Where Are They Now? AFF's Screenwriters to Watch Alumni Share Advice

What does recognition from a major film festival and writing competition do for your career?

Every writer yearns for validation—it's one thing that keeps us going! Being told that our work and perspectives are good can be the fuel that helps us finish that next screenplay or pitch that next idea.

Austin Film Festival is one organization that does that consistently for screenwriters through their competitions, annual Writers Conference, Festival, and other year-round events.

The Festival just released this year's class of Screenwriters to Watch, which elevates some of the brightest new voices in screenwriting.

The list can be a launching point for entire careers. What are previous members of the list doing now? Let's check in with them to see how the list impacted their writing and projects, and get some valuable advice from working writers as a bonus!

Also: catch featured alumna Wenonah Wilms at Austin Film Festival’s virtual event Spark Your Story, this Saturday, May 8.

Remember, the late deadline for the screenwriting competition and regular deadline for the film competition is May 21. Submit now!

Learn from Alumni of AFF's Screenwriters to Watch List

  1. Scooter Corkle
  2. Tate Elizabeth Hanyok
  3. Rochée Jeffrey
  4. Lena Khan
  5. Damir Konjicija & Dario Konjicija
  6. Jean Lee
  7. Geeta Malik
  8. Max Taxe
  9. Wenonah Wilms
  10. Patrick Wimp

Scooter Corkle

Writer/director

Scooter Corkle is the writer/director of the feature film Hollow in the Land starring Dianna Agron (Glee, Shiva Baby) and Shawn Ashmore (X-Men, The Boys) released theatrically in 2018 across Canada (Elevation Pictures), the USA (Vertical Entertainment) and internationally (WestEnd Films), gaining positive reviews in the Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times.

On the small screen, Scooter was given the incredible honor of directing two Canadian Heritage Minutes—The Vancouver Asahi, and Elsie MacGill: Queen of the Hurricanes. His two award-winning short films—Pour Retourner and Chloe and Attie—screened at festivals all over the world including Tribeca, Palm Springs, Telluride, Cannes, Atlantic Film Fest, and Clermont-Ferrand, to name a few.

Scooter is represented at CAA.

AFF: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

SC: I’ve learned four major lessons. One: the main ingredient for success in film is perseverance, and like one fourth is talent. Two: no one cares about what you’ve written more than you, but it doesn’t mean their notes are wrong. Three: you will fail, and that’s okay, it’s just part of the process. And fourth: believing in yourself is the hardest part of writing. Understand that, then refer back to lesson one.

AFF: What are you working on right now?

SC: Currently I’m in pre-production to direct the sci-fi horror film The Friendship Game starring Bella Thorne. It’s a character-driven, multiverse-jumping head-spinner with classic gore and existential question marks. I’m very excited about it (and that description). I’m also developing a series about a chef named Malik, based on my short film Pour Retourner—though a lot more French-Canadian this round.

AFF: How did being part of the Screenwriters to Watch contribute to your career?

SC: For me, writing is about conquering the voice in my head that tells me I’m a terrible writer, and knowing that someone thinks I can do this has definitely helped. Since being part of the Screenwriters to Watch, my manager fired me, the whole world fell into a pandemic-induced despair, and my dad died. My output has been rather limited but not nothing. A little recognition can go a long way when you need it. And now I'm a few months out from directing my second feature. That's pretty cool.

Tate Elizabeth Hanyok

Writer/director

Tate Hanyok is a writer/actor focused on female-driven comedy and young adult stories. Her perspective is steeped in backyard humor, themes of awkward displacement, found family, and the endlessly unpredictable (and hilarious) reality of the underdog. Her stories are chock full of characters with fresh and unique perspectives.

Guest starring in comedies such as The Office, Superstore, Community, Shameless, Transparent, Burt Wonderstone, and many more, Tate has a rich actor's perspective to bring to her characters. She sidelines as the private performance/comedy coach to many teens on numerous network TV series/studio films, and is also a seasoned improviser.

AFF: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

TEH: Be okay with throwing it all away and starting at page one, again and again. Reward with snacks. Rinse. Repeat.

AFF: What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?

TEH: I was writing a movie that required big sweeping soccer sequences. While I had played soccer as a kid, I was more interested in saving the flowers on the field from destruction. So I subscribed to podcasts, interviewed players and coaches, read articles, and watched game after game, until I understood the mechanics, and could bring some of that fire on the field to the page.

AFF: What are you working on right now?

TEH: Most recently, I’ve been hired by Picturestart to adapt the WattPad novel Along for the Ride into a motion picture, have also written Pet Nup and Family Week for Mucho Mas.  My agents at ICM are about to take out my TV Series April F*#ing May.  As a producer, we just picture-locked the independent feature Love and Baseball, and I’m currently executive producing my feature script Sex APPeal alongside American High for Hulu.

Rochée Jeffrey

Writer/producer SMILF, WOKE

Rochée Jeffrey is a graduate of Howard University and a writer/director/performer who hails originally from Jamaica. As a television writer, her credits include Golden Globe-nominated comedy series SMILF (Showtime), and producer on comedy series Woke starring Larmorne Morris (Hulu). Most recently, Rochée served as a supervising producer on Bigger (BET+), and Santa Inc. (HBO Max). On the film side, her award-winning, Oscar-qualifying short film Suitable was a finalist in the American Black Film Festival HBO Competition and premiered on HBO in February 2019.

Rochée was one of Austin Film Festival’s 2019 Screenwriters To Watch. She serves as a producer and writer on the feature film Throw it Back and Make it Clap for Trudy Jones starring Tiffany Haddish (produced by Paul Feig/Feigco and Tiffany Haddish’s She Ready). The film was also featured on the 2019 Hit List. She has an adult-animated series executive produced by Lizzo set up at Tomorrow Studios and a half-hour series set up at FX. Rochée recently directed an independent television pilot starring David Arquette, Elise Neal, Tyga, and Trinidad James. She’s represented by UTA and Rain Management Group.

AFF: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

RJ: 1. I think that this career requires just as much talent as it does business savvy. 2. Never have a sense of entitlement. 3. No matter what your job is, if it's PA or showrunner, give everything you have to it because it can lead to something else and something bigger.

AFF: What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?

RJ: The hardest project I've ever had to write was the adaptation of my short film Suitable, because it was personal, and sometimes personal projects are tough because you have an emotional tie to the material that can sometimes make it hard for you to separate yourself from it.

AFF: How have you been spending your time since your initial Screenwriters to Watch feature?

RJ: You know, writing, working, hydrating.

Lena Khan

Writer/director

Lena is a writer and director. Her first feature film, The Tiger Hunter, released in over 70 cities nationwide and garnered effusively positive reviews from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and more. Fresh off of her first film, Disney tapped Lena to direct Flora & Ulysses, a live-action family comedy, that released this year and was among the top three streamed movies in the world for multiple weeks. She recently filmed several episodes of Mindy Kaling's Netflix show, Never Have I Ever, is developing a feature, and sold two television shows.

AFF: What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?

LK: My first feature. I hadn't written a screenplay before, so I set out learning in every way I could. Online resources, reading a lot of scripts, getting a lot of people (even online script consultation services that are hit or miss) to viciously critique it.

AFF: How have you been spending your time since your initial Screenwriters to Watch feature?

LK: I directed a Disney film called Flora & Ulysses, have been directing for shows like Never Have I Ever, sold a television show, and am working on a feature right now.

AFF: How did being part of the Screenwriters to Watch contribute to your career?

LK: Every bit of help and support for young filmmakers helps in making them stand out and go a few feet forward toward the finish line, and this helped in that way.

Damir Konjicija & Dario Konjicija

Writers Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, Young Sheldon

Damir & Dario Konjicija are a brother comedy writing team currently serving as writers and producers on the Disney+ show The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers. Their other credits include Young Sheldon, Sunnyside, and The Great Indoors. Originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia, they fell in love with American sitcoms via poorly dubbed episodes of such classics like The Wonder Years, M*A*S*H, and Seinfeld. After a civil war broke out in their home country, they sought refuge in the U.S. and resettled in Louisville, Kentucky. Before teaming up and moving to Los Angeles, Damir pursued playwriting while Dario performed as a stand-up comedian. They've won the Sitcom Teleplay Award from the Austin Film Festival, the Humanitas New Voices Prize, and were part of the CBS Writers Program.

AFF: How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?

DK: We moved to Los Angeles without any industry contacts—our only option was to write our way in. So we neglected our personal lives, wrote non-stop, and submitted to every writing contest, fellowship, and program in town, until we won enough to finally get noticed. Our biggest break was getting accepted into the CBS Writers Program, which opened many doors and launched our television writing career.

AFF: What was a major turning point in your career?

DK: Getting your first staff writer gig is the toughest part, we'll forever be grateful to Chris Harris for hiring us on The Great Indoors.

AFF: Share a memorable experience sparked from Austin Film Festival.

DK: Meeting Peter Mehlman at a roundtable discussion was pretty surreal. We’re both big fans of Seinfeld, and hearing him recount his days in the writers' room was incredible. What a hilarious, cool, generous guy—we could’ve talked to him all day.

Jean Lee

Writer/director

Jean Lee is a Korean American writer/director from Allentown, Pennsylvania. A lover of global cinema and universal stories, Jean has directed in nine languages spanning seven countries and five continents.

Most recently, Jean’s feature directorial debut, Pecado Original, was picked up by HBO. Her sci-fi action short Strong is in post-production with support from the AFI Directing Workshop for Women, Google, the Sundance Institute, the Knight Foundation, and Panavision. Her award-winning magical realism short, Cahaya, shot in Jakarta, Indonesia, premiered at Berlinale. In 2021-2022, she will direct her first episode of TV through NBC Female Forward.

Jean is also an alumnus of the 2014 Film Independent Directors lab, 2015 AFI Directing Workshop for Women, the 2016 Blacklist/WIF TV Writers Lab, the 2017 Fox Filmmakers Lab, 2018 NALIP TV Writers Lab, and the 2016 Ryan Murphy HALF program. In 2019, Jean was named one of the “Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch” by Moviemaker Magazine and Austin Film Festival.

Jean graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Summa Cum Laude/Phi Beta Kappa and earned her MFA in Film Production at NYU Tisch Asia as a Jacob K. Javitz Fellow.

She is repped by Jennifer Au Management.

AFF: How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?

JL: In college, I read a bunch of amazing scripts like Casablanca and Chinatown but never saw people like me in the bylines. So I decided to change that.

AFF: What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?

JL: My first feature, Pecado Original (Original Sin), was challenging to write because it was in Spanish and parts of it were improvised. It also featured characters from three different Spanish-speaking nations: Paraguay, Spain, and Mexico. But luckily I had a fantastic co-writer/lead actor, Maia Nikiphoroff, who’s from Paraguay and fluent in Spanish, so it was something we prepared for, translated, and envisioned from the beginning. Also, the other two leads, César Di Bello and Alejandro Torres Menchaca, are bilingual, which made it fun and easy to collaborate in rehearsals and on set.

AFF: What was a major turning point in your career?

JL: Having our first feature at Austin Film Festival was pretty great!

AFF: Any exciting upcoming announcements?

JL: I was recently chosen for the NBC Female Forward Program through which I'll be breaking into TV directing!

Geeta Malik

Writer/director

Geeta Malik is an award-winning writer/director whose accolades include the inaugural Academy Gold Fellowship for Women, the Academy Nicholl Fellowship, and the Austin Film Festival Comedy Screenplay Award for her feature script, Dinner with Friends (retitled to India Sweets and Spices). Geeta directed India Sweets and Spices, starring Manisha Koirala, Adil Hussain, and Sophia Ali. The film was produced by SK Global and Madison Wells Media and will premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.

Geeta wrote and directed the viral narrative short, Aunty Gs, which earned a College Television Award (a “student Emmy”) in comedy from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Her first feature film, Troublemaker, premiered at the Cinequest Film Festival. She is a Film Independent Project Involve Fellow and an alumna of UCLA’s graduate film program.

AFF: How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?

GM: I started writing screenplays in the last quarter of my last year of undergrad, when I took a screenwriting class with a wonderful professor named Marie Cartier. After that, I went to UCLA's graduate film school, where I learned more about the craft. After I graduated, I wrote, directed, and produced my first feature. I would say I properly broke in when my second feature screenplay won at both Austin and the Nicholl Fellowship in 2016.

AFF: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

GM: Writing is hard! It's rewarding, it's fun, and I love it, but it's also a lot of work, especially when you have deadlines and studios and notes. Ohhh, the notes. There are times to just sit my ass down and push through, and there are times to wait for that spark of something to get me to the next step, and I'm still learning to trust my instincts about when each of those things should happen! I'm also learning not to chase everything that comes down the pike, but to wait until I have a real connection to a project where I can use my authentic voice, even though it's hard to pass up some of those shinier opportunities.

AFF: What are you working on right now?

GM: I'm writing a feature adaptation of a YA novel for Netflix, and have two TV projects in development (one at TriStar, and one at ABC Studios). I'm also writing my next feature spec, which I hope to direct.

Max Taxe

Writer Moonshot (HBO Max), Ripple (Netflix)

Max Taxe is a screenwriter from Los Angeles. He is currently writing Ripple for Netflix, and his script Moonshot is in pre-production for HBO Max. He has a corgi named Scout and zero other hobbies, apparently.

AFF: How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?

MT: I got my first manager by sending a script to a competition and promptly getting rejected in the first round. But one of the judges who read it responded so strongly to my script that she asked if she could send it to her manager. Best rejection I ever got.

AFF: What are you working on right now?

MT: I'm writing a feature called Ripple for Netflix and 21 Laps, and prepping the next wave of projects to go out with.

AFF: What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?

MT: Whatever issues I run into in a script, the solutions always end up being the same: write the bad version first, take a long shower, or write every other scene until you realize you probably didn't need the problematic scene in the first place.

Wenonah Wilms

Screenwriter

Wenonah Wilms is a 2018 Academy Nicholl Fellow for her script Horsehead Girls, which also won the Austin Film Festival's Drama prize the same year.  She is co-creator and executive producer of Firekeeper's Daughter, a Netflix original through the Obamas' production company, Higher Ground, and recently sold a pilot to another major streamer (yet to be announced). Her script Darby Harper Wants You to Know has been optioned by Footprint Features and is in pre-production, and she has a horror feature setup at Battlecry Productions.

Wenonah is a two-time McKnight Media Artist Fellow (2018 and 2007) Wenonah is a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa located in Northern Wisconsin.

AFF: What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?

WW: Teenagers are getting harder to write because their dialogue is so dependent on current styles and now that my kids are grown and left, I don't get to hang out with teenagers too much but as a young adult writer it's something I am challenged with daily. I try to remember that being a teenager is universal and the struggles themselves haven't changed much but you have to turn on that TikTok once in a while to get an ear for it.

AFF: What was a major turning point in your career?

WW: My short film, Waabooz, brought me back into writing Native American stories and made me realize that I'm finally ready to represent and tell the stories that mean a lot to me personally. Waabooz led me to write Horsehead Girls, which changed my entire career.

AFF: What are you working on right now?

WW: I'm currently developing multiple TV series of various genres including an original. Most of these I can't freely discuss, but the project Firekeeper's Daughter is one that I'm actively working on and very excited about.

Patrick Wimp

Writer/director

Patrick Wimp is a writer/director from Chicago, Illinois. His work has been lauded in prestigious film festivals around the world every year since 2009, with screenings at the Chicago International, Austin Film Festival, Cannes International, New York Television Festival, and many more. Patrick's work has aired on Netflix, PBS, Amazon Prime, and a number of international cable and TV networks.

Patrick's 2019 digital series Brothers from the Suburbs received both the Jury and Audience awards at the 2019 Austin Film Festival, Best Web Original at Urbanworld '19, and Best Directing at SeriesFest Season 5. The show was recently optioned by Warner Bros. TV and with a pilot script ordered by HBO Max. Patrick also DP’d the 2019 Chance the Rapper short music film We Go High, was listed as #7 on NewCity’s Chicago Film 50 this past fall, and was named to Austin Film Festival's 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2020.

As a proud African American storyteller, Pat’s work focuses on creating emotionally impactful, accessible, human stories, built around authentic and diverse characters.

AFF: How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?

PW: When I was in undergrad, I was writing an editorial column for the college newspaper about film, music, and pop culture. I had been a cinephile since high school but hadn't considered actually writing anything until then. So I started researching "how to write a screenplay" and started writing bad screenplays. I fell in love with the form and it really vibed with my love for graphic and visual storytelling in things like comic books and video games. This eventually took me to my MFA studies in Digital Cinema at DePaul University in Chicago, and from there I kind of hustled and ground it out as an indie filmmaker until people started to either fund my projects or pay me money to write things. Fast forward to today, and my break-in to the broader industry came in 2019 after I wrote and directed my AFF winning series, Brothers from the Suburbs.

AFF: What was a major turning point in your career?

PW: A major turning point for me was the production of my first feature, a John Hughes-inspired comedy called Bernadette, that I co-wrote with a friend. I had been working as a DP and an indie producer for a few years, and while I kept writing at that time, I hadn't had any breakthroughs on the narrative side of things. But when I started putting that project together, a few of my local producer friends read the script and were really impressed. This led to them passing my name around to other people and eventually getting some significant investments into my next couple of projects. So getting out and just making the thing—and also stepping out into comedy—really kind of opened the doors for my narrative career. After that, I started winning at festivals, and the profile of my work raised significantly.

AFF: How did being part of the Screenwriters to Watch contribute to your career?

PW: Being a part of Screenwriters to Watch was a massive confidence booster. Like many artists, I am plagued by self-doubt, and validation from a body like AFF—a festival that I held in very high regard—was really invaluable in terms of helping me understand that people were interested in the things I wanted to write about.     

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