That's a Wrap

Notes From the Austin Film Festival and Heart of Film Screenwriters Conference

The seventh annual Austin Film Festival and Heart of Film Screenwriters Conference comes to a close tonight. And with it ends a week of ballyhoo for the benefit of that oft-neglected Hollywood hero -- the writer. At conference panels and screenings, festivalgoers sang the praises of their profession and gnashed teeth over its station on the Tinseltown totem pole. But no one could get too bitter and surly when there were so many movies to catch -- surprisingly adept first-time features like The Poor and Hungry and We All Fall Down as well as regional premieres like State and Main, David Mamet's knock-out return to comedy, and Two-Family House, screening tonight at the Arbor at 9:20pm. In the end, though, we like the conference because it gives us a chance to see people we genuinely admire and the chance to learn about people whose invisible hand has helped shape remarkable projects. We like to hear old saws and Marlon Brando impressions from legends like Paul Mazursky, who admits, despite over a quarter-century in the business, that he still struggles to get projects he believes in off the ground. We like to meet down-to-earth new scribes like Phillipa Boyens, a New Zealander whose first gig is Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings Trilogy, or Mike Rich, a former radio DJ whose first screenplay Finding Forrester won the coveted Nicholl Fellowship and was developed into a film opening this Christmas, directed by Gus van Sant and starring Sean Connery. Like so many of the other festivalgoers, we spent the past week with pen and pad in hand, hoping some of the panelists' hard-earned wisdom and talent might rub off on us that we might capture it in a small, scribbled phrase. We know that's impossible -- but, hell, can't blame us for trying. While we offer our reviews of festival films, we also want to share the following quotes, compiled from a messy writer's notebook containing the words of some our favorite festival participants over the past week.

"Writing from the blank page is probably the most important part of the process. But you can't get away from the fact that a screenplay is a blueprint."

-- Paul Mazursky (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Down and Out in Beverly Hills)

"The people who do these films are often really good people, who would like the end product to be better than it is."

-- Bill Broyles (Apollo 13, Cast Away)

"I'm the most pleasant guy, but I'm really sneaky. As a writer, you have to be very Machiavellian."

-- Tim McCanlies (The Iron Giant)

"I wrote it thinking I was going to have to finance it myself. Instead of showing a car chase, we talk about a car chase."

-- Barry McEvoy, whose first film, An Everlasting Piece, will be released by DreamWorks this Christmas

"It's the story of Job, but he's a gynecologist."

-- Anne Rapp (on her script Dr. T & the Women)

"People say write what you know. Don't write what you know. I wrote a story in New York and I'd never been to New York. Write what moves you."

-- Mike Rich (Finding Forrester)

"I don't know any creatives growing up who were popular. Unhappiness is a great prerequisite."

-- Ed Solomon (Men in Black, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure)

"As soon as they start shooting it, it's not mine anymore. I'm not gonna hang around on the set wringing my hands."

-- Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List, Searching for Bobby Fischer)

"Turn that off!"

-- Elias Merhige, Shadow of the Vampire director, to an audience member whose cell phone was ringing during his introduction

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