screenwriter to watch
Sean Collins-Smith is a biracial, award-winning journalist from Richmond, Virginia. After winning a national award for in-depth reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, Sean graduated with a Master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. He went on to work at a local news station, covering crime during the midnight shift. It was in this dark, violent world he discovered the inspiration for his first television pilot, “END OF LIFE,” which was a finalist in the Austin Film Festival in 2017 and won him the Fast-Track Fellowship from the International Screenwriters Association.
Sean won the inaugural Barry Josephson Fellowship at the Austin Film Festival the following year with his second pilot, LIFERS ANONYMOUS, and was named a finalist for the Disney|ABC Writer’s Program. Sean moved to LA to pursue a TV writing career at the end of 2018. He is repped by Jewerl Ross of Silent R Management.
How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?
My big break came from winning the Fast-Track Fellowship from the ISA. That connected me to my manager, Jewerl Ross., and led to me moving to Los Angeles.
Writer, “End of Life” (PILOT)
Writer, “Lifers Anonymous” (PILOT)
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
Everyone always wants to know the answer to one question: “What else are you working on?” Without fail. Your manager, your agent, junior execs, producers, fellow writers, showrunners, everyone! So make sure you never stop writing. Even if you have a script placing in a multitude of contests and festivals, don’t rest on your laurels. Multiple samples are key, not just for getting representation, but for getting work.
What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?
I’d say the one I’m writing right now! It’s unlike anything I’ve ever written…it’s similar to a David Simon type project, where you’re following multiple characters. I’m still navigating it, so I’ll let you know if I figure it out!!
What was a major turning point in your career?
I’d say placing as a finalist in Austin in 2017. I was so new at all of this that I didn’t even realize how big the AFF Screenplay Writing Competition was — until I started researching it after finding out I was a finalist. The realization that my first pilot script was being recognized by this huge, respectable competition was mind-blowing to me, and then the experience of going and networking (my first big networking opportunity, by the way!) was just so educational on so many levels. Going through all that motivated me to keep writing, which is why I’m in L.A. today.
What are you working on right now?
I briefly mentioned it above, but I’m currently writing a pilot about a small town impacted by back-to-back hurricanes due to the effects of climate change. It’s an hour-long drama focusing on varying characters – a farmer, a sheriff, a teacher, a rising political star, a recent high school grad turned vagrant – and how the storm, its flooding and the aftermath have changed the town forever. Surrounding all this is a murder mystery that may or may not be racially motivated, hitting home the idea of changing climates and chickens coming home to roost – or something haha!
What are some of your favorite movies?
Just to name a few: No Country for Old Men, Memento, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Sting, Good Night and Good Luck, A League of Their Own, Wall-E, Dark City, The Truman Show, Spotlight.
Who are some of your favorite screenwriters?
I really love Vince Gilligan. If you go back and watch The X-Files episodes he wrote, they’re on a whole other level from the rest of the writers – darkly witty, unique, wholly satisfying. Obviously with Breaking Bad he exploded into a master craftsmen. Better Call Saul is a different beast – slow burn after slow burn – but I actually have come to enjoy it and savor it more than Breaking Bad. I’m also a great admirer of the works of David Simon, Aaron Sorkin and Joss Whedon. Simon’s Dickensian motifs with The Wire and A Tale of Two Cities (hell, even Show Me a Hero) are timeless. Sorkin had me with the understated brilliance of Sports Night and then the elegant idealism of The West Wing. Whedon gave TV fantasy and sci-fi some heft wth Buffy, its spinoff Angel, and then Firefly. I wouldn’t be writing today if I hadn’t seen works by any of the above showrunners.
Share a memorable experience at Austin Film Festival.
The second time I went to the Austin Film Festival, I was a finalist in the AMC One-Hour Pilot category again. I was more well-versed in networking this time around, and made an effort to approach people a little more. However, I was still taken aback by the randomness of certain networking opportunities. In Atlanta a few months prior, I’d met an amazing showrunner who was unbelievably kind and we ended up grabbing lunch together. We kept in contact on Twitter, and at one point she asked for my phone number. Fast-forward to Austin, and I win an award for my pilot script, and have to go on stage to give a speech. Not two minutes after my speech, I get a text message from that showrunner – she’s in the audience, she saw my speech, and she wants to buy me a drink after the ceremony is over to congratulate me on the award! It’s one of those things that you never think is possible – least of all for a guy who lived all the way out in Richmond, Virginia, 3,000 miles away from anything Hollywood related. But because of Austin, she saw me win! And now she knows who I am, and has requested my work.”