The Dos & Don’ts of Austin Film Festival

The 20th Anniversary Austin Film Festival (AFF) kicks off this Thursday. That’s why we’ve enlisted the help of Austin Film Fest regular Marcie Mayhorn to provide her tips and suggestions – for those ready for the festival (tickets in hand), or for those just curious about attending some of the featured films at a drop-in rate.

Before I moved to Austin, I had only attended one other film festival. It was a small, local, “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of show. When the opportunity arose for me to become an intern at Austin Film Festival two years ago, I thought surely it would be similar to that tiny little festival…

I was completely wrong, but in the best way possible. Being on the team at AFF as an intern and later the Office Manager gave me so much insight into the world of film, business, and Austin community. Now celebrating it’s 20th anniversary, this festival is so unlike any other organization that I have either seen or been a part of.

General admission tickets are on sale at all of the venues for $10

Personally, I always loved seeing attendees head home thankful – eager to tackle that script they’d been struggling with – after being encouraged by panelists like Terry Rossio or Larry Kasdan inside the Driskill Bar. But above all, I appreciated how AFF made them realize that they can be the writer they’ve always wanted to be.

Working with the Austin Film Festival the past few years, I’ve seen a number of approaches to navigate the scene. Allow me to offer a few tips that could help eliminate those first-time questions…

DO: Hit up as many marquee films as you can

The AFF Film Department has selected some pretty big films to show during the festival, including August: Osage County, 12 Years A Slave, Philomena, Inside Llewyn Davis and many, many others. With close to 200 films in the line-up, there is a little bit of something for everyone – and the best part is, you don’t have to have a badge or film pass to check them out. General admission tickets are on sale at all of the venues for $10, but do be sure you get in line early to up your chances of getting a seat in the theatre.

August: Osage County

Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor

Friday, October 25th at 6:00pm, Galaxy Highland 10 Theater


Inside Llewyn Davis

Directed by The Coen Brothers. Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake

Monday, October 28th at 7:30pm, Paramount Theater


12 Years A Slave

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt

Wednesday, October 30th at 7:00pm, Galaxy Highland 10 Theater


DON’T: Only attend the “big name” panels

Sure – Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad), Jenji Kohan (Weeds, Orange is the New Black), Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise, Nashville) – are big names you shouldn’t miss. Make the time to check out one of their panels, but then move on to some of the hidden gems of the festival. All of the panels have been crafted towards different elements of the screenwriting industry, from the business to the creative sides. There are also a few panels that deconstruct films known for their great storytelling, such as Dog Day Afternoon and Tootsie. Develop yourself as a businessman or woman with the “Pay the Bills and Sharpen Skills” panel. Learn how to get through the second act of your script with Craig Mazin’s “Structurally Sound.” Hear John August and Ashley Miller discuss why Alien was such a remarkable script. These are the notes you’ll want to have when you return home.

Pay the Bills and Sharpen Skills
Dan Brown, Jefferson Burruss, Kenny Grant, Lisa Stuardi
Thursday, October 24th at 1:00pm in the Driskill Hotel, Jim Hogg Parlor

Structurally Sound
Craig Mazin
Friday, October 25th at 10:45am in the Driskill Hotel, Victorian Balcony

Deconstructing Alien
Ashley Miller, B.J. Burrow, John August, Roy Rutngamlug
Friday, October 25th at 1:30pm in the Driskill Hotel, Maximilian Room

The Heroine’s Journey
Jenji Kohan, Callie Khouri
Saturday, October 26th at 3:45pm in the Driskill Hotel, Ballroom< • Vince Gilligan Presents Breaking Bad: The Alpha & Omega
Vince Gilligan
Sunday, October 27th at 10:30am at the Paramount Theatre

A Conversation with Callie Khouri
Callie Khouri
Sunday, October 27th at 12:00pm in the InterContinental Stephen F Austin, Ballroom

DO: Go to a genre panel

Do this especially in a genre you’re not familiar with. Maybe you’ll never write an action or horror film. Maybe romance films bore the socks off of you. The writers at these panels, however, just might offer kernels of information you’ve been needing to hear or present new techniques you’ve never heard of. So challenge yourself to go ahead and check out that “Neo Noir” or “Animation Process” panel;

All of the panels have been crafted towards different elements of the screenwriting industry

you might be pleasantly surprised.

DO: Bring business cards with you

Not a headshot. Not work samples. Cards with your contact information on them.

So many times I have seen writers who, even if they are just starting out in the industry, do not have any means of relaying their contact information. Nothing looks more unprofessional than asking “Do you have a pen?” so you can jot down your e-mail address on a Driskill Bar cocktail napkin.

DO: Plan on having a back-up film and conference schedule

The Program Books and Pocket Guides aren’t just on the table to look pretty; they’re there to help you. Grab a pen or highlighter, and map out your fest experience. Pick your top 3 panels and films to attend each day, and designate a backup should they already be full when you arrive. This will save you the heartache of having to kill time before another event. To prevent yourself from missing out on anything though…

Austin Film Festival

DON’T: Be late to get in line

Even if you have that top-notch badge, don’t be the jerk who shows up after seating has started and expect to get in above the general admission line. Those folks were there before you, and your badge won’t mean a thing if you are not on time. Plan ahead. An early spot in line means a good seat in the theatre or panel room.

DO: Take advantage of meeting as many registrants as you can

We as writers often have the reputation of being reclusive, introverted and socially awkward. If this is the case, then I’m not sure where most of the writers at AFF have come from. Never have I met so many welcoming, open-minded people then the attendees and panelists of this festival. There is a reason so many people make the trip to Austin year after year, and swear by the tips and tools they have picked up while attending. I myself am thrilled to be able to attend as a regular ol’ screenwriter this go around.

DON’T: Try to sell your script or pitch your latest idea to everyone you meet

We’re all here to learn and mingle with each other. Start off by telling someone about yourself as a writer and what your general interests are. We all have ideas we want to sell, and know that deals can be made if fate allows. You’re not going to get there any faster by telling your ideas to every person you encounter, so take the opportunity to make new friends instead of business deals.

DON’T: Miss out on the stellar, one-of-a-kind merchandise

I say this as someone who dealt with the merchandise during my time there, and know how hard the team has worked to bring you some unique apparel and gear. Chances are you won’t make it back into that room (or will avoid it at all costs) later on in the festival, so best to grab it when you pick up your badge or pass.

DO: Make it a point to seek out the AFF staff – and thank them!

These folks have been working long and hard to bring you an amazing festival, so be sure to show them some love and tell them how much their work has paid off.

For more AFF tips on the festival follow me on Twitter @mmayhorn. Have a great show and maybe I’ll see you there!

Guest article by:
Marcie Mayhorn

Marcelena Mayhorn

Follow Me on Twitter
Born and raised in Texas, Marcelena made herself a temporary East Coast transplant to attend film school at the UNC School of the Arts, focusing her studies on directing and screenwriting.
She most recently worked as the Office Manager at the Austin Film Festival, and now writes full-time. She enjoys yoga, a good JuiceLand smoothie, and actively pursuing the film scene here in Austin.
Photos: courtesy of Austin Film Festival

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