10. The hotel it was hosted in is amazing. The Driskill is an 19th century hotel - akin to one of the old CN hotels (now mostly owned by Fairmont). My room was spectacular -- with stained glass windows, high ceilings, and even a library with (real!) books.
9. The Pitch Contest was more than I could have hoped for. It wasn't a "competitive" contest in my mind. The real value of participating was obtaining feedback from working screenwriters on my verbal pitch. Even more impressive, a few hours after my session I ran into both my judges again -- and we chatted for another 20 minutes about my concept. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and thoughtfulness, not only to me but to a wide range of other people -- including those who have never pitched before. I was happy to learn that I pitched well (comes from being a consultant) but need to learn to communicate the key movie elements of a Fantasy concept better -- and more visually. It was extremely valuable advice, and has already impacted how the Summer of Flight screenplay starts. I've added a new scene which makes the whole movie flow better. Thanks guys.
8. The Panelists were varied and thoughtful. A range of screenwriters (and agents, managers, and development executives) representing big-blockbusters and others of smaller, more character driven stories were represented. I got to meet the person who wrote the Pirates of the Caribbean Movies (and Shrek), the writer of X - Men, writers on Star Trek, and one of the Producers of Lost. Oh, and Mad-Men. At the same time, I spoke with a representative of Flower Films, and a woman who is currently working to develop small (Under $5 million) movies in partnership with Essence Magazine.
7. One of the movies screening was called Tales from the Script and was well worth seeing. It was an excellent documentary of interviews with working screenwriters. I was lucky enough to have breakfast with the screenwriter, who also has a companion book (with the same title) coming out from Harper Collins next year. I saw the ARC, and look forward to buying the book.
6. The Apollo 13 Retrospective was incredible. I was amazed at this. In addition to the screenwriters, and Ron Howard, the AFF brought in Captain Jim Lovell who commanded the mission, and several other NASA folks, who all participated in a Q&A after the movie. Additionally, before the screening, they showed real footage from the Apollo 13 mission -- things I've never seen before. This was priceless to me.
5. People talked to me. This may seem funny, but I mean it with great sincerity. I thought the World Fantasy Writers Conference was nice because many attendees are working writers -- and it's a great way to learn about publishing -- but in Austin, even though I didn't know anyone, I had the chance to just go up and say hello to people (including Ron Howard!) and say hello. Additionally, people just chatted with me. Unless you know an editor at WFC, your chances of talking to one is slim. Here, I spoke with several development executives (of well reputable companies), not to mention agents and mangers.
4. I learned more about the business of screenwriting in 4 days than I would have in 5 years. For instance, I now know the difference between agents and managers -- and why query letters (which are bread and butter in publishing) don't really work for film. I also learned exactly what happens when you go into a "pitch meeting" and what a bunch of standard phrasings mean (which my brother corroborated once I told him...but never would have thought to ask about otherwise). I also learned from an Agent/Client panel exactly what the relationship is, and how it differs from a similar relationship in publishing. Every single thing I learned was fascinating, and pretty much every question asked received a thoughtful response.
3. The Roundtables are priceless. These are 1.5 hour panels, where you sit at a table of 10, and 1 person is the speaker. Three times during the panel, the speaker changes. At the conference, there were a number of roundtables -- with directors, producers, executives, writers, and writer/producers. I attended the one with executives, and found them all willing to demystify how they work.
2. The atmosphere is collegial and positive. Part of this is the unspoken rule that you shouldn't ask anyone to read your script. The idea is that over time, you will build relationships and people will then ask you what you write. There were several examples of just this kind of thing happening. With the unspoken rule in place, I found that everyone was very willing to answer questions, give advice, and provide their own stories -- because there was no pressure on them. Both participants and panellists could just enjoy and spend the time learning from each other. One panelist even mentioned that he now comes back every year to remind himself of when he was on the other side. In other words -- people were there to inspire you. They were brutally candid at times, but always positive and thoughtful in their responses to questions.
1. I met Ron Howard. How much more inspirational can you get? Okay -- I couldn't get up the nerve to ask for a picture with him (didn't want to look silly) but I did get the below candid shot.
1. People treated everyone like screenwriters. Okay, so I have two items marked Number 1. Sorry. But really, this was also something that really struck a cord. Every person who attended was treated as a professional -- even the high school students who were on special passes. Part of this may be the fact that many attendees are also independent producers, but part of it goes back to the collegial atmosphere. One of the funniest things I heard someone say at the convention was the following:
- Agent: You should always be on the lookout to meet agents
and managers. It's never to early to build relationships.
- Attendee: Even if you haven't written anything
- Agent: Okay -- I admit, I did make some assumptions. (i.e.,
she expected everyone in the audience to have already written
So -- Overall, Austin was incredible. I have already told my brother it would be worth his time to attend next year. It is a very pricey conference to attend. ($650 for the Producer badge -- although only $495 if ordered before the New Year). However, this badge -- if you can afford it -- is worth every cent as it gets you into all the private parties where you can meet a lot of the special guests. One thing I can say. While the hotel is lovely -- you don't need to stay at the Driskill. Save the cost of the hotel and put it into the badge if you need to make a choice
I haven't quite committed to going next year -- but I would say the likelihood of my attending is very high. As in almost guaranteed. It would take a lot for me to miss it.
It will all depend on how things go for the rest of my writing retreat. Which I am now on -- on the sunny shores of Honolulu, Hawaii. Ahhh. The warmth is spectacular. I am finally getting the summer Toronto never had.