“The exciting part is the discovery of new, great stories,” Emily Gipson, co-founder and co-executive director of the ATX Television Festival, tells Variety.
The pool of scribes who submitted to the program have been narrowed down to a list of 15 whose scripts will be sent to participating partners for staffing season consideration. They will also move onto the next round of ATX’s pitch competition, in which 10 will have the chance to pitch their shows live at this year’s festival in Austin, Texas.
Out of the pitch competition, one winner is paired with a mentor to polish the script and take meetings at various studios and networks to pitch it more formally with the goal of a sale. Past winners of the pitch competition have gone on to receive managers and work in writers’ rooms such as “Life in Pieces.”
“The idea of it being an experience that is access to decision makers and opportunity is the heart of why it’s different. And the feedback we get from both judges and participants is that it makes it more valuable,” says Caitlin McFarland, cofounder and co-executive director of the ATX Television Festival.
The pitch competition has existed since 2013, but ATX’s partnership with the Black List began in 2016, which shifted the design of the competition slightly to include the staffing season consideration component.
“One of the main reasons we started the partnership with the Black List was because it’s a way for writers that don’t have representation to get their scripts in front production companies and be staffed on shows,” Gipson says. “Anyone can submit to the Black List, so this gets scripts into the hands of active production companies through a totally different way than having to live in LA and submit through the traditional route. It opens it up so that anyone can really be a writer. Everyone’s on an equal playing field.”
While the program is open to both comedy and drama scripts, as well as shows that are intended to be ongoing series as well as anthology series, anything submitted must be scripted because there is a writing sample component to the entry.
“A great idea is a great idea, but if you can’t execute it, it’s not going to get to the next level,” McFarland says. “Through listening to our judges and our advisory board, the hopes for this is that it does eventually sell, and the big win for us is giving opportunity and access to decision makers, and you may still have a lot to learn about writing, but you need to at least have the ability to write.”
This year, the network and studio partners for the writing program are HBO, Carlton Cuse Prods, Bad Robot, Amblin TV, Okay Goodnight, Kilter Films and Annapurna Pictures.
The finalists for the 2018 writing program are:
Liz Beall with “The Troubles” and “Derailed” — “The Troubles” is a one-hour “cat and mouse” drama following Irish immigrant Claire Sullivan and her police detective husband Will in a working-class Cape Cod suburb wracked with opioid addiction. While Claire has a slew of normal mom problems, she also has a terrible secret: she is a former Irish Republican Army sniper and one of the UK’s most wanted, and of course, her past catches up with her in the pilot episode.
“Derailed” is a one-hour drama that looks at teenage mental illness with the narrative insight of an adult protagonist. Therapist Jaime Rosen, who still deals with issues from her own attempted suicide, takes a job at her former high school working under the man who saved her life two decades earlier.
Beall is a writer, essayist, and recovering academic. Following graduate work at University of Oxford, Beall spent almost two decades as a founder and executive director of environmental nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area. Beall began her screenwriting journey at the tender age of 40, graduating from UCLA’s Professional Program in writing for television in 2016. Beall just completed the 2017 Women in Film + The Black List episodic lab and has two top-rated TV scripts on the Black List. Having recently moved to Ventura County with her family, Beall enjoys surfing tiny baby waves and hunting for the perfect writing chair at local coffee shops.
Stephen Camelio with “The High-Line” — “The High Line” is a one-hour drama centered on two women from very different walks of life who get double-crossed and need to jump into the dangerous world of drug dealing and smuggling in the wilds of northern Montana.
Camelio is freelance writer and former editor at In Style magazine. His work has appeared in books and countless publications including ESPN The Magazine, Field & Stream, Entertainment Weekly and Men’s Journal. Having been a long-time contributor of reviews to Publisher’s Weekly, he’s adapting books about the Vietnam War and the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone into TV/film projects. He’s also developing a script about being a founding member of the Scorpions, the world’s manliest book club. A graduate of Villanova University with masters degrees from NYU and Queens University in Belfast, he lives in Montana, where he fishes, hunts and plays princesses with his two young daughters.
Cat Dale with “Mount Pleasant” — “Mount Pleasant” is a coming-of-age drama, set in the late 1800s, based on the true history of the US Government forcing Native American families to give up their children. It is a story of a war between the Old West and the New, told through the eyes of one determined girl trying to piece her family back together.
Before taking the plunge into screenwriting, Dale studied archaeology and worked on excavations around the world. Once her Indiana Jones dreams were fulfilled, she headed to Austin to study screenwriting at the University of Texas. When she’s not climbing the Colorado 14ers or skiing uphill, she’s writing television pilots and feature films. She is currently producing her first feature film, which she co-wrote, and is set to shoot late 2018.
Ross Denyer with “What Darkness Brings” — “What Darkness Brings” is an anthology series that juxtaposes human atrocities with supernatural malevolence, drawing from folklore and fairy tales to blend historically-grounded ensemble drama with elements of fantasy and horror. The first season is designed to start in 1944 Occupied France, where a mysterious creature wipes out a German convoy and Maquis Resistance cell.
Denyer is an LA-based actor and writer. His sci-fi pilot, “The Relief,” placed as a finalist in ScreenCraft’s Screenwriting Fellowship and Pilot Launch competitions. His latest TV pilot, “What Darkness Brings,” is currently a top-ranked script on The Black List. His screenplay concept, “Key Word: Cars (A Romance),” won him a scholarship to a New York Film Academy eight-week workshop with screenwriter Dan Kay. Denyer also directed and co-produced “The Verge,” which won Best Drama at Atlanta Web Festival and was featured in Backstage magazine. As an actor, he has appeared in “The Order: 1886” and numerous short films. He received his BFA in Theatre Arts from Elon University.
Katy Dore with “The Unsung” — “The Unsung” is a one-hour anthology drama designed to feature the story of a fascinating American heroine whose story is not told in history classes. The first is Mary Ellen Pleasant, a free African-American woman living and creating an empire in 1850 during the California Gold Rush.
Dore is an award-winning writer and actor. She earned a degree in American Studies at Stanford University and an MFA at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. After many years of doing graphic design, writing ad copy and scripting commercials, Dore turned her focus to screenwriting full-time. Her work has been selected for inclusion in fiction anthologies and placed in numerous screenwriting competitions. Her recent TV anthology series, “The Unsung,” about bada– American heroines you’ve never heard of, was selected as a Featured Script on the Blacklist. If she’s not writing, you’ll find Dore hitting a tennis ball, diving for crawdads, fly fishing or body boarding. Or, she might be performing with her improv team. Or maybe cooking for friends. Or…
Joshua V. Gilbert with “Boys of Summer” — “Boys of Summer” is a one-hour drama that follows a young African-American woman, Ryan Summer, as she leaves her political strategist job in Washington to work for Major League Baseball. The boys’ club there is reluctant to accept her, until one of their star pitchers, Cole Tremble, comes out of the closet and they need help with the media storm that has created. Together, Ryan and Cole will spearhead a baseball renaissance.
Gilbert has been a TV Writers’ Office assistant since 2009, mainly working as a Script Coordinator and Writers’ Assistant. In that time he has had the good fortune to write freelance TV episodes (“Drop Dead Diva” and “The Flash”). An alumnus of the Writers Assistants Network (WAN) Workshop/Fellowship, Gilbert recently wrote and — in conjunction with a producing director — shot, a short film called “Playing It Straight,” an entrant in the 2018 Cinequest Film & VR Festival.
Zara Meerza with “Yellow” — “Yellow” is a one-hour drama set in 1896 when the bitter rivalry between the greatest newspaper magnates in history (Joseph Pultizer and William Randolph Hearst) reaches a boiling point.
Meerza is a British writer and producer working across documentary and drama. She has previously worked with the BBC, Warp Films, Sky Arts and the BFI across television, film, and festivals, and found her way to writing by way of a teenage career in the music industry, a stint in journalism and masters degrees at Cambridge University and UCL. In 2017 she was a Producers Guild of America Diversity Fellow, as well as Black List x Women In Film Episodic Lab Fellow. She is currently a 2018 Sheffield Doc Fest ‘Future Producer.’
Louis Mendiola with “The Strange Case of Oscar Wilde” — “The Strange Case of Oscar Wilde” is a one-hour drama that follows Oscar Wilde’s obsession with getting a second chance with his first love, Florence Balcombe — even though they’re both married to other people and he is also juggling trying to unmask the identity of Jack the Ripper, as well as solving other crimes.
An ABC (American-Basque-Colombian), Mendiola was born and raised in Los Angeles. After getting his bachelors in film studies at UCSB, Mendiola finished off his studies with a masters in screenwriting at Chapman University. He then took off to the “Land of the Long White Cloud” aka New Zealand, where he has lived for the past decade. When he’s not procrastinating in front of his laptop by rewatching Kobe Bryant’s 81 point game, Mendiola can be found lecturing at universities, brewing beer, waiting tables at Coco’s Cantina, and hanging out with his two feisty AF children, who get their feistiness from his clinical psychologist wife.
Paula Sorge Moynihan with “You Bet” — “You Bet” is the only comedy in the competition. It’s a story about starting over, no matter how long the odds, following orphaned twins who come at life very differently from each other but are determined to make their way to a better life — together.
Moynihan’s passion for writing began at age nine after reading her sister’s (astoundingly dull) diary and deciding to spice it up a bit. Despite having been caught red-handed (due to chronic misspellings, the use of a different colored ink, and the bold lies written within), Moynihan realized that she had found her calling. Since that time, Moynihan mainly wrote just for kicks. However, after moving to Los Angeles to take a shot at an acting career and finding herself the eternal second choice, she thought it best to finally begin pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a writer. Moynihan also lucked out by having a very forgiving older sister who is now living a far more dazzling life than the one she had so diligently logged in her (dry as a bone) diary.
Kevin Oeser with “Downline” — “Downline” is a one-hour drama about the explosive rise of a cult-like pyramid scheme and its unlikely CEOs. It’s a series about ambition, loyalty, and a head-on collision between the American dream and the American reality.
Oeser is a writer, director, and editor originally from Sacramento. His early life was basically the plot of “Lady Bird.” Since then, he’s graduated from USC film school and written for a variety of shows like YouTube Red’s “Paranormal Action Squad.” His short films have screened at festivals worldwide and been viewed millions of times online, notably “How Was Burning Man?” His feature script “Terrible Parents” was recorded by the Black List Table Reads podcast and made several outlets’ lists of top podcast episodes that year. He was named to Tracking Board’s Young and Hungry list in 2015. As a film and television editor, Oeser’s credits include Comedy Central’s “Another Period” and Sundance joy “Hell Baby.” The premiere run of his musical play “The Milford Project” was named Best of the Hollywood Fringe Festival and he is a longtime student and performer at UCBLA. Oeser recently wrote the first draft of his first novel and is excited about that.
Eileen Shim with “Darklings” — “Darklings” is a one-hour drama that is inspired by the great works of Gothic horror. It follows a 19-year-old protagonist, Mary Godwin, who is desperate to reconnect with her dead child and uses seances and the occult in an attempt to cross over to “the other side.”
Shim left behind a career in journalism because she was sick of writing about crime and murder. So instead, she moved to LA to pursue a career in… writing about crime and murder (but now with bonus witchcraft). Her unique blend of horror and sci-fi/fantasy have won the NBC Writers on the Verge fellowship, the CAPE New Writers Fellowship, the Oriental DreamWorks Artist-in-Residence Fellowship, the AFI Writers’ Room Ready initiative, the AFI China Story Scholarship, and a nomination at the 2017 Student Emmys. Shim is a graduate of Yale University and the American Film Institute.
Peter Short and Sue Batterton with “Ten Thousand Islands” — “Ten Thousand Islands” is a one-hour drama centering on the women of Everglades City, Fla. after every adult male in that small town is arrested for drug smuggling and they are forced to put their differences aside to take control of the town.
Married writing team Short and Batterton met at the Michener Center for Writers at UT Austin, where they studied fiction, screenwriting, and poetry. A fourth-generation Floridian, Short was a writing fellow at the Provincetown Center for the Arts with original short fiction published by Crazyhorse. Batterton is a native of upstate New York and was nominated for Best New American Voices for her fiction. Currently, Short works for a strategic communications and design firm, while Batterton is a creative director at The Richards Group in Dallas, writing and producing films for Jeep, Ram, and Alfa Romeo. Short and Batterton spend “date nights” working on pilot scripts, and every other night trying to get their two boys (Leo, age 5, and Charlie, age 2) to go to sleep.
Azia Squire with “Hard Drive” — “Hard Drive” is a one-hour drama that follows a programmer named Claire who discovers her power-hungry ex is building a successful tech startup from her stolen code and then plots to infiltrate the company and wrestle control from the inside.
Squire hails from Atlanta, where urban and rural overlap to create a vibrant mash-up of city/country sensibility. Raised by a vivacious and warm family of mostly women, and fascinated by the rich worlds of character dramas like Buffy and Six Feet Under, it makes sense Squire took to creating her own universes. She received her Masters in Screenwriting from USC where she was a Humanitas and NAACP/CBS Fellowship Finalist. Her Leeway Foundation Art & Change grant-funded webseries, “We, the Band,” was a 2015 Austin Film Festival Digital Scripted Series Finalist. Since then, she’s worked as a writer’s assistant for Fox’s “Empire” and ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” She was recently selected as a 2017 New York Stage and Film Filmmakers’ Workshop Fellow and WAN (Writer’s Assistant Network) Workshop Fellow. Squire currently resides in Los Angeles and is repped by APA and Writ-Large.
Ryan Stack with “Wreckage” — “Wreckage” is an anthology drama that follows the investigation into air disasters and accidents. This pilot specifically explores the disappearance of a plane that sees the 238 people on board go missing and leads to questions of conspiracy that leave broken careers and dead bodies in its wake.
Stack is originally from the Midwest. Since coming out to LA, he has served as a freelance TV producer for a number of shows, including “The Daily 10,” E! News, and “Live From E!” While writing scripts on the side for the last few years, he was worked in development with executives such as Ryan Jones at 20th Century Fox and Jonathan Yunger at Nu Image. He is also in the process of developing another pilot he wrote, which made Top 10 on the Tracking Board’s Launch Pad competition with Romark Entertainment and Energy Entertainment. He loves TV and is amazed at how much good storytelling there is across the television landscape — almost too much good stuff to watch it all.
Dan Taft with “I-95” — “I-95” is a one-hour drama that explores a government agency that was rotting with so much corruption they brought in the CIA to infiltrate their own agents. The first target gets reassigned to I-95 to take down a kingpin without knowing her new route is a trap and her new partner is actually a super soldier lab rat planted to use her as a human tracking device to lead the CIA to an international cartel that crossed the CIA.
Taft is a dramatic comedy writer living in Hollywood by way of New York by way of Miami by way of New York. A graduate of Norman Steinberg’s Television Writer’s Studio, Taft was a Sundance Episodic Lab finalist in 2015, and has written several original pilots, a feature, and a middle grade novel. Never published or paid, Taft presses on with the combined grit of Jeff Bridges and John Wayne. He also worked as a Writer’s PA on Netflix’s “Everything Sucks” and for Funny or Die’s “The Occasional.” Formative psychology details from his emotional roller coaster of a childhood and subsequent blunt fueled adolescence available upon request.
The 2018 ATX Television Festival is taking place June 7 -10 in downtown Austin, Texas.