If you have attended the Austin Film Festival, you know the best part of the festival are the panels. The panels are an intimate chat with filmmakers, directors and screenwriters about the process of creating unforgettable films. For the past few years, the festival has released recorded panels as a podcast  and even books. This year, however, they have outdone themselves with the release of On Story—Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films. 

With a lot of these conversations available for download as a podcast, many of you may wonder what is the point in buying the book? I’m a purist, and there is nothing like holding paper in your hands and losing yourself in a story.  Having an audio medium (podcasts) transferred to a visual medium (book), it doesn’t lose the calm inspiring energy of the festival`s panels, and somehow Barbara Morgan (festival director and editor of the book) was able to adapt that for the book. 

Like the festival, this book can be used as a filmmaking tool. There is so many wonderful words of wisdom from the greats, it’s inspiring as a whole. However, when you have examples of how they worked through problems or work through production, it givesyou hope that anything is possible on your own projects. There are many quotes that deserve to be highlighted, and the beautiful thing is that there are many forms of advice from the plethora of filmmakers.

With 12 chapters, any where from two to four panelists for each topic, the wealth of knowledge offered in this book is expansive. One might think it becomes too much, too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. On the contrary, having so many opinions and examples proves that when it comes to filmmaking there is not one way to get it done. Each chapter’s structure is set up differently, replicating the variety of the panels at the festival. The diversity helps in expanding the education offered throughout this book.

One of my favorite quotes from the book comes from David Milch, creator of NYPD Blue, “Is there one right style? It’s how do you gain access to your own and to your viewer’s imagination.”

That’s not to say the topics are easy to digest, as they sometimes come with a heavy outcome. With topics such as intense tones of films like Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, the subject matter becomes weighted. The beauty about this book is that no matter the journey, through emotional heartache or production hell, all journeys become validated. It may not be a book you’d want to have a marathon reading session with, as you will want to take the time to digest and absorb the information at hand.

Since the panels are discussing the process of filmmaking and their connection to the films, it’s not necessary to have seen all the films in which they are talking about. If anything, it makes the audience want to watch all of these movies, again or for the first time, because now I have a deeper understanding of the production. These films become more than just visual representations of a script, acting, and directing. They become a robust entity that can transcend eras.

There’s a vulnerability that’s expressed through the pages that is hard to explain and must be experienced. These panels were a way for the filmmakers to revisit some of their most personal work, and to read that, to be a part of their connections were humbling. These weren’t just paydays for these creators, instead they were a piece of their soul. To read it from them, personally, is an honor we are grateful to have. 

These films have imprinted on our hearts for one reason or another, but to see how that is similar (or different) for the ones behind the production was great. It connected us to the films, to the filmmakers, in unexpected ways. It’s validating to know that we all love the same movies and with the same gusto.

 On Story—Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films is the handheld, tangible version of the best part of the Austin Film Festival. The amount of knowledge and experience in this book can be an entertaining read or a filmmakers bible. It’s an IMDb list of our favorite films told by the brilliant minds behind them. As Bill Wittliff says in the end of the book, “every storyteller is looking for a story and every story is looking for a storyteller,” On Story becomes both for the writer and creator in all of us.

On Story—Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films is now available for purchase.


Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Fons PR