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Pursuing Dreams in Midlife: The Austin Film Festival

Austin Film Festival Paramount Theater Marquee

Back in 1991. A Young Girl Had a Dream.

When I was thirteen, I made money taking pictures of children as they sat on Santa’s lap and their mothers summoned smiles from their sweet faces by any means necessary. At the Galleria Mall (now known as The Shops at University Square) in downtown Rochester, Minnesota; a movie theater was just an escalator ride away from Santa’s setup. That December, the movie Hook, an incredible adaptation of Peter Pan starring Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, and Julia Roberts, came out and I couldn’t wait to see it. 

After my shift, I used a nearby payphone to call my mom to see if she could pick me up late. She could. I went to the theater alone. As the credits rolled, I pictured the movie I wanted to one day make. While Hook somehow sparked the thought, the show in my head had to do with Christmas and characters of a scrooge-ish nature.

30 Years Later...

Thirty years later, I went to film school and finished a solid draft of the script. A few months after that, I arrived at the Austin Film Festival (AFF). Imagine my delight when I learned that one of its panelists would be James V. Hart, the writer of Hook.

He’s written several movies, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a film I loved enough to buy the book, Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Film and the Legend and Muppet Treasure Island. A dear friend of mine and I sang songs from the latter to ease our panic as we walked through the Terror on Church Street* in Orlando, Florida. I was quick to get in line for his panel and found a seat as front row center as possible. My husband, Chris, sat next to me, though he’s more of a somewhere in the middle of an audience kind of guy. 

I marveled as Hart explained a story problem he and Coppola faced late in the creation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It was a problem he was intent on not having again, which sparked his creation of The Hart Chart. I took notes. Lots of notes. 

I also took notes during A Conversation with Scott Frank (Get Shorty, The Queen’s Gambit, etc.) as Chris and I sat in the second row. We were early enough for front row, but marriage is about compromise, right? Frank and Hart differ a lot in their approach (or maybe philosophy is the better word) to writing screenplays. While the two styles of writing seemed to be at extremes, there was plenty of nuance in the space between their processes shared by other panelists. 

Writing panels are a unique feature of the Austin Film Festival. There’s an abundance of them and we attended as many as we could fit into our schedule, including a couple of panels on collaboration. We’re already using one of the insights we gained in our video creating process by not being editorial with ourselves, or one another until after we’re done generating all of our ideas. 

I pitched in a pitch competition. I made it from beginning to end and my brain didn’t stop like it sometimes does. That is victory enough for me at this point. After my pitch, I learned that Chris was more nervous for me than I was, which makes me feel pretty darn lucky no matter what.

There’s this habit my mind has of chastising myself for not starting down this creative path earlier. Is there a path that you wish you were further along on too? If so, maybe the words I heard Scott Frank utter the other day at AFF will help, “You can’t create something by looking back. You can only create by fucking up.” They’re helping me. What dreams are you in the middle of chasing? We’d love to know! 

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P.S. Pitching is way easier for me when I’m in alone in an elevator with Chris (as you can see in the video below):

*Sadly Terror on Church Street was torn down years ago. It was frightful fun back in the ’90s.