As writers, we can get so focused on outlining our spec scripts or rewriting our TV pilots that we can easily forget how much of the industry is fueled by relationships. Even if you have a great script, sometimes it all comes down to who you know. While many of us find it challenging to get out there and network face to face, don’t lose sight on how many opportunities exist for those of us willing to put down our laptops and attend the top film festivals and writing conferences.
In addition to meeting other writers and creating a support system, producers are always looking for the next big script, especially ones that haven’t yet made the rounds in Hollywood. It’s also good to get out there and create relationships with literary managers and agents in a fun, casual environment. Besides, anything beats sending query letters or making cold calls. It’s also good to see what new films are coming down the pipeline, or find out what projects are in development so you can see what’s selling in the marketplace.
Here is our list of the seven best festivals and events for screenwriters to attend if you want to meet industry professionals and get inspired.
1. Austin Film Festival
This Texas film festival is known for championing writers and filmmakers in a creative incubator that offers an eight-day film festival, a four-day conference with educational panels and meet and greets, and competitions for screenwriters, TV writers and playwrights. Did we mention the scrumptious local barbecue visitors can’t get enough of? The 26th annual Austin Film Festival will take place from October 24 to 31, 2019. Visit austinfilmfestival.com for more info.
2. ScreenCraft Writers Summit
Held in Atlanta, Georgia, a city that’s known as the Hollywood of the South, three days of panels, workshops, pitch events and networking parties help connect writers with producers, agents, managers and other industry professions. In 2019, featured mentors and speakers include Meg LeFauve, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Inside Out, Steven E. de Souza, writer of Die Hard, and Hannah Ozer, literary manager at Kaplan/Perrone. In partnership with the Atlanta Film Festival, the 2019 ScreenCraft Writers Summit will take place from April 5 to 8, 2019. Visit screencraft.org/atlanta for more info. Don’t wait to get your tickets, last year’s Summit sold out before the early deadline.
3. Toronto Screenwriting Conference
June is one of the best times to visit Canada and this “Real writers. Real talk.” event on June 23 and June 24, 2019, is timed perfectly. Two full days of lectures, panels, roundtables and workshops with over 500 screenwriters, producers and development executives every year, you’ll want to get your passport renewed for this one. Visit torontoscreenwritingconference.com for more info.
4. Sundance Film Festival
Every filmmaker should go to Sundance at least once to see the world’s best independent films, ski the fluffy Utah snow and enjoy the endless parties. Park City is like a beautiful little bubble where networking opportunities exist on steroids, stars aren’t just in the sky and egos are checked at the ski lift. Sundance 2019 is from Jan. 24 to Feb. 3, 2019. Visit sundance.org for more info.
5. Willamette Writers Conference
Every year in Portland, Oregon, the Willamette Writers Conference offers three packed days all about writers and writing. You’ll meet industry professionals, learn from world-class faculty & keynotes, and connect with a community of writers. While focused on book authors, the conference also has a significant Hollywood emphasis, with managers, agents and producers speaking on entertainment industry topics, especially adapting books to screenplays. Willamette Writers is the largest writers organization in the Pacific Northwest. The conference was founded by Portland writer Kay Snow a half-century ago with the goal of bringing published and unpublished writers together for mutual help and support. They also offer a writing competition that features a screenplay category.
6. Writer’s Digest Conference
The Writer’s Digest Conference is held annually in New York City. While it’s primarily for authors and writers, it has some great programming for screenwriters as well. It offers tons of info and events about advance your writing career creatively and professionally. You’ll gain valuable tips to improve your craft, explore publishing options and learn how to establish a sustainable career—all while being inspired by successful authors and your fellow attendees. And it’s all brought to you by Writer’s Digest, the experts at nurturing and developing writers at every stage of their career for 100 years.
7. South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival
What’s exciting about this Austin-based festival is that it runs concurrently with the South by Southwest Music Festival, offering a festival experience like no other. In 2019, the festival will feature a variety of networking opportunities along with featured talks about cryptocurrency, eSports and “cannabusiness” (a look at opportunities within the growing Cannabis industry). SXSW Festival is held from March 8 to 17, 2019. Visit sxsw.com for more info.
8. Slamdance Film Festival
From the subversive to the silly, this festival is known for supporting truly emerging filmmakers with highly original voices. This year, Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh will be presented with the 2019 Founders Award, given to a Slamdance alumnus who has continued to support the filmmaker community of Slamdance well into their careers. Slamdance Film Festival takes place from January 25 to 31, in Park City, Utah, alongside Sundance. Visit slamdance.com for more info.
9. Golden Raspberry Awards
Known as the “Razzies” these are the awards you don’t want to win since they are given out to the worst movies and performances of the year. Though such an award may sound crass, the awards are born out of a deep appreciation for movies and actors. Some famous actors like Sandra Bullock have actually attended the Razzies to collect their awards in good fun. What better place to meet other filmmakers and bond over bad movies? The Razzies will take place February 23, 2019 (the night before the Oscars). Visit razzies.com for more info.
10. Story Expo
Held in both New York and Los Angeles six months apart, you can choose which coast works best for you. Touted as the world’s biggest conference for storytellers of all kinds, including screen and TV writers, novelists, gamers, journalists and comic book writers. Speakers, classes and time in the Story Expo Pitching Room all provide access to agents, managers and production companies. Story Expo New York is March 23 to 24, 2019; Story Expo Los Angeles is Sept. 27 to 29, 2019. Visit storyexpo.com for more info.
Shanee Edwards graduated from UCLA Film School with an MFA in Screenwriting and is currently the film critic for SheKnows.com. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her pilot, Ada and the Machine, is currently in development with America Ferrera’s Take Fountain Productions. You can follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards
Photo credit: ScreenCraft Writers Summit in Partnership with the Atlanta Film Festival (2018)