How to NaNoWriMo Better by Chris Weigl

This is our first time ever trying NaNoWriMo, but we felt like this would be an opportunity to do something different creatively that might spur some new ideas and potentially help us launch some new projects that maybe we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, so we’re doing it. 

Keep in mind when reading this that it’s been three days and these are observations that may fly in the face of the underlying idea behind NaNoWriMo and that is to simply write.  Writing for writings sake has its own rewards especially if you’re having a tough time getting going on a project.  What’s more useful from our perspective isn’t writing for writings sake but targeted writing.  Targeted writing is putting a chapter together first and then going back and cleaning it up, going back and developing arcs, working on story development within each chapter and building characterization so everything that everyone does has a purpose.  This is also useful in developing devices in your writing. 

NaNoWriMo promotes what we refer to as splurge writing, that is, writing in bursts to hit a word count.  Word counts in writing are utterly meaningless unless you’re developing your material.  Word counts do promote more writing, but they also promote static writing.  Static writing is writing in the same place with the same action that keeps characters from moving forward because we can’t make key decisions on where we want the story to go.  Writing in stasis is not productive if you are trying to put together a well-developed story.  Targeted writing helps avoid this by putting the emphasis on development and not merely word count.

One of the core tenants of NaNoWriMo is to do no editing during the period in which you’re writing.  The underlying theory behind this is that once you get consumed with editing you’ll lose your will to write.  It’s true that there is only a finite amount we can write in any given period of time, however by limiting the kind of writing you can do when you’re writing well you’re doing yourself a disservice.  Editing and revision is what makes great books and great art.  Targeted writing allows you to go back and not only make what you wrote better, it also allows you to become more aware of how you write.  Awareness of what we’re doing allows us to self-analyze and ultimately make better choices when it comes to what we’re putting on the page.

Finally, we’re big believers in flow.  Flow is the idea that you can get so completely in the zone when you’re doing something that you’re operating on a whole different level as everyone else.  This, to us, should be the goal of NaNoWriMo.  Producing words and having something to work towards is great, but unless what you’re working towards is developed you’ll ultimately be writing in place.  Writing in place doesn’t do anyone any good.  It’s writing for writing’s sake and that does not promote better ideas it simply produces more workman-like writing.  Someone asked us if we needed a muse for this month and that’s kind of what NaNoWriMo is.  It’s like a competitive muse that forces you to write even when you don’t want to or can’t think of what to write about.  What we’d challenge our readers to do is to not merely write more, but work more on your writing in general.  This will help you be more efficient in your use of time and will lead you to eventually do better writing and hopefully get into a state of flow sometime during the month. 

Stop Writing for Hollywood and Start Writing a Better Story by Chris Weigl

I wrote my first screenplay when I was a Sophomore in high school.  I remember three things from that year in school.  The first thing I remember is the election.  The year was 2000 and one of the most ferocious elections ever fought was being waged that year.  I remember guys who had just turned eighteen voting for George W. Bush because "his daughters are hot."  I remember that election well because back then I was a Republican.  I was one of those "fiscally conservative" people.  I didn't care much for social issues.  None of them really affected me.  Why I was a Republican then is as much a mystery now as it was then.  I know I had my reasons though.  I remember showing up on Election Day and seeing the school packed with voters.  Most of the voters were old - something I took to be a bad sign for my choice - George W. Bush.

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Location, Location, Location! by Chris Weigl

You’ve written a good script.  You know exactly how it’s going to look.  You’ve got your actors, most of your crew and it seems like you’re ready to shoot.  There’s only one problem: you have no location!  One of the first questions any good producer is going to have is: where are we going to shoot this?  In order for a producer to get an idea of what they’re making they need to have a visual.  As a writer, one of the biggest favors you can for yourself is have a couple locations in the back of your mind that you could shoot at right now.

A good question to ask yourself during the revision process is: is this so simple I could do this myself?  The more you ask yourself this question the more direct your writing will be.  Some writers think they get some sort of bonus if they make their script cryptic.  They think it adds suspense for the person reading it, but remember this one rule: if you can’t take the scene out of context and still understand what’s going on then you need to re-think the scene.  Think of your script like a maze.  You don’t want it to be too easy or the reader will feel like it wasn’t worth it to get to the end and don’t make it too tough or they’ll give up before they get to the end.

If you’ve written a story that feels like a maze and has an ending that makes it feel like it was worth the journey then you’ll need to get the right people on board.  The right people need to know it’s geographically possible for them to get involved.  Our studio is in the Midwest, so if there are writers that we’d like to work on a project that live in LA then they’re probably not going to be able to be a part of this project.  It’s usually too expensive to fly in your talent unless you’re dealing with actors or anyone on the crew above the pay grade of a writer. 

The other thing to consider when assembling your crew is to make sure you have interesting locations.  Do you have any idea how a grip feels sitting on set for twelve hours?  If you’re making movies you should not only know how it feels, but understand the feelings of all your crew.  They may not say: “I love you” at the end of the day, but if the call comes and they’re asked whether they’d work with you again you’ll get a positive answer if you take them into account.  A smart producer does their homework on writers just like they do with all other cast and crew that are worth paying.  They’re going to know how easy or how hard their lives are going to be and you can open a lot of doors for yourself by putting in the time to find good locations.  Now, you may be wondering: “what constitutes a good location?”  Good question.

A good location has something unique about it, but is also serviceable for food, water, and storage space.  How much space you need depends on the crew you’re working with, but a good gaffer isn’t going to leave their equipment exposed in the sun.  The best thing you can do when looking for a location is to do what you do best: think like a storyteller.  What makes for the best story?  If shooting at a supposedly haunted house for a couple days seems like a possibility imagine the story that it will make for the people who worked on your set.  They’ll be able to tell people they worked in a haunted house.  Not everyone gets to do that and that will make your shoot memorable.  At the same time, you also need to make sure that the traffic coming through or around your location isn’t too large.  Shooting at a mall on the weekend just isn’t going to work.  Trust us, we’ve tried.  You may be able to do some exterior work on the weekend provided you stay away from the parking lot, but aside from that good luck. 

The most important consideration when looking for a location is simple: does it serve the function that the writer intended for it to serve in the script?  That’s a question that only the writer can answer.  This is why it’s best if you think through the locations first yourself.  That way if there’s a problem you’re there with a backup or if something happens and you need an alternative location you’ve got something serviceable.  The more resourceful you can be, the more value you bring to a production crew and that’s what the crew needs when they’re shooting: resourceful people.  Do your best to be one of them.

Writing an IndieGoGo Campaign by Chris Weigl

The first script that I wrote for our IndieGoGo campaign was a single spaced outline that ran a little over two pages.  Everything was scripted and we stuck to the scripted outline which I wrote in Microsoft Word, going against my initial gut instinct that it’s bad to write scripts in Word.  Always trust your gut as a filmmaker.  If something looks off it usually is.  That outline turned into an all-day shoot when we went to film it.  The video that I cut from that shoot ran almost seven minutes long.  It was atrocious.  I was embarrassed that I had written it and I could barely make it through the editing process to show to me colleagues and crew.  We didn’t post that anywhere (thank God!)  I did learn my preferred shooting style from that shoot however and because I learned that the shoot was totally worth it.  We may not have created a video that was ideal for what we were doing, but we did shoot a video that I learned a great deal about production from.  What’s most important about that shoot is that I learned a lot about how I want to operate from that shoot.  You as a filmmaker are different than your idea of yourself as a filmmaker.  That was an important lesson that I had yet to learn going into that shoot.  I was glad to learn the things I did when I sat down to write our second attempt.

I had to do some soul searching after that first shoot.  I realized that the content – in and of itself – was not that interesting.  We needed a way to shake it up.  I started brainstorming ideas and we went through some minor tweaks and things, but nothing got me excited to shoot the next video.  Finally, I was trying to think up a way to get people interested in the video and I thought: “well, what if we tar and feather something.”  Tar and feathering was very big during the Revolutionary era in America.  Someone told me that there were racial connotations to tarring and feathering so that basically killed that idea.  My mother however came up with another idea.  She proposed that we break a TV.  Just walk in with a baseball bat or a sledgehammer and smash the things to bits.  I thought that this was the kind of attention getter that we needed and was genuinely excited about it.  The business-minded braintrust of the company was not amused by the “joke” as they kept putting it.  I didn’t view it as a joke, but as more of a statement.  I didn’t expect people to laugh, I expected people to root for the TVs destruction thus striking an emotional chord with my audience.  As a filmmaker that’s vital to making quality content.  You’ve got to connect with your audience, but again the business folks thought it was “offensive.”

It was hard for me to fathom how the business types could be genuinely excited about pitching our business model and five year plan.  I always associated five year plans with communist government because every communist government institutes a five year plan to bolster industrial growth.  Communism is economics, so that’s what their governments are focused on.  I didn’t want to send the wrong message to businesses with this talk of a five year plan, but there seemed to be genuine concern over whether or not we would be viewed as a legitimate entity.  As my dad told me: “people want to make sure you’re going to be around six months from now.  There’s no point in going into business with someone who has no idea about the future.”  Point taken.  I had a problem on my hands.  I couldn’t destroy a TV for a number of reasons.  First, apparently it’s really bad for the environment.  Second, some TVs have components that contain lead and mercury.  You can’t really expose your staff to those chemicals and expect to stay in business very long.  Third, it was tough to find a place that would let us destroy something.  Nobody wanted to be associated with the production team that wanted to break something.  I chalked that up to no one wanting to take a risk and I think that actually was the big concern.

Our issue with Hollywood is that no one is willing to take a risk anymore.  Where are the original concepts?  Where are the original stories with original characters?  Heck, can you name a film you’ve seen this year that HAD original characters?  It’s a serious issue that no one seems ready to address.  Well, here we are with tons of original content and we want to address the issue head on.  The problem is that we needed to do it in a way that got people’s attention and sustained their attention for the duration of our video.  That’s how the final draft of our script came about.  I started thinking: “who says we have to destroy anything?”  Sure, as a filmmaker I wanted to break something because it makes for an awesome shot, but if it’s not going to serve a purpose I’m not going to destroy something just for kicks.  My challenge fell back to how to get and keep audience attention and that’s how I came up with the idea for our video.  I initially thought back to all the hoopla surrounding Lebron James’s “The Decision,” but then it was pointed out to me that few people (outside of die-hard sports fans and disheartened Cleveland fans) remembered the huge spectacle.  I still liked the idea though.  So, I thought: okay, we’ll put a TV and a cable box up on a ledge and we’ll debate the pros and cons of destroying them.  The audience is interested to see whether we break something.  That gets them interested and keeps them interested.  The only problem was that in the end, if you don’t deliver, then they’re not going to be all that happy with you and that’s why I picked the ending for the video that I did.  I hope you check out our video and support our campaign to bring change to the film and television industries.

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.