Asmara Bhattacharya is a produced screenwriter and playwright with multiple placements in the Nicholl Fellowships, Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, and other contests. She wrote and directed her first short “Hard” in 2011 and will direct “Stone” next year. Check out her website, DickFlicks.net, tweet her at @hotpinkstreak, or find her at one of her panels at Austin Film Festival 2015.
You’re going to Austin Film Festival. It’s a lock. But you’re not sure how much of your paycheck you truly need to invest in it. After all, you’re years away from selling your first screenplay, you don’t even live in L.A., and the price difference between badges is nothing to sneeze at.
Why should you aim for the Producers Badge? Four big reasons: AFC Opening Night Reception, Film Texas BBQ Supper, Filmmakers’ Happy Hour, and “Hair of the Dog” Brunch. These four parties, and the Driskill bar, are where you make the connections. There are other parties, but these Producers Badge-only parties are arguably the most effective networking events.
That said, the lavish social schedule offers badge-holders of any level, and budget, ample opportunity to hobnob. Read on for a rundown of the numerous parties during the screenwriters’ conference (not including the last two soirees, Film Pass Party and Closing Night Party, which close out the film festival after the conference portion has ended).
Film & Food Fundraising Party (Wednesday night, separate ticket required): A gala benefiting AFF’s Young Filmmakers Program. For Richard Michael Lucas, an AFF Screenplay Competition Second Rounder and a conference regular, Film & Food is the unofficial kick-off to the festival: “I make sure to arrive the night before AFF’s opening remarks for some of the best food in Austin and to support the Young Filmmakers Program. It’s classy, has great hosts [past hosts include Shane Black and Cary Fukunaga, among others], and is a perfect way to meet local film-foodies on top of reuniting with old friends.”
Austin Film Commission Opening Night Reception (Thursday evening, Producers Badges only): Don’t expect a lot of big names, since many haven’t arrived yet, but it’s a terrific place to go if you’re new. Take the opportunity to introduce yourself to strangers – you’ll be running into them all week.
WGA West Late Night Welcome Party (Thursday night, Conference and Producers Badges): Higher chance of meeting big names. But don’t limit yourself to celebrity writers. You’re more likely to develop meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships with entry- and mid-level film folks like yourself. The venue, usually a bar or nightclub, tends to be very crowded and very loud.
Film Texas BBQ Supper (Friday evening, Producers Badges only): A festival highlight. Very relaxed atmosphere. AFF stars come out in force, and it’s easy to talk to anyone, partly because it’s outside and you can actually hear. Plus, TEXAS BARBECUE.
Filmmakers Happy Hour (Friday night, Producers Badges only): Worth stopping in, with much the same atmosphere and crowd as the WGA West Late Night Welcome Party. This also tends to be packed and loud.
Awards Luncheon (Saturday lunchtime, separate ticket required): This is where they award the special guest awards to the big-league players (like Susan Sarandon and Jim Sheridan) as well as announce the film and screenplay competition winners. Per Heidi R. Willis, attending the luncheon this year as a Short Screenplay Finalist, “It was beyond inspiring mainly because [the honorees] were amazing and inspiring… This event alone lit an intense fire under my butt that’s lasted for nearly two years now. Can’t recommend it enough.” Given that another of Ms. Willis’ scripts, Semifinalist horror feature Black Sunday, was also chosen for a live reading as part of AFF 2015, it seems that intense fire is still burning strong.
Wine Reception (Saturday afternoon): Huge line, small room. You’ll easily spend 30+ minutes crammed into a winding hallway waiting for wine, so it ain’t for the claustrophobic. There is still networking to be had, just with far less mingling room. You can also skip the wine line and go straight to the reception room to mingle!
Screenwriters Happy Hour (Saturday evening, open only to screenwriters who advanced in the competition): A great way to meet your fellow advancing screenwriters and possibly some of the readers. Be forewarned: unlike all the other liquor-sponsored parties, you usually have to shell out for your own drinks.
Pitch Finale Party (Saturday evening, all badges): Watch the final round of the Pitch Competition, where the highest-scoring contestants have ninety seconds to pitch their script ideas to a panel of industry professionals. Usually held in a bar, it can be hard to hear but exciting nevertheless.
Heart of Film Conference Party (Saturday night, Weekend, Conference, and Producers Badges): The unofficial wrap party, since most people start trickling out on Sunday. Definitely worth attending. The Long Center is just south of the river and a twenty-five minute stroll from the Driskill, but many do walk. Otherwise, drive, hitch a ride, hail a cab or pedicab. With a more spacious venue, it’s usually not as deafening or crowded as the other late-night parties, with many writers of all industry ranks in attendance.
“Hair of the Dog” Brunch (Sunday morning, Producers Badges only): Another must-attend. Yes, the liquor is still free-flowing at ten o’clock in the morning. Look up “hair of the dog” and you’ll understand. Excellent hearty breakfast food. And vodka. Don’t worry, panelists and attendees alike are hungover and sleep-deprived by Sunday. Some of the most entertaining panels arise under these conditions.
Don’t panic if you miss a party due to budget, exhaustion, or an intriguing film. Go to some, skip a few, loiter at the Driskill bar or at any number of bars or food trucks around 6th Street, and you’ll meet plenty of people. And as the continuous tidal wave of alcohol threatens to overwhelm you, remember four things: hydration, snacks, naps, and more hydration.
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