Screenwriting professor attends Austin Writer’s Conference, advances as Second Rounder with Hits of the ‘70s screenplay

BY CJ GIBSON

Dr. Brett Weaver, an FHSU English professor, spent a week this fall in Texas at the annual Austin Writer’s Conference.

The Austin Writer’s Conference took place Oct. 21-24 as a part of the annual Austin Film Festival (AFF). 

Among the panels by notable figures in the field that the AFF features, Weaver attended one about improving dialogue writing and one by Lethal Weapon’s screenwriter, Shane Black

Another benefit of the conference is networking. Weaver used this opportunity to pitch his work to potential producing companies, such as Zero Gravity Management, which was present at the 2021 conference. 

“[Zero Gravity Management] is more interested in psychological thrillers,” Weaver said. “This is very important to know that certain managers and agents are looking for certain types. Most people fail at that.” 

Weaver knew that pitching his comedy to ill-fitting companies like Zero Gravity Management would not work, but those opportunities exist nonetheless.

Weaver submitted his screenplay Hits of the ‘70s in the Comedy Feature Screenplay competition. His work was a “Second Rounder,” meaning that it made the top 10% of roughly 1,300 submissions.

Weaver provided a short synopsis of his screenplay: 

“Three retired actors go to visit their dear friend in the nursing home. But they’ve missed a month. And when they get there, he’s gone ga-ga. He’s lost it, dementia has taken him. So they leave the facility, go to the nearest bar, and get roaring drunk, and decide that they’re not going to end up like their friend. They decide they’re going to die with dignity, on their own terms. So they decide to hire a hitman to take them out in their own way, and it will all be perfect and everything’s wonderful. But of course, they meet the hitman, and it all goes completely wrong.”

Weaver encouraged students interested in someday attending the Austin Film Festival to take ENG675: Playwriting/Screenwriting this spring. This class is available only once every three years and can be taken by students of any major.

In the course, students will write roughly 30 pages of a screenplay. This script can be for either the first act of a feature film, the first half of an hour-long TV pilot, or a sitcom pilot.

“I would love to have them write a 110-page screenplay, that would be lovely, but there’s no time,” Weaver said.

The class takes place Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. For the first few weeks, Weaver will lecture. Students will then begin working on plot outlining and character development. Then the class will focus on workshops, where students will do peer critiques, allowing their classmates to help improve their work.

“More than even [Intro to Creative Writing], this is the one class where students can actually see how they improve. It’s very difficult to do that,” Weaver said.

The class requires no textbooks, but students are required to purchase either Movie Magic Screenwriter or Final Draft, software that allows them to more easily format their writing like a screenplay. 

Weaver’s reputation as the charismatic Hawaiian-shirt-wearing British professor precedes him. 

However, despite Weaver’s own opinion, his RateMyProfessors page alone shows that he is a notoriously tough grader among the English department, as he attempts to mirror the harshness of the real world writing arena. 

Giving students realistic expectations, however, means that earning an A is about as possible as writing the next blockbuster hit, as Weaver’s—and every other professional writer’s—collection of rejection letters shows. 

“It’s a killer business. It’s really brutal,” Weaver said.

Prospective screenwriting students worried about their GPA would be best off auditing the class, allowing them to benefit from Weaver’s beguiling lectures and workshops without fearing the impact of a subpar grade.

“I can show you how you improve. Guaranteed. Absolutely. Everyone improves. Guaranteed. I’ve never had anybody go sideways or backwards in Screenwriting. Can’t happen,” Weaver said.

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