AHFF Wrap-Up

Every Picture Tells a Story

For one brief weekend, it might be said that the lobby and mezzanine of Austin's historic downtown Driskill Hotel were transformed into Storyville. Not the New Orleans Storyville quarter of ill repute, but, rather, a virtual Storyville -- a place where storytellers rule and better narrative is the Holy Grail. The art and business of the screen story was celebrated, debated, and analyzed throughout the course of the third annual Austin Heart of Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference, (AHFF) which took place this past Thursday, October 10 through Sunday, October 13 and attracted an enthusiastic cadre of participants ranging from working regional screenwriters and aspirants to industry professionals from both coasts.

Although the weekend was Storyville Austin-style, there was, perhaps, a nod to the Storyville of Louisiana with the screening of Louis Malle's 1978 classic Pretty Baby, which was scripted by conference participant Polly Platt. In fact, several of the films scheduled for the evening screenings were retrospective projects associated with industry participants that allowed for Q&As following the films. Included were 84 Charlie Mopic, written by Patrick Sheane Duncan (Courage Under Fire, Mr. Holland's Opus), The Usual Suspects, written by Christopher McQuarrie, Hollywood Shuffle, written and directed by Robert Townsend, Nightmare on Elm Street, written and directed by Wes Craven, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, directed by Tobe Hooper, and the world premiere of the Austin-lensed The War at Home, which was written by James Duff and directed by Emilio Estevez.

Seasoned professionals shared their insights into the art and practice of screenwriting in a non-stop whirlwind of weekend panels and workshops. Everything from practicums on pitching scripts, handling rewrites, legal issues, dialogue writing, writing without dialogue, writing adaptations, character development, getting an agent, research techniques, and ensemble writing to case studies of specific films and philosophical examinations of topics such as "Should I Spend All My Time Writing the Next Die Hard IV?", "Will Studying Screenwriting in School Really Help My Cause?", "Where Are the Strong Female Characters?", and "The Emotional Connection to Your Material: Don't Leave Home Without It."

Winners of the screenplay contest are as follows: in the family category, Angel Pass by Drina C. Kay; and in the adult category, The Columbian Expedition by Robert Bundy. The winner of the feature film competition is Dog Run by Ze'ev Gilad with a script by Gilad and Brian Marc. Winner of the student short film competition is Paul McCall by Florida State University student Benjamin Hershleder, with a script by Hershleder, Ron Friedman, and Craig Cobb. AHFF's 1996 Distinguished Screenwriter Award went to Austinite Bill Wittliff (Legends of the Fall, Lonesome Dove, Raggedy Man). AHFF's 1996 Best Screenplay Award was given to Tim Robbins for last year's Dead Man Walking. Robbins is also the narrator, interviewer, and executive producer of the Independent Film Channel's exploration of the career of filmmaker Sam Fuller, The Typewriter, the Rifle, and the Movie Camera, a film showcased in the AHFF Film Festival.

Films were judged primarily on their narrative content and how well the writing contributed to the overall success of the movie -- quite a remarkable distinction for Dog Run's gritty, beautifully shot, urban tale of young drug runners adrift in the world of New York City's building squatters and street punks, much of whose documentary-like dialogue was, ironically, improvised and spontaneous. Dog Run's music score, which contributes most effectively to the film's jangly tone, also features a tune by local musician Kacy Crowley. Judges for the feature film competition included representatives from the Independent Film Channel, Doug Belgrad, vice president of production at Columbia Pictures, and Blair Rhodes, an executive at Trimark Pictures. The judges of the student film shorts included representatives from the Bravo Network, Michael Philip of Nicolman Entertainment, and Scott De Las Casas of P3 Entertainment.

Thus, for one spectacular Austin weekend, it seemed more possibility than hyperbole that millions of stories, indeed, lurked in the streets of the River City.

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