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TRUE INDIE: Catching Up with Barbara Morgan, Executive Director - Austin Film Festival

Script contributor Rebecca Norris Resnick chats with Barbara Morgan, executive director of the Austin Film Festival, about how the pandemic and virtual technologies have changed the game for writers, what AFF looks for in screenplay submissions, and her advice on breaking into the industry.

They say that film is a “director’s medium,” and often writers can find themselves lost in the fray, overlooked in a business obsessed with celebrity and visual effects. Not so at the Austin Film Festival, the first festival of its kind to specifically celebrate the contribution of writers—whether they’re screenwriters, TV writers, digital content creators, playwrights, or podcasters.

Founded in 1994 by Barbara Morgan and Marsha Milam, AFF’s mission hasn’t changed—to further the art and craft of storytelling by inspiring and championing the work of writers, filmmakers, and all artists who use written and visual language to tell a story. Now in its 29th year, the Festival and Writers Conference serve to connect writers both with each other and with those who can help further their careers—and now fully in person for the first time in two years.

I caught up with Barbara, who has been the executive director since 1999, on how AFF adapted to the pandemic, how virtual technologies have changed the game for writers, what AFF looks for in submissions, and what advice she has for people looking to break into the industry.

Rebecca: So much has changed in the film industry due to the pandemic. How has AFF, and film festivals in general, adapted to continue thriving despite all of the hurdles over the past 2+ years?

Barbara: We were very lucky to put our 2020 event on in October, and we were able to pivot our entire event, including all of our networking opportunities, online. We had an incredible response from our registrants.

In 2021, we were late enough in the year to build out a hybrid event and had 27,000 participants. Most of our registrants throughout wanted in person and were ecstatic to be here in person. We are now focused on a completely live event for 2022.

AFF Awards Luncheon 2021

AFF Awards Luncheon 2021

Rebecca: Is it a good time to be a screenwriter or filmmaker? Are there avenues or technologies that didn’t exist prior to the pandemic that are now available to help screenwriters and independent filmmakers break in?

Barbara: This is the most amazing time to be a writer, creator, or filmmaker. As of February 2022, there are 817,000 unique programs on TV & Streaming. That's astounding!

And with the increasing popularity of virtual writing rooms and the normalcy of remote/Zoom meetings, writers and creators from outside of LA are now able to obtain meetings/pitch/write for a show from anywhere in the world. This means more opportunities for all!

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Rebecca: Would you say that virtual festivals (or virtual screenings as part of an in-person festival) are beneficial to filmmakers, and if so, how?

Barbara: As purely a learning experience, virtual offerings have made "insider" information much more readily available. Anyone can now learn from many sources online what was for a long time considered industry secrets. What those events/platforms cannot deliver, and which our event is particularly good for, is direct access and interaction with others within the industry.

People come here to work with people they know and like. We provide that live through the Festival, and our registrants were hungry for it in 2021, coming out of COVID. We make sure to share the amazing content discussed during the Festival through our public television show On Story.

Rebecca: Will AFF be offering a virtual option for the 2022 festival this year, and, if so, how will festivalgoers and filmmakers be able to participate? (ie. Live Q&As, Zoom events, etc.?)

Barbara: Not likely, depending the situation we find we world in at the time of our event, October 27 to November 3. Our Festival and Conference relies heavily on personal connections. While we were able to substitute some of these experiences virtually in 2020 and 2021 we found that nothing beats the live event, so we are refocusing our efforts on creating the best possible experience in Austin for the 2022 event.


Rebecca: What does AFF typically look for in submissions from writers?

Barbara: We’re looking for storytellers—people who write really well. Reps are looking for who they can give a project to. It’s not as much about an original idea as much as it is the talent on the page.

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Rebecca: In these challenging times, what advice would you give to writers and filmmakers hoping to break into the industry?

Barbara: Keep at it is my best advice. Keep working. Get out there with your work. Share it—find other creatives who you can support and who can support you emotionally and creatively. And, most importantly, persistence is one element in almost every writer’s/creator’s success story that I have heard.

The Austin Film Festival will be held October 27-November 3rd, 2022! Keep up to date and connected with everything AFF:

Official AFF Website

On Story Podcast

AFF Instagram

AFF Facebook

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