Day Three: ATX Television Festival

Panels discuss the the fragile nature of the writer-direction relationship, crowd funding, and shift in storytellers from film to television. 

Photo by Gary MillerPhoto by Gary MillerDay Three of the ATX Television Festival was all about those who work behind the scenes in some of America’s favorite TV shows. The day kicked off with the Movies Versus TV panel that focused mainly on the differences between writing for each. According to Christopher Keyser, co-creator of Party of Five and current president of the Writer’s Guild of America, West, over the last few years, 25 to 30 percent of all feature film screenwriting jobs have dissolved and among those that remain, many are focused on developing films for already established franchises and sequels.

The good news is that television and new media are booming, but to land those gigs, “everyone needs to be a jack of all trades … writers increasingly need to be capable of doing many things at once and being flexible,” he said. Breaking into the field is still tough, but the best way to do it, the entire panel agreed, is with a spec script that contains memorable line after memorable line and sets you apart from everyone else. 

[With a spec script] you’re not demonstrating that you can do what’s been done. You’re demonstrating that you can do what nobody else can,” said Kyle Killen, creator of the television series Lone Star and Awake and a writer behind the Mel Gibson film The Beaver.

At the Directing in a Writer’s World panel, focus shifted to syncing the visual aspects of a script with what’s on the page.

The reality is there’s an inherent conflict between a writer and a director,” said David Semel, a director who’s worked on shows like American Horror Story, Homeland, and CSI.

To merge the vision the writer has when they create the script and the one the director has when they visually execute it, directors like Tom Verica (Scandal, Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy) make it a point to build a strong relationship with writers early on, while David Semel does extensive script analysis work before stepping behind the camera so he has a firm handle of the writers’ intentions when directing.

That’s good because writers oftentimes get very attached to the material they create. At the Parenthood panel, writer/producer Sarah Watson unabashedly admitted, “So many of the [Parenthood] stories are personal to us. We cry in the writer’s room. We had to nickname Tuesdays ‘cry a lot’ Tuesdays because someone will cry.”

Passion and emotional attachment to projects have been major themes of the ATX Television Festival as has discussions on fear of failure. Party Down and Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas admitted in a panel on the upcoming Veronica Mars movie that when he originally launched the Kickstarter campaign that would eventually raise about $5.7 million for the film, he was scared it wouldn’t bring in significant funds and would wind up looking embarrassing for those attached to the project. Thomas’ advice for creatives who do raise money through crowd funding like Kickstarter is to be ready to invest time in maintaining the campaign. Within 24 hours of launching, Thomas received more than 30,000 e-mails from contributors about the campaign. He also encountered problems with setting the rewards donors receive at certain levels.

I had this whole plan of ‘Hey, you could get your own IMDB associate producer credit for a certain dollar amount,’” Thomas said. “We would have prescreening in Los Angeles, invite our associate producer credits out. I would meet with them, get feedback on the initial cuts of the movie. I was excited about that idea. Apparently the Producers Guild [of America] was not.”

Thomas did reveal a few tidbits about the film—it will take place seven years after the original series ended and since the lead character took on her last case. In addition to leads Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring, actors including Chris Lowell (who played Mark “Piz” Piznarski) and Percy Daggs III (Wallace Fennel) are signed on but major cast announcements will be made in nine to ten days.

One more day to go for the ATX Television Festival. Stick with us for the latest updates and info.

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