Pleasantly surprised by my 2022 Austin Film Festival screenplay notes

At the heart of the story I submitted to this year’s Austin Film Festival screenplay competition is a man taking on difficult and morally questionable work in order to fund the medical needs of a dying loved one.

Nothing new under the sun, right?

My big twists are the bizarre ways he makes the money, the midpoint shocking reveal, and what I feel is a fairly unique journey the main character takes in order to save the ones he cares about while finding some meaning in his otherwise miserable life.

Which, as one of my readers stated, “provides surprising contrast and leads to a satisfying ending.”

But, don’t take my word for it, check out the Austin Film Festival Script Reader comments below:

[NOTE: In order to protect my premise and major plot points, I’ve had them surgically removed from the script readers comments below.]


The plot is captivating. The writer never overexplains, leaving us the pleasure of piecing things together as we go.

Rather than telling us, the writer shows us little hints that the world isn’t quite what we expect. The gratuitous cruelty of this world comes out organically.

Each vignette is compelling.

The 90-degree turn into Amish country is jarring, as is (character’s) escape, and the reader keeps waiting for some strange reveal that this is still some dangerous part of the job.

The ending wraps up MC’s strange odyssey, completing an unexpected arc for him.

The set-up of Act I runs a bit too long, and all-in point comes a little bit late on page 48, yet it’s all involving, as we watch MC almost cornered into (his new job.)

Although eased into on the road trip, the interval in Amish country can stand more setting up, perhaps through a visual … or through a line of conversation at the poker game.

It could certainly work on the screen as a jarring contrast to what’s come before.

The lead is captivating, an expert worn out by the work he’s so good at.

It would add story energy and boost the audience’s connection to MC to see him, at least once, break through his tired affect and show a sense of pride or reaction to the strangeness of his job—perhaps a small laugh over the bizarre “guess who’s coming to dinner” sequence.

This contrast would shake up the pattern before he returns to his own personal rat race.

Perhaps MC’s friends could be more individualized.

And why does he hide his job from them?

Dialogue is differentiated between characters, especially MC’s clients and, of course, the Amish.

The clipped sentences add a real naturalism to the script.

His buddies sound a bit fungible—perhaps this is intentional.

Overall, this is a page-turner of a script, propelled by a sense of mystery.

The writer does a great job keeping us in the moment, never once overexplaining but letting the world assemble itself as we go.

It’s a portrait of a man sunk into disillusionment and apathy. Even his “bucket list” is thoroughly un-aspirational.

While it would be nice to see the main character occasionally break through his apathy, his need to help his junkie sister justifies his dogged pursuit of income.

What could be improved?

The trip to the countryside is out of the blue and could stand a moment of foreshadowing, perhaps with a prominent picture of an open space in nature.

Likewise, some set up for John Candy, who assumes so much importance in the end, is needed. Maybe they run the movie daily in the pizza place.

Overall, (this story) is an immersive screenplay.