Austin Film Festival: Podcast People

John August takes his Scriptnotes podcast to church

Austin Film Festival: Podcast People

At the start of the live taping of his Scriptnotes screenwriting podcast, John August (Big Fish) looked up at the beautiful stained glass surrounding him in the historic sanctuary of St. David’s Episcopal Church.

August and his fill-in co-host, fellow screenwriter Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovitch) agreed that, given the setting, there would be “no f-bombs” for the duration of the live program.

It seemed like a promise they could keep – after all, August’s usual co-host, Craig Mazin (The Hangover 2), hadn’t made the trip to Austin, so the afternoon would feature less umbrage and fewer crass interjections than a typical Scripnotes episode. Still, about an hour in, guest Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk With Me) broke the pact – by quoting a favorite line from fellow guest Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko: “Why don’t you suck a fuck?” Birbiglia told Kelly that he and his wife recite the line to each other “all the time.”

If this sounds like a rollicking, star-studded afternoon of Big Hollywood Names telling all – well, then you may be a screenwriter. If you’re one of those people who think actors are the real stars, look elsewhere. Scriptnotes, the self-described “Van Halen of screenwriting podcasts,” has been in business for over three years, entertaining any and all topics interesting to screenwriters, from when to use abbreviations in dialogue to what the new Writer’s Guild contract means to the typical working grunt. There’s also typically a lot of humor and occasionally a celebrity guest. Taken together, Scriptnotes’ 167-and-counting episodes add up to a valuable-yet-free screenwriting education or, for the non-aspirant, a rare glimpse behind the curtain to see how the Hollywood sausage is made.

The live episode was heavy on guests – not just Birbiglia and Kelly, but also Cary Fukunaga, director of True Detective, and Peter Gould, a writer and director on Breaking Bad who will run the upcoming AMC spin-off Better Call Saul. The afternoon’s discussion topics ranged widely. Gould had perhaps the best line of the day, in response to an audience question about figuring out endings: “The big thing is to explore everything you could possibly think of. By talking the possibilities through, one starts emerging and you start connecting to it. But it doesn’t start snapping together until you’ve discussed every possibility. Maybe that’s the trick, to give honest consideration to everything that occurs to you, no matter how freakish.” According to Gould, that’s the process by which the Breaking Bad writers arrived at the outline for their well-regarded series finale.

Watching the Scriptnotes taping did indeed feel just like listening to the podcast – not least because the lack of an elevated stage in the sanctuary made it difficult to actually see the speakers. Even so, turnout was good, and many audience members could be seen scribbling down nuggets of screenwriting wisdom as they were dispensed from the stage. The panelists may not look like Van Halen, but everyone in the room knew where the real stars were this afternoon: up on stage, and behind the scripts that are the road map and starting point for every actor’s or director’s work.

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Austin Film Festival, Austin Film Festival 2014, Scriptnotes, John August, Susannah Grant, Mike Birbiglia, Cary Fukunaga, Peter Gould, AFF 2014

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