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Military Intelligence to Gang Interventionist to NBC Writers’ Room

Allen Sowelle tells his story.

Moving from Bavaria to California in the late 80s, Allen Sowelle experienced culture shock on steroids. The Cold War was raging, and Germany was divided between East and West when he landed in “the bubble of Santa Cruz.”

Trained in Army Military Intelligence, Sowelle learned to test assumptions. Being open to ideas was an asset. In Signal Intelligence, listening was key.

At the University of Santa Cruz, Sowelle used those skills to alter course.

Art as Ministry

Sowelle joined a band and honed his storytelling skills as a lyricist. He also wrote for the college newspaper, City on a Hill.

“I had a chance to interview artists and activists from Michael Franti to Ice Cube to Gil Scott-Heron and talk to them about their art as ministry. That was important to me.” 

After Santa Cruz, Sowelle worked in jails as a domestic violence counselor and gang interventionist.

His skill and technique in dealing with youth: no judgement.

“Again, it’s all about perspective. Why people are at certain points in their lives – and if that direction is misdirected and not where they want to be, what can we do to change that?”

“One of the most beautiful things about humans is that we can change the direction of our lives whenever we are ready.”

Allen Sowelle

Writer-Director Allen Sowelle on set with 5th Street East.

Sowelle ended up going to grad school at Cal State Monterey and wrote a screenplay about one who dealt with addiction which “got some attention” and brought the writer to LA. He received a fellowship to study screenwriting at the University of Southern California. Officially in the business, Sowelle worked as an editor for shows on The Discovery Channel and “kept plugging away” at his storytelling craft.

In 2018, Emma Rae, a short film written and directed by Allen Sowelle, was accepted at Cannes.

The fourteen minute film deals with a young girl’s traumatic experience in and out of the foster care system. Emma Rae and Sowelle received multiple awards on the indie circuit.

In June 2020, Allen Sowelle joined the writer’s room for NBC’s scripted series New Amsterdam.

In February, Sowelle received a call from his manager that an Executive Producer of NBC’s New Amsterdam was interested in meeting. Inspired by New York’s Bellevue Hospital, the medical drama tackles the real-life issues of a large city hospital.

Staff, funding, inequality, pandemics…

Before he met with show runner David Schulner, Sowelle binged watched 30-something episodes and was touched.

“You hope that there are are people out there fighting the good fight and challenging the system that hasn’t benefitted everyone equally.”

The Writers Room

In the Writers Room, Sowelle once again has the opportunity to draw on skills learned at the base of the Bavarian Alps years ago. Then, Sowelle tried to decipher authentic threats, not action movie moments. He listened to language (German, Russian, English) to discern facts vs. assumptions, truth vs. noise.

Sowelle wants the truth of a character or scene.

“Whether gathering intel, writing a song or developing a script, it’s all about storytelling – providing a snapshot of a moment in time that rings true.”

Writer-Director Allen Sowelle in Georgia in 2015 with 5th Street East.