A Storyteller’s Tale: Austin Film Festival Producers Give a Rare Glimpse Inside the World of Movie Making
Written By: Rebecca Canfield
Photos Courtesy of: Austin Film Festival
Movies have the ability to touch people in such a profound way. Take, for example, The Green Mile. I can still remember blubbering my way through the last half of the movie. I sobbed so uncontrollably that by the end of the film, the end of my coffee table was strewn with half a box of wadded up tissues.
Sometimes a movie is horrifying, hilarious, or sad, and other times, it is just a bit more personal. Like Roberta Flack singing Killing Me Softly, it is that moment where you are watching a movie and you recognize yourself. It is as if the writer had stumbled upon your diary and had just shared your deepest, darkest secrets with the world. It is that place where a movie goes from entertaining you to being about you. It is where the movie and the viewer connect on a deep, intimate level and share what can only be described as a “soul moment.”
At times, we can get so invested in a character that seems so real to us that when the two hours are over we feel as though we literally lost a loved one. We are left aching for more, but that ache, all too often, goes unfulfilled. That longing for more, however, is where On Story begins. On Story is a PBS television series, and now also a set of two books, that essentially begins where the movie leaves off. It gives us a peek behind the curtain into the creation of our favorite films. The writing, the development, and the inspiration behind some of the most famous characters on the big screen are explained, giving super fans that little bit of something they cannot find anywhere else…a bit more to the story.
On Story began, however, as an inkling in the brilliant mind of Barbara Morgan, a Texas transplant who came to Austin for college in 1979, and fell in love with the Lone Star State. After college, Morgan put on a national music tour which featured Austin songwriters. The tour, which was widely popular, made it apparent to Morgan that people were interested in Austin’s unique culture. As a result, she began wondering why Austin, an area so rich with filmmakers, did not have its own film festival. After meeting with the Texas Film Commissioner while having dinner at a friend’s house, Morgan enlisted the help of former Texas Governor Ann Richards, who was also a movie lover, and began the Austin Film Festival (AFF) in 1993. In April of 2011, eighteen years after the creation of the Austin Film Festival, AFF’s Executive Director Barbara Morgan, alongside Austin writer and filmmaker Maya Perez, began the television series On Story. The series, which airs on KLRU and various other public broadcasting networks, began after the pair realized one day that they had been filming entertainment’s greatest writers, directors, and actors during their AFF discussion panels for years. Once it dawned upon the ladies that they had inadvertently created hundreds of never-before-seen recordings in which iconic movie legends discuss their great love of moviemaking, the ladies created On Story, a television show which would feature these recordings. Because of this, the general public has finally been given access behind Hollywood’s stage curtain and has been allowed to see what really goes into making their favorite movies and television shows.
On Story has featured film-making greats like Ron Howard, who talked about the making of Apollo 13, John Ridley, who discussed 12 Years a Slave, and Callie Khouri who talked about the making of Thelma & Louise. Since its onset, On Story has received a Lone Star Emmy, and has been picked up by many of KLRU’s PBS affiliates.
Following the television show’s success, Morgan and Perez wrote a book, On Story: Screenwriters and their Craft, which was published in 2013. The book, which featured filmmakers talking about their creative process, was highly praised among film and media studio professors and filmmakers alike. In 2016, however, Morgan and Perez published their second installment of the book, entitled On Story: Screenwriters and Filmmakers on their Iconic Films. Yet this book is a bit different from its counterpart in its focus. While the first book was geared more toward writers and filmmakers, the second edition focuses on the stories behind the creation of some of Hollywood’s most iconic films. This book, in addition to inspiring screenwriting students and filmmakers, is also a great
book for anyone who loves a good movie or considers themselves a film-lover extraordinaire and wants to know a little bit more about their creation and inspiration.
“It’s such a process to get a movie from [a writer’s] mind up onto that screen, and to do it right, and to have it be something where people walk away really feeling something when they leave, regardless of whether it was what you intended,” Morgan explained. “I feel like that journey is what we are representing here more than the [film-making] process … it’s really more of an emotional journey.”
The second book really draws the reader into the complex world of movie-making and allows the reader to sit in on discussions about topics such as the inspiration behind Lethal Weapon’s famous characters Murtaugh and Riggs, the unusual casting of then comedic actor Tom Hanks in Apollo 13, or the way that Brad Pitt came to have his iconic role in Thelma & Louise.
“It’s really less of a how-to [book], and more sort of being allowed to come and sit among someone’s writing space and watch over their shoulder as they remember how this whole thing came about, and the different drafts it went through – how it changed. I think it enriches the audience in some ways as well,” said Perez.
“For the most part, what we’re really trying to do is to get to the heart of it,” added Morgan. “Where did those creative stories come from? How do people know, ‘That’s the one I want to take my time to write?’”
For the writers of On Story, the heart of movie-making is what has been inspiring them since the very beginning. In an attempt to make Hollywood more accessible, AFF has done their part to highlight the great writers and film-makers that call the Lone Star State home. And although once upon a time, an Austin Movie Premiere was unheard of, because of folks like Morgan and Perez, it has become more and more familiar. Today, Austin has its own place in the entertainment world, and its own place in the sun as well. The gap that separated the Lone Star State from Hollywood has begun to close, and part of that is thanks to Morgan, Perez, and On Story, a venture that has helped people develop an appreciation for an art form that has truly become one of America’s favorite pastimes.