The screenwriter might be the last person you’re thinking about walking out of a movie theater. Nonetheless, it is the screenwriters who provide the foundational art for all movies by giving moviemakers… often themselves… the emotional narrative to create their visual masterpieces.

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. 

C. Bailey Werner

Who: C. Bailey Werner is an actor, writer, and director originally from Texas with a deep love for comedy, filmmaking and visual flair. His feature film directorial debut A Perfect Host was released in 2020. He is the writer/director of The One You’re With (2021)

A great film: The Big Lebowski

How has being part of the Austin Film Festival Community helped spark your storytelling journey or career? When you’re an indie filmmaker it’s easy to get the “Sisyphus syndrome” a condition I just made up. You feel like you’re constantly pushing the rock up the hill all alone. AFF reminded me to get out there and collaborate. To make things with friends old and new. 

Pedro Correa & Fabio Frey

Who: Peruvian-American filmmaker, Pedro Correa, most recently co-wrote, produced and starred in the coming-of-age drama My Dead Dad. Fabio Frey produced short films for Comedy Central while still in college. Since then he directed and co-wrote the festival-winning-feature My Dead Dad.

A great film: City of God (Pedro) and Sideways (Fabio)

How have you been spending your time since being a part of Austin Film Festival?

Fabio: Traveling around the country in my RV, and grinding out some creative sessions with my partner in crime Pedro Correa in cheap rental offices.

Julie Cavaliere

Who: Julie Cavaliere is a writer, actor, and producer in New York. She began her career working for Scott Rudin productions, and up until recently, served as Director of Development for the boutique production company, M.E.G.A. Films. 

A great film: Anything on TCM

How did you get your break or start in screenwriting?

I felt like I had something to say and got tired of asking for permission to say it.  So, one day I challenged myself to put pen to paper and I signed up for a sketch writing class at UCB. I dropped out of the class twice before finally committing… Slowly my confidence built and then I was accepted into a summer writing program at Columbia University. That gave me the opportunity to explore my voice and what kind of stories I wanted to tell. 

Zan Gillies

Who: Zan Gillies is a filmmaker and screenwriter who wrote the 2021 feature film Kringle Time and is the co-writer of the upcoming film 500 Fireflies. His short film “Last Strike” was an Audience Award winner at AFF 2021. 

A great movie: Jurassic Park

What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write in your career? How did you navigate the challenge?

“Last Strike” took close to a decade off-and-on to figure out. The premise popped into my head when I was in my mid-20s and I wrote a draft or two, but… I couldn’t quite nail down what specifically interested me about it… It turned out I just hadn’t existed long enough at that point. After I turned 30 and came back to it, I just went “ohhhh, a crippling fear of mortality? Okay yeah gotcha cool cool, I get that now.” 

Priya & Phillip Domfeh

Who: The Domfehs are a husband and wife writing/directing team from Los Angeles. Their production company Cosmic Otter Productions, was created with the intent of following their curiosity wherever it leads them as they collectively develop, write, direct and produce film and television projects. 

A great movie: Ex-Machina (Priya) and Blade II (Phillip)

Share a memorable experience sparked from Austin Film Festival?

Our film Cary in Retrograde draws some inspiration from Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow, and to be able to win the Jury award (for 2021 AFF Winner Produced Digital Series) and have Craig Brewer be present to give us a handshake as we exited stage was an amazing moment of synchronicity. 

Angela Bourassa

Who: Angela Bourassa is a WGA screenwriter whose feature script If You Were the Last made the 2020 Black List and was filmed earlier this year. Her next original feature, Turn Me On is set to film in fall 2022 and will be distributed by IFC Films. 

A great movie: Lars and the Real Girl

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned?

As a screenwriter, you have so little control over what — if anything — ever makes it to screen, so it’s essential to embrace that chaos and remember that the journey is what really matters, much more so than the destination.

Brian Siegele 

Who: Brian Siegele is a Colorado and Los Angeles-based film, television, and audio creator. His first audio series Black Box starred Joel McHale and Kelsey Grammer and is being set up for television.

A great movie: Apollo 13

What was a major turning point in your career?

Shifting my focus to audio was by far the most consequential decision of my career. In the feature world, I was often working on ideas I didn’t own or which were unlikely to ever get made. But with podcasts, I’m in the driver’s seat for the entire production process, from ideation to final cut. 

Jason Russel Waller

Who: Jason Russel Waller 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. Waller recently wrote a TV pilot, Con Man Daddy, about his childhood.

A great movie: Any gangster flick

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. 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…  As difficult as this memory was to resurrect, the only way to find the scene was to write my way through it. 

Diego Ongaro

Who: Diego Ongaro is a French writer/director living in rural Connecticut. Down With the King, his second feature film, premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, won the Grand Prix at the Deauville American Film Festival in France and was just released by Sony Picture.  

A great movie: Western

Share a memorable experience sparked from Austin Film Festival?

Screening Down With the King. The theater is absolutely gorgeous. My lead actors, Freddie Gibbs and Bob Tarasuk were there, the room was packed and I could feel the pulse of the audience in the room. The best screening experience you could hope for.

Kim Tran

Who: Kim Tran is a first-gen Vietnamese-American writer, director and comedian from Austin, Texas. Most recently, she wrote for Space Force (Netflix), punched up jokes for The End is Nye (Peacock) and was in the NBC writing program. 

A great movie: Too hard to choose. Here are some TV recommendations instead: PEN15, Righteous Gemstones, and Abbott Elementary.

How did you get your break or start in screenwriting?

I got accepted into the Michener program at UT Austin as a screenwriting and playwriting fellow. I spent 3 years there writing, directing, performing and getting my MFA. Afterwards, I got reps, was accepted into the NBC writing program and got staffed on Space Force.

Liz Fields

Who: Liz Fields is an Asian-Australian-American writer and filmmaker who has lived in and traveled to 40 different countries across six continents searching for stories that illuminate human existence, struggles, and truth. 

A great movie: The Talented Mr Ripley

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned?

Be kind, be diligent, and be humble. Be your own cheerleader — and everyone else’s. Learn to laugh at yourself. Rejection is part of the game… persevere! And above all, keep writing!

Adam Sjoberg, Seanne Winslow

Who: Adam Sjoberg is a filmmaker and commercial director with a passion for telling stories that bridge the gap between popular culture and pressing global issues. Seanne Winslow is a writer-director-producer who developed The Witchverse for D+ and Baobab Studios. Their film, The Falconer, screened at the 2021 Austin Film Festival.

A great movie: Children of Men

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned?

On The Falconer, we learned to write for production. It had all the key scenes in it and plot points, but as we cast locations and actors we fleshed it out. The lesson in this for us was to follow the story. Write in service of what can be shot. It’s part of what makes giving notes or doing rewrite work so fun.

Gabriele Fabbro, Ydalie Turk

Who: Gabriele Fabbro is a film director who has written, directed and produced over 25 productions ranging from features to commercials. His latest short film “8” screened at the Venice Film Festival. Ydalie Turk is an actress and writer from Johannesburg, South Africa. She wrote The Grand Bolero, directed by Fabbro, which premiered in competition at the 2021 Austin Film Festival. 

A great movie: The Conformist (Gabriele)

How has being part of the Austin Film Festival Community helped spark your storytelling journey or career?
Gabriele: Seeing the joy and the passion of the filmmakers/audience/programmers I met at AFF, reminded me how this glamorous film industry, at its core, is based on a childish love for sharing stories with one another. 

Evan McNary 

Who: Evan McNary is a writer and director who earned his film MFA at Florida State. Ragged Heart, his first feature film as director (and co-written with his sister Debrah), premiered at the Austin Film Festival in 2021. 

A great movie: The Spirit of the Beehive

What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write in your career? How did you navigate the challenge?
Whenever I run into roadblocks, I find that simply describing the situation and my feelings about them out loud – either to a friend or to an empty room – helps organize things and pinpoint flaws in my thinking.

Dan Steele 

Who: Dan Steele is an LA-based screenwriter and playwright, an alumnus of the Warner Bros. Television Writers’ Workshop, and a winner of the Austin Film Festival’s Bronze Typewriter (2010). Dan is currently developing Pretty Big, a dance competition feature for Warner Bros. 

A great movie: Groundhog Day

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned?
In television: respect the hierarchy and culture of the room. Every room is different. Become an encyclopedia for the show. Volunteer for everything. In feature films: finding the right producer is like a cheat code to selling a script, but make sure you and your producer(s) are on the same page for what you want the final product to look like.

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