’d been.  My kinda travel!  To say I’d been rather than longing to go had much more appeal.  I don’t recall ever getting to say that but I do remember how disappointed I was when my dad came home with yet another version of the same wagon, sans wood, sans backward seats.

Funny what you wish for as a kid.

When I discovered screenwriting around 2006 or so, I never looked back.  I’ve contemplated a novel but it feels too daunting.  I love short stories, love silly rhyming verse poems. I’m not much on highbrow poetry. I don’t have the patience, I guess. What I love is the condensed world the screenwriter has to navigate. It’s a challenge to fit a visual story into the confines of 120 pages or less.  Not to mention trying to create fully formed characters that readers and viewers can connect with. Or at least you hope they can.

After learning the basics of the screenwriting craft, I started to enter some contests. It took a couple of years but I made it into the finals at the Austin Film Festival and to my great surprise, I won the comedy category in 2010.  I was on the verge of turning 50; not necessarily the time in my life when I expected to ask myself what I wanted to be when I grew up.

But that’s what I did.  I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter.  Not just a middle-aged broad who wrote a screenplay that won a contest.  It took me another six years of meeting people in the industry, going into the development process, watching the process morph to the point of having to switch gears, learning a ton of shit I never knew I needed to learn and ultimately finding my place in the world.

I took things one step further. I became a writer/producer.  All thanks to the Austin Film Festival.  I would never have met the people who helped get me started or had the experiences that followed. I can’t overstate that and no, AFF did not ask me to write this. Over the years, they have asked me to help them in various ways and I have done so with great pride and willingness. It’s the least I can do. They provided me the springboard and then continued to support me, year after year.

I’m a bit of a film festival junkie. I travel to Sundance every year and just recently started attending Toronto and we even have our own local festival in Carmel, CA that’s doing great things thanks to the dedicated founders. Each festival has their own vibe and culture and I find it fascinating and exciting, regardless of how big or small they are. It reminds me how important stories are to us as humans.  I don’t know a culture on earth that doesn’t have a history of storytelling on some level. It touches our souls and binds us together in a way nothing else can save for music.

Things have changed a lot since 2010.  Technology has opened up a whole new world for independent content creators and independent writers and producers who can actually get things done on budgets that would have been unheard of 10 years ago.  I’ve learned to think small and creatively in order to tell stories that can still appeal to an audience even if it’s straight to a digital platform.  I’ve found a fantastic tribe of like-minded writers and producers who share the same notion of getting our stuff from script to screen, started a small production company and completed our first feature as a group. Yeah, it’s a tiny little story on an even tinier budget but it’s now in post.

Out next step is to tackle distribution. We plan to do it in part, independently. One more step in the process that the indie producer has to master.  Thankfully, I’m surrounded by awesome folks who have done it all before. I’m still the Bambi who’s learning the ropes. I’m excited.  Scared and a bit intimidated but excited none the less.

For all you writers out there, whether you write screenplays, short stories, web-series or novels, the Austin Film Festival is the only place I know who pays homage to the writer. Without the screenplay, without the screenplay writer, without that storyteller who brings us characters to love or hate or cheer on, there is no film.

The festival is in October. Check it out.