Austin Film Festival: Writers branch out from big screen as new media opportunities emerge

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Film Festival starts Thursday, but more writers are finding new opportunities when they leave the big screen behind.

AFF is a famously writer-focused festival; as streaming services and online platforms pick up steam, filmmakers and screenwriters are producing original content that doesn’t fit the mold they’re used to.

“I’m not sure if they change the way we approach things so much as there’s just more opportunities,” said Berndt Mader, a director, writer and co-owner of the Austin production company The Bear.

Chris Doubek, left, and Bill Wise, in a scene from a teaser the crew of “Last Looks” shot to help sell the script. (Photo Courtesy: Berndt Mader)

Mader is debuting two scripts during a reading at the Driskill Hotel for AFF on Friday. Actors will read the pilot and second episode of a new series (called “Last Looks”) he’s working on with co-writers Bill Wise and Chris Doubek, two Austin actors who originally pitched Mader on the idea of making a movie loosely based on their lives.

“They kind of just pitched me on their world,” Mader said. “Kind of living off of Airport Boulevard, in this little old bungalow, beat-up bungalow house and kind of living their dream, but not having a lot to show for it.”

Mader, the filmmaker behind the features “Booger Red,” a true-crime drama set in east Texas, and “5 Time Champion,” didn’t see the idea as a movie. He saw what an audience might see.

“They want great characters, and they want to stay with them for a while,” he said. “So a lot of great ideas for movies are now becoming TV shows.”

Richard Linklater appears in a scene in the “Last Looks” teaser the production team shot to help sell the show. Linklater signed on as an executive producer and will help get the script in front of streaming services, Mader said. (Photo Courtesy: Berndt Mader)

The production team plans to pitch the idea to streaming companies — Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO — before they start producing it. Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater signed on as an executive producer of the show and will help sell it to streaming services, Mader said.

‘We’ve kind of been in a rut’

The shift toward different forms of storytelling is a positive one, said Matt Hullum, chief content officer at Rooster Teeth.

The production company creates and distributes content for a broad range of platforms, including its own site, multiple YouTube channels and streaming services like Netflix, where the original series “Transformers: War for Cybertron” will debut next year.

The company works with screenwriters and filmmakers to experiment with new formats and stories, Hullum said.

“It’s been fun to figure out, what are those projects and what are things that we want to take out to another platform versus what are the things that we think make the most sense on our own platform,” Hullum said.

Filmmakers are starting to see writing a series as “a marquee thing,” he said, and it’s opening up new avenues.

“We’ve kind of been in a rut as entertainment viewers of, like, movies have to be two hours long,” he said, “and a TV show has to be 30 minutes long or an hour long and all these kind of formats that we all grew up with.”

‘There’s just so much being made’

Mader and crew are benefiting from the expansion of the digital content landscape. A decade ago, “Last Looks” might have been a one-off indie film, he said.

But now, with so many options — TV, streaming, online platforms — writers have a much bigger hole to fill. “There’s just so much being made,” Mader said.

He hopes the new series is next, sometime in the next year or two. Friday’s script reading at AFF will be a good test of its viability.

“We’ve read it a lot, but it’s going to be really exciting to kind of hear it from these great actors,” he said. “Getting it out there at AFF, at the film festival, is exciting for us to kind of get some buzz around it.”

Where it goes from there is anybody’s guess. “There’s just a lot going on,” Mader said, “so who knows?”

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