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The Empty Chair World Premiere at SeriesFest

True Crime Drama Pilot from Director Andrew Shebay and Writer John Semander About One of America’s Most Prolific, Yet Unknown, Serial Killers.

The Empty Chair promo image

The Empty Chair from director Andrew Shebay and writer John Semander, will have its world premiere at SeriesFest 2023 in Denver, CO in the Independent Pilot Competition. The true crime drama, intended to be an eight-part series, is based on the imminent release of America's most prolific serial killer, Coral Eugene Watts, unless a mother, Harriett Semander, who tragically lost her daughter Elena to Watts, can find the strength to stop it. The proof of concept pilot is based on the screenplay by John Semander, brother of Elena and son of Harriett. The pilot stars Robyn Lively as Harriett Semander (Teen Witch, Letters to God), Chris Mulkey as Zack Semander (Captain Phillips, Boardwalk Empire) and Justin Hurtt-Dunkley as Coral Eugene Watts (Mare of Easttown.) Both Shebay and Semander will be in attendance. View the trailer here.

Screening Dates and Locations

Sie Film Center

H3 Fries Theater

2510 E. Colfax Ave

Sunday, May 7 @ 11.30 AM

Red Carpet @ 4 PM

Followed by Q&A with director + writer

The Empty Chair movie poster

When Elena Semander is brutally murdered in 1982, her family’s whole world is tragically turned upside down. But that’s really just the beginning. Elena’s mother, Harriett Semander, will soon uncover startling revelations about the case, and eventually learn that the man who killed Elena is scheduled to be the first serial killer ever released from prison. On August 9, 1982, the authorities in Houston, TX, are numb with the knowledge of discovery as they hear the confession of Coral Eugene Watts... the most prolific, and yet unknown, serial killer in America. He admits to killing 13 women in exchange for a lighter sentence of 60 years for the attempted murders of Lori Lister and Melinda Aguilar, two of his “luckier” assault victims, both of whom miraculously survived. The empty chair that sits at the Semander’s kitchen table is a constant reminder to the entire family of what they have lost. As they try to move on with their lives, the memory of Elena looms heavy, especially for Harriett, who simply can’t escape the presence of her daughter’s empty seat at the table and finds herself consumed with not only the intense grief of losing her daughter, but also a deeply traumatizing compulsion to keep the man who killed her behind bars.

“One of the first things you learn as a writer is to write what you know, so that's really all I did,” said John Semander. “It helped that this was something I wanted to write before I even knew I wanted to be a writer, but I had to be almost schizophrenic to detach myself from the reality of what I was describing at times. These were real people I was writing about. Real tragedy with real victims. I had a front-row seat to a two-decades long fight for justice in their memories, led by my own mother, and I believe very strongly that I now have a responsibility to the families of those victims to bring their sacrifices to light. I can't even remember what it was like to not be the brother of a murdered sister, and all I've ever wanted to do is honor Elena by telling this story in a cinematic fashion.”

movie still from The Empty Chair movie

Andrew Shebay – Director, Producer,

Andrew is an award-winning director and producer based in Austin, Texas. Through his company, Pipeline Films, Andrew has collaborated on several projects with top tier talent including Kevin Dillon and Sean Patrick Flanery from his latest film he produced, Frank & Penelope. Andrew also thrives in documentary storytelling where he recently distributed his first feature documentary, 100 Miles to Redemption. Andrew has an insatiable desire to connect with his subjects and their raw emotions and to express those in a realistic and cinematic style to his audience. He has brought this honest style of visual storytelling to all of his projects and top brands worldwide.

John Semander – Writer, Producer

John Semander is a freelance writer and independent producer who has worked consistently in the entertainment industry since moving to Los Angeles in 1993. Over the years, John has been repped by CAA, AMG, The Gersch Agency and Kaplan/Perrone. He has worked with many talented people in both film and television on numerous projects, and has been actively involved in development meetings at NBC, Warner Bros, Sony, Fox, Universal, Comedy Central, Spike TV, and many other studios and production companies throughout his career. John was also a featured writer on the true crime website “In Cold Blog,” due to his family’s long-standing ties with crime victims’ rights advocacy.

“The Empty Chair’s” Assistant Director is George Sledge and Josh Pickering is Director of Photography.


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Cover: Photo by Karl M. Lee

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May 03, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Leaves you wanting to know more. So compelling.

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