Another year, another AFF Second Rounder

20th AFF poster

So, it would seem that rewrites work.

Last year, I entered my screenplay Tank’s into the Austin Film Festival screenplay competition and other than some amazing notes, it went nowhere in the competition. (My spec teleplay of The Big Bang Theory, however, reached the second round before bowing out.)

Fast-forward a year and four rounds of revisions, I just learned that the same screenplay made it to the second round of the competition before bowing out…Tank’s made it to the top 10% of its category, which feels pretty good considering the AFF received more than 8,600 screen- and teleplays this year, its highest submission rate ever.

Aside from the $200+ refund on my registration fee, what makes this really awesome is the esteem in which Second Rounders and higher are held at the screenwriting conference portion of the film festival. You see, the Austin Film Festival is more than just a whack of movie screens and Hollywood A-listers (like my own Toronto International Film Festival; on now). The AFF is also a 4-day screenwriters’ conference and love-fest, as 400+ introverts try to get just drunk enough to come out of their shells and commune with Hollywood screenwriters and film-makers.

If you are a screenwriter and have never been to the AFF, GO! It is worth the money.

Sure, some of the sessions amount to little more than hero-worship where you’ll hear questions like: “Remember that scene in X-Files when Mulder gave Scully that look? Did you write that, because that was awesome?” But most of the sessions are actually helpful discussions and learning opportunities with the film and television world’s elite writers…and best of all, these Gods not only stick around, but they’ll actually talk to you at the BBQ or in the bars. It’s like they give a shit about your shit.

Last year was my first AFF, and I was the introvert amongst introverts looking for the closest corner in which to nurse my beer or G&T. This year will be different. This year, I will move out of the corner and occupy the middle of the room…who knows, I may even talk to someone. (God, I need a drink!)

Oh, the Austin Film Festival runs October 24-31 from the Driskill Hotel.

PS If you think I’m bragging, my prowess is kept in check by a friend I met at AFF who had two Second Rounders and one Semifinalist screenplay in last year’s competition alone.

Unintended misogyny

According to the Cambridge Dictionaries Onlinemisogyny (n) Feelings of hating women or the belief that men are much better than women.

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Let me state for the record that I do not hate women, but over the last decade or so, I have come to realize the insidious ways in which I felt (or made it appear that I felt) men to be superior to women.

As a male writer, I have historically written stories from the male perspective. My protagonists were male. My antagonists were male. My peripheral characters were predominantly male. And when I did include a female character, she tended to be rather two-dimensional (see also my blog post For my friend Emma).

Several years ago, I had the fortunate happenstance to take a sketch comedy writing class at Toronto’s Second City Training Centre under the guidance of actress and writer Aurora Browne, best known locally as one of the actors from the show Comedy Inc. and former mainstage performer at Second City. Perhaps not surprisingly, the class was mostly comprised of men. And to a man, we wrote sketches about guys.

After the first couple of classes, however, when we had each produced a few sketches, Aurora challenged the men in the room to either rewrite one of their existing sketches or write a completely new sketch with a woman (or several) in the lead.

It was at that moment that I realized my unintended misogyny.

Aurora was tired of trying to find material with strong and/or well-defined female characters. She was tired of simply playing the girlfriend, the ex-wife, the nurse, the teacher. Not that there was anything inherently wrong in playing any of these roles, but more that they were almost always written as two-dimensional…if they could even be said to aspire to a second dimension.

This was her opportunity to put her heels into the dirt in moulding the next generation of comedy writers.

From my perspective, the task was amazingly daunting and very surprising, as I found myself breaking down walls and obstructions I never realized I had put in place. I had to think how might a woman character function differently in this scene, without getting cliché, and how would that change the dynamics of the scene. Or even would it?

In the years since, no matter what I write—sketch, screenplay, teleplay, poem—I watch for places where I might fall into gender bias. The minute I decide on my main characters, I ask myself if the protagonist or antagonist could be a woman (sadly, I still typically default to males). If the answer is yes, then I take a second run at my idea to see which way would make for a better story.

As a result, I have both dramatically increased the repertoire of characters I can bring to life and greatly enriched my stories. In fact, the two most recent screenplays I am developing have female protagonists, as do a couple of my television pilot concepts—not out of a sense of political correctness or fairness, but because those choices made the most sense for the story.

So thanks, Aurora, for the creative kick upside the head.

(Illustration used without permission.)