By Helen Fernandez and Dahlia Dandashi The 21st annual Austin Film Festival kicked off last Thursday. The festival brought an impressive list of writers and filmmakers to speak at panels. Lines were especially long to hear actor Luke Wilson and Matthew Weiner, the creator of “Mad Men.” A variety of films have screened so far. Our favorites so far include “The Humbling,” “Skin Deep,” “21 Years: Richard Linklater” and “Wild.” You can find the schedule on the Austin Film Festival website, along with times and theater locations to see what films are left to attend. There was a lot to learn at this year’s films and panels. Here are some of the big takeaways.
1. Anna Kendrick is great, but Jeremy Jordan is better. Jordan’s performance in “The Last 5 Years” was stellar. Director Richard LaGravenese says that Kendrick had been on board with the project since the beginning, but Jordan auditioned for LaGravenese several times before getting the job. This adaptation of the Broadway play into a film was not bad at all. Nobody left early. Props to LaGravenese.
2. Luke Wilson is still as charming as ever. Wilson debuted his film “Satellite Beach” on Saturday morning with producer Steve Eckelman. Following his film, Wilson presented “The Pope of Greenwich Village.” The whole morning was nothing short of spectacular. Wilson and Eric Roberts. That’s all you need to know. At a panel Wilson discussed growing up with famous siblings and his rise to fame. He shared that his older brother Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson were roommates at the University of Texas at Austin where they began a filmmaking love affair. They met in a playwriting class their sophomore year of college. Wilson has appeared in many of Anderson's movies including “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Darjeeling Limited.”
3. Linda Woolverton is a badass. She’s also the writer of “Beauty and Beast,” “Mulan,” “Maleficent” and many more Disney hits. No big deal. The panel was titled “Scribble to Screen: Writing with Mouse Ears on,” because Woolverton delved into what it was like writing for Disney. She spoke about all the push-back she received from executives regarding story ideas and character development. For example, colleagues told her that Belle’s love for reading was too passive. Woolverton responded by making Belle read as she walked. And of course, when talking about Disney, the subject of gender roles comes up. Woolverton spoke about overcoming gender roles while working on “Beauty and the Beast.” “You can’t change one gender role without changing the others too,” says Woolverton. Linda Woolverton knew what she was doing by working with Disney. She chose to “go into the system and do it from within.” She also knows that her original vision is not going to land on the screen. “So you have to compromise,” said Woolverton says. So when you’re in a rut with your screenplay, just make sure to ask yourself what Woolverton asks when facing a difficult decision, “what did I intend for this movie to say?”
4. Australians know how to make a splash in Texas. “Skin Deep” made its world premiere at the Austin Film Festival on Saturday night. Writer Monica Zanetti plays Caitlin, a troubled woman trying to get her life together. Zanetti’s character befriends Leah, played by Zara Zoe, who has been diagnosed with melanoma. The women end up helping each other find what’s missing in their lives. See it on Wednesday for its second screening at 4:15 p.m. at the Rollins Theater.
5. Though the “Before Sunrise” trilogy was one of the lowest grossing trilogies, to actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, it was a huge success. Hawke says that even though no one wanted a third sequel (or even a second one) to “Before Sunrise,” the actors loved working with director Richard Linklater. Delpy says that despite the film's passionate storyline, the writing and filming process was filled with a lot of laughter and joking around.
6. At the screening of the Mad Men season six episode “Man with a Plan,” writer Matthew Weiner revealed that the beginning of Don Draper's downfall mirrored the despair in the United States after the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Weiner says he wanted to parallel the lack of control within society in 1968 to Draper losing control of his life.
7. The kids in the 2003 hit “School of Rock,” starring Jack Black, were not necessarily actors at all — they were just good musicians. Director Richard Linklater searched the U.S. for talented kids who were able to play the sounds of rock ‘n roll for the movie and soundtrack.
8. Writer Susannah Grant doesn’t let life get in her way of her writing routine. Grant wakes up at 4:30 a.m., writes for a couple of hours and gets in her writing groove. Grant wrote the screenplays of films like “Ever After,” “Pocahontas” and “Erin Brockovich.” Grant’s advice to young writers is, “Don’t indulge in your insecurity.”
9. On Sunday afternoon, at a panel titled “It’s A Wonderful (So-Called) Life,” writers Winnie Holzman and Edward Zwick talked about their careers and the idea behind the TV series “My So-Called Life.” Zwick says to keeps readers entertained “give them a gift every six seconds.” He says it can be anything from a camera move to a plot change. Zwick is a producer, writer and director, and is most famous for “Glory,” “Legends of the Fall” and “The Last Samurai.” His friend and previous co-writer Holzman is known for writing the musical “Wicked.” Holzman emphasized the importance of writing characters and scenes where the person reading won’t want to stop because they want to find out what happens next. When writing the pilot for “My So-Called Life,” Holzman says Zwick suggested she write as if reading from Angela Chase’s diary.
10. Writer and director Whit Stillman, famous for films like “Metropolitan,” “Barcelona” and “The Last Days of Disco,” says that he compares directing to watching TV. “Do you like what you’re watching on the TV set? Or are you going to change the channel?” says Stillman.