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On Story—Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films

On Story—Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films
Foreword by James Franco

Award-winning screenwriters and filmmakers, including Ron Howard, Callie Khouri, Jonathan Demme, Ted Tally, Jenny Lumet, and Harold Ramis, discuss their careers and iconic films in these lively conversations transcribed from the acclaimed PBS series On Story.

October 2016
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246 pages | 6 x 9 | 13 b&w illus. |

On Story is film school in a box, a lifetime’s worth of filmmaking knowledge squeezed into half-hour packages.”
—Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times

Austin Film Festival (AFF) is the first organization focused on the writer’s creative contribution to film. Its annual Film Festival and Conference offers screenings, panels, workshops, and roundtable discussions that help new writers and filmmakers connect with mentors and gain advice and insight from masters, as well as refreshing veterans with new ideas. To extend the festival’s reach, AFF produces On Story, a television series currently airing on PBS-affiliated stations and streaming online that presents footage of high-caliber artists talking candidly and provocatively about the art and craft of screenwriting and filmmaking, often using examples from their own films.

On Story—Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films presents renowned, award-winning screenwriters and filmmakers discussing their careers and the stories behind the production of their iconic films such as L.A. Confidential, Thelma & Louise, Groundhog Day, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Silence of the Lambs, In the Name of the Father, Apollo 13, and more. In their own lively words transcribed from interviews and panel discussions, Ron Howard, Callie Khouri, Jonathan Demme, Ted Tally, Jenny Lumet, Harold Ramis, and others talk about creating stories that resonate with one’s life experiences or topical social issues, as well as how to create appealing characters and bring them to life. Their insights, production tales, and fresh, practical, and proven advice make this book ideal for film lovers, screenwriting students, and filmmakers and screenwriters seeking inspiration.

  • Foreword: Tips by James Franco
  • Acknowledgments
  • Biographies
  • Introduction by Maya Perez
  • 1. Creating Classic Characters
    • A Conversation with Shane Black, David Milch, and Sydney Pollack, Moderated by Barry Josephson
  • 2. Heroes and Antiheroes
    • A Conversation with Paul Feig, Jenny Lumet, and Aline Brosh McKenna
  • 3. ”In the name of my father and of the truth!”
    • Up Close with Terry George
    • Terry George on In the Name of the Father
  • 4. ”Can it be done, father? Can a man change the stars?”
    • A Conversation with Brian Helgeland, Moderated by Barbara Morgan
  • 5. ”Attica! Attica!”
    • Brian Helgeland Presents Frank Pierson with the Distinguished Screenwriter Award at the 2003 Austin Film Festival
    • Robin Swicord on Dog Day Afternoon
    • Up Close with Frank Pierson
  • 6. ”Houston, we have a problem.”
    • A Conversation with Ron Howard, Moderated by William Broyles Jr.
    • A Conversation with Ron Howard, Jim Lovell, Sy Liebergot, John Aaron, Jerry Bostick, Michael Corenblith, Al Reinert, and William Broyles Jr., Moderated by Jane Sumner
  • 7. ”If nobody loses their head, nobody will lose their head.”
    • Up Close with Callie Khouri
    • Callie Khouri on Thelma & Louise
  • 8. ”It's Groundhog Day!”
    • A Conversation with Harold Ramis, Moderated by Judd Apatow
    • Danny Rubin on Groundhog Day
  • 9. ”Have the lambs stopped screaming?”
    • A Conversation with Jonathan Demme, Moderated by Paul Thomas Anderson
    • Ron Nyswaner on Philadelphia
    • A Conversation with Ted Tally, Moderated by Álvaro Rodríguez
  • 10. ”I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
    • A Conversation with John Milius and Oliver Stone
  • 11. ”I am Groot.”
    • A Conversation with Michael Green, Ashley Miller, and Nicole Perlman, Moderated by Álvaro Rodríguez
  • 12. ”Which story do you prefer?”
    • Up Close with David Magee
  • Afterword: Some Things I've Learned by Bill Wittliff

BARBARA MORGANAustin, TexasMorgan cofounded Austin Film Festival in 1993 and has served as executive director since its inception. A feature filmmaker and producer, she also developed and produces the TV series On Story: Presented by Austin Film Festival.MAYA PEREZAustin, TexasPerez is a producer/consultant for On Story: Presented by Austin Film Festival and a board member of the Austin Film Festival, for which she has also served as conference director. She has also been a Michener Fellow in Screenwriting at the University of Texas at Austin.



By Maya Perez

In 2012, Austin Film Festival cofounder and executive director Barbara Morgan and I put together the transcripts that would make up On Story— Screenwriters and Their Craft. Our goal then was to make available to a wider audience the captivating and informative panel discussions that take place at the annual Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference. We recently had launched the television show Austin Film Festival’s On Story and gifted our archives, consisting of recordings of more than twenty years of Austin Film Festival panel conversations and post-film-screening Q&As, to the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University. For the past two decades and counting, Austin Film Festival’s mission has remained strong and consistent—furthering the art, craft, and business of filmmakers and screenwriters and recognizing their contributions to film, television, and new media. What we now call the On Story Project is a natural progression of this mission.

As this introduction is being written, we are putting together the sixth season of the TV show, now broadcast by PBS-affiliated stations in over 80 percent of the national market. Austin Film Festival’s On Story Project produces a free podcast and radio show, the latter a PRI program, which invite listeners into writers’ rooms, film sets, and the creative minds of some of the most prolific voices in film and television. And, just weeks ago, we delivered our collected and digitally transferred archives to the Wittliff Collections.

So, how does this second book differ from the first? Where On Story— Screenwriters and Their Craft dispensed writing advice from such luminary screenwriters as Steven Zaillian, Lawrence Kasdan, Caroline Thompson, and John Lee Hancock, On Story—Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films takes readers behind the scenes, revealing the inspiration and creative process behind some of the most iconic movies of our time.

Ron Howard talks about the first time he read the screenplay for Apollo 13 and how, despite being jostled on a crowded commuter train, he was brought to tears. Years before sitting down to write In the Name of the Father, Terry George coincidentally escorted a “ loudmouth drunk,” Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four, out of an English pub. Brian Helgeland remembers that making a spur-of-the-moment trip to his dad ’s old apartment in Brooklyn and seeing a billboard of Jackie Robinson were all the signs he needed to agree to take on 42. Robin Swicord recounts a master class with Frank Pierson that would inform and inspire her through her own successful screenwriting career. David Milch and Shane Black reveal how their parents have been the inspiration for some of their most memorable characters. Callie Khouri’s story of growing up and feeling like the world in which she belonged was so much bigger than the one in which she lived was later reflected in her iconic characters Thelma and Louise. Ted Tally shares that his father was dying during the time Tally was writing The Silence of the Lambs and that the scenes between Clarice Starling and her father were the most emotional for him to write.

With several hundred rich, in-depth conversations to cull from, the greatest challenge in putting together this book was the page limitation, which forced us to reduce the number of transcripts we could include. We hope you enjoy the ones we selected and that you watch—or rewatch—the movies discussed with new insight. Whether we’re aware of it or not, our personal experiences and emotional responses make their way into the work we create, and we revisit certain themes again and again. Now turn the page, and let these fine filmmakers tell you the stories behind the stories they brought to the screen.


“[L]ively and star-studded. . . . the collection will have you adding flicks to your ever-growing Netflix queue.”
Austin Monthly


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