October 13, 2023
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A Producer’s Guide to the Austin Film Festival

Daniela Bailes
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There’s no shortage of film festivals to submit to and attend. But when it comes to writing and development – there’s no place like the Austin Film Festival. Often dubbed “The Writer’s Film Festival” it’s a great place not only for writers, but also for producers looking for production-ready material. 

Austin Film Fest is known for being a welcoming environment, even with the hustle and bustle typical of any film festival. But before you become overwhelmed, check out our handy Austin Film Festival 2023 guide with AFF Conference Director Emily Lock.

An overview of the Austin Film Festival (AFF) 

The Austin Film Festival (AFF) is a nonprofit organization in Austin, Texas, that supports screenwriters and filmmakers. Founded in 1994, AFF is known for its annual Austin Film Festival & Conference, which features a screenplay competition, panels, and networking events. 

How long is the Austin Film Festival? The Austin Film Festival 2023 will run from October 26th-Nov 2nd, while AFF Conference dates are October 26th-29th. 

The panels, parties, and conference events make AFF feel unlike any other major film festival. While they are mainstays like the annual Film Texas BBQ and Pitch Finale party, new events are programmed each year to help attendees get the most they can from the festival. 

A Producer’s Guide to the Austin Film Festival - Wrapbook - Barbacue
Barbeque; it’s what’s for dinner. And possibly breakfast and lunch. SOURCE

Updates will be added regularly to the 2023 Austin Film Festival schedule as events take shape and attendees are confirmed. 

Therefore, we asked an expert to help us identify upcoming events at the Austin Film Festival that may be of interest to producers traveling to Austin Film Fest to see great films, network, and option material.  

Meet Austin Film Festival Conference Director Emily Lock 

Emily Lock’s career in entertainment began as the Director For Competitions for screenwriting education platform Roadmap Writers

A Producer’s Guide to the Austin Film Festival - Wrapbook - Emily Lock
Austin Film Festival Conference Director Emily Lock. SOURCE: Emily Lock

The skills she developed in this position were well-suited to her work at the Austin Film Festival. 

“When I first attended Austin, the environment was so welcoming and inspiring. What ultimately drew me to working with AFF was the substantive way the organization can actually make a difference for emerging writers. The AFF stamp is really meaningful.”

Emily’s position entails handling the programming for the Writer’s Conference. This means organizing the panels, inviting people to speak, and handling the logistics of putting it all together. 

Austin Film Festival vs. the Writer’s Conference

One question people often have about Austin Film Fest is what exactly the difference is between the festival itself, and the conference? Luckily, Emily was here to clarify: 

“It can be kind of confusing. The conference is a part of the festival, it’s the first four days. The conference includes panels on the art and business side of writing as a career. They are usually held during the day so people can attend the festival screenings at night. There is a lot of cross-programming between the conference and the festival so attendees have the opportunity to hear about the creative process behind the programmed film screenings.”

While the festival and conference are both thoughtfully curated, this leads to a massive amount of possible events to attend. But how does one choose what to go to? 

Navigating the Festival  

Austin Film Festival 2023 has organized its programming into different tracks, or categories of events. This makes it easier for producers to find events that are relevant to their interests.

Tracks include indie filmmaking, podcasting, television, new media, etc. 

Emily offered up a pro-tip so you never miss an update or location change for an event: 

“It is a live event, so just the nature of the conference means there will be changes. Your best bet is using our web-based app Sched. The program is up there now. That’s really the best place to check for up-to-date scheduling.”

The festival organizer Sched also allows you to sync events to your calendar or phone. This makes it easy to compare with friends or colleagues and see who might also be at screenings and programming events. You can see the full festival and conference schedule here

While panels might be held at various venues, Austin Film Festival 2023 has tried to keep the distance manageable for those attending. Which begs the question, where is the Austin Film Festival? 

“We’re still located in the heart of downtown Austin. Our main headquarters now are the Omni and the SFA hotels. Other venues for the conference include Central Presbyterian Church, St. David’s Episcopal Church, and 800 Congress. Everything is within a couple of minutes walk from each other.” 

Screenings can be a bit further apart, but are mostly held at nearby theaters including The Hideout Theater, State Theater, and Alamo Drafthouse. 

Networking 

For many writers and producers, networking is one of the most daunting parts of the entertainment industry. Especially when you are flying solo. 

A Producer’s Guide to the Austin Film Festival - Wrapbook - Screenwriter Networking
Making fast friends. SOURCE: Austin Film Festival

Emily and the team at Austin Film Festival 2023 have taken great care to ensure everyone feels included while attending the event. 

“I think this the best festival you could go to alone. People are so friendly. If you have a badge, you can pick out other people with badges and ask them about their projects. It’s a great conversation starter. Everyone is there to make connections and have that found family feeling.”

Besides the traditional parties and events posted on the schedule, there’s always a few places that come up in conversations about the scene and where to go:  

“The SFA bar on the mezzanine level has become a great hub for people. We’re also hosting a recording of Meg LeFauve and Lorien McKenna’s podcast The Screenwriting Life: Live at the SFA. There will be a party after that in the SFA bar which will be really fun. UCLA is presenting an event called Storybreak Live where there will also be drinks and a very festive atmosphere.”  
A Producer’s Guide to the Austin Film Festival - Wrapbook - The Writing Life
An Austin 2023 must-see event: Meg LeFauve and Lorien McKenna’s podcast The Screenwriting Life: Live at the SFA. SOURCE.

Letting loose and enjoying oneself is always one of the best parts of any film festival. Don’t forget to include these types of events. Sometimes it’s easier to relax and connect with other filmmakers in a less formal environment. 

Finding material 

But you didn’t come here to drink.  Well, you didn’t come here JUST to drink.  You came here to work. So where can producers find examples on how to make the most of the festival, and come home with material and connections they’re excited about? 

“We have a very specific case study this year. On Friday morning we’re programming a panel called How to Make Your Movie. It’s focused on a romcom feature called Match Me If You Can. The script came through our competition, and all the major players in the film actually met at AFF. It’s going to give any producer a great overview in how to look for material, and how you ensemble your team.”

Outside of educational panels and networking events, there’s also a plethora of vetted scripts available. Better yet, they’re in an actual pop-up library Austin Film Festival 2023 has specifically created for the fest.

“Another thing that’s really beneficial to producers who are coming is our script library. It houses all of our competition's semifinalist and finalist screenplays. It’s a great place to look for undiscovered material and will be open from Thursday to Saturday. It’s also the perfect refuge when you need a quiet moment to yourself.”

In a world of phones and screens, it’s a nice change of pace to have something to read that’s printed on actual paper. Checking out the library is also a good place to recharge when your social battery is running low – or out. 

The best part? You might even meet the writer whose material you’ve just read. 

New this year to Austin Film Fest

There’s many events unique to Austin Film Festival 2023 that will be of interest to producers. Emily was kind enough to share a few. 

“There’s a panel with our 2023 Polly Platt awardee for producing, Lauren Shuler Donner. She’s had an amazing career with everything from the X-Men franchise to Pretty in Pink. She’s so prolific, and there’s such an impressive range in her filmography. I think that would be a really incredible person to learn from for any producer.

Other panels that would be of interest would be the State of the Industry panels for features and television. These panels are made up of different players - producers, managers, executives, etc. They’ll speak about current trends and where they see the industry heading in the coming months. I think there will be some great takeaways.

Lastly, for anyone interested in producing genre, we’re doing a workshop on contained horror films with Vertigo Entertainment. It will have a more casual party atmosphere with a wine tasting by Phantom Wines.  People that attend will also be able to pitch there.”

Outside of the conference panels and available scripts, the film festival also provides excellent prospects for producers looking to option and develop material. 

“Festival-wise I think if you were looking to option something and make a film, you would be looking at the shorts blocks. There’s around three each night. They’re really diverse in style and talent. It’s a great way to get a sense of the type of storytelling that goes through AFF.

We’ll also have Lena Headey from Game of Thrones sharing how she adapted her BAFTA-winning short into a feature called The Trap. We’ll be playing it at the festival, and then have a panel afterward. I think it would be interesting for any producer looking to follow that model.”  

Many successful films have used a short-to-feature model including Whiplash, Saw, and Bottle Rocket. It’s definitely a strategy producers looking to raise funding can consider employing. 

What makes Austin Film Festival special 

Emily shared some final thoughts with us on what makes Austin Film Festival a place near and dear to many industry veterans - and newcomers. 

“I think what makes Austin really different is the casual collegial environment we try to curate. There’s no VIP rooms. Everybody is in the pool together whether you're a panelist, registrant, or awardee. That encouragement to be open really rubs off. There’s so many genuine conversations and relationships that develop from the festival.”

You can find out more about the Austin Film Festival through their website and via their IG, and Facebook.  

Wrapping up

The Austin Film Festival is a unique and valuable event for producers. It offers opportunities to network with industry professionals, learn about the latest trends in filmmaking, and see some of the best independent films the industry has to offer. 

For more resources for producers, check out Wrapbook’s Producer’s Guide: Best Practices for Set Safety and A Producer’s Guide to Option Agreements so you can lock down some of that sweet undiscovered AFF material. 

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Daniela Bailes

Daniela Bailes is a working film and television writer whose work travels across genres. A proud alumnus of the Yale Writer’s Conference in New Haven, she was mentored by literary luminaries before being selected for the National Hispanic Media Coalition TV Writer’s Program, a feature writer on the Latinx Black List, and as a participant in the Sundance Episodic Lab. Her most recent work was staffing on the upcoming Paramount science-fiction series, The Shift, also selling a feature script to A+E Networks.

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