Students score at Austin screenwriting fest

Dan O’Brien
November 06, 2012

A record number of Emerson College students rubbed shoulders with Hollywood bigwigs and some were named finalists at this year’s Austin Film Festival Screenwriter Conference, held October 18 to 21.

Visual and Media Arts Associate Professor James Macak brought 21 students to the festival in Austin, Texas—and that number includes 7 students who went for the second year in a row—the largest number of Emerson students to attend.

“It’s the only festival in the country, or perhaps the world, devoted exclusively to TV and film writers. Most give weight to the directors,” Macak said. “It has support from the Writers Guild of America West. They’re very enthusiastic backers of this.”

Students Tesha Kondrat ’13 and Zach Elrich ’13 finished in the finals of the script pitch competition. Elrich won the competition last year.

“You’re on a stage with a microphone in front of three judges and lots of people watching you,” Macak said. “It’s sort of like the American Idol of screenwriters.”
The pair was among about 150 competitors who had 90 seconds each to pitch a screenplay idea.

“Effective story pitches are crucial in this business,” Macak said. “A lot of people don’t have time to read scripts, but they are receptive to an elevator pitch.”

Two other students, Luke Durett ’14 and Samuel Sawyer ’14, finished in the quarterfinals in the TV writing pitch competition for their comedy script ideas.
Macak said the students got “a great opportunity” to network with Hollywood writers and directors during the festival and at a breakfast sponsored by the Emerson Alumni Association. Joining the students were Stephen Scaia ’98 and his writing partner Matt Federman, whose credits include the TV series Warehouse 13 and the films Zorro and Y: The Last Man. Also in attendance was legendary screenwriter Daniel Petrie Jr. (Beverly Hills Cop and The Big Easy).

Screenwriter Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder and Men in Black) and TV writer Liz Tigelaar (Revenge and Once Upon a Time) met privately with Emerson students. Other notable speakers included TV and film writers Frank Darabont (Walking Dead and Shawshank Redemption); David Lindelof (Lost); David Chase (The Sopranos); actor/writer/director James Franco (The Broken Tower); and director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids and Arrested Development). 

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