I have a poor sense of direction, which often makes me lost or late to things. Yet somehow I make it down to the Austin Film Festival every year for tasty BBQ, interesting panelists, and great friends. They have fun parties, panels with pro screenwriters, and interviews with filmmakers like James Franco. I'm also a planner, which is probably because that's the only way I would make it from point A to point B. Every year I go to AFF, something wonderful happens that I couldn't have planned for. In 2010, I stumbled my way to third place in the Pitch Finals and in 2011 I found myself at dinner with Michael Arndt. In 2012, my favorite experience was getting lost.
Terry Rossio runs a rewrite workshop at AFF. Terry is the A-list Academy Award-nominated screenwriter of SHREK, THE MASK OF ZORRO, and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, among others. In his workshop, he takes one of your scenes and rewrites it live in front of a select group of fellow writers. This is a practical way to see how the pros push to make a scene better. He started the workshop in 2011 and I signed up as soon as registration opened. I polished my scene, enlisted some help to convert it to Final Draft, and crossed my fingers that he'd choose my scene. Alas, my poor sense of direction struck once again and I missed the panel I had wanted to go to so badly.
AFF 2012. I sign up again for the rewrite panel and am one of the lucky 30 to get in. I'm not going to let my poor sense of direction hamstring me. This time I will make the workshop. I cut out of lunch with my Pixar writing group early and dash to the Stephen F. Austin Ballroom to get a seat (with the help of Google Maps).
Phew, I made it to the room fifteen minutes early. Kind of strange that I'm one of the few here. Terry's a big writer and I'd expect the room to be pretty packed. Fifteen minutes later, the event's supposed to start. Yet Terry's not here. There are more people in the seats but it's still half-empty. Hmm, Terry must have been held up at lunch.
15 minutes pass. I guess time management doesn't apply to big shot A-list screenwriters. More people have filed in, but they don't look like the normal 30-40 year olds I've seen in other panels. A lot of young people here, even high schoolers. Odd.
30 minutes past the scheduled start time. That son of a bitch! Who does he think he is? I could have been at four other interesting panels in this time slot. But I chose to be here, to spend a week rewriting my scene, to trade several e-mails with my friend Susan trying to debug Movie Magic to Final Draft conversion issues. All to be here on time. I gather my things, about to leave in a huff--
When a lovely woman sits down next to me. Her name is Simone and she's an actress. She asks me why I have a notebook and I tell her it's because I'm a writer - I take notes. Seems like kind of a silly question. She notices my comedy screenplay finalist badge and tells me her husband was a finalist some years ago. He's now a professional writer on TV shows and high-profile features. We have a great chat and then the packed room buzzes. Terry must be here! Finally.
From backstage, in strolls-- James Franco. What the hell? It takes me a few dazed minutes to realize what happened. Apparently, the Rossio rewrite workshop is in the Stephen F. Austin Assembly Room, not the Stephen F. Austin Ballroom. I am a total idiot and apologize for all the bad things I thought about Terry Rossio. I've never met him, but I'm sure he's a lovely and punctual gentleman. I may be the only person in history who is disappointed to see James Franco. While he is passionate and erudite, he doesn't talk about the writing process very much. And now I realize why I'm the odd man out for having a notebook.
Later that evening, Simone introduces me to her wonderful husband, Steve. It turns out we grew up in the same small Ohio town outside an Air Force base. We hit it off and Steve has been a savvy and gracious mentor to me since then, helping to improve my writing and teaching me to navigate the murky waters of breaking in.
I went to see Rossio but got Franco instead. But I needed to meet Steve and Simone, who have become good friends. I never could have planned connecting with them, but it was one of my favorite experiences. And it could only have happened at AFF.
I tried to sign up for the rewrite workshop this year, but it filled up within a few hours. Someday. But it doesn't deter me from returning to AFF. I have no idea what good things will happen there this year, who I might find myself seated next to at the Driskill bar, or where I might get lost. I wouldn't have it any other way.