Living History

All About That Base by Chris Weigl

Much of our series Living History revolves around politics.  The premise is based on a man impersonating George Washington for political gain by running for office.  The idea came about during the 2011 Wisconsin recall election.  People talked about how great Scott Walker was and one strategist remarked that she was more satisfied with Walker as a candidate than she would have been if they were running George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.  It seemed like a peculiar statement.  Both Washington and Jefferson had higher approval ratings than Walker, but this opinion came from a Republican strategist.  Her point was that Walker energized the base of his party more than any hypothetical candidate could.  It was a bold assertion.  One that raised the question of whether a moderate candidate could win a base election in today’s hyper-polarized environment.  What people don’t realize (perhaps because they don’t want to believe it) is that America has always been a very polarized nation.

People forget that a large segment of the population remained loyal to the crown during the Revolutionary War and that a high percentage of American soldiers actually deserted during the war as well.  We like to think that we’ve always been a very patriotic nation and that we’ve been much more unified that we actually have been.  If you look at American politics historically since George Washington’s decision to retire after two terms in office as President you see that America has always been a nation split between two parties.  The parties may have changed over the years, but the division in American politics has largely remained the same.  We are a nation that loves nostalgia though and if we think that our past is better than it was then we can feel free to believe that the future can be brighter than it actually can be.  Narrative elections are much easier to win than base elections.

Today we are in the midst of a large number of base elections.  From 1980 to the present if we look at midterm elections they have almost always been base elections.  The lone historical caveat would be 2002 – a year that Republican trounced Democrats on the issue of homeland security – because it was the first election since the terrorist attacks on 9/11 Republicans were able to make easy work of Democrats who attempted to balance being strong on national defense without compromising civil liberties.  Otherwise we’ve been remarkably consistent in terms of how midterm elections unfold. 

The party that is not in control of the Presidency always does much better than the party that controls the White House.  Democrats won a majority of midterm elections during the Reagan administration.  Republicans did extremely well during the Clinton and Obama administrations.  Republicans have also done a good job in recent years of consolidating their power in state legislatures by coordinating local elections with state-wide Governor’s races.  By energizing their base during midterm elections however Republicans have created unrealistic expectations of their mediocre Presidential candidates in general election years.  Strategists on the right don’t plan for a regression towards the mean during general election years.  General election voter turnout tends to be much more moderate than during midterm elections where the base drives the party that is not in control of the White House to huge victories.

Elections are not nearly as complicated as pundits make them out to be.  You have to ask yourself one simple question when it comes to politics and that is: what and what is setting the narrative?  If the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had lost to challenger Allison Grimes that would have set the narrative in the 2014 midterm elections.  It would have been the lone caveat that Democrats could have savored despite suffering victories on all other fronts during the night.  When a Republican strategist said she would rather have Scott Walker as her candidate than a founding father that sets a narrative.  It makes you think about what world we living in that a clear political partisan would be preferred over a historical figure that had such a great impact on our history that they are depicted on one of America’s most recognized national landmarks: Mount Rushmore.  That is the kind of crazy idea that needs to be made fun of and this is the kind of world that we are replicating in Living History.  The world is such a crazy place that people believe that their partisan ambassadors are better at their jobs than national icons.  Someone needs to take them to task for this and we’re excited to be the ones entrusted with this endeavor.

The Problem With Perfection by Chris Weigl

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

That’s a very important expression both in art and in life.  Artistically, I am a perfectionist.  Being an artistic perfectionist can be a good thing; my writing is top notch, but when it comes to others areas of the production process being a perfectionist can get in the way of producing good content.  We had a weekend shoot that went very well.  Judging from the dailies it was about as close to a perfect shoot as you’re going to get.  When you get home from a shoot and analyze the footage is where you find out if your team over-performed and got you everything you needed or looked like superstars at the time, but ultimately turned out to be human like everyone else. 

We had two important shots that were not executed the way I would have liked them to be executed.  The reason (or excuse depending on how you look at it) is that I was in front of the camera and directing the crew based on what I was seeing as an actor and not based on what I was seeing as a director.  Being both in front of the camera and behind the camera is a physical impossibility, but we often see stars like George Clooney who are able to pull it off.  Truth is that – at least in my mind – these folks are masters of their craft.  Being able to execute two operations at once while maintaining the integrity of the script is a spectacular feat that doesn’t seem that hard, but logistically it really is.  I looked over the dailies from my shoot and found a couple issues that were fixable, but when I looked at the footage in its totality I realized that I had made several large errors in terms of continuity and basic direction.

As someone who prides themselves on their worth ethic, it is toughest for me to analyze these shortcomings and come to a sensible solution because there is such a pervasive feeling of failure that accompanies these basic lapses in filmmaking.  I’ve been in the business long enough that I should know to look for these errors, but at the end of the day we’re a small operation and that works great for lining up shots and executing the shoot, but it also means less eyes on set and fewer people to scrutinize shots and the quality of the shoot.  I’ve found that it’s less likely for a crew member to speak up when there is an issue because we’re a close team and no one wants to let anyone down when you’re doing well.  It’s tough to admit a mistake and sometimes we get so caught up in what we’re doing that we simply lose track of everything that we need to look out for. 

It seems like it should be easy to fix these basic problems on set.  The truth is though that thinking something through, planning it; and executing it are three different things.  It’s nearly impossible to do all three things correctly when you’re the one in charge of all of them.  I’m not sure how to prevent these problems from happening other than to re-dedicate myself to what I’m trying to achieve behind the camera.  I’m not used to being on camera so adjusting to that alone was difficult, but hopefully I won’t have to direct anything I’m in for a while because I need to focus on being a better, more detail-oriented director.  The truth is that sometimes you simply can’t get the perfect shot.  Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.  This proves to be especially true when you’re the writer, director, actor, producer, and editor.  That’s just too many hats for one person to wear, but sometimes it’s necessary in order to make the production happen at all.  In such situations however it is advisable to remember the simple slogan that begins this piece.

Let's Make Art Again by Chris Weigl

What is happening in entertainment and media is so frightening that were I not so dogmatically tied to my own film and television projects as well as the characters they bring to life, the themes they embody, and the stories they play out that I would - in any other scenario - likely give up on media.  It’s been a nice run for me.  I’ve had fun and it’s been an eye-opening experience, but the people who are producing things in Hollywood nowadays aren’t the people that I want to work with.  Hollywood has completely forgotten what art is and they have no intention of even trying to find it again.  They don’t have the vision to put together a good product; they have an idea of what advertisers would like them to make and what focus groups think they’d like to watch.  If one were to walk into one of these focus groups Frank Luntz style one would be terrified even further by the insane amount of indecision that exists within the average Americans' mind as to what exactly they want.  This is why we have artists.  The job of an artist is to tell a story that people not only want to hear but need to hear.  That is what we're doing with our feature film: Finding our Founders and our TV show: Living History.  This is a film and a show that tells jokes at the expense of politicians, political parties, the media, and even the average voter.

What our projects represent is a fundamental shift in the paradigm of creative content in media.  That’s what we hope it does at least.  We want writers - whether they're repped or not - to be able to send unsolicited copies of their scripts to real production companies and actually have someone sit down and read it.  We want real artists to be taken seriously and we believe that a guy from St. Louis has as much right and ability to do that as anyone living in LA or New York.  LA and New York are the places where creative hopes and dreams go to die.  They are places that are romanticized by the people that live there for the people that live there.  We joke every year that the film that will win the most awards (and usually the Best Picture Oscar) is the movie that makes Hollywood look like the place that everyone in the upper echelons of the entertainment business actually believes it to be.  These are fourth or even fifth generation studio owners who think they know a thing or two about “creating” something.  The writers that work there tell them that they’re geniuses so that these studio heads will give them money to write adaptations of prior content that can be regurgitated in a manner that a fifth grader could understand because pitching to a smart audience has been frowned upon for the last fifteen years.

We believe that the audience for creative content is smarter than people give them credit for.  We believe people visit Wikipedia because it is an easy place to find information not because they’re looking for the most dumbed-down version of events available to man (Cliff’s Notes is still available, right?)  The truth is though that we live in a very divided country politically, ideologically and culturally.  A recent study came out that analyzed the opinions of two thousand climate scientists and only three of said scientists disagreed with the idea that climate change poses a huge and existential threat to our planet.  Three out of two thousand.  I’m not good at math but I think that’s more than half or as I like to jokingly put it: a mathematician calls it near unanimity; a conservative calls it a conspiracy.  This is the world we live in.  It’s polarized.  We can do something about or not.  My bet is that we don’t, but my God let’s at least say something about it!  That’s what we're trying to do and I hope that you can take the time to check out what we’re doing because somebody should be saying something even if it’s just speaking gibberish to gibber-gabbers.  If you scream at someone loud enough and long enough chances are they’ll at least realize that you’re not speaking with your indoor voice anymore.

Brand-Funded Entertainment and the Next Revolution in Filmmaking by Chris Weigl

I wasn’t sure I wanted to create a production company at first.  I didn’t know that much about the business side of things.  I believe in my product don’t get me wrong, but when you face the very real possibility that what you’ve worked so hard to create might actually get made something happens to you.  You start to wonder if you haven’t been overselling yourself.  I wonder if I’m going to be able to churn out the kind of film that I want to make.  I’ve got the experience, but the self-doubt kicks in because other people’s livelihoods are in my hands.  I believe in the film that we’re working to create and I believe in the show that we’re setting up. 

The premise is pretty simple: a man decides to run for mayor as George Washington.  He enlists the help of his good friends and fellow founders in an effort to get elected.  The man is not the real George Washington, but he is counting on the ignorance of the populace and the apathy of the media not to ask any questions along the way.  So, I ask you: is this all that far-fetched?  It might be.  I don’t think anyone with the talent to portray a founding father would accept a low-paying job like that of a government worker, but hey, politicians have done dumber things.  I can tell you from interacting with members of the historical re-enacting community that their rates are quite high and they would have to be willing to take a significant pay cut to do something like this.

Some wonder whether what our company is doing will be worthwhile or whether it will matter.  I can’t really answer the first part of that, but I can address the second.  The show Living History, which is what we’re fighting to get produced, matters because it is unique, it is creative, and it is unlike anything that has ever been tried on television.  That last sentence is why TV executives think that this show will never get produced.  Keep in mind, ladies and gentlemen, that they said the same thing about Breaking Bad.  TV isn’t all that different than any other business.  They want someone with a proven track record of success, boatloads of experience managing tons of successful ventures that is young, preferably still in their twenties with an open mind that is willing to be indoctrinated by their management professionals.  See any puzzling dualities yet?  Keep in mind that this is, to the TV executive just as it is to the recruiter, all quite obvious and logical to them.  Indeed, why would they settle for anything less?  It is not difficult to see why most TV executives are legitimately frightened by what a real innovator like Netflix is doing.  These companies are taking risks on unproven talent who have big ideas.  These folks also tend to be self-starters and because of their relative inexperience are willing to work for relatively little money.

We find ourselves living in a creative cesspool of larvae and glorified horse manure.  When I turn on my sixty inch television and tune into some original programming I lament the decision to invest in a television.  It is that bad.  Don’t get me wrong; every network has a serviceable show and by serviceable I mean I could watch it in a Clockwork Orange situation where a machine was holding my eyelids open while a doctor sat next to me pouring eye drops into my eyes.  These aren’t anything to get excited about.  Even TV mainstays like The Daily Show have become rundown, aged leviathans that make me yearn for the yesteryears when they at least tried to engage in comedy and didn’t try so hard to be the new MSNBC.  You know that you’re past your peak when you’re more interested in making a political point than you are in making a joke.  What some folks at Comedy Central are doing right interestingly enough comes up after they’ve had the nice lead-in audience from the Jon Stewart produced hour of programming prior to it: @Midnight.  It’s a clever little show that makes use of social media and comedians in poking fun at the internet which was something the Daily Show used to do, but traded it in to become the new Walter Cronkite or whatever.

What we’re doing at Living History Productions is change how people approach the process of creating entertainment.  We look forward to talking more in depth about our business model and our upcoming ventures with you over the coming weeks and months ahead.  Stay tuned for our new video coming next week!

Handling Criticism by Chris Weigl

The characters in Living History are not the founding fathers. The characters in Living History are historical re-enactors who get a bit carried away with their characters. Though there may be parallels with the historical and historical events do undoubtedly come up in the story of Living History that does not make Living History a documentary or historical drama. It is fiction. It is a story thought up by a writer with an imagination all his own. It is a little sad I suppose that this much needs to be explained. Some have expressed this view to me and I understand it, but I take no issue with those whose chief purpose is to maintain historical integrity.

Those who ask questions in the name of truth and honesty should be welcomed and indeed I do welcome those who question the accuracy or the truth in a given character, event, or even exposition. This is all part of the process of what makes Living History such a joy to work on. Were it not for the high-minded debates that I get to have with historians – both amateur and professional alike – much of the making of Living History would not be fun or entertaining for me the writer. I enjoy what may seem to most ordinary people to be mundane or trivial bits of history and I enjoy discussing these issues in a constructive way. What is not necessary and what is often counter-productive to the purpose of this show is to take what these actors are saying, the views they are espousing, and the events they are partaking in as fact. They are not. Although their actions may be rooted in some historical fact and though some things may have happened in the lifetimes of some of the individual characters most of what happens in Living History is the result of the writer’s imagination.

Just as Jefferson wrote out his feelings from the perspective of the head and the heart regarding Maria Causeway I too find myself in a similar philosophic position myself with regards to how to balance the historical accuracy with what is best for the story. While the historical sets strict limits with its true aim being objectivity the story sets few limits with its aim being entertainment and it is in the overlap of these two worlds where it is easiest to get lost in the wilderness that at least on its face appears to be separating the two. We live in a quarrelsome society, especially with regards to our politics. Some live for the quarrel more than they live for the day. These people will find something debatable in everything from the way someone looks to the way they act to the way they speak and carry themselves. This sort of behavior used to be reserved for lawyers but society has evolved or some would say devolved to the point where some are so itching for a fight that they will take the white flag of surrender as an offensive affront to their freedom and will use such action not merely to defend their over the top reaction but as a justification for their own overblown, often misplaced, and always overt hostility.