Austin Film Fest & Writers Conference Recap: Tips for Writers From the Pros

Tips for screenwriters from seasoned pros

The Pure Fandom team hit up Austin Film Festival this weekend to listen and learn from some of TV and movies greatest talents. If you’re a writer looking to learn more about how to hone your craft, get into a writing room, find a mentor—this is the conference for you. 

The weekend was filled with hour-long panels of some of TV and films most successful talents to share their honest and thoughtful advice about working in the industry. These sessions are more than TV/film creators and writers discussing their projects; they’re workshops with thoughtful, actionable advice to help you advance in your own career.

Below are tips from Friday-Sunday’s panels on breaking into TV, writing for TV, writing and producing a feature film, and more.

On Writing: Sci-Fi with Rogue One writer Gary Whitta and Jurassic World 3 writer Emily Carmichael

-Outline and structure: Have characters deal with the consequences of something so your story flows, and always be sure your story stays structurally sound.

-Read and study other scripts as examples. Classics to start with? Diehard (even though it’s not sci-fi) and Terminator

-While you’re writing your story, know where things are going. Without an outline, you’ll write yourself into a corner.

-Tips for writing sprints: Time how much you write per day, and use that to set goals. Start out with 25-minutes writing sprints.

-When you’re pitching a TV series, focus on your characters, and keep world-building simple. Here’s an example from Gary Whitta: Think about the Force in Star Wars. In A New Hope, Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) describes the Force in one line to Luke Skywalker. Let the audience figure out the interpretation of the world you’ve created, don’t spoon feed everything.

Breaking into TV with Jimmy Mosqueda (Schooled, Legacies), Paul Puri (Chicago Med), April Shih (You’re The Worst, Undone), Nora Nolan (Trial & Error, Paradise PD)

-#1 tip: Move to L.A.

-Write, write, write. Then write some more.

-Apply to writing programs (Disney, Warner Brothers)

-If you have the funds to take screenwriting classes, take advantage of that.

-Write about your own experience. You may not think it, but what you have is different than what so many other people have to offer.

-Take charge of your career, and don’t solely rely on your representation. Nurture relationships!

-Find your tribe and build your own writer’s group. Reach each other’s material, and always have a sample you’re proud of. Write what scares you, write what you know.

-On writing characters: Keep characters specific—no one else should be able to say what they’re saying.

-Know whose story you’re writing. Don’t veer from the tale you’re wanting to tell.


Writing Horror with Akela Cooper (Nun 2, Jupiter’s Legacy), Owen Egerton (Blood Fest, Follow, Mercy Black)

-The best horror focuses on the uncanny. The uncanny is something you’re scared of; it’s the feeling of living in a world that should not be. Here’s an example: These are things that shouldn’t be scary, but horror films have made terrifying: talking dolls, dreams, suburbia (ha!). How do you twist the everyday to where the uncanniness is revealed?

-Have as much life as you have death in your horror film. Show people living and enjoying life!

-Know what each character wants and needs.

-Show the tension in your writing, use slow, steady details. “Enjoy the space” of your script.

-Support original stories! Prove there’s an audience for originality, and more original stories will get funded.

Follow Austin Film Fest on Twitter for more writer tips and information on next year’s conference!

Featured image: Austin Film Festival


Liz Prugh

Liz is the co-founder of She loves geeking out over any and all sci-fi/fantasy and always thinks vampires are cool. You can currently find her co-hosting the Pure Fandom Podcast and writing about pop culture. Nerd out with her on Twitter @lizprugh.

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