Kelly Jo Brick: Takeaways from the Austin Film Festival & Screenwriting Conference

TVWriter.Com’s  Kelly Jo Brick was a panelist at the Austin Film Festival this year and returns to this very site bringing some of the insights she gathered while attending the event.

In the words of Larry Brody, “Welcome back, Kelly Jo! Boy, do we ever hope you’re going to stay.”


AFF Executive Director Barbara Morgan with screenwriters Shane Black (LETHAL WEAPON) and Scott Rosenberg (VENOM). Photo by: Arnold Wells

by Kelly Jo Brick

Every year the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriting Conference puts together a jam-packed event, filled with films, panels and parties as writers gather to celebrate a shared love for story.

From television to film, playwriting to podcasting and scripted digital to young filmmakers programs, the festival offers an atmosphere rich in education, information and inspiration like these:

DEVELOPING YOUR CRAFT

  • Writing is understanding how you process the world and learning to work within that. – ED SOLOMON, BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE
  • We can only judge our work with the skills we have. It takes people pushing you and telling you the hard truth for you to grow.
  • Put forward the thing you love the most with the spec you’re writing. – LAURA EASON, THE LOUDEST VOICE
  • Get hold of scripts that you like. Read, learn, be inspired.
  • Find a writers group. Help each other out. Rise up together.

CHARACTER FORMATION

  • Look to trauma and personal connection as a driving force when you build characters.
  • Identify your characters’ fears, what shuts them down emotionally. – JAMES V. HART, HOOK, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA
  • Fear can point to your nemesis. Put that power into that character.
  • Go as deep as you can with backstory. It doesn’t need to be on the page, but you need to know it to better inform your writing.
  • If you don’t believe your characters are real, no one else will. – BEN CORY JONES, BOOMERANG, INSECURE
  • The name is super important. It’s your first introduction to a character. – ERIKA L. JOHNSON, THE VILLAGE, QUEEN SUGAR
  • When writing real life people, there’s an added pressure to get the story right, but at some point you do need to treat them as characters. You can’t be so reverent that you lose the storytelling. – CARLY WRAY, WESTWORLD, MAD MEN

ON WRITING DIALOGUE

  • Dialogue can be used to both reveal and conceal.
  • What you don’t say is just as important as what is said.
  • Some of the best things can come from a small exchange. – TESS MORRIS, MAN UP, CASUAL
  • Read your dialogue out loud to make sure it works.
  • All your characters in a scene want something slightly different, use dialogue to express the thoughts behind their thoughts.
  • Feeling stuck? Listen to the speech patterns of others. Observe their rhythms and expressions.
  • Give yourself the freedom to be dialogue heavy in your first draft and streamline it in later drafts. – TESS MORRIS

YOUR FIRST DRAFT

  • First drafts, they all suck. – MEG LeFAUVE, INSIDE OUT, CAPTAIN MARVEL
  • There’s no excuse to not start writing, it doesn’t have to be good from the beginning. Just sit down and write.
  • If you struggle to get started, find the thing you love the most, like dialogue or action, and begin there.
  • Look at problems in your script as disease versus symptoms. You’ll tend to see symptoms in acts two and three, but the real problem is often in act one.
  • You’ve got to finish. Then you can rewrite, but it can’t happen if you don’t first finish.
  • I’m still terrified every single time before I start a script. You fight your way through it. – SCOTT ROSENBERG, VENOM, CON AIR

STRUCTURING A SERIES

  • People tune in for characters and relationships. There needs to be road built to drive that, challenges that put characters through an emotional journey.
  • How many episodes will be in each season? This sets a guide for shaping the overall season.
  • What is the question that’s central to your season?
  • Who is your big bad for the season?
  • Try not to box yourself in as you start to brainstorm and break episodes. Let the beats grow and evolve.

THE BUSINESS OF WRITING

  • If you find yourself viewed as one type of writer, you can write yourself out of that impression by stepping out of that wheelhouse with a new spec script in a new genre.
  • If you write in partnership with someone, never get off a point without you both being happy. – RON BASS, RAIN MAN
  • Writers don’t really have power, you have to persuade.

GROWING YOUR WRITING CAREER

  • The role of failure isn’t discussed enough. There are erasers on pencils for a reason. – NICOLE PERLMAN, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, CAPTAIN MARVEL
  • Don’t use judgment as a hammer to knock yourself down. – MEG LeFAUVE
  • Try to find ways to make writing fun. – ROCHÉE JEFFREY, BEVERLY HILLS 90210, SMILF
  • Don’t feel guilty for protecting your writing time. Whether it’s putting a snooze on your email, having to pass on an event or coffee with a friend, you’ve got to prioritize your writing.
  • If you’re having a hard time sitting down and getting things done, find an accountability buddy, someone with whom you communicate regularly to keep you on task and on schedule.
  • The genius is in the mistake, the failure. That’s where the great ideas are from. You’re digging and excavating. You are on the hero’s journey as you write.

    Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writers Guild Foundation – Breaking In At Any Age

IMG_1962

by Kelly Jo Brick

The Writers Guild Foundation recently partnered with the Academy Education and Nicholl Fellowship Programs for a special event on how to break into the industry as a writer of any age.

Panelists including Ronald Bass (RAIN MAN, ENTRAPMENT), Douglas Jung (STAR TREK BEYOND, CONFIDENCE), Peter Landesman (CONCUSSION, KILL THE MESSENGER), Meg LeFauve (INSIDE OUT, THE GOOD DINOSAUR) and Linda Woolverton (ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, MALEFICENT) shared their breaking in experiences and discussed the challenges up and coming writers are facing.

BREAKING IN

At the very beginning, there’s no pathway to this stuff. There’s no permission slip. It’s about understanding when an opportunity strikes and a door slithers open and really just not hearing no for an answer. — Peter Landesman

You just never know where it’s going to come from. It can be out of your hands in a certain way. I think that’s actually a good thing. — Douglas Jung

Do you want to write or do you want to be a writer? If writing is what you do and you’re excited about it, you get up early in the morning and you just lay it out there and you get to write, then you really got a shot. It will see you through it so many bad times, so many insults, so much failure, because you get to do it. If you hate doing it, but you just think you can make a good living doing it or get to hang out with actresses, have people know who I am or whatever, do something else. You’re doomed. — Ronald Bass

BUILDING YOUR SKILLS AS A WRITER

One thing that I got from film school that continues to help me still today is the idea of how to take criticism and how to give criticism. It seems like an easy thing to do. To have the skill set, to be able to do that and to separate your emotions and the natural defenses you have. That was really big. — Douglas Jung

How are you going to learn? You go and get 50,000 scripts of films you’ve seen and writers you admire. You read them and you steal them. You steal the ideas, the techniques, the decisions they made. That’s how you learn, because then you’re teaching yourself. — Ronald Bass

I think the best way to learn to write is to write as much as possible. Write eight scripts and write five, six, seven, re-writes of each of those eight, because by the sixth re-write you’re going to be like, “Oh, this is what I’m doing.” It’s going to take that many rewrites to even know what you’re doing. And read as many scripts as possible. That is the ground zero of learning to be a writer, doing it and writing and reading as many scripts as you can. — Meg LeFauve

TAKING MEETINGS

It’s really important to be curious about the world and to have a hunger. What’s in this room that’s drawing your attention; that makes your brain light up? That makes me think that you’re more than just this particular story you’re telling me right now because you’re trying to impress me. Is this a person who has a fluid mind? Are you hungry and want to know more about the world and tell a story about it? That person I want to be around, I want to share the energy of that human being. — Linda Woolverton

The best thing as a writer is if you can engage that executive in a conversation. You have to stay open in that meeting and not just walk in and be, “I’m pitching my story,” because it will flow and move around. They’re going to ask you questions. If you stay open and be honest about what you’re interested in and passionate about, you’ll find someone like-minded. — Meg LeFauve

PITCHING

It’s an absolute skill we should be teaching in classes, because you have to feel the room, you have to feel your audience. I did a lot of performing for kids. The performances for kids really helped me with the pitch, because I can feel, with kids, they don’t care. I have to keep them, I have to lower my voice, get them to lean forward. All that stuff I use when I go out to pitch. — Linda Woolverton

You have to be genuinely enthusiastic with the story you’re telling. You have to find the part of it that you love and the part of the performance that you love. You have to say it a million times to yourself so that you can say it in a very relaxed, conversational way, but you know, like a performer, where the notes are, you know where you want to hit it and really make them believe you love it, because you do love it. If you don’t love that story, don’t go in and pitch it. — Ronald Bass

A pitch is like a song and it’s gotta be musical. Leave your notes at home, I beg you. Here’s the thing, you have a few different versions of the song in your head. If it’s a warm room, you do the opera. If you gotta get the hell out of there because it’s bad, you do the one minute ditty. — Peter Landesman

WRITING AT ANY AGE

If you’re older, the bar is really high in terms of your work. It has to be really, really good, because it’s a young industry. They like young voices. They want freshness, but if the work is great, they don’t care. — Meg LeFauve

Screenwriter is my fourth career, directing is my fifth. And I found that I just rattle less easily about little things. I get nervous less. I have children and perspective and I’ve seen death and I traveled all over the world professionally before I became a screenwriter. I think it’s like anything else, it’s perspective and context. Everybody in the industry wants to feel safe, meaning they’re safe in your hands, you know you’re safe in their hands, they’re safe with story, they feel safe because they think you know what you’re doing. I think that level of maturity is an exponential additive to that. — Peter Landesman

CREATING A STRONG NARRATIVE DRIVE IN YOUR SCRIPT

What does character want and what is the hurt that is driving it?  What are in the obstacles in the way of it? What are they going to learn about themselves in the process that’s going to move us as an audience that we can relate to? — Linda Woolverton

The most important thing a writer needs to do is understand what their story is. What they’re dying to say about their world, their life, about living. If you can find that, then that will inject whatever you write with the kind of energy that is musical and infectious and good. — Peter Landesman

What are you afraid of? Push into the script where you feel the most resistance, because there might be amazing juice under there. — Meg LeFauve

RE-WRITING

You have to expect that the story that’s in you is going to take ten drafts, so get going. You’ve got ten drafts to write before it starts to really get good and gel. — Meg LeFauve

There’s an internal clock that tells you when you’re not really changing it in a way that’s improving the script for you and it’s kind of where you want it to be. Keep writing new scripts also. If you write several different things, you will learn, you will have more ideas, more things to sell, more confidence as a writer. Too many people stop at the first thing or the first two things and don’t keep generating new ideas. — Ronald Bass


The Writers Guild Foundation regularly hosts events that celebrate the craft and voices of film and television writers. To find out more about upcoming events, go to wgfoundation.org.