Some AFF28 Screenplay Feedback Goes Viral for Its Poor Quality

Credit: Austin Film Fest
If you pay good money, you expect good notes! 

The Austin Film Festival bills itself as one of the best for writers. We've talked about it on here as having one of the most reputable contests around. And we called it one of the five best screenplay competitions. But it might be time we rescinded that designation. While the festival is great to attend and network within, it seems like the feedback people are getting after sending their screenplays in for evaluation is amateurish, lazy, and a waste of time and money. 

Late last night, stories of the Austin Film Festival's feedback went viral, with many posting the comments they paid to get on their script. They range from poor to tone-deaf and racist. I wish I was kidding, but I am not. I'll post some highlights below, but head over to Twitter to check more out. 

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This is all pretty abhorrent, especially if these are in fact coming from people who pay over $100 to submit to one of the Festivals coverage programs. Many wondered if the readers were being paid for their work. 

The official comment from the Austin Film Festival is as follows: 

For the past 28 years, the Austin Film Festival has been committed to furthering the art and craft of storytelling by supporting emerging voices. It has come to our attention that some of our script readers' comments failed to meet our competition standards and unfortunately passed through our vetting system. We apologize for this failure as it does not reflect the care and attention our organization promises to devote to each submitted story. We are evaluating and removing those script readers who failed to provide personalized script notes at the caliber required. We are honored to be surrounded by a talented writing community and have asked the 2021 competition entrants to contact us directly with any concerns regarding their reader's feedback. We will continue to evaluate our reading process for the future to ensure it continues to support our mission. 

A quick word on contests—many times they are not as reputable as you'd like. Before you enter any contest, try to see if it has a reputation.

We covered three different script reading services. I liked most of them. Only one was more expensive than Austin and it comes with an hour of feedback. These little paragraphs of people skimming your stories are definitely not worth it. 

As for AFF we have always been friends, partners, and proponents of their competition and services, so this was deeply disappointing to us. We are encouraged to have heard from them on the issue and happy to know they are taking steps to remedy it. 

It's a hard-earned lesson for all involved. If you bite off more than you can chew, promising more than you can deliver, the internet has a way of finding out. At the same time, be aware of what you are getting when you submit your scripts and films places, and adjust expectations and wallets accordingly.      

Editor's note, Dec. 9: updated with a statement from AFF.

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Your Comment


like just about everything in Austin these days, AWW has simply grown big for its britches. throw SxSW into the same camp. i live in Austin, have since the 1970's, and have little time or tolerance for either.

December 4, 2021 at 12:27PM, Edited December 4, 12:27PM


My feedback was pretty actionable on both scripts, but I had this experience on another contest recently. Poor notes that seemed phoned in and didn’t reflect the higher score I’d received from a much more reputable service. I realized it is important to note how many readers evaluate each script. If at AFF the first pass reader is bogus, unless your first ten pages is amazing and overtones the first one, it gets shut out. The readers for the festival aren’t paid (unless they are returning and then not a regular rate I believe). Mostly people earn their entrance badges and get to put it on their resume. I think mostly what happened is that everyone wrote another screenplay during quarantine and they had so many submissions and not enough readers. I know I saw multiple emails at the eleventh hour.

December 4, 2021 at 8:26PM, Edited December 4, 8:26PM

Izzy Anthony
Actor, writer

There's also that odd and now popular phenomenon at play where you agree to pay someone for their opinion....but then get upset because you're also a paying customer with demands of your expenditure! (I blame the 'service' industry and the subsequent pre-paid, deliver-something-else-later race to the bottom!)

Maybe don't ask random folks for their opinions in competitions but instead seek the opinion of someone you actually respect instead if truly requiring the help of an outside opinion.

December 6, 2021 at 1:38AM, Edited December 6, 1:38AM


Like The Black List is any better.

December 6, 2021 at 2:28AM, Edited December 6, 2:28AM

Misha Aranyshev
Film Editor

Not good. I got 2nd round, but : critique very vague. No real insight. Just looked written to placate me into coming back, keep the future cash flow...uh...flowing.

Not the first time I've been left down either. The last time I entered, I got someone else's notes entirely. That should have been a red flag in hindsight, but hey - we all screw up sometimes so I gave it another whirl.

It kinda feels like the whole fest has turned into a bloated hope machine with increasingly weaker prospects, which I guess comes as a consequence of growing as a business.

K, fine, if you're just starting out and want smoke blown up your poo-shooter, but for others...not so great. Think I'll save my whiskey tokens going forward.

December 6, 2021 at 3:01AM, Edited December 6, 3:05AM


On the other hand, I now have a brilliant idea for a money-making venture -- start a new screenplay "competition" and have all the feedback generated by AI bots...

December 12, 2021 at 12:18PM, Edited December 12, 12:18PM

Bryan Howell
Screenwriter, corporate videographer, and indie filmmaker

I had same experience with Nicholl fellowship too. My reviews were very harsh and all over the place. It doesn’t reflect professionalism. I was expecting more in-depth analysis of my screenplay but reader to it so personally at one scene where protagonist ask for forgiveness for attempted crime. He/she absolutely discard such notion on screenplay. There were two separate reviews. On one review they criticized i haven’t set the theme for film at all. On 2nd review the reader loved my theme of film. I wonder who are these people doing reviews at Nicholl fellowship. I was so disheartened and depressed after that incident, i lost the joy of writing. I haven’t Worte anything yet. But same script was welcomed at bluecat screenplay competition. Reader loved it’s every aspect of it. But it was disqualified since it was 180 pages long.

December 13, 2021 at 11:02PM, Edited December 13, 11:02PM

Sunil Lama
Amateur screenplay writer