The Austin Film Festival, which recently wrapped up, is a celebration of writers, not the #brand team that somehow convinced you to see a superhero movie you have no interest in, like certain festivals and convention. Not only did Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner speak and present his favorite Twilight Zone episodes (for the record, “It’s a Good Life” and “A Stop at Willoughby”) at AFF, other writers and creators talked about their craft and latest projects. Here’s who I spoke to:
Richard LaGravenese, director and screenplay writer of The Last 5 Years
Though Richard LaGravenese didn’t see the play on the stage until later, the self-proclaimed “big musical fan” obsessively listened to the score of The Last 5 Years. “Jason [Robert Brown, who wrote the original play]’s music is just so moving and gorgeous. His lyrics are so honest and insightful and said so much about the contradictions of love,” LaGravenese explained. And before you ask, no, Pitch Perfect wasn’t out yet when Anna Kendrick was cast as the female lead; LaGravenese fell in love with her in Camp, another musical movie. Because the base of the script was already so strong, it became a matter of figuring out how to film, stage, and depict the scenes within the movie. Instead of singing out into the audience, the leads sing to each other. Certain references were updated, including a funny one Kendrick suggested about Russell Crowe’s casting in Les Misérables. Filming the musical numbers took time, so certain songs were performed over and over again for that perfect continuous shot.
Edward Zwick and Winnie Holzman, My So-Called Life and thirtysomething, among others
Edward Zwick and Winnie Holzman spoke about the process of working together (along with Marshall Herskovitz, who wasn’t able to attend the festival), and the ease and difficulties that came with it. Holzman broke into the duo’s writing group after she wrote a spec script for thirtysomething, which impressed Zwick. It’s a tricky thing to send someone a spec of their own show, he said, because “shows are ultimately a cult of personality.” But she broke through to them and became part of the group that is, according to Holzman, a “clique that feels really natural.” When it came to writing My So-Called Life, Holzman was blocked, so Zwick suggested she try writing out Angela’s diary. To Zwick, stories were his way of “organizing a chaotic childhood,” and he passed off that tendency to his daughter. When she was three years old, he was telling her a story while rubbing her back about a rabbit and a fox playing in the rain. His daughter interrupted him to say, “Daddy, there’s no conflict.” Nowadays, the two agree that television is too dark and “too far concerned with suspense,” said Zwick, where every episode has to seemingly end with a ridiculous cliffhanger. But then, in other respects, television has been better than ever. Look for light in the darkness, or as Edward said, “The darkest subjects can still have some authenticity of the humanity of the people.”
Mo Perkins, director of The Last Time You Had Fun
For her second feature, director/writer Mo Perkins decided to work with her husband, writer/director Hal Haberman, which culminated in the cynical comedy featuring Eliza Coupe, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Demetri Martin, and Kyle Bornheimer, plus Charlyne Yi (who wasn’t really acting anymore but made the exception for Perkins) as their limo driver as the foursome explore Los Angeles at night trying to figure out love. Since it was their first time working together, Perkins as the director and Haberman as the writer, “it just seemed naturally to pick marriage as a subject matter,” she said. “It was something that we knew together,” especially during a time when all of their friends were reexamining their marriages. Haberman added, “When you’re looking for good story, you’re looking for moments that are heavily weighted for humans.”