This year we were lucky to have Roadmap Writers as the exclusive sponsor of the Pitch Competition and Finale Party! The judging panel consisted of Emmy-Winning writer Craig Mazin (Chernobyl), Aline Brosh McKenna (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Roadmap Writers CEO Joey Tuccio. The capacity crowd was enraptured by the incredible group of writers who delivered both heart-felt and laugh out loud funny pitches. For the first time in the Pitch Competition history Roadmap presented this year’s winner Christian Leonard with an award for her winning pitch.
Rounding out this year’s top 3 were writers Mads Gauger who finished in second place and third place finisher Lorraine Portman. Learn more about the storytelling journeys of this year’s finalists below!
Since 2016 Roadmap Writers has helped 93 writers sign to representation and countless others get staffed, or option their script. Roadmap, a leader in screenwriter education and training offers a variety of online programs hosted by working industry executives designed to empower writers with actionable tools and insights to elevate their craft and cultivate relationships with industry professionals. Click here to learn more about Roadmap Writers!
Meet our Pitch Finalists!
This year's winner - Christan Leonard
Christan Leonard is a writer, filmmaker, and lapsed comic from Seattle, WA. The fourth of five children, she was raised to value independence and Top Ramen for dinner. After working in nonprofits for close to a decade, she moved back to Seattle seven years ago to pursue a career in television writing. There she met her future writing partner, the inimitable Mads Gauger. She was a writer for and producer of the award-winning pilot of the web series Northern Belles which has appeared at the Independent Television Festival, Local Sightings, and the National Film Festival for Talented Youth. As a director, her work on the series has also appeared at the Canadian Diversity Film Festival and Miami Web Fest. Her greatest accomplishment was the time she showed up to Mrs. Robson’s career day dressed as Sporty Spice and her greatest shame is that she has never solved the Thursday crossword puzzle.
2nd Place - Mads Gauger
A year ago, Mads Gauger was working at a teen group home in Seattle. She had also just quit stand-up comedy, given up hope of being any sort of creative professional, and was in the process of applying for law school when she confessed to her roommate, filmmaker and writer Christan Leonard, that she had always wanted to write a TV pilot set in a teen homeless shelter. She loved her job, but was secretly burning out and felt guilty about it. Writing something that could show society how incredible her clients and coworkers were, something that shed light on their struggles and resiliency would be another way to help. But that was just a fantasy, right?
To her horror, Christan took her seriously. She refused to entertain any of Mads’ creative self-doubt and their pilot “Sheltered” was born. Pitching “Sheltered” at the AFF Pitch Competition and sharing her admiration for her clients and coworkers for a broader audience was an incredible experience. She and Christan are currently writing their second pilot and it turns out telling meaningful stories is way better than law school.
To learn more about youth homelessness and what you can do to help, visit www.endhomelessness.org.
3rd Place - Lorraine Portman
Lorraine Portman grew up in a nexus of art, toys, and commerce. Her mother was an art teacher and visual artist. Her father sold model trains, owned two pubs, and built a gun museum. Lorraine worked in all the family businesses, effectively attending Warren Portman’s Hard Knocks School of Business Management and Nancy Portman’s Academy for Facing Rejection and Being Humble in the Face of Any Success. Both supplied Lorraine and her brother with endless art supplies, allowed imaginations to run wild, and attended many harrowing school plays.
Lorraine had the undying support of her parents until they, well, died. Lorraine earned a B.A. in Theater and creative writing at Smith College. Lorraine also attended the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. She then pursued her MFA at Florida State University’s School of Motion Picture and Television Arts. After film school, Lorraine enjoyed production, working on films helmed by Martha Coolidge and Victor Nunez. She then spent ten years teaching Screenwriting and Playwriting at Flagler College in Saint Augustine, Florida. After those heathens, pitching to a bar full of possibly drunk film folks was a piece of buttery shortbread.
Lorraine first created characters based on her family while writing plays, which were produced during her time at Smith College. Her family didn’t seem to mind, so she continued basing many characters on relatives and people she met while dating.
Lorraine has written a stack of screenplays, while also creating eight short films and a feature. Her favorite genres are comedy and horror. She hopes to make films using other people’s money sometime in the future. All the awards are fantastic but Florida Power & Light keeps asking for money. Lorraine most regrets not asking the Stella Artois people to engrave a glass:
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL
I grew up in a house filled with computers and Playbills. Learning to code was as much a right of passage as learning your lines for the school play.
But learning lines got me reading scripts — and reading scripts got me reading just about everything else, too: encyclopedias, science fiction books of the month, modernist poetry, and more. Eventually, reading worked its way into writing — my own poetry, my own monologues, my own plays, films, and shows.
Through it all, drama and technology stayed with me. My stories tend to follow people doing the best they can, in worlds that are just a little disorienting and moving a little too quickly for them. We live in a high-tech, post-modern ball of strangeness that is simultaneously fun and frightening. I like my writing to include both.
Margaret Hoffman is a Toronto-based screenwriter who was inspired to write La Matadora by her Mexican mother’s adventures as a bullfighter at age 17.
A former journalist and marketing executive, Margaret dabbled in screenwriting for several years. It was only when her mother, Maria, developed cancer, and she took time off to help her through chemo and radiation treatments, that Margaret realized she needed to tell this story.
“Spending so many hours sitting with my mom, listening to her recount her life and having the time to pay attention to all of the details and nuances of what life was like in 1959 Mexico, it just kept building,” Margaret says. “When I started placing in script competitions and told my mother about La Matadora, she was genuinely surprised that anyone would be interested. The great news is that my mom is still with us, hale and hearty. She truly is a fighter.”
Margaret is currently co-writing a biopic for a major Mexican movie theatre chain, as well as the web series Girl Friday, about a struggling actress who works as a rent-a-friend to make ends meet.
Flannery Maney is an LA-based actor/writer/producer from Ohio. She started her career at Denison University, acting in indie movies shot on film, then promptly moved to Los Angeles, working her first job at SONY. Flannery then studied acting at RADA, and began pursuing writing. She enjoys writing TV, especially hour-long period dramas about women who break the mold. She also writes in the YA superhero space. She wants to start conversations through writing about the opioid crisis, climate change, mental health, and telling stories about unknown women. She is obsessed with Westerns (her first pilot is a female driven Western) and black-and-white movies.
Flannery produced several films last year: her horror short BEYOND THE CRACKS premiered at the Austin Film Festival, her psychological thriller SCARS premiered at Dances with Films, and her inspirational sports short, THROW LIKE A GIRL, premiered at SCAD. She recently started a creative publishing company called KINGDOM OF PAVEMENT (www.kingdomofpavement.com), as a place for LA-based artists to share their work! Flannery hopes to find her way into a writers’ room soon and will continue to produce and write indie films. IG: @flannerymaney
Allison Orr Block
Allison Orr Block discovered the joy of writing when she was 5-years-old and her pet snail died. Although the poem was brief and the words were indecipherable, the therapeutic act of expressing her grief on paper stuck with her. While studying theatre at California State University, she fell in love with playwriting and documenting her life experiences under the guise of fictional characters. This love (as well as the love of a native Texan) carried her to graduate school at The University of Texas at Austin, where she received an MFA. When a film producer read her play Lizelle and suggested she adapt it for film, Allison finally attacked screenwriting and enjoyed it so much she immediately began new projects. Her latest one – Lift – is the TV pilot she pitched in AFF’s Pitch Finals. Inspired by her experience as a Bra Fitting Specialist, the story of Lift received positive feedback from the judges and bra wearers in the room. Allison is currently looking for a home for Lift, so owners (and lovers) of breasts will understand the countless similarities (and challenges) of boobs. It’s a story that needs to be told.
Nine years ago, deep in a midlife crisis, Jim’s wife suggested a book from one of her writing classes: McKee’s Story. Jim immediately fell in love with the craft of screenwriting, making his midlife crisis all that much more enjoyable, if not somehow less resolved.
Since then, his first script, a dark rom-com, The Cult of Us, was an AFF second rounder and a Nicholl Fellowship Quarter-finalist. He went on to write a very short film, This Time It’s Shopping, which was selected by 18 film festivals and won 5 of them. This attracted the attention of Sesame Street, and Jim was fortunate enough to produce a Maine-based, short film about the Number 6, which played on Sesame Street in early 2018. His most recent short film, Passive Aggressive Dads, was selected by over 20 festivals, including wicked-fancy ones, such as Sedona, Breckenridge, Nantucket, and The BFI London Film Festival.
Most recently, Jim’s short script, Ninja Chiropractor, was an 2019 AFF Semifinalist, and Jim made his way to the AFF Pitch Finals where he pitched his family-friendly, feminist, feature script, Igor and Frankie.
More about Jim and his legendary 2013 AFF Pitch Fiasco at http://jimpicariello.com/movie-pitch-fiasco-at-the-austin-film-festival/
After graduating from law school in 2003, Nancy Safavi moved to Washington D.C. and began her career as a Presidential Management Fellow. By day, Nancy works as an attorney for the federal government. By night, she runs LIT Comedy, a comedy school and theatre in Washington, D.C., which offers shows and classes in all forms of comedy. She performs, writes, teaches, directs and produces comedy regularly. Nancy maintains both of those worlds while also being legally blind. Over the past ten years, she has performed on various stages in DC and numerous improv & sketch comedy festivals around the country. As a producer, Nancy showcases the talents of all types of performers at any level.
An award-winning screenwriter as well, her scripts have advanced in numerous screenwriting competitions, including the Austin Film Festival. In fact, her 2018 Second Rounder script, “The Outlook Is Grim” served as the basis for her pitch at this past Austin Film Festival pitch competition, where she advanced to the finals.
A native-born Texan, she loves the city of Austin with all of her heart, which is why she attended law school there and why attending the Austin Film Festival annually is a no-brainer for her.
Ryan Stanisz is a 2019 AFF Second Rounder and 2019 Launch Pad Pilot Competition Finalist ‘Top 75’ for his half-hour comedy pilot, We Bought a Funeral Home. As a writer and comedian working in New York, he created an independent sketch troupe, Clip Show, whose sketches have appeared as ‘Best of the Web’ on Funny or Die and The Huffington Post. A comedic short he wrote and directed, ‘The Excel Master,’ won the Judge’s Award at the Iron Mule Short Comedy Film Festival in February 2018. As a performer, he hosted ‘Stand Ups Improvise TED Talks’ – a comedy show that allowed local comics to present fictional TED talk seminars based on PowerPoint slides he developed. He’s also written copy for Thrillist short-form shows, including ‘Late Check Out’ and ‘Ten Best States.’
Sarah Vander Schaaff
Sarah is a playwright and journalist who started her career as a storyteller at the age of twelve when she hung a curtain in an old garage and created a theater. More recently, her comedy, Sustain Me, was performed at the University of California, Davis’ Ground and Field Festival, and her political family drama, Daughters of the Amendment, earned second round status in at AFF 2019. This March, her 10-minute play, Balls in the Game, set on election night 2020, will be part of the Mid-American Theater Conference Fringe Festival in Chicago.
As a journalist, Sarah’s work frequently appears in The Washington Post’s Health and Science Section as well as their national blogs on education (The Answer Sheet) and parenting, (On Parenting.) Her articles focus on women and children: examining juvenile chronic pain, preventing sudden death in children, opioid education for kindergarteners, breakthrough migraine treatments, and the barriers to treating mental illness, among others.
After earning a BS in theatre from Northwestern University and MFA from the University of Alabama, Sarah moved to NYC where she studied journalism at night, ultimately landing a job at CBS News/48 Hours. She hosts a forthcoming podcast series about writing, Ink in Our Blood, in which she banters with her father, Pulitzer-Prize winning political writer and biographer, David Maraniss. www.writeonsarah.com
My name is Christine Hoang. I’m a screenwriter, playwright, and performer in Austin, Texas.
In 2015 I wrote my first play – People of Color Christmas: The White Elephant in the Room. To my surprise, it received high acclaim and I received a City of Austin commission to remount and tour it.
In 2017 my second play A Girl Named Sue won the Austin Critics Table’s David Mark Cohen Award for Best New Play. PBS created a documentary about A Girl Named Sue. That summer I enrolled in AFF’s Pitch Workshop, pitched A Girl Named Sue as a TV series, and won a badge to AFF. That October I attended my first AFF Writers Conference and received an honorable mention for A Girl Named Sue at the AFF Pitch Finale.
In 2019 I wrote my first feature film – Fly Girl. I pitched Fly Girl at the 2019 AFF Pitch Competition and advanced to the Pitch Finale. I am currently adapting Fly Girl as a play, and will world premiere it on the Austin stage in 2021.
This week I had a “full circle” moment when I completed my first draft TV pilot of A Girl Named Sue.
Alexis Howell-Jones is a features writer from London, England – and the guy at school who always protected the underdog and helped them through their troubles. This continued in his work life, where he helps catastrophically injured clients through their recovery from their life-changing injuries.
With such influences, he writes thrillers or historical dramas about underdogs under intense pressure. He likes to show the darkness in everybody’s light – and the light in everybody’s darkness.
At Austin Alexis pitched CONTROLLER:
“When an agoraphobic widow upgrades the AI system that runs her smart home, she must escape the house when she finds it’s taking on the personality of her abusive dead husband – and intends to control her entire life”. Think Misery, but with Siri.
Alexis loves networking and developing new relationships – so feel free to contact him on Facebook or drop him a line at email@example.com and say hi!
Eljohn Macaranas hails from sunny Miami, Florida. A first-generation Filipino-American son of two nurses, Eljohn spent most of his early days rewinding VHS cassettes of Wuxia movies and Spongebob airings. After flirting with playwrighting and journalism in high school and college, he earned an English degree from Florida International University. He graduated Magna Cum Laude despite saying reading was for nerds and spending most of his time slumped over his laptop, writing anything but his assignments. During that time, he wrote his first screenplay, CHARLIE GOES TO PERU, a genre-savvy take on Action serials. It later became a Second Rounder at the 2018 Austin Film Festival and a 2019 Finalist for Screencraft’s Comedy Competition. He has subsequently written stories about military drones, religious cults, and the unique powers of Gen Z friendship. He recently made it to the finals of the Austin Film Festival’s Pitch Competition, where he pitched a story about a germaphobic middle-aged woman who adopts a panda during the apocalypse. Eljohn is 23 and lives in Miami, where he works as a copywriter for a tech company waiting for a new call to adventure.
Amy McPeak moved to Texas four years ago from the Washington, D.C. area and quickly felt at home in the vibrant creative community. She studied acting and debate in high school and went on to coach acting, debate, and public speaking for over a decade. She wrote and directed her first “film” at the age of six (a Star Wars sequel of course!) and has since written a slew of features, shorts, teleplays, and podcasts. She has a special affinity for anything historical, and will neither confirm nor deny the rumor that she spent two years researching and writing a biopic of an obscure ancient Persian king. She also loves anything that combines comedy and sci-fi and her half-hour pilot, History Club, made second round this year at AFF. She had a blast pitching Work Wives, a comedy co-written with her friend, Shruti Saran. She’s currently developing a grounded sci-fi series, Worlds Apart, and several other projects with writing/producing partner, Steven DeBose. An active member of the Austin film community, Amy has volunteered for both Georgetown Film Festival and Austin Film Festival. She currently resides in the suburbs of Austin with her two daughters and her goldendoodle pup.
W.A.W. Parker, also known as Adam, focuses on telling stories about queer people in history in order to reclaim their cultural legacy. His screenplay LEO about Leonardo da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa made it to the Second Round at Austin. After rewriting the script, it became a Nicholl Quarterfinalist and got Adam his first book deal. His debut novel “The Divine Proportions of Luca Pacioli” was released in October.
2019 and he has been hired to write a novel based on “The Wasteland,” a musical about T.S. Eliot. Adam has had five scripts place at Austin over the past few years, including his horror script THE BABY which was a Semifinalist this year.
Michael grew up in suburbs of Washington D.C. He had always been fascinated by folklore and ghost stories, and spent a lot of his childhood writing stories that shared similar themes. As time went on, creative writing was put aside for academic, and it wasn’t until one of his professors in his senior year inquired as too if he’d ever thought about writing for a living, encouraging him to do so.
From there that Michael decided to follow his dream and pursue screenwriting and filmmaking. After some time bouncing from place to place working odd jobs and writing in his spare time, Michael arrived in Los Angeles in 2012 to attend the UCLA extension program in screenwriting. Since completing the program, Michael has written numerous short and feature length scripts, including the short that was a semi-finalist at the 2019 Austin Film Festival, The Devil Will Drive You Mad.
Michael is currently working on a feature version of The Devil Will Drive You Mad, as well as a supernatural horror/drama one hour pilot set at the end of the American Civil War, dealing with themes of our collective inability to reconcile our past, and how to move forward if we ever do.
Shruti is a screenwriter, third-culture kid, and breakfast taco aficionado from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She grew up in India, England, and Missouri (her parents collected advanced medical degrees while she collected cool accents) and attended college at the University of Michigan. She began writing a few years later while working in digital marketing. She loves writing female-driven stories and her screenplays reflect her fascination with science and technology, as well as her experiences as an Indian woman and immigrant. She wrote her first original pilot while living in the northern Colorado woods and hand-building a cabin with her husband. They had no construction experience, but YouTube is a great teacher! Since then, her screenplays have placed highly in numerous competitions, including the 2019 Austin Film Festival semi-finals, and the 2019 WB TV Fellowship finals and 2019 WeScreenplay finals. Currently, Shruti lives in Austin, TX with her husband, a crypto entrepreneur and the inspiration behind her one-hour, a cryptocurrency drama called FINDING SATOSHI. When she’s not writing, Shruti can be found script supervising on Austin indie films and hanging out with her very unaptly named writers group, “The Cool Kids.” She’s on Twitter @shrutesnladders.
Craig T. Williams
Craig T. Williams is a writer/producer and editor in New York. His feature screenplay “Hanging By A Thread” was a finalist in the 2018 Sundance Screenwriters Lab and was accepted into the Big Vision Empty Wallet 2019 Incubator Program.
Hanging By A Thread is in active pre-production, Executive Produced by Academy Award Winner Viola Davis and her husband Julius Tennon. Attachments include Simone Missick star of Luke Cage and the CBS Drama All Rise.
Craig’s original TV pilot How Ya Like Me Now, about the 80’s rap rivalry between Kool Moe Dee and LL Cool J was chosen for the 2019 IFP Episodic Lab and was a finalist in both the Sundance 2019 Episodic Lab and the Tracking Boards TV Writing Competition.
Allergic, another original pilot was a 2nd Rounder in the 2019 Austin Film Festival and was the winner of the ABFF/Turner best original 30 minute comedic pilot.
Adhish Yajnik was born in India, but grew up in Northern California. From the moment he heard the opening notes of The Circle of Life in that packed theater at the impressionable age of four, his parents knew their son wouldn’t be a good Indian doctor/lawyer/engineer. He would be a filmmaker!
He began making films with whatever he could find: Windows Movie Maker, Legos, his reluctant friends. He eventually earned degrees in Film Production and Screenwriting from USC, as well as a degree from the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting, and became a visual effects supervisor and writer.
His screenplays have ranked in the top seven percent of entries in the Academy Nicholl Fellowships, placed in the semifinals of the Cinestory Screenwriting Contest and the Second Round of the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Contest, and been nominated for UCLA’s Nate Wilson Joie De Vivre Award in Screenwriting. He has also been a finalist in the Austin Film Festival Pitch Contest.
Adhish writes political dramas, current and historical. His latest project is a pilot about the Nehru family, the political dynasty that ruled India for nearly the first fifty years of its independence: a story of ideals corrupted by power.
Adhish is 29 and lives with his dog, Olive, in Los Angeles.
Secure a Weekend Badge or above and a Pitch Competition ticket before the price increases on December 31 at 11:59PM PT. The Pitch Competition sells out every year, don’t miss your chance to pitch your idea to top industry professional judges!