MovieMaker and the Austin Film Festival team up to interview Jason Russel Waller, Screenwriter To Watch 2022.
Scroll down to read Jason's interview with MovieMaker Magazine!
Jason and wife Stephanie welcome you into their colorful 100 year old farmhouse in Style & Design.
(excerpts from full interview)
For a generation, the Austin Film Festival has honored some of the greatest storytellers in film and television.
Now entering its 29th year of championing the story and its creators, AFF strives to continue to bring a new generation of writers into the spotlight because their work is cause for celebration. Once again partnering with MovieMaker, here are 15 screenwriters that have been given that spotlight.
Read their stories. They are names you should know.
JASON RUSSEL WALLER
Writer/Creator Con Man Daddy, Writer/Director The Devil’s Cello, Writer/Director Transcendental Butterfly
Who: Jason Russel Waller grew up on the road and on the run with a con-man father and unstable stepmother. Movie theaters were a frequent hideout for his family and, as it turns out, geysers of inspiration for a boy with abundant creativity. Sights and sounds working together to produce an emotional experience inspired Jason to one day make movies of his own. He began his career as a teenage actor, and at 27 realized his dream of writing and directing his first feature film, The Devil’s Cello. Currently, Waller is revisiting his past. He’s written a pilot for a One-Hour Drama titled Con Man Daddy about his incredibly true adventures of a childhood filled with car chases, ludicrous scams, and escape through imagination.
How did you get your start in screenwriting?
I used to sneak into the University of Texas and study whatever resources I could find on filmmaking. I wrote the script for my first feature film The Devil’s Cello in the UT library. But since I wasn't an actual student I’d have to continue my education another way; I decided to learn by doing. I needed a budget in order to turn my screenplay into a movie so I mowed lawns, got a couple credit cards, and occasionally received small residuals from a tv commercial I was in. I obsessively wrote and directed for three years until all the words on the page were up on the silver screen. I’ll never forget the summer of 1999 looking up at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema marquee and seeing "The Devil’s Cello".
Who are some of your favorite screenwriters? Who do you look to for inspiration?
I remember being inspired by one script in particular. I was thirteen years old in 1982—no internet at the time, but there was a place out of California where you could mail-order screenplays from your favorite movies. Cool! I ordered The Long Riders written by Bill Bryden, Steven Phillip Smith and Stacy & James Keach. I read it over and over; studied the simplicity of the descriptions and the exclusion of proper English in dialogue. I noted which lines had been rearranged, combined or simply omitted from the actual film. Thumbing through that paper script was really my first lesson in screenwriting. Using pencil and paper I began writing little screenplays of my own. To get the spacing and indentations correct I placed my loose leaf paper over The Long Riders script and used it as a pattern.
What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write in your career? How did you navigate the challenge?
My two brothers and I spent our childhood living out of cheap motels and shitty cars, always staying just one step ahead of the law because our father was a fugitive—a real life con man, hence the title of my current One-Hour Drama Con Man Daddy. Our mother was a real piece of work too. Her personality was unpredictable, flipping in an instant from kind and caring to unbalanced and violent. There’s a scene in Con Man Daddy where the family is traveling down a Texas highway when our mother abruptly turns from the front passenger seat and begins viciously attacking my ten-year-old brother and ripping the hair from his head. As difficult as this memory was to resurrect, the only way to find the scene was to write my way through it. And on the other side I found healing.
How has being part of the Austin Film Festival Community helped spark your storytelling journey or career?
Writing is a lonely and neurotic exercise in frustration. There’s a point when you’ve written and rewritten something so many times you don’t even know what you’re looking at anymore. By attending the AFF and entering the Pitch Competition I was able to share what I had been working on with other writers and they were able to share their projects with me. Interacting with this community of writers gave me the encouragement and invigoration I so desperately needed. I received positive feedback from the likes of Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Adam Kolbrenner—this kind of thing only happens at the Austin Film Festival.
What are you looking forward to in 2022?
I have crafted and prepared my One-Hour Drama Con Man Daddy, not to mention the lifetime it took me to live the story. I’ve done the work. It’s ready. In 2022 I’m looking forward to making the connection that is the impetus to getting the series produced. MM