Reaching the Summit: What I Learned at the ATL Film Festival and Screencraft Writers Summit


Hey hey hey everybody! Thank you for once again taking a moment to peruse another masterful blog from Trove Studio (he said with the utmost humility).

In the past in Trove blogs, we’ve gone over a vast range of topics, from basic production concepts to movie power rankings to Trove moments. This week, however, we’re going to head in a different direction. Namely, in my direction, as this week we’re talking about something truly extraordinary -- my life. Alright, I’m kidding; I really am a humble person. In fact I’d say I’m the most humble person I’ve ever met.

Moving on, I did have a truly extraordinary weekend, as I had the immense honor of attending not only the opening weekend of the 42nd Annual Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF), but also the Screencraft Writers Summit. While very similar in construction to the ATLFF, which shows a bulk of its films at the above pictured (and AWESOME) Plaza Theatre, the Summit is specifically for writers. A massive gathering of screenwriters from all over the world, the Writers Summit is an awesome experience, with incredible panels and workshops from award-winning writers, producers, executives, and filmmakers. Paired with the ATLFF, suffice it to say, you can learn a thing or two about film.

However, I found myself not just learning lessons that could apply to writing, but that I could really apply to all aspects of life in general, as potentially cheesy as that may be to say. But I really think that writer or not, some of the things I learned could be helpful to you. So whether you’re a professional cheerleader, a blacksmith, a cobbler, a stockbroker, what have you; just take a minute and browse this blog. Maybe you’ll take away nothing and openly mock me to your cheerleading and blacksmith friends, but who knows? Maybe you might gleam some good advice, like I did.

Wake Up! Grab a Brush and Put a Little Makeup!: Be Proactive

For those of you who don’t know (and hell, those of you who do) I apologize for the above System of a Down reference.

Do me a favor and read these three quotes.

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” - St. Francis of Assisi

“Look at your life and know you’re doing everything you can to accomplish your goals.” - Anonymous Panelist

“What do you want? What do you not want? The rest can be learned.” - Sinead O’Connor (her’s was the best, nothing compares to it … )

These are three quotes that I heard from mentors and panelists in the very first meeting at the Summit, and they are permanently lodged in my psyche because they ultimately have one thing to say; get off your booty and DO SOMETHING. While this was applied to screenwriting, I think getting motivated to accomplish a goal is obviously something that can apply to literally anyone and everyone who has a goal.

Sinead wants you to know that ... nothing compares ... nothing compares ...

Sinead wants you to know that ... nothing compares ... nothing compares ...

You want to be in the NBA? Go outside and start shooting some threes. You want to work for NASA? Better take an extra math class or two. Want to be a painter? Start making some sketches. These three quotes and the general advice by various panelists and mentors can tell you that regardless of how potentially ludicrous and just plain impossible your goals might seem, you’re not going to know until you try. It’s not like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak pulled an “I Dream of Jeannie,” nodded their heads and the iPhone appeared. They founded Apple in Steve’s garage. While attempting to break through in Hollywood, Tarantino worked in what was essentially a Blockbuster for five years, studying film by renting out movies.

Point is, if you expect success to fall in your lap, that lap is going to remain prettaaay empty. So work to fill that lap.

That got weird.

Make It Then Break It: Know the Rules Before You Break Them

This is a rule that I was familiar with and had been taught to me before, but I never really gave it much thought until a few Oscar-nominated filmmakers told me. At that point one is compelled to kick themselves in their own bum for not considering it sooner.

In reference to screenwriting and film, this concept basically says to learn and master all of the basic concepts of film before you go and turn them all on their head. Look at Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. “Batman Begins,” as good as it is, is a straight-laced superhero movie. Hero saves the girl, kills his enemy, saves the city, the usual. But then Nolan makes “The Dark Knight,” and just wrecks the idea of the superhero movie. The girl dies (spoiler alert), the enemy lives (and almost wins) and the superhero is loathed by the city by the end of the movie. Nolan mastered the superhero movie, then tossed it in the garbage disposal, creating something better.

But as I’ve said before, this concept doesn’t need to just apply to film. No matter your craft, it’s pivotal that you know what in the hell is going on before you try to shake things up. Sure, there are phrases like “Don’t be afraid to fail” and all that, and you shouldn’t be -- to an extent. If you’re trying to be a chef, you should probably know how to make waffles before you get all “Ratatouille” and try to make beef wellington or something fancy. If you want to be a professional banker, know how to count. You’ve got to walk before you run. Learning and obeying the rules of your trade may not be the most thrilling time of your life, but it’s a part of that whole proactivity thing we talked about before; have to know the basics.

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You: Making Honest Relationships

Many of you may have seen the movie “Juno,” and if you haven’t, good god people, where have you been for ten years? GREAT MOVIE.

Jason lookin' serious, but he cool, he cool.

Jason lookin' serious, but he cool, he cool.

Anyway, the director of “Juno,” Jason Reitman, who also directed “Thank You For Smoking” and “Up in the Air,” was at the festival this weekend to show his new film, “Tully,” starring Charlize Theron. He was cool enough to hang for a Q&A before and after the movie, and chatted about how he gets such consistently awesome performances out of his actors. The answer? In an astonishing twist, he … spends time with them. He gets to know them as actual human beings, not just as tools to accomplish his vision, and looks to develop legitimate relationships with them.

This is something I heard about time and time again at the Summit and Festival; the importance of establishing honest, real relationships with people. Not “I’ll send you my script” or “here’s my card,” but actual conversation, actual social engagement. It’s amazing how just being honest, willing to compromise and listen, and polite to people can do for you, both in film, and in general; both professionally and personally.

If you’re looking to take a step in your career by meeting some higher-ups, don’t throw yourself at their feet or smother them in faux sweetness. That sure as shootin’ will send them running for the hills. Just talk to them; a simple “How are you?” will do. The most radically awesome person you can possibly imagine is, in fact, still a human being, who still enjoys casual and normal conversation. Abraham Lincoln was still some guy who used to love to wrestle. Dwight Eisenhower was still a dude who liked to golf. Meryl Streep is a chill gal who enjoys knitting when she’s not tearing it up on the silver screen. Everyone, no matter their shape or size, just craves some authentic connection. If it helps your career, awesome. If it doesn’t, you’ve made a good friend. Ain’t nothing wrong with that!

Fail to the Chief: The Importance of Failure

One of the panelists at the Summit told us a quick anecdote about how he had his first opportunity to present a story idea for a show he was working on, aaaaand it bombed. Big time. Literally no one responded. Crickets probably didn’t even do any cricketing. Obviously, he was pretty beat up about it. Until the next writers room, where one of the big cheeses of the show pitched an idea … that was met in the exact same way.

This leads me to my biggest takeaway, by far, from the festival and Summit, as this man summarized his experience in two words -- “Everybody bombs.”

Sure, not the most upbeat of advice at first glance. But dwell on it a little bit, and you may find that it actually is pretty inspirational. Just think, if you could roll with failure, how easy would it be to just pull a Jay-Z, get that dirt off your shoulder, and move on? By accepting the fact that you very well could fail at what you’re trying to do, but that it’s all a part of the process, failure ceases to be failure, but a stepping stone to success. Wow, that was … so deep …

Jay-Z politely suggests you caress the filth off of your shoulder.

Jay-Z politely suggests you caress the filth off of your shoulder.

Take for example the story of another one of our panelists. He, like thousands of other people over the years, moved to Los Angeles with the usual dreams of hitting it big time. And he, like thousands of other people over the years, came to realize that, in the words of David Bowie, it ain’t easy. He couldn’t make a professional connection if he was handing out bars of gold. He worked at a gym for five years, and after those five years, he made it … to a studio mailroom.

Now, years after that, he’s finally a successful agent, but it took him a serious minute, an epic minute, “The Iliad” of minutes, to get there. Years of failure got him there; but he couldn’t have gotten there without them. If we go back to our “walk before you run” analogy, there are going to be times you can’t walk; you might have to crawl, or inch slooooowly forward. But it’s progress. You might even trip and fall while you’re walking. So get up, watch where you’re walking, and keep moving with a pair of sure feet beneath you.

Damn, I’m inspirational today!

Well that’s our blog for the week guys! I hope it wasn’t too preachy for your taste, and I legitimately hope that you found something you could take away from all of these concepts, as I did!

Thanks for reading, and feel free to check out our other blogs on our website! Unfortunately, the blogs may be taking a bit of a hiatus for a few weeks, but don’t despair! I shall return.