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SXSW/2010: Consider the Source

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It's time for this hotshot to limp on back to where she came from.


Yes, I'll admit it – this festival gave my movie-going stamina a hefty workout, and I took a slight, well-worth-it beating primarily in the form of blisters on my toes. Above any of the other insights I've provided, you should know this about the festival: Don't choose your footwear according to SX hipster style; choose it to support your aching bones as they stand in line all day, every day, for eight days.

The last panel I caught was also a bit of a bruiser. “Writing a Successful Screenplay: Consider the Source” was about adaptations and featured panelists based in Austin – Anton Diether and Steve Harrigan – and based in LA – Alex Tse and Josh Olson. There seemed to be differing opinions stemming from this geographic divide.

All the panelists are active in the industry and have experienced success. Yes, the most noteworthy probably was Olson's Academy-Award-nominated turn as adaptor of A History of Violence. But the guys from Austin had a slightly different air about them, perhaps less jaded, more optimistic about what it means to get a project sold. It's such a cliché, but the bottom line is these guys didn't seem to have gone Hollywood.

Diether suggested looking to classic literature for inspiration and source material, pointing out the success of films like Clueless and Cruel Intentions. Olson and Tse remarked that those are examples of stories the writers went after once they were already established in the industry. Their advice, geared toward amateurs trying to break in, was to write something you care about. But before you accuse them of being sentimental, know that they spent at least twice as much time talking about how to market that thing you care about. Suggestions included making it into a comic book to be adapted if no one will buy it as a screenplay first, or putting up content as videos on the web.

At one point, Harrigan said, “I think to back into it… robs the integrity from the project,” at which point Olson quipped, “Oh, we're talking integrity?” As a budding screenwriter, I have to admit that the cynicism dripping from most of what Olson and Tse… and occasionally the Austin folks too, left me feeling a bit dejected. In fact, I left and called my girlfriend for an emergency margarita lunch. But before that, I caught this summary from Olson: “You've gotta be a good writer, you've gotta think like a filmmaker, and you've also got to figure out the game.” Tse broke in with “Move to LA!” And Olson said yes, that was Rule #1. It's the only place you can network.

Before you get weepy like I did (LA is not in the cards for me at the moment), take comfort in the decades-long careers of Diether and Harrigan. It's my only slightly-biased opinion that they appeared to be more relaxed than the LA guys and equally confident in the livings they've made for themselves.

I won't leave you on a down note though. I can't go without mentioning Mars, Geoff Marslett's feature debut and the last film I caught at the fest. I don't think it's gotten a distributor for release yet (check this site for info), so I know this is kind of a tease, but I really enjoyed the film's upbeat nature and exploration of love between people, robots, planets and aliens. For me it was the friendly hug I needed after a long week of hitting the pavement for you guys. I hope you get to see the movie, and I encourage you all to make the trek to ATX next year for this casual, crazy, indie-loving festival.