My First Time: Austin Film Festival Writer’s Conference Day3

I was off to a rough start this morning and it wasn’t from the beer or BBQ of last night. I woke up with this horrible feeling of self-doubt. I came to Austin with the mind-set of just taking it all in and not giving a shit about anything but my self-esteem this morning seemed to hit an all-time low. “What the hell am I doing here?”, I asked myself. How foolish of me to think I had any business being here. I dreaded the Conference on this particular day. What happened? Was it the lightening bolt and loudest crack of thunder that scared the shit out of me in the middle of the night, disrupting my sleep? Something changed and I felt so dumb. Was it the liquid lunch lady from yesterday or the Phil Rosenthal cynicism? Maybe. Yeah. Phil Rosenthal. I blame you, Phil Rosenthal. Perhaps I should come up with my own travel food show. “I’ll Have What Sarah’s Having”. Episode 1: Austin – In this episode, Sarah devours a big, fat, steaming plate of self doubt and shame. Of course I don’t blame Phil Rosenthal. Everybody knows when shit hits the fan there is only one person in the world you blame and that’s mom.

This day was going to be rough. Chris bought a ticket to the Texas A&M game for $7 and was taking the car to College Station, leaving me to rely on my first Uber experience. He downloaded the app for me and set my locations. $10 to the Driskill. Not bad. He told me to call if I had any questions, I insisted I was cool, and he headed out the door. Because I felt so shitty and because this was my last day of panels, I decided I needed to at least try and make some contacts. That meant I had to bust out the big guns — my Captain Beefheart Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) shirt.

Perhaps it could serve as a conversation piece. I was doubtful. Nevertheless, I continued to get ready.

It was almost time to flag my ride so I hopped onto Uber, waited a few seconds, then this guys face popped up saying he would be here in 4 minutes. I freaked out. What if I’m raped and murdered? I’m a woman and I’m all alone in a strange town. I quickly canceled my ride and Googled “Uber horror stories”. There, one of the first articles to pop up included a woman who claimed to be sexually assaulted though nothing was proven. Another guy was strangled! I began to feel overwhelmed again and couldn’t focus. What was I going to do? Take the bus? That would probably take forever. I couldn’t call Chris and ask him to come back but I did call him because he was my only friend in the world at the moment and I needed reassurance. He insisted I would be fine and to just look at the ratings. I felt the same way my grandma must have felt using a cell phone for the first time. I just couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t want to make him feel bad for leaving so I told him I was all set and let him go. I was running out of time and new I had to just do it. I clicked the request button again, “Joshua (4.8 stars) is on his way””Sorry there was a mix-up. Chance (5 star rating) is on his way”. Well, all right then. I got a 5-star rated driver and let it be. Let it be — another recurring theme.

Down in the lobby, I made a cup of coffee and waited to meet my fate. Would this be the last time I ever set foot into this La Quinta? Eh, who cares? I walked outside and waited for my ride. A few minutes later, a silver Ford Fiesta rolled up. This was it. I waved to identify myself and confidently walked toward the car. As I climbed into the back, I noticed a young man in the driver’s seat. “Sorry, this map made it look like you were on the other side of the road.” Apologizing for his tardiness? I didn’t even notice he was late. I had a good feeling about this kid. We chatted the whole way to the Driskill. He just turned 21 the previous Wednesday and I wished him a happy belated birthday. He was originally from Houston and asked how I was enjoying Austin. I told him about Detroit and he thought I cared about the Lions. He was adorable. Before I knew it, we were on the corner of 6th and Brazos. He was so wonderful. If you are ever in Austin, in need of an Uber, and Chance pops up, jump on that. He’s the best.

I got out of the car and waved good-bye then something awful hit me. I was so worked up this morning I forgot to put on deodorant. Are you fucking kidding me? Could I get away with it? Balls. I Googled the nearest CVS, which was right around the corner. I was already late for this first panel and was going to be even later. Way late. Later than I was the day before. My first panel was basically a wash. As I crossed Brazos I was rudely approached by some guy.

“Hey I’ll take that cup”, he said.

“I’m not done with it yet”, I replied.

“Man, I’m just trying to get a cup of coffee,” he pouted.

“Ugh. Fine. Here. Be careful. It’s still really hot.”

“You got a dollar?”

“I basically handed you 5!”

That was a bit of an exaggeration but I really wanted that coffee. He should have asked for a dollar first. I marched on toward the CVS.

Upon leaving the CVS, I wasn’t sure if I should hang out at the Driskill or walk over to the InterContinental where my next panel would be. I decided to just sit on the patio at the 6th St. entrance to the Driskill. I took a seat at one of the cafe tables behind and catre-corner to a man already sitting at one. Not long after, another man walked out from the Driskill and took a seat at a table in front of me. At least I wasn’t the only person skipping out on a panel this morning. Do I smell pot? I looked around and noticed the first guy sitting on the patio was smoking something. “That has to be a joint”, I thought. Some kid with moppy, blonde hair and round-framed glasses came walking up toward the entrance. “Hey, you look like John Lennon”, said the suspected joint-smoking man. The kid smirked but kept walking toward and through the entrance. The joint-smoking man stood up and walked over toward me and the other guy sitting in front of me. “John and Paul, man, they knew how to sing but I, (in his best Liverpool accent) I taught them to talk.” Oh man. This guy is different. “Why did John go with Yoko?”, he continued. “She killed him in a past life.” I did not know that. The other guy sitting in front of me just ignored him. I on the other hand could not. I have a soft spot for people like this guy. I mean he’s a person with a story, but I also didn’t want to enable him if other people were going to get pissed. Why wasn’t the Driskill kicking him out though? And that was definitely a joint in his hand. Was this guy for real? Was he an actor testing me? Hey, I had nothing going on that morning and this day was already fucked up so I just let him rant. And what a glorious rant it was. He continued on about John and Yoko and how they were soul mates. Marijuana is going to take over alcohol (whatever that means). Tickets to Colorado are $39 right now and that’s capitalism for you. Elvis. “You remember him,” He said. Transistor radios.Then he told me I had angels surrounding me and that I should be where Michelangelo painted the angels. Way up high. I was also a queen in a past life. This guy was alright in my book. I should’ve hung out with him all day. I flashed him a peace sign. His face lit up and he reciprocated the same. Then he said, “Peace. Let it be.” As crazy as that encounter was, I appreciated it.

I began my walk over to the InterContinental where my last day was to begin with Independent Filmmaking: The Filmmakers Check-List. The panelists included Robert Bauer (producer of Baby, Baby, Baby) and Jan Vardoen (writer/director of Autumn Fall). I enjoyed both of them. They had a lot of advice for filmmakers who are actually pulling the trigger and making films. Just as Matt Jones had suggested the other day, once again I was told to just ask. If you need music, just ask and see. Need to film somewhere special? Just ask and see. Oh cool. I will remember that for the Elton John song I’ll be needing. Seriously though it was a helpful panel. And apparently Norway is shear place to make movies.

Although I enjoyed that last panel, I still could not shake this down and out feeling. I wondered what Chris was doing and checked the score of the Aggies’ game. Not quite half-time. I decided to skip the next panels and grab some lunch. There was this vegan place south of the Colorado I wanted to try called Conscious Cravings. I couldn’t really gauge how far  a walk it was plus I was running on empty so my head was sort of fuzzy but I decided to give it a shot. As I approached 6th and Congress, I noticed the streets were being blocked off and people were lining up. I asked a bystander what was going on and they said the streets were being prepared for a Day of the Dead parade. Part of me wanted to stick around to see but I was also super hungry. I figured if it was still going on as I walk back to the InterContinental then it was meant to be. I continued on. I was approaching the Colorado when I realized this place may be farther than I had anticipated. I had a little under 2 hours and wasn’t sure if I’d make it back so I decided to turn around and find a sandwich place closer to the Conference. Holy shit what a challenge. Aside from Quiznos or Subway I could not find anything. And I’m sure one of the fancy looking places had sandwiches too but I really wanted something different from a hidden gem that probably received a C rating from the health department. Ok maybe not a C rating, but what I’m saying is, I wanted something cheap, delicious, and straight to the point. On my way back, I heard this awesome drumming in the distance. The parade! I made my way to the corner of 5th and Congress as people adorned with their best sugar skulls and folks wearing creepy masks on stilts danced on by. I was so happy to catch it.

I walked around aimlessly for over an hour before spotting a woman eating a slice of pizza outside Royal Blue Grocery. “Good enough,” I thought. When all else fails, there’s always pizza. Royal Blue seemed to have all the essentials – sandwiches, salads, coffee, wine – and after studying their interesting pizza menu, I decided on good old-fashioned cheese and pepperoni. I sat at the counter, minding my own business and savoring every bite of my piece of pizza when I heard a young man approach a fellow that had been standing next to me for a few minutes. As far as I was concerned it was just me and that slice of pizza and no one else around us. Then I heard the young man say, “Mr. Vitali I am such a huge fan.” I glanced over and it was Leon Vitali. I was 1 degree from Stanley Kubrick. After the kid told Leon how big a fan he was for the third time, he finally left him alone. I continued to sit and stare at my pizza, which I was finished with for the moment. Should I say something to Leon Vitali? If so, what? I remained silent. Leon became a bit concerned about his latte that was taking  a while and informed the woman slaving away behind the counter he needed to get going and that they were waiting for him. She assured him she understood but needed to go in order. I looked over at him as he looked to someone behind me and shrugged. I nonchalantly glanced over my shoulder to find none other than my man Phil Rosenthal. There I was sandwiched between Phil Rosenthal and Leon Vitali and I had nothing to say. I pushed my plate to the side, got up, and walked toward the door, passing Phil who was now surrounded by several people. I should’ve just flashed him a peace sign like I did the joint-smoking man.

Now I really felt like I didn’t belong here. I checked the Aggies’ score again. Finally, 4th quarter. I had a panel coming up – Independent Filmmaking: Film Sales and Festival Circuits – and I didn’t even want to go. I didn’t know where to go. I think I walked around the Driskill 3 or 4 times. I felt sick and just wanted to leave. The football game was over and the Aggies won 35-28. I called Chris. I told him I felt like a fish out of water and so foolish for thinking I had any business being at this conference. He told me I inspired him more than anyone and that he was so proud of me. He also insisted I get to that next panel so I took his advice and went.

This panel – and it may be due to how I was feeling – was not for me. I had no movies I was seeking distribution for. I thought it would touch on getting into festivals but it didn’t really. I said I would never leave a panel early but knew I was wasting my time. Recalling my conversation with the liquid lunch lady from ysterday, I took her advice, walked out, and headed to the Driskill Bar.

Approaching the bar, I became self-conscious. There were these big wooden with Windows that didn’t seem to reveal much from inside. This scene played out in my mind where I open the doors and everyone stops talking to turn and stare at me as the bar grows silent. I sucked it up and opened the doors. Naturally a  few people looked over but went about their business. There were groups of people at every corner of the bar. Leather sofas, chairs, and dim lighting made for a very handsome setting.  A gigantic longhorn head hung over the fireplace. Poor guy. I walked around the bar searching for a seat but there were none, then I spotted an open part of the bar. It appeared to be standing room only but that was good enough for me. There I stood, stuffed in the corner away from the crowd. I asked the bartender if it was ok I stand there. He said as long as I don’t mind watching him work. He was so nice. Both bartenders were and as a matter of fact, I couldn’t remember the gentleman’s name who took care of me but upon looking it up I discovered the other bartender is a Austin legend! David Highfill has served patrons at the Driskill Bar for 33 years and played drums for Stevie Ray Vaughn. I wish I had read about that beforehand. I would’ve loved to chat him up about that. So the next time you find yourself at the Driskill Bar, know you are at the home of an Austin legend. I didn’t make any contacts hidden in the corner but I did a lot of eavesdropping for future dialogue and characters. The 2 glasses of pinot grigio were a tremendous help. I felt like a new woman and ready for my next and very last panel of the conference. I bid my friends behind the bar adieu and headed out.

This last panel was probably my favorite – Independent Filmmaking: Crowdfunding to Build Independence. Emily Best is the founder of Seed&Spark, a fantastic crowdfunding source that I hope to utilize soon. Her presentation was amazing. She had so much energy and was oozing with passion about this product and I felt she truly, genuinely cares about helping Indie Filmmakers. She shared so much information I couldn’t keep up with my notes. This was the best way to end the conference and I walked out of there on a high note with hope and inspiration. Thank you, Emily Best!

There was a special Second Rounders party at Fado Irish Pub so I walked over to it while waiting for Chris to pick me up. Seeing as I was failing miserably at meeting people I didn’t have much hope for this party either. I was standing in line when a woman politely asked if this was the line for the Second Rounder party. I said yes and she asked me how the conference was going for me. Before I could answer, some guy stole her attention. I guess they had met earlier. As I stood there not surprised I was dissed I thought about whether or not I should even go in. A minute later the woman was back. She apologized and explained how they had met at a few panels. She told me she met with someone from the Weinstein Company and that her screenplay was probably going to be picked up. It took her 10 years to write it! We briefly pitched our stories to one another and then my phone rang. It was Chris and this party was not for me so I wished her well, we exchanged business cards, and I skipped the party. Let it be. There, off in the distance was my knight in shining rental Huyndai coming to whisk me away from the world of writers. He asked, “Where to?”, I said, “Far, far away.”

We ended up at the Draught House Pub and Brewery not too far north of UTX. With a pub atmosphere, more taps than I could handle, and plenty of outdoor seating, this was my kind of place. It also seemed to be situated in the middle of the neighborhood which added to the quaintness – a complete contrast from where I had just come from. We had a couple pints and headed back south for some grub. Chris really wanted to eat from a food truck and had researched an area that seemed to have a cluster of them so we headed to Rainey St.

Rainey St. is awesome! Party lights were strung over the front lawns of houses turned bars with live bands in the backyard, plenty of food trucks lined the way, and pedi-cabs passed to and fro. There was even a bar made out of shipping containers. We found a taco truck – Art of Tacos – boasting the best tacos in the world and had to see for ourselves. The young man helping us was so nice and the minute we walked up to him he pointed to my shirt and said,”That’s a sweet shirt.” I told him he was the first person to comment on it. “Not many people know who Captain Beefheart is.” It made my day. I ordered a brisket burrito that was fantastic and Chris had Al Pastor tacos in a corn tortilla – equally delicious. I highly recommend this place. I must say, however, the Indian truck sharing the picnic tables with Art of Tacos looked and smelled super awesome. If only we lived down there. I guess we’ll just have to come back.

We hopped to a couple of bars, watched U of M pull off a win against Minnesota at Bar 96 (see photo above with boy and dog), and encountered enough college kids to  make us feel OLD. I mean, we felt really old. Best Halloween costumes went to the girls who did a very good job as the Shining Twins. Worst Halloween costumes went to some dude and chick who thought it would be a good idea to dress up as Oscar Pastorious and a shot-up Reeva Steenkamp.

We finished up our last beers and headed back to the hotel. As much as we would’ve loved to stay out longer and enjoy Austin some more, we had a plane to catch the next day. I know that some of my posts seemed a little negative but I really did have a great time in Austin. I can’t wait to visit again. Or maybe I’ll just move here. Either way, I will definitely look into the Film Festival next year. Thanks for the experience, Austin. Until next time…

In honor of my Captain Beefheart Shirt, I leave you with my favorite track from the album and possibly one of my favorite songs of all time, Tropical Hot Dog Night. Enjoy!

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