AFF 2011 Interview: Ben Foster, 'Strings'



The 18th Austin Film Festival is here. To help celebrate all the locally connected movies at this year's fest, we've reached out to a number of filmmakers to find out about their Austin and Texas-tied films screening at the fest.

Strings is a a thriller co-directed by Austinite Ben Foster and written by co-director Mark Dennis (pictured above at Tulsa Film Festival with Ben on the left). The film is about a grieving man who opts for an experimental therapy to start a new life with unexpected consequences.  I haven't seen the movie yet, but Austinite Karl Anderson, who has a significant role in the film, was very impressive during the script reading of By Way of Helena at AFF last year, so I can't wait to see his peformance on screen.  In the meantime Ben Foster graciously took the time to answer some questions about Strings, AFF and Austin. 

Slackerwood:  Describe your film for us, in a quick and dirty paragraph.

Ben Foster:  Strings is about a musician that discovers his therapist is using patients to commit vigilante crimes. He gets involved with this underground crime ring and can never return to his old life. 

AFF Review: DeadHeads


DeadHeads still photo

The popularity of AMC's The Walking Dead series testifies to the longevity of this horror subgenre, with the success of Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland prompting more "zombedies." Both of these movies focus on the survival of unaffected individuals during a zombie apocalypse, but DeadHeads takes another road with the story of two zombies just trying to survive and fulfill unrequited love. Written, produced and directed by brothers Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce, DeadHeads pays homage to many of the classic zombie/undead films, especially Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead, for which their father Bart Pierce handled the photographic special effects.

DeadHeads centers around Mike Kellerman (Michael McKiddy), who awakens to find himself in a strange place. After escaping, he encounters and runs in fear from flesh-eating zombies. What Mike doesn't quite get is that he is also one of the "undead," as he is able to speak and think regularly. A chance encounter with Brent (Ross Kidder) -- another zombie who can think and talk -- leads Mike to the realization that he's been dead for over three years. Even worse, as his memory returns he recalls that he had been on his way to propose to his girlfriend Ellie (Natalie Victoria). But how did he die to begin with, and why are there zombie-killing bounty hunters pursuing him?

AFF 2011, Day Three: Free Wine and Tex Mex P*rn


Steven Belyeu & Jake Silverstein announce the "Where I'm From" Film winners

My very, very full day started early Saturday morning with the Molly Shannon taping of KLRU's Overheard with Evan Smith. She was running late, but was delightful when she arrived.  It was totally worth getting up at 7 am for. Choice bit of trivia that she told the audience before the cameras were running: when she was a waitress working in LA (before her big break on SNL), Johnny Depp would eat at her restaurant and leave extremely generous tips. She said he told her that his mom had once been a waitress.

After the taping, I hightailed it over to the Bob Bullock Museum where I left my car in the garage for the day and waded through the book festival on Congress towards the Driskill. The first Austin Film Festival item on my schedule for Saturday was the panel led by Elizabeth Hunter and Pamela Gray on "The Heroine's Journey: Writing and Selling the Female-Driven Screenplay."  The room quickly filled up; some people were even standing in the back or sitting on the floor behind the chairs.

AFF 2011 Interview: Eric Steele and Adam Donaghey, 'Uncertain, TX'


We're deep in the heart of the 18th Austin Film Festival we've been spotlighting the Austin films, but Uncertain, TX has so many Texas filmmakers working on it, we just had to do a quick interview with director Eric Steele and producer Adam Donaghey, both based up in the DFW area. Austin's Clay Liford (Wuss, Earthling) did the cinematography. Uncertain, TX may be Steele's first feature film, but he's been active in the local film community. Steele, Donaghey, Barak Epstein and Jason Reimer are all part of Aviation Cinemas, which revived the historic Texas Theatre in 2010.

Describe your film for us, in a quick and dirty paragraph.

Eric Steele: Uncertain, TX is, in essence, the worst bed and breakfast experience imaginable. Two drifters happen upon an old bed and breakfast in a bayou town near the Louisiana/Texas border and encounter a very odd family who psychologically torments them during their stay. It’s a tragicomedy at its core and is purposefully theatrical - inspired by film versions of Shakespeare.

Tell us one thing about this film that is going to make it impossible for people to resist seeing it at the AFF?

Eric Steele: Blind B&B owners. Vast, sprawling Caddo Lake as the backdrop. Nutria. Gar. What else could you want?

Adam Donaghey: Boogie-woogie!

AFF 2011, Day Two: Super Woman Shoes and Free Firefly


Just who is the girl in the picture and why is someone getting her autograph? It's Stella Otto, one of the stars of Sironia.

But first, let's start at the beginning. Today was a packed day, despite only making it to one panel. Had to decide between much needed sleep and a panel, and the sleep won out. But I did make it to one of the Pixar panels.

Kiel Murray and Mary Coleman talked about "Pixar's Story Development Process" and how the innovative animation studio approaches the development of stories and films. Unsurprisingly, no one at Pixar works in a vacuum; while they have directors on staff, every director has to come up with three separate and unique stories to pitch before the script process. Then an iterative approach is used that involves a "brain trust" feedback process as well as feedback from the entire staff of 1200 people. It was refreshing to hear that Pixar films don't get test screenings with kids (which would explain why they work so well for adults). They also use a similar development process for shorts, only anyone at Pixar can submit a story idea.

AFF 2011 Interview, 'Austin High'


Austin High

The 18th Austin Film Festival is almost here. To help celebrate all the locally connected movies at this year's fest, we've reached out to a number of filmmakers to find out about their Austin and Texas-tied films screening at the fest.

The world premiere of the stoner comedy Austin High will take place on Saturday, October 22 at 10:30 pm at the Rollins Theatre in the Long Center. The film screens a second time on Monday, October 24 at 9:30 pm at Rollins.

At fictional Ladybird High School, Principal Samuel Wilson's (Michael S. Wilson) clock is perpetually set to 4:20, that is, until a politician from an unnamed city to the north of Austin comes to town. The politician wants to build more condos, turn Barton Springs into a water park and strictly enforce federal marijuana laws.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

AFF 2011, Day One: Uncertain Freak Dance


There's something inherently refreshing about sitting on the East balcony at the Driskill right before the first scheduled event of AFF. Despite the occasional smoker, and the incessant clanking of metal on metal in a nearby alley that's closed for construction, the cool breeze makes it a perfect Austin day. 

Checking out the other balcony to see if it had fewer smokers (it did), I happened upon the front-runner for best film marketing at a fest this year. The Upright Citizens Brigade had "protestors" out at Sixth and Brazos warning about the dangers of Freak Dancing. Freak Dance screens Friday night at ACC.

For the first time I actually made it to the Opening Remarks kickoff of Austin Film Festival. I was surprised to hear that the Polly Platt tribute and special screening of Bottle Rocket on Saturday was cancelled. Apparently it's been replaced by James Franco's Sal. And the last TBA slot has been announced; it's Post, written and directed by Texas native and True Blood regular Jim Parrack. However, Post is not yet showing on Festival Genius. 

AFF 2011 Interview: Steve Collins, 'You Hurt My Feelings'


The 18th Austin Film Festival is almost here. To help celebrate all the locally connected movies at this year's fest, we've reached out to a number of filmmakers to find out about their Austin and Texas-tied films screening at AFF, and to hear about what they're looking forward to doing during the festival.

Former Austinite Steve Collins has written and directed You Hurt My Feelings, which had its world premiere at Los Angeles Film Festival this summer. You may have seen his last feature, Gretchen, which also starred Courtney Davis and John Merriman. Collins may be living in Connecticut these days but you can tell he sure misses Austin. And he has some ideas about the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue.

Slackerwood:  Describe your film for us, in a quick and dirty paragraph.

Steve Collins:  It's about a damaged guy who uses his job as a nanny to prove to an ex-girlfriend that he's grown up and ready to have a relationship. I never can describe it without it sounding like Mrs. Doubtfire. I wish I could say fans of Mrs. Doubtfire would like it -- maybe they would --but its really a love story about people who are so locked inside themselves they can't communicate. The film uses the beauty of children and the natural world as a beacon of light that draws the characters out of their shell towards love. And Robin Williams plays a man who is slowly turning into a tiny bearded robot.

AFF 2011 Interview: John Merriman, 'You Hurt My Feelings'


Last year the Slackerwood gang declared it the Year of (Chris) Doubek, seeing the local actor everywhere in numerous films. This year it seems to be the Year of Merriman, even if several of the movies in which he appears won't hit screens until next year. 

If you played the six-degree game, you'd have plenty of degrees left over to connect to John Merriman in the Austin and indie film scene. He's acted in at least six feature films in the last year, including  You Hurt My Feelings and An Ordinary Family, which are playing Austin Film Festival this week. He's also in the cast of the upcoming Pictures of Superheroes, Cinema Six, The Man from Orlando and Loves Her Gun, all shot locally this year. Merriman has been in countless shorts including his own Sleep Study (co-written and co-directed by Kerri Lendo), which played AFF last year, and Scott Rice's (student) Oscar-nominated short Perils in Nude Modeling. I'm losing breath simply writing all that and it's just the highlights. 

Insider's Guide: Austin Film Festival 2011



It's the last big film festival of the year in Austin, are you ready? Austin Film Festival has a distinctly different vibe from the other fests in town. It's chiller, for one thing, in part because it's winding down the festival season, if not actually cooler temps. Whether you're a local or visitor, if it's your first time at a film festival, check out our Festival Survival Tips for the basics (and then some).  But there are things to know specifically for AFF, and for this year.

Dressing for the Occasion. Austin is a very casual town, so unless you're going to the Film and Food Gala, no need to get decked out.  Just remember to layer and don't complain about any rain as we desperately need it.  Check Weather Underground for the latest forecasts. On a related note, if you're a smoker you better police your butts and don't even think of throwing one out of a car window, or on the ground during the barbecue on Friday (fire danger is a serious problem in Texas these days).

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