The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Secret Life of the Cattle Baron

At the top of the grand staircase at the Driskill Hotel there is a door. Hung over this door is a plaque that reads: "Cattle Baron's Suite". I've seen it each of the four years I've attended the Austin Film Festival, and for each of the four that door has remained sealed. Two years ago I remember seeing a newspaper folded up in front of the threshhold suggesting that the Baron himself was present. Did he attend panels? Did he knock back shots of whiskey at the Driskill Bar not caring if he was sitting next to someone important, because HE was the man? Did he ever complain about the frigid temperature in the main ballroom? Of course he didn't, because if he had the temperature would have been raised to a degree of his liking. The Cattle Baron gets what the Cattle Baron wants.

Sometimes I imagine the door opening. The Baron comes out for his morning newspaper. He's wearing a ten gallon hat, clenching a lit cigar in the corner of his mouth, cloaked in a frilly robe of the pretty young thing he banged the night before. The Baron looks my way and shoots me a Texas wink that says: "I own all the cattle and you don't." And then he moseys back into his palatial suite and shuts the door, never to be seen by me again.

There is a lot we can learn from the Cattle Baron, me in particular. Every year I attend the Austin Film Festival I see hundreds of faces. Some of them familiar, all of them sharing the same desperate dream. They're hoping for a break, sizing up the competition, fighting that negative voice that says they aren't good enough, that they are wasting their time, that they should give up. For some the voice is strong and requires willful suppression. For others the voice is a whisper that comes and goes at inopportune times. But the voice is there. If you don't hear it, I salute you and bid you good luck at fighting the demons that reside elsewhere in your life.

For the rest of us, the festival exists somewhere between cavorting with friends and handling unstable and highly volatile chemicals while walking a tight rope above a tankful of piranha dotted with infectious lesions. We must walk around calmly, talk, joke, and be merry while always being aware, always being "on", and always asking yourself why you aren't at a point where Lawrence Kasdan is taking you out to dinner to pick your brain about screenwriting technique.

The answer is a fundamental truth that starts out as a bold-faced lie. You've got to know you belong. You've got to believe you are on equal footing with all of the professionals you come across. The minute you identify yourself as trying to win the favor of someone better than you, you become one of the beggars scrounging for morsels of food cast off by the Elite. And if you are not arrogant enough to truly believe it, you fake it. And the more you fake it, the more you begin to realize that maybe you're not faking at all. You realize that you had the ability to go back to Kansas all along. Has the lie become the truth or have you merely uncovered the truth by investing in what you thought was a lie?

Does it really matter? Each year the festival gives me something different. Sometimes it gives me a sense of community. Sometimes it gives me inspiration. It always reminds me why I'm putting myself through this process. This time it made me realize that I have to own this thing. I have to truly believe I belong, know that I have the talent required to succeed and the wherewithal to see it all through. What I don't want is to find that I'm attending the festival each year to meet up with friends and tell myself that I'm doing something when all I'm really doing is spending $1000 for $100 in beer.

So I guess I have to be the Cattle Baron, even if I have no idea what a Cattle Baron does.

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  • At 12:26 AM, Blogger Brett said…

    Yeah, that's been pretty much my attitude since Day 2 of Year 1: I have to make this thing worth the time and expense, else I'm really screwing my family and myself.

    So far, so good.

    PS-- I have twice seen "spent" room service trays on the floor outside the Cattle Baron's Suite.


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