What is the On Story Project?
“On Story is film school in a box, a lifetime’s worth of filmmaking knowledge squeezed into half hour packages.” - Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic
Austin Film Festival furthers the art and craft of storytelling by inspiring and championing the work of writers, filmmakers, and all artists who use written and visual language to tell a story.
An extension of AFF’s programs, mission, and messaging, On Story offers inspiring and instructional curations from the entertainment industry’s leading writers, directors, and creatives. It serves to shine a light on these visionaries who, through the transformative power of storytelling, boldly reflect the best of humanity and, subsequently, inspire and instruct the next generation of storytellers.
The On Story Project houses six major components: a television series, podcast, radio show, book series, archive, and an all-encompassing website. The rich material captured at the Festival and year-round events is then curated into productions offered for free online and through public radio and television; preserved and archived at The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University; and edited into a multi-book series in partnership with The University of Texas Press.
A mirror to the Festival’s organic, unfettered, story-driven experience, On Story provides high quality, inspirational and educational free content for any and all. It embodies the heart and soul of the on-the-ground programming, sharing AFF’s values and personality with the world at large.
One of the original initiatives of the On Story Project, AFF launched the 30-minute On Story television show in 2011 on PBS-affiliate station, KLRU. The show harvests footage from AFF’s 24 years of recorded events as a way to examine the art and craft of storytelling. Initially a local program, the show was swiftly picked up by stations nationwide due to its engaging creative content and an untouched market, hungry for a deeper exploration of storytelling. As of 2017, On Story has a presence in 88% of PBS affiliated markets nationwide, include major cities such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Washington DC. In 2014, On Story received a Lone Star Emmy for the Season 4 episode “Breaking Bad: A Conversation with Vince Gilligan” and was nominated for the Season 6 episode of “Norman Lear: A Retrospective” in 2016.
Its recent history has shown a progression to include a wider breadth of storytelling mediums, and AFF has welcomed guests like John Patrick Shanley and Tracey Scott Wilson discussing playwriting; Sarah Burns and James Moll discussing the art of the documentary; Issa Rae and Bernie Su discussing digital storytelling; and Wendy Calhoun and Jamie Wong discussing writing for virtual reality. The upcoming seasons will also play host to experts from the worlds of podcasts, journalism, narrative fiction, and more.
“On Story will do for Austin film what Austin City Limits did for Austin music.” - Bill Stotesbery, KLRU CEO
The On Story podcast launched in April 2011 as an audio companion to the television show. The podcasts are free and easily accessible to the public through iTunes and PRI’s website. Available to stream or as free digital downloads, the podcast surpassed over 1,000,000 downloads in January 2017. Heavy on practical advice and writing techniques, the podcast is catered toward aspiring and established filmmakers and writers; teachers and students; and anyone curious about the art and craft of narrative storytelling. Podcasts are selected to correlate with trends in the industry and the cultural zeitgeist.
The first On Story radio show debuted on KUT in Austin in February 2015, featuring 11 hour-long episodes in its first season. Its immediate success led to a distribution partnership with Public Radio International (PRI) by its second season. The content often features current trends in the industry, with episodes released in conjunction with major film and television releases. Now exclusively distributed by PRI, the one-hour program can be heard on over a dozen stations nationwide, including in Austin and Nashville. Currently in its third season, the show will feature 34 hour-long episodes, and will be carried on 13 stations nationwide.
On Story partnered with The University of Texas Press to publish a series of three books, edited from its rich history of transcripts. The first installment, “On Story: Screenwriters and Their Craft”, was released at the Festival’s 20th anniversary in 2013; and the second book, “On Story: Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films”, was published in October 2016. The last of the companion series, “On Story: The Golden Ages of Television” will offer a comprehensive glimpse into the world of television writers and creators, and is scheduled to come out at the 25th annual Festival in 2018. The book series provides concrete offerings on how to navigate a career in film and television from both the craft and business perspectives.
In 2009, AFF’s Executive Director, Barbara Morgan, realized AFF’s invaluable inventory of audio/video recording was in danger of deteriorating, prompting the quest to both preserve and share this material. The cornerstone is the On Story Archive, housed at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, which now physically and digitally hosts over twenty years of content. This partnership is designed to kinetically and creatively engage both academic and non-academic populations, and has led to unique partnership opportunities.
A total inventory of AFF’s recordings, the On Story Archive is routinely being created in collaboration with (and donated to) the Wittliff Collections. An ideal partnership, the Wittliff Collections includes materials from numerous screenwriters, authors, photographers, and artists, and the archive welcomes visitors from all over the country, free of charge, to survey and study its comprehensive collection. Since the Wittliff Collections website went live in February 2017, there have been over 2,000 unique online visitors from all over the world. No other archive houses as many significant conversations – between such a deep and wide array of creators – that contribute as many revelations to the study of film as the On Story archive.
Thanks in part to a grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission AFF is digitally preserving video and audio recordings of hundreds of panels with screenwriters and filmmakers from the past 23 years.
The Austin Film Festival archives are established at the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University and available to the public. The finding aid for the collection is also available on the Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO).