Feel a Draft?
Today, the coolest part of the Austin Film Festival is tucked back in the north end of the Driskill Hotel mezzanine. Meet the Writers Guild Foundation's Scribble-to-Screen exhibit.
Am I biased? Maybe a little.
As an editor by trade and a devout word nerd at heart, I spend a borderline unreasonable amount of my time looking at first drafts: Some are terrible, some are serviceable, and a few are absolutely great. But I haven't had a masterpiece land on my desk. Thanks to the WGF, though, I've held a few in my hands anyway.
There, laid out on the tables before me, I saw some of the classics – Empire Strikes Back, The Sopranos, When Harry Met Sally… – in their early stages. Some are as primitive as Sharpie on 3-by-5 note cards or slanting cursive on legal pads; others are further along, that familiar Courier typeface on stacks of white.
They have House, they have New Girl, they have The Wire. There are show bibles and screenplays and, hell, the typewriter on which Psycho was written. There's work from the time when Grey's Anatomy was called Under the Knife, when Friends was Insomnia Cafe. There's a page of plot twists from the Orange is the New Black finale. Bridesmaids, Big Fish, Jaws, Do the Right Thing … the list goes on.
Seriously: In one sliver of the archive, they've laid out some of film and television's greatest moments for not only all to see, but for you to pick up and peruse. It's a living archive – not one cordoned off and handled only by white-gloved professionals. And that's fitting for the material, too: The handwritten notes and scrawls humanize the sleek, polished Hollywood results in a way.
Most of the time, the archive pieces live at the Shavelson-Webb Library, a teaching library in Los Angeles – and by "most of the time" I mean "every moment other than today," since this is the first time pieces have been moved to a traveling exhibit. It's not an opportunity you should miss.
And talk to the WGF staffers while you're there. Led by Archive Director Joanne Lammers, they're an incredibly knowledgeable and passionate crew, as anxious to share these moments with you as you are to see them. A couple short hours ago, I was holding a copy of the script of the finale of Breaking Bad in my hands, sharing a love of the show and of this monument to it with two complete strangers as if we'd gone through the whole five-season experience together … because, in a way, we did.
Whatever your fancy, there's something for you on those tables in the Citadel Room at the Driskill. And you'll leave with a newfound appreciation not only of your favorites – recognizing the power of five dialogue-free pages in the Up screenplay that brought audiences to tears across the country, perhaps – but also of the process of writing as a whole.
Indeed, as you're sitting there at the Driskill bar at the end of a long day of panels, make sure you appreciate your cocktail napkin: The Next Big Thing could be being scrawled on one of its compatriots this very week.
The Writers Guild Foundation's Scribble-to-Screen exhibit is open until 5pm today in the Driskill Citadel Club. Next door in the Citadel Room, the Foundation is hosting panels with writers as well: David Shore goes on at 3:45pm. Or: Follow the Foundation on Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube to see more from their digital archives.
Keep up with all our Austin Film Festival coverage at austinchronicle.com/austin-film-festival.