As an Austin Film Festival addict, Asmara Bhattacharya shares invaluable tips on how to prepare and navigate the AFF experience.
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.
Austin Film Festival is a must for screenwriters, whether you’re serious about starting a career or just writing for the love of it. It’s a screenwriters’ conference. You can talk to A-list screenwriters and unknown working writers alike as equals, and you can make connections. You’ll hear insider stories, hone your craft, meet incredible people at the legendary Driskill Hotel bar, and get tips on how to break in. The biggest bad thing is the sheer number of panels. You absolutely will have to miss panels you really want to see for panels you really, really want to see.
Here’s a basic why and how from an AFF addict who has advanced in the screenplay competition a lot, is paneling this year and shamelessly plugging it, and has some (questionable) history in Austin.
The Conference vs. the Festival
The main screenwriter conference runs Thursday midday to Sunday afternoon. The film festival itself and a couple of parties continue to the following Thursday. Films screen all eight days, but panels run only the first four days. So don’t stress if you can’t stay past Sunday.
The Daily Conference Schedule
There are panels from around 9:00 am to 5:00 pm with a lunch break scheduled in, social events most afternoons, and parties most nights as well. (Yes, you read that correctly: there are usually at least two scheduled parties a night.) The panels are great for educational purposes, and the social events are where you make the connections. So assume you’ll be going strong from 8:00 am to 2:00 am. It’s addicting, and it’s hard to stop. Also, the liquor flows freely at most parties, so pace yourself!
All badges get you into the film screenings. If you can afford it, spring for the top of the line, the Producers Badge. The biggest advantage is that it gets you into almost every party, which is important because that’s where the networking happens. If you can’t swing that, get the Conference Badge, the next level down. You can still get into several parties and hang out at the Driskill bar during the parties you can’t get in.
If you’re simply on a tight budget or schedule, the Weekend Badge gets you into all Saturday and Sunday panels and both Saturday night parties. The Lone Star Badge gets you to the Saturday-only panels and one Saturday party.
No matter what badge you get, hang out at the Driskill bar as much as you can. Everyone is there at some point, and you’ll be deep in conversation before you even realize you’re talking to the creator/writer/showrunner of a legendary film or TV show. No pressure to drink, by the way! Some of the bigwigs don’t drink, either. Just order water or some delectable lamb sliders, tip the terribly overworked wait staff, and hang out anyway.
You want to know why you should pay an extra $200 plus for the Producers Badge? Four big reasons: AFC Opening Night Reception (Thursday evening), Film Texas BBQ Supper (Friday evening), Filmmakers’ Happy Hour (Friday night), and “Hair of the Dog” Brunch (Sunday morning). These parties, and the Driskill bar, are where you network. There are other parties, but these Producers Badge-only parties are the best.
Where on the Map to Stay
Stay downtown. If you stay within walking distance, you don’t need a car. Parking is tough downtown, and you really don’t want to drive in every day. Also, as you slog through the week on four hours of sleep a night, you’ll appreciate being able to sprint home for a nap and not having a commute at night.
If you do drive in, the Driskill has a garage for around $15/day. For those lacking a car and staying farther out, this is Texas, not NYC, so don’t count on hailing cabs on every street corner. But pedicabs roam downtown, and you can phone in for a cab or Uber-type transport or check into public transportation.
There are two main conference venues: the Driskill Hotel on 6th and Brazos, and the Stephen F. Austin/Intercontinental Hotel on 7th and Congress. Walking distance for most people means the rectangle on the map (hereinafter referred to as The Rectangle) bounded by: Cesar Chavez/the river, Guadalupe, 10th Street, and Neches. That keeps you within 10-15 minutes walking distance of the Driskill. If you stay as far out as, say, Interstate 35, you’ll be in for a long walk. If you’re south of the river (called Town Lake or Lady Bird Lake), don’t plan on walking at all. And don’t ask why it’s called a lake, either.
FYI, several of the party venues tend toward the west and/or south sides of The Rectangle, while the Convention Center (a film venue) is east, on 4th and Trinity. Also, there’s a Whole Foods on 6th and Lamar, walking distance from the west end of The Rectangle. Know that if you stay on 6th anywhere between Brazos and Neches, you are staying above the infamous 6th Street party district, which is very noisy until after 2:00 am. But you’ll probably be partying somewhere, anyway, right?
Where Specifically to Stay
The Driskill Hotel is ideal so you can just pop upstairs for a nap. Which you’ll want to do all the time by Day 3. But for the 95% of us who can’t afford $400/night, there are other hotels in or near that walking-distance rectangle, including an Extended Stay America and a La Quinta.
You can also check out condo rental sites like airbnb.com, if you’re comfortable going that route. But confirm the location before booking, since they often give only a general location, which could put you a mile farther away than you’d like. And be forewarned that condos may only offer one set of keys, which is tricky logistically if you’re sharing a room.
Austin Weather in October
It’s humid but pleasant and can get chilly at night. For those who prefer hard numbers, think daytime highs around 80º with lows in the 50s. It’s also Texas, which means it can be 60º INSIDE. I generally opt for long pants, short sleeves, and a light, easy-to-carry jacket-type thing for the conference rooms.
Get there for a day, or get there for the week. Just get yourself there. If you’re not sure what to do once you’re there, drop in for my panels, “How to Work the Conference” (Friday, Oct. 29th at 1:00 pm – first one in the schedule line-up!) or “Now What?” (Sunday, Nov. 1st at 3:00 pm) for insights from a slew of terrific speakers. And be sure to say hi! After all, it’s a connection-based industry, and that’s the first step in making connections.
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