The best thing about the Austin Film Festival’s screenwriting conference was Paul Feig, who did a panel called “Heroes and Anti-Heroes” with Jenny Lumet and Aline Brosh McKenna and then the next day there was “A Conversation with Paul Feig.” Both panels were interesting and entertaining and educational and Paul Feig was funny and charming and very sharply dressed. He showed a trailer for The Heat, the latest comedy he’s been directing, with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as an FBI agent and police officer teaming up to catch a mobster. When he introduced it I thought, “Ew, a buddy cop movie? How boring!” But the trailer was hilarious and I am definitely eager to see the movie.
Afterward I asked for his autograph (first time I have asked anyone for an autograph since Mickey Mouse at Disney World) and gushed to him about how much I love Freaks and Geeks — which I watched when it originally aired, then the reruns, and then when I was studying abroad in Scotland, Jess and Ed and I couldn’t afford to go out at night because Edinburgh is expensive and the exchange rate was so bad and we wanted to spend the little money we had on weekend trips, and since we didn’t have a TV we just watched a Freaks and Geeks DVD box set over and over on a laptop, until we pretty much had the commentary tracks memorized by the end of the semester.
Hearing Lindsay Doran talk about “The Psychology of Storytelling” was also great, as was “The First Ten Pages,” in which she went through the first ten pages of six different scripts that had made it to the second round of the Austin Film Festival’s screenplay competition, explaining exactly where and how they went wrong enough to lose a reader’s interest. (It was ever so slightly brutal, with the writers right there in the room, but they all got tons of helpful and insightful notes so you couldn’t feel too bad for them.)
And the unfortunately titled “Chicks with Bics” was mostly encouraging and inspiring and only a tiny bit depressing.
The worst thing about the conference was being shy and small and misleadingly young-looking at what is basically a networking event. I went in with the expectation that I needed to make a huge effort to be friendly and outgoing and approachable in a pointedly neutral and non-flirtatious kind of way, but 1. that is exhausting and 2. it didn’t work that well. It’s so awkward when people assume I’m a precocious teenager or college student and then after however many minutes of talking I mention my age and they repeat it back to me — “YOU’RE 27?!” — in this dramatically aghast tone, all stunned and bowled over. (I also started to get this gross feeling that petite + curvy + freckles + glasses + long brown hair = many creepy/ugly/old men’s idea of a nonthreatening, sexually available girl-next-door type, which, yuck, I am offended that you didn’t realize I am so far out of your league, like, hello, if I were single and slutty I’d be stalking James Franco, not giving you a pity blow job.) By the conference wrap party on Saturday night I was thinking I should be introducing myself, “Hi, I’m Caitlin, I’m 27 years old, and although there’s no ring on my finger I am in an extremely committed relationship of practically a decade so am for all intents and purposes an old married lady. What’s your name?”
But I did meet a lot of nice people anyway, and had some invigorating conversations about writing, and hopefully even made an actual friend, who would be my first female screenwriter friend ever, which is very exciting for me. I didn’t see any movies because every time I had planned to go see something I wound up having a drink with someone I’d just met instead. I’d never been to Austin before, and it is a cool city, obviously. It was a worthwhile experience overall and I’m glad I went, but I don’t think I would bother going back to the Austin Film Festival unless I were a semifinalist or finalist in the screenwriting competition. (I was a second rounder, and they sell it like that makes you special but then you get there and everyone is a second rounder.) And to get the most out of it I’d want to buy a Producer’s Badge as opposed to the cheaper Conference Badge, and to stay at the Driskill Hotel where the conference takes place, but that would be quite expensive and even if it were financially feasible for me, I’d be ambivalent.