Since its inception in 1994, the Austin Film Festival has been dedicated to honoring the art and skill of screenwriting as the core of storytelling. Writers not only construct the worlds we immerse ourselves in, but also sculpt the characters we adore and unveil unexpected plot twists — yet frequently remain overlooked by the broader industry. 

In collaboration with MovieMaker, AFF is delighted to present its 2024 list of 25 Screenwriters to Watch. These rising stars have exhibited prowess through AFF’s script and film competitions, its writers conference, and its film festival, joining the ranks of previous honorees like Tracy Oliver, VJ Boyd, and Glen Powell (who you can read about on in MovieMaker‘s Spring issue).

Here are the imaginative writers or writing teams behind your next favorite feature film or series.

Chikodili Agwuna

AFF Panelist – 2023

On the importance of mental health in the writing process: 

“I don’t have to be unhealthy to create. When I started writing in general, so much of my best work came from a deep depression. For a while I rejected the idea of therapy because I was afraid if I got healthy, I’d lose what made me a good writer and comedian. But therapy actually helped me tap into those feelings more easily, and my writing and standup is better for it.” 

Anna Baumgarten

Project: Disfluency – 2021

Sabrina Brennan 

Project: Band of Mothers – 2018

On dreams coming true:

“I was outside Frank’s Pizza with my dad when I got the text; the kind of text that’s so exciting to get, but a small part of you kinda wishes it was a phone call instead? For the drama of it all? Anyway, the text was to tell me I got staffed on a show for Disney+! All that matters is that it was a dream come true (convenient because dreams are like Disney’s whole thing).”

Adeline Colangelo 

Project: The Break-Up Nurse – 2012

Jeremy Curl 

Project: The Highest Brasil – 2023 

On making words count:

“During an expedition in a very remote part of Africa, my camels ran off, leaving me without water, food, or supplies. I was dangerously ill, passing in and out of consciousness. To add to the problem, a pride of lions had been following me for a few days. I crawled under a bush, thirsty, tired, covered in vomit — and wondered if I was found, whether anyone would re-use my clothes. I decided to write a note to the person that might find me. I thought that these would be my last words, so they better be good. I approach any writing I do in the same way now. Make it count.”

Colby Day 

Project: Lead/Follow – 2022/AFF Panelist 2023

On what he’s working on now:

“Right now, I’m working on what will be my feature directorial debut –  it’s about late-night comedy, late-stage capitalism, and why we even bother making art when it feels like the world is on fire. Also, there’s a singing robot.”

NJ Draine  

Project: The Housing Situation on Neptune – 2023 

On trust in one’s writing:

“Trust the process. Always trust the process. I uncover most of what makes my story in the writing and not the planning. But it’s hard to jump in not knowing all the details. It takes a lot of surrendering/trusting that it will reveal itself in time.”

Also Read: 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee in 2024, Including Austin Film Festival

Eduardo Espíndola 

Project: Unfinished Business From Beyond – 2023

On timing in one’s career:

“For me— getting the right time for each project has been the hardest of challenges. We’re all rushing so much to tend to the ever-growing ways in which capitalism commodifies what we do. I’m learning to allow my art to be by leaning into leisure, joy, and rest.”

Jessica Mena Esteves 

Project: A Glass Darkly/AFF Panelist 2023

Melanie Abrams Fierstein 

Projects: PREtirement & High Crimes – 2023

On trusting your vision:

“Having a background in politics, I was taught to always have on my media face, be prepared with a perfect answer to every question, and write with the voters in mind. But with screenwriting – both the art and the business – I’ve learned that being authentic is the most important thing. The nature of this business requires you to spend a lot of creative time with other people. You won’t be able to give your peers and your projects what they need if you aren’t being true to your own personality and vision, and won’t attract the best team for you if you aren’t being yourself.”

Gordon Shoemaker Foxwood 

Project: Wild Eyed and Wicked – 2023

On quality in writing:

“I’ve been writing screenplays for well over a decade. Plenty were a mess. Most were okay, which is worse than being a mess. A passionate disaster is better than mediocrity every day of the week. It’s been in the past couple of years that I’ve really found myself as a writer and become confident in my taste and following my heart.”

Nick Gambino

Project: The F*ck-It List – 2022 

On what is next:

“Seeing many of the projects I have in the works take their next step toward being made. The truth is, a lot of things don’t get made, but as long as we keep laying those bricks, we give ourselves a fighting chance.”

Sam Henderson 

Projects: Break & The Walls – 2022 

On patience:

“Patience will get you everything you want. It’s okay if the thing you’re making doesn’t get made the way you planned it, as long as the finished product is better than what you expected.”

Chris Hicks 

Project: Heck – 2019 

On lessons learned:

“Scheduling time to write is easier than finding time to write. Don’t worry if it’s bad. Bad and finished will always be better than perfect and unfinished. A bad script can be fixed. An unfinished one never leaves your draft folder.”

Louisa Hill 

Project: Loz Angelez – 2023

On challenges when writing characters:

“I seek to approach each writing challenge with both rigorous research and internal searching. If I’m writing a character or situation that’s unfamiliar to me, I draw from my own lived experiences to empathize with the character’s humanity and then turn to research to enliven the specifics of their reality.”

Sarah Kambe Holland 

Project: Egghead & Twinkie – 2023

On being true to oneself on the page:

“There’s a conversation in Egghead & Twinkie where Twinkie talks about being mixed-race. It was one of the most important scenes to me personally, which is what made it so tricky. I was worried that it might feel too serious or out of left field since the rest of the movie is basically a silly-goofy road-trip romp. In the end, the solution was to just be truthful, to myself and to the character of Twinkie.”

Kimberly Manky 

Project: Debra – 2023 

On important lessons:

“Celebrate all of the little wins along the way. This career path can be hard when you don’t see immediate results, but make sure to acknowledge your achievements. Finishing a draft or placing in a competition are victories. I keep a bottle of champagne in my fridge, ready to pop when I get some good news. I think seeing it in there when I grab milk for my morning coffee might help manifest something!”

Andrea Camacho McCracken and Nora Alameddin

Project: In Wonderland – 2023 

W.A.W. Parker

Project: The Baron – 2023

António Sequeira

Project: Autumn – 2023

On looking outside when writing:

“Get out of the computer, before writing. And go outside. Live life. Watch people. Observe behaviors. Soak it all in. For a long time when I was young, I would be writing every day, but I didn’t have enough life experience to write anything that mattered. My stories were dull and unoriginal. So, don’t rush. Life is a marathon. Take the time to soak it all in and then put that into your story.”

Mac Smullen

Project: Souvenir, Alaska – 2022 

Cristin Stephens 

Project: Black Magic – 2023 

Sam Thor 

Project: Starpower – 2023

On looking within when writing:

“The more I looked inward, addressed my own issues, and allowed myself to be open to different points of view, the more my writing grew to encapsulate all of that knowledge. Looking back, there’s plenty of moments in my life that were messy, dramatic, stupid, that helped my development as a person and without them, my writing would have remained naive. With each life lesson learned and each script written, we grow, and that growth is necessary for a career like this.”

E’an Verdugo and Caleb Davis 

Project: Restorage – 2023 

Myung Joh (MJ) Wesner 

Project: Gray Matter – 2018 

Liked This List of the Austin Film Festival Screenwriters to Watch in 2024?

Check out the honorees’ full interviews at

Photos courtesy of AFF