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Spotlight: Filmmaker Sean Ellis on working at Charlie’s

Sean working at Charlie’s.

Sean Ellis is a screenwriter and director with over 30 years’ experience, having worked in Australia, Hong Kong and the United States. A graduate of the VCA School of Film and Television, he later relocated to Los Angeles in 2006, working as a Producer’s Assistant on the Universal Studios lot. In 2010, Sean’s screenplay, Claws, was a finalist in the Beverly Hills Film Festival and his feature screenplay won the 2014 Best Project & Pitch at the 3-D Stereo Media Summit in Belgium. Now residing in Queensland, Sean teaches screenwriting at the New York Film Academy Australia on the Gold Coast.

Despite settling in Queensland, it wasn’t long before Hollywood called again. Sean recently returned from a two-month residency at Charlie’s Co-Working Hub in Los Angeles, a program run by Australians in Film (AiF) and supported by Screen Queensland. We talked with him about his filmmaking style, his experience working internationally and his advice to Queensland filmmakers. 

Sean’s love of film began with the Hollywood blockbusters of the 1970s and 80s, with their “mythic storytelling, visuals and music”. Inspired by the extravagance and escapism of these films, Sean’s own filmmaking style emphasises spectacle, adventure, suspense and high stakes. “I often write about young adult characters who are out of their element, but I also love stories that reveal a universal truth or expose injustice, with an inspiring message.”

While at Charlie’s from December 2023 to January 2024, Sean delved deeper into writing his current fantastical screenplay. His prior exposure to Hollywood primed Sean for the experience and for the many creative avenues available in such a large-scale industry — “the US market is focused solely on the commercial aspects of a script or film project… a script could be about anything, anyone, and take place anywhere, which opens up Hollywood to many diverse stories and filmmakers”.

Located within the historic Writer’s Building on The Lot on Formosa, Charlie’s is a co-working hub, event space and international industry incubator giving Queensland screen practitioners the opportunity to network, brainstorm, connect and collaborate with other filmmakers in a dedicated workspace. Each resident receives an equipped hot desk space and writer’s room, as well as support from AiF.

The historic Writer’s Building where Charlie’s Co-Working Hub is housed.

For Sean, working at Charlie’s offered a varied and creatively inspiring work environment — an ‘oasis’ in sprawling LA and a vital hub to connect with practitioners from around the world, as well as expat Australian filmmakers and AiF’s local network.

“I could work and meet in a relaxed setting, be productive and chat with other writers, as well as actors and producers working there, and feel a part of a community.  The location at The Lot Studios in West Hollywood is a source of inspiration in itself as it’s like having your own office in a working studio!”

During the residency, Sean worked on a feature screenplay set in the Canadian Yukon called The Legend of Yakatutch. “The film centres around a young man whose girlfriend is abducted by a mythical beast in the Canadian wilderness, setting him on a journey of self-discovery.” Following his Charlie’s residency, Sean was also accepted into Phase One of AiF’s Untapped talent development program featuring a series of masterclasses with internationally successful writers and directors. 

To fellow Queenslanders looking to break into the US market, Sean suggests making the most of opportunities like Charlie’s, being thorough while compiling your applications and having confidence in your work and abilities. 

“It makes a difference if you go beyond just writing your script, and you have either a pitch deck or a completed short film to show.  If your script has placed well in contests or you’ve had professional coverage that recommends your work, be sure to mention it; these opportunities are competitive, but don’t let that deter you. 

“Plan your trip and research events to attend, like film festivals or the American Film Market, while in LA.  All of this will present you as a serious-minded, ‘hungry’ and ambitious filmmaker who knows their strengths. Good luck and don’t give up!”

Charlie’s Co-Working Hub, Los Angeles