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Top picks for the AFF panels

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com

The Austin Film Festival has always focused on screenwriters. The festival screens a host of movies celebrated for their writing as well as offers excellent opportunities to exchange ideas and gain inspiration from industry pros.

Those who attend the festival will hear filmmakers and screenwriters share horror stories, tales of inspiration and success and get tips on how to make it in the fickle and competitive world of film and television.

Below we offer five panels out of more than six dozen that will run from today through Sunday as part of the conference. Times and locations are subject to change. Consult austinfilmfestival.com for last-minute changes.

A Conversation with Alec Berg

Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Conan O'Brien. Multi-hyphenate Alec Berg has worked with some of the biggest names in modern comedy. He currently works as a writer, executive producer and director on David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Berg, who co-wrote the upcoming Sacha Baron Cohen film "The Dictator," will discuss writing comedy for both television and film and we hope share some embarrassing and hilarious stories about his high-profile former bosses. (1 p.m. today, Driskill Hotel Ballroom)

Writing Settings and Scene Descriptions: A Conversation with Bill Wittliff

One of Texas' most celebrated screenplay writers, Bill Wittliff has enjoyed a career spanning more than 30 years, from "The Black Stallion" to "The Perfect Storm." He's also partly responsible for making Willie Nelson almost a movie a star, with his screenplays for "Honeysuckle Rose" and "The Red-Headed Stranger." The man who helped bring Texas to the rest of the world with his evocative screenplay for "Lonesome Dove" is also a well-known photographer, so the Austin Film Festival board member knows more than a little about setting a scene. (2:45 p.m. today, Driskill Hotel, Citadel Room)

Sustaining a Writing Career Outside of L.A.

Everybody wants to move to Austin and hardly anybody wants to leave. That is, everyone except those folks who feel the need to move to Hollywood to get work in the film industry. But here's a little secret: You don't necessarily have to flee the Lone Star State (or wherever you live) to make it. Writers such as Tim McCanlies ("Secondhand Lions") and James V. Hart ("Contact") share tips on how to get your foot in the door and how to keep it there, even if you're thousands of miles away from all of the moving and shaking in LA-LA Land. (2:45 p.m. today, Driskill Hotel, Jim Hogg Parlor)

A Shot of Inspiration

Before there were the countless critical accolades for "Mad Men," Matthew Weiner was just another writer looking for a break. And before Eddie Murphy's Axel Foley ever came across Rosewood and Taggart, Daniel Petrie Jr. was probably much like any of the hundreds of unemployed writers wandering Austin's streets this weekend. How did they get their breaks and what kept them going? Find out from the writers at this panel. (3:15 p.m. Friday, Stephen F. Austin Hotel Ballroom)

The Art of Storytelling with the 2011 Awardees

The Mount Olympus of this year's panels, this grand chat session will feature three incredibly gifted and diverse talents. Filmmaking Award recipient John Lasseter is the chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and the mastermind behind such instant classics as "Wall-E" and "Toy Story 3." Don't let the emo material fool you, but Distinguished Screenwriter Award recipient Caroline Thompson, writer of such films as "Edwards Scissorhands" and "Corpse Bride," is an ebullient and joyful character. Her energy should be matched by the self-effacing wit and charm of "Bones" creator Hart Hanson, recipient of the Outstanding Television Writer Award. Producer and Austin Film Festival board member Barry Josephson ("Bones," "The Last Boy Scout") moderates. (11:30 a.m. Sunday, Stephen F. Austin Hotel Ballroom).

modam@statesman.com; 912-5986