Writer’s Chronicle: The Film Festival Lesson

On the weekend of Aug. 19-22, 2010, I attended the Peachtree Village International Film Festival in Atlanta. These are a few lessons from my observations.

The festival was on my radar because I entered a screenplay and it made it into the finals. One of the first events was a networking mixer. I went with a fistful of business cards, confidence, hope and a black shirt. I met a lot of people who carried titles, or called themselves actors, directors, producers, various financial experts, and other industry individuals. What I have learned is that people are very good at talking (especially after some brown liquor on the rocks) however doing what they say is another story.
Next thing I learned was about connecting to that question of “What can I use you for?” I think if that can’t be answered, the conversation and meeting is dead on arrival. Everyone offers a service to someone and what you can’t do, another person can. I tried talking to someone, but it went nowhere because neither of us had anything to offer the other. However, if you mention you’re a writer, a number of people want to talk your head off. Trust me when people love to TALK.

Check this out though, I met a producer at the industry mixer in August, and then again two weeks ago or so at one of the meetups I attend and they talked my head off for near an hour, about all these ideas and such they had, and then that person said they would email me to send over their information… didn’t have cards or even use a scratch sheet of paper. I heard that in both of our encounters and so far….

No email.
If you can’t send an email, I don’t have a lot of confidence that you’re about business. Then I learned the next day that business runs the craft of it all.

My frat brother, also a writing finalist, attended a seminar held by two writers who wrote “Just Wright” and “Like Mike,” as their works between each of their resumes. Based on their speeches, or lessons, and from the questions of the audience, we came to the conclusion that we were the smartest people in the room. Like really. The other attendees asked questions that I had back some years ago. A lot of those questions are answered if someone picks up one of the many books about screenwriting (or creative writing in general). I also noticed many of the other attendees were older than me, and I’m 25 years old. Some people were in their 30s, 40s, and 50s and up, which was quite interesting.

I’ll admit, I felt the seminar could have been better taught by myself or someone else because I don’t think I learned anything “groundbreaking.” That was the word the festival organizers used to describe it. For the past year and some months, I sat in meetings with other writers, read books, wrote scripts myself and received hard criticism. I learned quite a bit from those experiences and education, however at that seminar, I didn’t learn one truly new thing from the words alone. I’m sure someone else in the audience got something from it, but for me, I was unimpressed from this alone. The pro writers didn’t offer up much insightful information from their base facts and dry delivery, however, I was taken aback at learning some hard truth when you read between the lines.

The best writers will not always (maybe never) “make it.” We see that now in many aspects of life, but I’ll keep this at the entertainment spectrum. How many underground artists of any field are 10 times better than the mainstream products? Now how many people outside of core sect will or can get that person to the mainstream circuit? Not many, I imagine. Well one of the writers was not terribly into writing as a passion. He treated it like a business venture, after other business ventures failed in his life, and he has been fairly successful in running into the right people at the right times to make certain moves happen. The route he took was unique and made perfect sense in soliciting to lower level employees who are also seeking their big break that would then pass along his work to executives; however I didn’t feel he was passionate about his craft, and that he was only into it for the money. That was just me and I’m not professionally signed (yet), so take my opinion as you want.

On the final evening of the festival, I did not win. They even had two writing awards… didn’t win either of them. My frat brother didn’t win either. One of the winners was absent. The second winner was a 60- or 70-ish lady who wrote a story about the DeBarge family. I just hope it wasn’t based on that TVOne special from a while back…that would be a little disappointing.
In any case, I was not happy about losing. I actually hate losing with a passion. No one likes to lose. I had to chalk up that it was that lady’s time that evening, and not mine.

So there it is, I guess. So far, I haven’t been able to find copies of the winning scripts. With the sting of defeat, I departed from the weekend with having passed out numerous business cards and talked to a lot of people. The lesson is that the best are not always the best.

The keys I learn in the end relate to a lesson I learned in church, can be summed in three letters: T.K.O.

Be at the right place at the right time. Gain knowledge of how to work the system and of people who run the system and its rules. Earn the opportunity to show your work to people of power and impress them.

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