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

Austin Film Festival’s Matt Dy with writers Daniel Petrie, Jr., our own Kelly Jo Brick & Jimmy Mosqueda. Photo by Arnold Wells.

by Kelly Jo Brick

With days packed with panels, workshops and roundtables and evenings jammed with films and parties, the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriting Conference brings professional and aspiring writers and filmmakers together in a celebration of the art, craft, and business of writing.

In this, the event’s 24th year, attendees found a slate of educational, informative and inspirational panels on screenwriting, television writing, playwriting, and podcasting. TVWriter.com’s own contributing editor, Kelly Jo Brick, was in Austin as a panelist this year and she brings us highlights from the festival.

STARTING OUT

  • You have to be bad before you can be good and you’ll never get in the game if you haven’t written anything.
  • If you want this to be your job, you have to treat it like a real job. Give it your good hours, not your tired hours. — Dana Fox (COUPLES RETREAT, creator/showrunner BEN AND KATE)
  • Distinguish between what you love and what you are good at. Don’t just listen to your interests, but also to what comes out when you write. — Michael Green (co-creator/executive producer AMERICAN GODS, writer BLADE RUNNER 2049)
  • Don’t be discouraged if you’re coming to writing later in your career. People who come with experience from outside the entertainment industry have soared, because they often have great discipline, as they’re happy to not be in their old profession.
  • Have a community around you who supports you. Find your crew, including your fellow writers, family and friends.
  • You don’t have to wait for someone else to empower you as creators. You can make your own projects. — Gale Anne Hurd (executive producer, THE WALKING DEAD, co-writer/producer, THE TERMINATOR)
  • Remember to take time to have a life.

WRITING THE SCRIPT THAT GETS YOU NOTICED

  • Write about something specific that you are passionate about, an interesting world, a story never told, a hobby you know a ton about. — Megan Amram (writer/producer, THE GOOD PLACE, SILICON VALLEY)
  • People are getting hired off of short stories and plays, as well as TV and feature samples.
  • Character is key. Writers who can bring unique, diverse characters to life on the page stand out.
  • Many readers judge your script on the first ten pages alone. Make those first ten to fifteen pages as solid and interesting as you can. — Raamla Mohamed (writer/supervising producer, SCANDAL)
  • If you try to write something for the marketplace, it won’t sell. You succeed when you write something that personally connects with you. — Eric Heisserer (ARRIVAL, THE THING, FINAL DESTINATION 5)

COMMON CHALLENGES

  • Procrastination is a problem for many. Find an accountability partner, someone with whom you can check in regularly to keep you on schedule.
  • Set tiny, achievable goals and deadlines. If you feel overburdened, think only of the next thing you have to get done. Accomplish that then move on down your to do list.
  • Just finish your first draft. Nobody will see the script until you are ready to share it so don’t hold back. Write quickly. The fun comes when you can go back and build on that foundation you’ve set.
  • Recognize where your own internal resistance comes from. Don’t fight who you are naturally. Find a way that works for who you are. If that means writing early in the morning, late at night, in a coffee shop, at your dining room table, go with it. That’s how you’ll do your best work.
  • Imposter syndrome, don’t let it get in your head. You are in that meeting or in that room or working on that project because you are you. You deserve it. You earned it. Keep reaching for what’s next and be focused on where you want to be.
  • Get rid of the negative voices around you. That includes silencing your own inner critic.

WRITER/AGENT RELATIONSHIP

  • When first meeting with prospective representatives, listen closely to their thoughts and approaches toward your career. Do they talk exclusively about working on just one project? Are they talking more about their business goals and successes than you and your writing? Are they forward-looking, concentrating on your career?
  • You want someone who has a vision for you and your career and is dedicated to putting a plan together on how to get there.
  • As a writer, your job is to write. Focus, be creative and productive. Be the artist first and let your reps concentrate on the business side.
  • Always talk with your representation before writing a project. It’s not bugging them. They want to be involved from the idea stage. Agents and managers have a better beat on what has legs and what doesn’t.
  • A perfect client is someone who appreciates the craft, takes it seriously and understands the business. You are the CEO of your own company. Always be writing. — David Boxerbaum (literary agent, Verve Talent and Literary Agency)
  • The more people you have on your team, the more contacts and connections you have behind you, the further you can get. — Alisha Brophy (LICENSE TO DRIVE, WHITE GIRL PROBLEMS, SWIPED)

STAFFING

  • Be able to talk about who you are and your own story. What shows do you watch? Why did you get into TV?
  • Be yourself. Be likable. — Bradley Paul (LODGE 49, BETTER CALL SAUL)
  • If you get a staffing meeting, that means the showrunner likes your script. He or she meets with you to find out if the like you and want to hang out with you day after day.
  • For a good meeting, follow the flow of the conversation. It’s okay to veer off target and talk about other things if that’s where the meeting leads. That’s how you bond and develop the relationship. — LaToya Morgan (INTO THE BADLANDS, TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES)

PODCASTING

  • In a podcast, your primary job is to design a story that will serve the sound and vice versa.
  • Podcasts are very intimately consumed. It lets you tell a story as a fly on the wall.
  • Many make the mistake by thinking if they can’t make their film, they’ll just make it into a podcast. To be successful, you really need to lean in and take the medium seriously.
  • Actors do a lot of heavy lifting with their voices. Podcast scripts often contain more parenthetical instructions for actors as there’s a greater reliance on tone and inflection to convey the story.
  • Keep things simple. In an audio medium, less can be much more. More can confuse your listeners.
  • Bringing aboard name talent can draw advertisers. It can also bring its own set of complications, which can be challenging for first-time podcasters.

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.

Kelly Jo Brick: Highlights from the Variety Entertainment & Technology Summit

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By Kelly Jo Brick

Developing material through a different lens was a recurring theme during Variety’s Entertainment & Technology Summit. In this day long event, panelists discussed the challenges of staying relevant and reimagining their strategies as the entertainment industry grows and adapts to new technologies.

When looking at the current entertainment atmosphere and the future of the film industry, President of Imagine Entertainment, Erica Huggins, declared, “A good story is a good story.” But stories can now be told in many ways as she added that there is, “A select group of people that will always tune in for something that is great.”

Ze Frank, President, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures called this the, “Golden Age of the moving image,” and behind this growing Golden Age is a wave of creators who bring an audience with them. According to George Strompolos, whose company Fullscreen’s YouTube partnership program empowers over 75,000 content creators, these creatives stand out with what they make and a lot of them come with their own army, which will shift the power. There will be fewer stories of “I couldn’t get it made” because crowdfunding will help these people make things happen.

With increasing platform proliferation and audience fragmentation, the Variety Summit also explored innovations in measuring audience interest/demand. Parrot Analytics showcased their efforts in measuring demand for cross-platform content with a real-time system designed to gauge global and country-specific interest. New technologies are also being engaged to quantify consumer attention for ads in the U.S. as campaigns air, with companies such as Ace Metrix recognizing that the ongoing availability of this real-time analytical data can help marketers craft more effective creative and optimize delivery of their message.

The ongoing development of virtual reality brought a lot of discussion amongst panelists who overwhelmingly believed that although the technology could be a game-changer, it still had a long way to go in development. “It’s all covered wagons heading west right now and that’s kinda the fun of it,” declared Robert Stromberg, Production Designer for Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. Fellow panelist, David Alpert, Executive Producer of The Walking Dead, further suggested, “It always takes a little while for the medium to find its format.” TV found its way after starting like radio, YouTube started like TV then found what fit. Virtual reality needs to do the same and find the best way it can be used to tell story.

The day also brought attention to expanding content options such as The Dove Channel, an OTT network focused on family-based entertainment that was called one of the “5 Things You Need to Know,” by USA Today. The Dove Channel puts control in the hands of the user by allowing viewers to access Dove Approved films, shorts, documentaries and TV series all rated and labeled by intensity of content so viewers can make safe and aware choices of the content they watch with their children.

Viki CEO Tammy H. Nam announced a groundbreaking new show, Dramaworld, coming to their global, fan-powered TV site in which avid fans translate TV, movies and other content into over 200 languages. According to Nam, “The reason why we wanted to produce a show is because most of the content that we license is produced for a local audience. So it’s produced for one particular country, mostly. And then we license it and we expose it to a global audience. What we wanted to do was have a show that is produced specifically for an international fan base of primarily Asian dramas.” Dramaworld, which will premiere in early 2016, is a co-production with China’s Jetavana Entertainment and features an international cast and creative team.

The Variety Entertainment and Technology Summit also brought focus to storytelling. Keynote speaker Diane Nelson, President of DC Entertainment and Chief Content Officer of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment shared her insights, explaining that the goal of DC was, “to create a portfolio of creators that have depth and breath.” They didn’t want to create a single universe with DC, fearing that it could put limitations on their storytelling. With this approach, shows like Gotham can grow and develop free of restraints. Nelson was excited to have 8 shows airing on multiple networks during the 2015-16 TV season. She was especially enthused by Supergirl, which comes to CBS in October, calling it “a really special show” and a very empowering approach to the character that should appeal to women and girls, as well as bring in elements that superhero fans will love.

Creatives behind Arrow, The Flash, Teen Wolf, Wet Hot American Summer and the Dark Knight franchise rounded out the day with a conversation about respecting history and developing relationships with fans. Citing the challenges of walking the tightrope between core and new followers, Greg Berlanti, Executive Producer of Arrow, Supergirl and The Flash, believed that, “There’s a dialogue between you and the audience and you can change things as you go along.” As a fan of these stories himself, Berlanti added, “If we would be excited about it and we would be interested in it, we just have to hope the fans would be as well.”


Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. 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.

Top TVWriter™ Posts for the Week Ending 5/17/13

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Here they are, the most viewed TVWriter™ posts for the past week:

TVWriter™ Talks to WALKING DEAD Writer-Producer Curtis Gwinn

Looking for TV Pilot Scripts?

TVWriter™ Talks to WALKING DEAD Writer-Producer Curtis Gwinn Part 2

People’s Pilot & Spec Scriptacular Writing Contests Close in Less Than 3 Weeks

“Dammit, Why Didn’t my PEOPLE’S PILOT Script Make it to the Semi-Finals?”

And our most viewed resource pages were:

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT

THE SPEC SCRIPTACULAR

Writing the Dreaded Outline

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT: Rules

TVWRITER UNIVERSITY: Overview

It’s hard to miss the fact that articles and posts relating to our People’s Pilot and Spec Scriptacular contests continued to own the field this week, with only our 2-part conversation with THE WALKING DEAD’s Curtis Gwinn and writing info from our own LB breaking the contests’ monopoly. Which makes this as good a time as any to point out that OMG! there’s only two weeks left to enter two of the top writing contests on the web!

Thanks for making this another great week, and don’t forget to read what you missed, re-read what you loved, and, most importantly, come back for more soon!

TVWriter™ Talks to WALKING DEAD Writer-Producer Curtis Gwinn Part 2

curtisgwinnagainYesterday we published the first part of TVWriter™ minion Justin Cloyd’s interview with THE WALKING DEAD’s (and our favorite Midnight Swim series of all time, NTSF:SD:SUV’s) Curtis Gwinn.

Time now for Part the Second:

In the 2012 People’s Pilot you entered a script called The Last Stone, categorized as an Action/Dramedy. Around that same time you were working on NTSF:SD:SUV::. Was it difficult transitioning from working on something as unhinged and non-dramatic as NTSF to something, if only a tiny bit, more somber?

Well, I’m not sure why “The Last Stone” was listed as dramedy… If you read it, it’s pretty fucking dark. A major departure from what I’d ever done before. I mean, the teaser features a naked man in a rubber chicken mask (a little shout out to the classic rubber chicken of comedy- my roots!) almost choking a prostitute to death.

The Mentalist it was not.

But hey, if it makes you laugh, I’m OK with it. I once read that The Zodiac Killer would occasionally send movie reviews to the San Francisco Chronicle. My favorite was his write-up of, “The Exorcist.” He called it, “the laugh out loud, feel good hit of the summer!”, or something like that. I’m paraphrasing The Zodiac Killer.

Whatever works, I guess.

You were a semi-finalist in the contest. Did this help your confidence when showing your original drama spec around? What kind of feedback did you receive back from the contest?

Yes, it helped me a lot. But you know, it wasn’t the allure of winning that drew me in the most (though it would have been nice… WTF, Larry??). It was the process of having a goal and hitting deadlines. When you write in an open-ended vacuum, it can be very hard to stay motivated. TV Writer’s The People’s Pilot focused me up and got me motivated to write, polish and get excited about my script. It was the simple joy of doing something creative and being proactive about it. A great experience.

But still… I didn’t win. I demand a recount.

monkeyshowJust recently you accepted a position as producer/writer for AMC’s The Walking Dead. How unbelievably cool is your life right now?

Haven’t you been reading? I’m a neurotic who had a lousy childhood. The only person benefitting from my success is my shrink, who can now charge me the full rate instead of the sliding scale she had me on before.

But, yeah, yeah… I’m thrilled. Really. This is a dream job. I’m eternally thankful to Gale Anne Hurd, Dave Alpert, Greg Nicotero, Robert Kirkman and especially showrunner, Scott Gimple… Who took a risk on a goofball who’s spent most of his professional life doing ha-ha, funny make-em-ups. I am a fan of them all.

A special shout out also goes to Larry Brody, who has been so generous with his time. I once sent him a Silver Surfer comic as thanks for all his sage advice. Hope that tides him over for a while… these shrink bills really are killing me.

You completed the Advanced Writers Workshop. He-Who-Runs-The-Site informed me that you took the workshop with the intent of polishing your dramatic writing skills. Since you snagged the gig as staff writer for The Walking Dead, I think it’s safe to consider your skills polished. What about the Advanced Writers Workshop helped you the most in developing your drama talents?

Other than the technical, “how-to,” aspect, which was invaluable, it was the encouragement I received from Larry and the group. I had written most of my script before enrolling, but getting feedback from a living, breathing group of aspiring drama writers on the work was really terrific. You can only ask your friends so many times to read and note your work. It helps to get impartial, critical eyes on your pages.

Again, it’s about getting proactive with your desires. This class facilitated that in the best way.

Not to mention listening to Larry’s, Bob-Evans-meets-Hunter-Thompson-esque stories about living and breathing the TV business in the 70’s and 80’s. That was worth the cost of tuition in and of itself.

So what’s next? You’ve been a stand-up comedian, a TV comedian, a comedy writer, an actor, an executive producer, a drama writer, a director, and you even have an IMDB puppeteer credit. Do you have some super mind-blowing, revolutionary form of entertainment planned which makes use of all these skills?

I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.

Thanks, Curtis. Especially for sparing me!

TVWriter™ Talks to WALKING DEAD Writer-Producer Curtis Gwinn

Curtis-Gwinn30-something “child” that he is, Curtis Gwinn has an IMDB page that many of us would, um, kill for. He writes and produces both comedy and drama and has extensive experience with broadcast, cable, and interweb TV. He even acts too, but we forgive him.

Oh, right, he’s also an alumnus of TVWriter™ ‘s Online Workshop and a former People’s Pilot Contest competitor. We forgive him for that as well. (But will he forgive us?)

Curtis’s biggies include THE WALKING DEAD, where he is Supervising Producer, NTSF:SD:SUV, ANIMAL PRACTICE (aka “The Monkey Show”), THE ONION NEWS NETWORK, and THE MAN SHOW.

Last week, TVWriter™ Reporter-At-Large Justin Cloyd talked to Curtis about his life, career, and, yes, relationship with this very site. We’ll be carrying it in two parts.

Here’s the first:

I have a warm up question: Every entertainer has influences that inspire them and help guide their creative pursuits. What are yours?

This is always a tough one because, and I’m not trying to sound snooty or pretentious, I’m influenced in some way by everything I come in contact with. And what I mean by that is, I take lessons and inspiration as much from the things that repulse me as I do from the things that I love. Often times, for me, learning what I’m NOT is tremendously elevating and exhilarating.

But to answer your question more in the spirit in which I think it was asked, when it comes to TV I would say that I was most influenced by British comedy as a youngster. The Young Ones, Monty Python, Red Dwarf, Black Adder and Fawlty Towers being the most impactful on me. Though, the rash of early 2000’s alternative Brit comedy was also a massive revelation for me… Spaced, The Mighty Boosh, Look Around You, Jam, and Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place. All of it genius.

On the drama side, I grew up loving the more fantastical and/or seedy, so Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Twilight Zone, Dr. Who (primarily the Tom Baker years), Tales From the Darkside, Friday the 13th: The Series, Quantum Leap, Amazing Stories, The X Files… Anything supernatural or mysterious, I was in.
Don’t get me started on movies and comic books. I won’t stop.As an adult, I still love horror, fantasy and sci-fi (Game of Thrones! The Walking Dead!), but I think I’m most influenced by the more gritty, human stuff… The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire (though I know for some of my friends, it’s “bored-walk”, but whatever, it’s great), and my two most favorite dramas of the modern era – Deadwood and The Sopranos. The latter of which I think is the best TV show of all time.

You’re an…uhm, older adult now, and are an entertainment industry success story. There were a few years in the middle when you were an adult before you were a professional entertainer. During those years, did you have the constant drive compelling you to be in entertainment? Or did you just stumble upon the path?

Older adult?! What the fuck?! “Older adults” are in their 70’s. How old are you, you little punk?

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To answer your question, yes, from an early age I knew I wanted to be in entertainment. It was a constant drive. There was a running joke in my family because when I was 3 years old, my mother asked me what I thought I’d be when I grew up and I told her, “a writer.” I even told her I had a typewriter with me in her belly. They all thought that was hilarious, but obviously it was formative in some way, right?

Between then and now, I also pursued a career in rock music and acting. Both of which were clearly towering successes…

Now get off my god damned lawn!

You’ve had a long career filled with many splendors. It’s had ups and downs, trials and tribulations, successes and failures and all the rest. At what point on this long, winding road did you feel legitimized in your choice of career?

I still don’t feel legitimized. I’m not sure I ever will. I think for my sick, neurotic mind it’s important to feel the need to SOMEDAY be legit. I feel like I have to constantly earn my place…otherwise I might get complacent. I never want to be the bloated writer/producer, living off of royalties, sitting on a golden toilet, firing one assistant for buying my 3rd wife the wrong anniversary gift while simultaneously screaming at another assistant to, “Tell Michael Bay I’m in for Cabo!”

Notice I have two assistants in that scenario. Pretty cool.

As far as feeling, “a part of something,” or that I was making headway… There were three times; 1) When I got my first series as a creator with, “Fat Guy Stuck in Internet,” on Adult Swim, 2) Being asked by Paul Scheer and Jon Stern to executive produce, write and direct for, “NTSF:SD:SUV:: (also on Adult Swim) and most recently 3) When I was hired to write and produce for one of my favorite programs (and comic books), “The Walking Dead.”

All three of those experiences were accompanied by giddy, “am I dreaming?” moments of surreal joy.

You started out as a comedian, and up until just recently, most of your employment has been in comedy shows. A lot of comedians get their funny through coping with their past. There’s a show that you’re in at the UCB Theatre called Death By Roo Roo: Your F’ed Up Family. In Roo-Roo’s description it invites for people to come and let “Roo-Roo West take what caused your family pain and turn it into a night of hilarious improv comedy.” With this in mind, on a scale of one-to-Batman, how traumatic was your life?

Hmm… It definitely wasn’t Batman traumatic… Maybe more like one of the lesser X-Men, or if I’m being honest, one of the New Mutants (post Fall of the Mutants, just getting into Inferno). But if I’m being HONEST-honest… More like one of the Morlocks – just sort of a homeless, jackass teen in bad clothes and a shitty haircut living under the city, pretending he was totally cool with being a B-class mutant, but secretly really wishing he could be an X-man… If only to sneak a peek of Kitty Pryde in the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters’ locker room.

I didn’t have the best childhood, but it was a lot easier/luckier than 99% of the human race. Not to mention, all of the bumps in my personal road have completely informed who I am… My worldview, my personality and my most prized possession, my imagination. Wouldn’t change a thing.

As anyone who reads TV Writer regularly knows, Larry advocates that to be a TV writer you have to live in LA. During the course of your career you made the move from New York to LA. Was this hard for you? Was this the only time you had to make a move like that? Any advice for those planning on a similar relocation?

NTSF_etcI think Larry is right… for now. Things are changing so rapidly that really, if you have the skills, the drive and the access to quality cameras and editing, you can make your TV or Internet based show anywhere. However, if you want to work for the networks, or break into traditional cable narratives, with staffs and free lunch on the lot… Well, then yeah. You have to be in Los Angeles. Stop pretending you don’t. It hurts me to listen to it (because I was that guy in NYC for 12 years without a consistent job who, since moving to LA, has done nothing but work).

Obviously, that’s not everyone’s experience. I was lucky in the sense that I’ve been a part of the UCB Theater in NYC since 1999. So, by the time I moved to LA in 2010, there were already a ton of friends out here and a huge network of people to vouch for me, and plug me right into the scene.

To put it simply, if you’re an auteur and have the resources, you can make it from almost anywhere…. But you’re still severely handicapping your chances.

In a note to TV Writer you expressed the difficulty of breaking into drama when your last credit was “’the monkey show’ on NBC”. Even though you’ve worked on several shows that have found an audience, was it difficult for you to be taken seriously in the business as a writer when you only wrote comedy?

It wasn’t hard to be taken seriously in the “business,” it was just hard to convince drama folks that I was serious about working for THEM. I think for a lot of showrunners and producers, it may have seemed like I was trying to get a job, any job, rather than being truly passionate about drama writing. I mean, I just didn’t have the track record. Where was the proof that I was a “drama guy?”

I had to do a lot of selling in person to assure people that I was determined to make the switch from comedy to drama. I also had to prove it to myself. I turned down several very lucrative comedy offers because I felt that I had to walk the walk, draw the line in the sand and say, “no. I do drama now.”

That’s not to say I would never do comedy again. Of course I would. I mean, a lot of great writing blurs the lines between comedy and drama anyway… Is Louis not dramatic? Is The Sopranos not hilarious? When I saw August: Osage County on Broadway, it had me crying and laughing at the same lines. That’s good shit!

On a side note, “the monkey show” was an amazing experience. It got knocked very hard, but for me personally, it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had in TV. I’m thankful to the creators and producers for hiring me.

There’s more. Come back tomorrow for PART TWO!