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Austin Film Festival's On Story

Austin Film Festival
110 episodes   Last Updated: Aug 16, 23
Austin Film Festival's On Story Podcast is the companion to Austin Film Festival's television show, On Story. Get an uncensored inside look at the creative process of film making through the eyes of some of the entertainment industry's most prolific writers, directors and producers.


This week on On Story, writer Edward Neumeier discusses his creative process behind the sci-fi cult classics RoboCop and Starship Troopers. Neumeier explores the particulars of writing for the genre, as well as his knack for disguising deep issues within expansive and captivating stories.  Clips of RoboCop courtesy of Orion Pictures. Clips of Starship Troopers courtesy of TriStar Pictures.
This week on On Story, we're joined by Lang Fisher for a conversation on her process of co-creating, writing, and showrunning Netflix’s hit series, Never Have I Ever. Fisher has a long history of writing and producing funny yet intelligent television, and Never Have I Ever is no exception. This fresh, coming-of-age series follows Indian-American teen, Davy Vishwakumar, who after a difficult year, is determined to heighten her social status at Sherman Oaks High Schools. Both co-created with and inspired by Mindy Kaling’s own childhood, the show's current three seasons are a remarkable masterclass on witty dialogue, a leader in diverse representation on screen, and adept at presenting relatable themes for teens and adults alike. The show's highly anticipated fourth and final season is scheduled to be released by Netflix on June 8th, 2023. Prior to her work on Never Have I Ever, Fisher was a writer-producer for many comedy series, including Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Mindy Project, and the final season of 30 Rock, where she co-wrote the episode “A Goon’s Deed in a Weary World,” which was named one of Variety’s “25 Best TV Episodes of the Decade.”  Before venturing into television writing, Fisher used her humor to write for six years at the satirical news outlet, The Onion.  AFF moderator Casey Baron sat down with Lang Fisher to dive deeper into the process of writing and creating Never Have I Ever and to give our audience a craft conversation. Never have you ever learned so much on the art of comedy writing! Clips of Never Have I Ever courtesy of Netflix.  
This week on On Story, we're joined by writing partners Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, known for their collaboration on projects such as the award-winning film based on the life of Mr. Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, their work writing and producing the Amazon series, Transparent, and co-creating and co-showrunning their upcoming Netflix series, Painkiller. Known for their talents writing stories based on true events, Painkiller is no different, as it's an honest exploration of the birth of the opioid crisis in the United States, starring Matthew Broderick and Uzo Abuda. Together, Harpster and Fitzerman-Blue have won the Peabody Award, the PEN award, and the Humanitas Prize for their collaborative work as screenwriters, in addition to receiving Emmy, Golden Globe, People’s Choice Awards, and WGA writing nominations.  AFF moderator Harrison Glaser sat down with both writers during the 2022 Writers Conference to discuss what makes a successful writing partnership, the process of crafting stories based on real events, and how to build a career that includes writing across genres, and within both television and film. You know what they say - two heads are better than one, and the truth is stranger than fiction. Harpster and Fitzerman-Blue embody these timeless statements. Clips courtesy of Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Amazon Studios.
This week on On Story, we're joined by the comedic genius Stephen Merchant for a conversation on his impressive career in television. Perhaps best known for co-creating (with Ricky Gervais) BBC's The Office, Merchant's work writing and directing the critically acclaimed show attributed to the series earning multiple comedy awards, including three BAFTA awards, two British Comedy awards, two Golden Globe awards, a Primetime Emmy, and a Peabody Award, all before Merchant served as the executive producer on the immensely successful adaptation. The US series was a long-running hit, receiving five Primetime Emmy awards and forty-two nominations of its own during its run on NBC. Other pillars in Merchant's career include starring, co-creating, co-writing and directing the HBO series Hello Ladies, a sitcom based on Merchant's stand-up show of the same name. Currently, Merchant serves as the co-creator, executive producer, writer, director and star of his newest series, The Outlaws. Co-created with Elgin James, the crime thriller and comedic television show follows seven very different strangers who are sentenced to community service as payback for their various crimes. Yet things certainly take a turn when the group discovers a bag full of money, unaware of its dangerous owners, in this hit co-production from BBC One and Amazon Studios. A pivotal creative in the world of comedy, AFF was delighted to honor Merchant as the recipient of AFF’s Outstanding Television Writer Award, a distinction awarded annually to recognize excellence in the television industry. Merchant certainly demonstrates excellence, not only from his impressive collection of awards and accolades, but also through his various titles, roles, and hats, including actor, stand-up comedian, writer, director, and producer, thereby cementing his reputation as one of the most versatile talents in TV and film.  Barbara Morgan sat down with Merchant during the 2022 Austin Film Festival for an in-depth conversation on both his creative process and career, eager to hear more on Merchant’s practice of crafting relatable characters, how he found comedic inspiration from drama, and most of all, how he established himself as one of television’s leading comedic voices. So sit back and have a laugh as we talk all things comedy with Stephen Merchant. Clips of The Outlaws courtesy of Amazon Studios. Clips of Hello Ladies courtesy of Home Box Office, Inc. Clips of The Office courtesy of British Broadcasting Corporation.
This week on On Story, a conversation with acclaimed writer, director, and producer James Gray to discuss not only his artistic process, but how he established himself as one the industry’s most talented writer-directors.  A true visionary, Gray made his directorial debut with his celebrated film Little Odessa, which earned him nominations for both Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay at the 1994 Independent Spirit Awards. Other esteemed features in Gray’s canon include The Yards, starring Joaquin Phoenix, who is in fact a frequent collaborator of Gray’s, and We Own the Night, starring Mark Wahlberg, in addition to his films, Two Lovers, The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z, and Ad Astra, all of which set the bar for both screenwriting and direction.  Gray’s most recent feature, Armageddon Time, is a deeply personal film inspired by Gray’s childhood. A reflection on the strength of family, the complexity of friendship, and the realities of class as seen through the eyes of a young Jewish boy growing up in 1980s Queens, the film’s star-studded cast includes leading actors Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway, and Jeremy Strong.  In addition to speaking with Gray on his process of writing and directing each of his seven critically-acclaimed feature films, AFF was eager to honor Gray with our coveted Bill Wittliff Award for Screenwriting, an annual award presented to leading storytellers within film, television and new media. Gray adds this accolade to his five Palme d’Or nominations, as well as the Silver Lion Award.  During our annual Writers Conference, Barbara Morgan sat down with Gray to discuss how he became a pillar of American filmmaking.  Ad Astra clips courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Little Odessa clips courtesy of Fine Line Features. Lost City of Z clips courtesy of Sierra Afinity, LLC. We Own the Night clips courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
This week on On Story we're joined by director Ric Roman Waugh for a post-screening deep dive into his newest action thriller, Kandahar. Formerly an actor and stuntman who appeared in countless films, including Universal Soldier, The Last of the Mohicans, and Lethal Weapon 2, Waugh is certainly no stranger to action. Now known for his work as a writer, producer, and director, Waugh utilizes his background in stunt work to create many of today's leading thrillers, such as Felon, Snitch, Shot Caller, and Angel Has Fallen, serving on all as writer and director. Recently in 2020, Waugh directed Greenland, a disaster thriller starring Waugh's frequent collaborator, Gerard Butler, which follows the story of John Garrity, who must save the United States from imminent destruction by a comet. Waugh's newest action thriller, Kandahar, was written by former U.S. Military Intelligence Officer Mitchell La Fortune, and follows the journey of undercover CIA operative Tom Harris, who along with his translator must flee hostile territory in Afghanistan after their covert mission is exposed. Both starring and produced by Gerard Butler, the film is based on LaFortune's own experience serving in Afghanistan during the 2013 Snowden leaks. Never short on suspense or excitement, Kandahar is a high-stakes race against time, set against the complex political background of the War on Terror. So sit back - or, well more likely on the edge of your seat - as Barbara Morgan sits down with director Ric Roman Waugh to talk all things Kandahar. Clips of Kandahar courtesy of Open Road Films.
This week on On Story, AFF Moderator Harrison Glaser sits down with television writing legend Alec Berg for an in-depth conversation on his triumphant comedy writing career. Nothing short of a comedic genius, Berg's writing credits include some of television's most hilarious series, including his work writing, directing, and producing Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, Mike Judge's Silicon Valley, and most recently, HBO's Barry, which he co-created with SNL legend Bill Hader. Barry, which was recently renewed for a fourth season, is an Emmy-nominated dark comedy hit that follows down-and-out hitman Barry Berkman, played by Bill Hader. Barry's assignments bring him to Los Angeles, where he finds himself joining a local acting class for wannabe talent taught by Gene Cousineau, played by none other than Henry Winkler. Through this class and a budding relationship with aspiring actress Sally Reed, this not-so-cold-blooded killer finds himself amidst an existential crisis, asking as we all often do, what is it he really wants out of life? Only Berg, a master of situational comedy, would think to put a hitman in a beginner's acting class and to make it lighthearted and funny, but as many of our listeners know, there's nothing lighthearted or easy about breaking into the world of comedy. Berg breaks down for our AFF audience his journey, which started by gaining inspiration from the tapes of prior comedy legends like Steve Martin, to his early work writing for Seinfeld, to expanding his credit from writer to writer-director, to ultimately making a career and name for himself as one of television's leading comedy creators and showrunners. So get ready for a lesson in laughter from comedy legend Alec Berg. Clips of Barry and Silicon Valley courtesy of Home Box Office, Inc. Clips of Seinfeld courtesy of NBC.
This week on On Story, AFF Moderator Andy Volk sat down with writer-director Elegance Bratton and actor Raúl Castillo for a post-screening Q&A of their latest feature film, The Inspection. Released last November by A24, The Inspection is an absolutely heart-wrenching drama inspired by Bratton's own experience. The film follows Ellis French, a young, gay black man played by Tony-nominated actor Jeremy Pope who is rejected by his mother and family. With very few options for his future, Ellis joins the Marines, doing whatever it takes to succeed in a system that has cast him aside. This deeply moving film is a sharp look at how one can find strength, support, and a sense of belonging in the most unexpected places. Just as inspiring as the film is Elegance Bratton's own artistic trajectory, which exemplifies perseverance and determination in creation. Bratton began making films while serving as a US Marine after spending a decade homeless. Now an acclaimed, boundary-breaking director, writer, and producer, Bratton's films have played at over two hundred film festivals worldwide, including Sundance, Outfest, BFI, New York City, Black Star Film Festival, and of course, at the Austin Film Festival. Beyond Bratton's festival success, he made his television debut as the creator and executive producer of the Viceland series, My House, which was nominated in 2019 for the GLAAD Media Award's Outstanding Documentary category. Additionally, his 2019 documentary, Pier Kids, made its streaming debut in August of 2021. Also in 2021, Bratton received the Film Independent Truer than Fiction Spirit Award presented to emerging directors of non-fiction features. And let's not forget that Bratton holds degrees from both Columbia University and the NYU Tisch Graduate School of Film. Yet summing up Elegance by merely his degrees, accolades, and awards does not provide the full picture. A master of harvesting film narratives and the overlooked stories right in front of us, Elegance uses his vision to highlight the universal power of our shared humanity. Joining Bratton is actor, playwright, and Texas's own Raúl Castillo. Castillo stars in the film as Rosales, a drill instructor who takes French under his wing. Castillo's artful performance is a nuanced depiction of masculinity and vulnerability, subverting traditional narratives through the duality of Rosales's stern yet nurturing mentorship, a complexity Castillo was eager to explore. Known for his starring roles in Amexicano, Cold Weather, We Are the Animals, as well as his role as Richie Donado Ventura in the HBO series, Looking, Castillo is known for his truthful embodiments of complex masculinity. Originally a playwright, Castillo has brought authentic Latinx stories to off-Broadway stages through his plays Border Stories, a trio of one-acts about life at the US-Mexico border, Knives and Other Sharp Objects, which premiered at the Public Theater in New York City, and his dark comedic family drama, Between You, Me, and the Lampshade, developed with the Atlantic Theater Company. We were thrilled to have both Elegance and Raúl, two exceptional storytellers, at the Austin Film Festival to speak to their creative process behind the film. So, do I have your attention yet? Are you standing at attention? Good. Let's dive deeper into The Inspection. Clips of The Inspection courtesy of A24.
This week on On Story, AFF Moderator and Senior Programmer, Andy Volk, sat down with writer, director, and producer James Gray for a post-screening Q&A of his coming-of-age drama, Armageddon Time. A deeply personal film inspired by Gray's childhood, Armageddon Time is a reflection on the strength of family, the complexity of friendship, and the realities of class as seen through the eyes of a young Jewish boy growing up in 1980s Queens. Through the brilliant performances of its all-star cast, which includes leading actors such as Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong, Armageddon Time is a beautiful, detailed, and intimate portrait of how privilege, inequality, and prejudice are integral to the American experience. AFF was ecstatic to welcome the preeminent writer-director James Gray, not only to speak more about the film but also to honor him as the 2022 recipient of AFF's coveted Bill Wittliff Award for Screenwriting, an annual award presented to leading storytellers within film, television, and new media. A true visionary, Gray made his directorial debut with his acclaimed film, Little Odessa, which earned him nominations for both Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay at the 1994 Independent Spirit Awards. Other acclaimed features in Gray's canon include The Yards, starring Joaquin Phoenix, who is in fact a frequent collaborator of Gray's, and We Own the Night, starring Mark Wahlberg, in addition to his films Two Lovers, The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z, and Ad Astra, all of which are critically acclaimed and set the bar for both screenwriting and direction. So join us and the legendary director James Gray for a little trip back to the 1980s and a closer look at Armageddon Time. Clips of Armageddon Time courtesy of AT Picture Ventures LLC.
This week on On Story, it's all about Women Talking, and I'm not just referencing our powerhouse guests, Academy Award-winning producer Dede Gardner and Oscar-nominated writer-director Sarah Polley, but also their newest film collaboration and adaptation, Women Talking. Women Talking is a drama feature based on Miriam Toews' critically acclaimed novel of the same name. Inspired by true events from a sequestered community in Bolivia, the film follows a group of women in an isolated religious colony as they struggle to reconcile their faith amidst a series of assaults committed by the colony's men. This raw and vulnerable look at domestic violence is ultimately a story of women's resilience, and it's beautifully portrayed by leading actors Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessica Buckley, Judith Ivey and Frances McDormand. Austin Film Festival was thrilled to include this powerful film in our 2022 film slate. But a little more on the women talking in this post-screening Q&A. AFF was honored to award Dede Gardner with the 2022 Polly Platt Award for Producing, an Austin Film Festival award intended to recognize producers with a keen sense of story who have demonstrated a commitment to fostering new talent. Throughout her career, Gardner has produced many Academy Award and Golden Globe-winning films, including pioneering work such as Minari, If Beale Street Could Talk, Moonlight, The Big Short, Vice, Selma, 12 Years a Slave, And Terrence Malick's Palme d'Or winner, The Tree of Life. Her recent television releases include HBO's limited series, The Third Day, as well as the Amazon series, The Underground Railroad, and Outer Range. Joining Gardner is Women Talking's writer-director, Sarah Polley. Formerly an actress known for her leading role in the television series, Ramona, Polley made her directorial debut with her film, Away from Her, which was Oscar-nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Polley also received the Writer's Guild of America Award for Best Documentary Screenplay for her doc, Stories We Tell. Most recently, she executive-produced and wrote the Netflix limited series, Alias Grace, which she adapted from Margaret Atwood's novel. In short, Sarah Polley is a master at taking existing stories and filtering them through a lens of her own. AFF moderator Marissa Padden spoke with Dede Gardner and Sarah Polley after their screening at this year's Austin Film Festival to give our audience an insider's look at the art of adaptation and to host an honest conversation about tackling stories with difficult subjects. Sh! The women are talking, it's time to listen. Clips of Women Talking courtesy of United Artists Releasing.