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October 22, 2008

Austin Film Festival Wrapup

The Austin Film Festival is hectic, packed with tons of great guests and information, exhausting, and also a tad bit depressing. Yet ultimately it served to make me feel really good about where I am.

Let's start with the good. Listening to panelists like Shane Black (writer of Lethal Weapon), John Lee Hooker (writer/director of The Rookie and The Alamo, among others.), and Danny Boyle (director of Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Slumdog Millionaire) was nothing short of inspirational and illuminating. Oh yeah, and Laurence Kazdan was there too. Writer on Raiders of the Lost Ark and Empire Strikes Back.

This is a nice little time to tell the story of the first time I saw The Rookie, which is the baseball movie starring Dennis Quaid (NOT the movie directed by Clint Eastwood. The writer of that movie was in Austin, too. I talked to him after his session, saying, "I just loved the Rookie!" and he said, "Wait which Rookie?" and I said the baseball movie and he said, "I didn't write that one. That one is better than the one I wrote." And now I found myself in a conversation with someone who I didn't want to be talking to anymore, I hadn't even seen his Rookie!). I saw the good Rookie film on a flight to California when I still worked at JP Morgan Chase. I was going on a business trip to meet with folks at Disney. I saw this film, about a man recapturing his dream when he thought he had given up on it, and I just couldn't stop crying! It spoke to me so much at the time, and made me believe that I could give this writing thing a shot. I'm not going to say it's the sole reason I made the life change I did, but it contributed. Movies are powerful!

And then the films. It's fun to be able to watch free films every night, and have your choice of a ton of them. It's also hard to explain just how cool it is to watch a film at a festival, it's more like a theatrical play atmosphere, where the crowd is quick to laugh and quick to cheer. I was 1 for 3 on the movies I saw.

W was horrible. Avoid it unless you have a morbid curiosity on what a bad film looks like. The thing that I found so tragic was that there actually was a good movie that could have been made. James Cromwell's performance as the elder Bush was excellent. If Stone had decided to play the story straight and emphasize the Shakespearean elements (the father/son/brother elements could have been sooo strong) he could have had a Godfather caliber political story on his hands.

Instead he resorted to a badly done extended SNL skit, with one dimensional caricatures. It was the political equivalent of one of those "Epic," "Scary," and "Date" Movies, which doesn't really make jokes or add anything new that's humorous, they merely re-create a scene from another film and declare it funny. Remember when push choked on a pretzel? Remember all the phrases he mangles? Ha ha! What a missed opportunity. It could have been about so many things. About the tension in the room, with all these advisors with agendas, a high stakes 10 Angry Men. It could have been the family story. It could have been the opposite of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where an idealistic man comes to Washington and becomes really, truly corrupted. It could have been the story of a group of men that really duped a country. It could have been anything and been better than what it was, which was a bunch of skits that had no story or point of view.

The other movie I saw wasn't really worth discussing too much. We watched it because we ate lunch with the director and he begged us to. He didn't mention he was in it. And naked. It made no sense, was not funny, was crude, and seemed like an extended 3.5 million dollar ploy for him to get to make out with a hot girl.

But both of these downers were made up for by the triumphant film Slumdog Millionaire. Please support this film when it releases. I don't want to spoil anything about it. Just watch it. It should win an Oscar. Just incredible filmmaking.

Now for the depressing part. Parts of the festival just had the stench of desperation hanging heavy over it. So many people there with their one screenplay, dying to make this festival their ONE BIG BREAK. It's horrible to be around, it's embarrassing to watch. People have to play it cool, be confident that you have the talent to eventually make it.

After just about every session, there was time for questions and answers. Inevitably, people would ask some question that actually was a long extended way of them saying how awesome they were. "Hi, I've written a really excellent TV Pilot and I need to find a way to get the people at HBO to read it. Do you have any suggestions?" Translation: PLEASE READ MY TV PILOT I'M HERE IN AUSTIN TO BREAK INTO HOLLYWOOD.

And many people were looking for distribution for their films. Common scenario: You self finance a film and put 150K (and up) on credit cards and a payment is due. You have dreams of showing the film at a festival and some studio exec will say, "This is incredible! I want to buy your movie!" I don't know how many people I heard saying "I told the exec from Paramount Vantage about my film, she said she might stop by and see it." Later, we found out the exec from Paramount Vantage went to see the University of Texas football game. Needless to say, no films were purchased.

It was sad and naive and honestly I didn't like to be in that audience and somehow get lumped in with them!

Last notes: Sessions started at 9am, which on my west coast time was 7am. I was exhausted. The days were long, we didn't really get to explore Austin, which really was a beautiful town from what I could see. The BBQ was delicious. I want to go back.

So in the end, I'm really glad I went. I met some cool people, had a fantastic time with friends from UCLA, and learned a lot. But I will only go back once they invite me as a panelist... Or as a filmmaker.

Posted by jason on October 22, 2008 11:22 PM


Okay, this: "He didn't mention he was in it. And naked." was hilarious.

And too bad Erwin McManus wasn't there to help answer some of those people's questions; he's really good at cutting to the chase and wading through a bunch of dialogue (esp. when it doesn't even make sense!)

Too bad you didn't really get to see Austin; it is a really cool city. and yeah, jase, next time you go to that festival you WILL be a filmmaker!

Posted by: Jessica on October 23, 2008 01:11 AM

a filmmaker AND a starring naked role - something to look forward to Jase!

Posted by: Jonathan on October 23, 2008 03:40 PM

I think I would have to see "Slumdog Millionaire" for the name alone, even if you didn't recommend it so highly, Jase! I am glad that you didn't leave the place totally depressed. So, I take it you did not get to see the bats?!

Posted by: kathiek on October 23, 2008 05:08 PM

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