Surviving L.A., the ‘Saturday Morning Massacre’ and Austin Film Festival Screenplays

By  · Published on June 18th, 2012

In what felt like a modern reinterpretation of a Samuel Beckett play, the cast, crew and friends of Saturday Morning Massacre (the Scooby Doo-channeling indie horror flick) wandered the streets of downtown Los Angeles early Sunday morning in search of a bar in which to celebrate the success of their world premiere screening at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival. It was an absurdly repetitious loop of our crowd of fifty or so entering seemingly open drinking establishments only to be informed that we just missed last call. Considering that our fruitless quest began at around 1:00 am, it did not seem all that unreasonable an expectation for us to believe that we could find a bar willing to sell fifty or so drinks to our thirsty group. After being turned away by five or six downtown bars, I decided to abandon the group and head home, but I can only assume that, like Godot and Guffman, Team SMM probably never got those drinks that they were searching for.

That is not to say that their desire for celebration was unreasonable. Despite some synch issues with the projection (which were probably unnoticeable to a majority of the capacity audience), the screening went very well. Considering that SMM is a strange hybrid of comedy and horror, at times the audience did seem a little unsure about whether or not it was okay to laugh; but, most of the time the comedy got the exact reaction I would expect. Eventually, once the unsuspecting tonal shift crept in, the audience got jumpy and skittish right on cue. In other words, the audience obediently played right along with director Spencer Parsons’s playful tricks.

From the two screenings of SMM that I have attended thus far, Officer Lance (Paul Gordon) definitely gets the most laughs, and deservedly so. There were quite a few inspired casting decisions for SMM, but Paul Gordon’s dry delivery works incredibly well for the character of the helpful police officer. Gordon’s Lance is not one of those fumbling or gun crazy law enforcement characters that we are oh so used to seeing in the horror genre. He is a nice, level-headed guy who just happens to develop a crush on Nancy (Ashley Rae Spillers) – and who can blame the guy? Equal parts cute, sexy and empowered, what is not to love about Spillers’ multifaceted personification of Nancy?

As the founder of the gang, Nancy is given the most room to grow as a character, giving Spillers an opportunity to really showcase her range as an actor. As long as the right people see SMM, I think this might just be Spillers’ big break; but then I really do not want to discredit any of the other actors either. The aforementioned Gordon, as well as Josephine Decker, Jonny Mars, Heather Mars and Chris Doubek always bring a mind-blowing level of awesomeness to their performances – I expect to see all of them cast in much more prominent roles in the very near future. Adam Tate’s cinematic debut is equally impressive. It was a huge risk to cast a cinematic virgin such as Tate, especially as a character who not only gets to have a few emotional freak-outs but also participates in the film’s one sex scene. I can only assume that he blew away his director and producers’ expectations.

The trick, of course, is getting the right people to see the film – and all I will say to that point is that a few potential buyers were in the audience at the Saturday night premiere. I have talked with Jonny Mars about this before, but I think Austin independent film community’s biggest chance for financial success is in genre films. That is not to say that local dramas and comedies should fall by the wayside, but genre filmmaking – specifically horror and thrillers – is far more conducive to microscopic production budgets. Just look at Bryan Poyser’s claustrophobic thriller, Lovers of Hate which was picked up by IFC in 2010. Of all of the Austin-based productions released so far in 2012, SMM has the greatest chance at signing the biggest deal. I am very curious to see if that happens during the 2012 LA Film Fest.

Speaking of film festivals, it took a trip to Los Angeles for me to finally have a conversation with Austin Film Festival’s Film Program Director, Stephen Jannise. Which leads me to their latest news… AFF announced that they received a record number of entries to their 19th annual Screenplay and Teleplay Competition. The 6,500+ submissions is a 12% increase from 2011 and an amazing 62% increase from 2009 – and considering the perks for winners, it’s no wonder. Competition winners will receive cash prizes ranging from $1,000 to $5,000; reimbursements for travel and lodging while at the 2012 Festival & Conference; access to and recognition by some of the most important writers, agents, producers and filmmakers in the industry; and will also be included in the annual Producers Book distributed to more than 400 production companies. Advancing writers in the Second Round (roughly top 10–12%), Semifinals and Finals will be given exclusive opportunities to attend special roundtables and panels at this year’s Conference.

AFF not only recognizes the work of writers for feature screenplays but also those for television. Over 1,500 of this year’s submissions are in the Teleplay Competition, which is open to both spec scripts for existing shows and original pilots. For the first time, the winner of the Sitcom Pilot category will be given the opportunity to have his or her winning script read aloud and workshopped during a special Roundtable session at the Conference with a panel of industry professionals including Alec Berg (writer The Dictator, Eurotrip, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Kell Cahoon (writer/producer “Psych”, “NewsRadio”, “Just Shoot Me”), and Etan Cohen (writer Men in Black III, Tropic Thunder, “King of the Hill”),

19th annual Austin Film Festival & Conference will be held October 18–25, 2012 in Austin, TX. AFF has already announced the first round of panelists for this year’s Conference, including some of the top screenwriters, directors, showrunners and producers in the business. The full list of panelists can be found here. Stay tuned to Austin Cinematic Limits for announcements from AFF with this year’s awardees, film lineup, Conference panels and more. For more information on Austin Film Festival and to purchase passes or badges go to

Austin Movie Events This Week:

6/18 – Alamo Village — AFF Audience Award Series presents Ecstasy of Order: Tetris Masters. (More info)

6/19 – Alamo South Lamar — AFS’s Essential Cinema Series features Of Love and Other Demons. (More info)

6/19–6/21 – Stateside at the Paramount — Jimmy Stewart double feature of Harvey and Anatomy of a Murder. (More info)

6/19–6/24 – Paramount Theatre — Hitchcock Week features The Birds, Rope, The 39 Steps, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, and Strangers on a Train. (More info)

6/22 – Rolling Roadshow (Laguna Gloria) – The Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow, Austin Classical Guitar Society, and AMOA-Arthouse are teaming to present the 1927 silent masterpiece The Unknown. Les Freres Meduses composed an original film score for two guitars and violin which will be performed live with virtuoso violinist William Fedkenheuer. (More info)

6/22–6/25 – Alamo Ritz – The Alamo’s Summer of 82 series continues with The Thing. (More info)

6/24 – Yellow Jacket Stadium — Cinema East presents Gayby. (More inf0)