by Andrew Leigh
Television, movies, books, music, and video games. Those are the media through which we tell our stories. As a culture, we pass along our traditions and values through stories. If you want to change society, telling stories is the most effective way to do it. Not research papers. Not op-eds. Not even politics. Story is the game. And if you’re not in the game, you’re just a spectator.
Taliesin Nexus has been in the story game since 2008, when my business partner Patrick Reasonover and I hosted our first workshop on the campus of UCLA for young filmmakers who share our passion to preserve and extend individual liberty.
We formed a nonprofit in 2010 and expanded our offerings to include the Liberty Lab, which provides grants of $10,000 or more to create liberty-themed short films; the Odysseus Fellowships, paid internships at leading Hollywood production companies like Disruption Entertainment (Noah, 2014’s Godzilla) and Robert Zemeckis’s Image Movers (Polar Express, Cast Away); and MFA scholarships worth up to $4,000.
One thing our programs all have in common is they are absolutely free. Not only do we not charge tuition, but we also pay for the room, board and travel of attendees coming from out of town. (Seriously.)
This year, what was once called the Filmmakers Workshop, will henceforth be (pompously) referred to as the Apollo Workshop: Storytelling in Film and Television.
We "rebranded" our flagship program because the world of moving pictures was changing. Feature films are now surpassed by television in terms of cultural influence.
Ten or twenty years ago, filmmakers and actors turned their noses up at television. If you wanted to make cutting-edge art, if you wanted to have a real impact, feature films were the place to be. Television was thought to be a step down from the luster and prestige of the film industry.
People don’t think that anymore. Many consider television to be the most influential medium today. And filmmakers no longer shy away from working in TV.
You can see this shift occurring in our faculty. In the Apollo Workshop, we typically have about 20-24 experienced Hollywood professionals sit on panels throughout the weekend (almost equal in number to the participants).
One of our faculty, Craig Titley (who also serves on our board of directors) writes feature films. He’s been very successful, scribing the remake of Cheaper by the Dozen (starring Steve Martin), the live-action feature version of Scooby-Doo, and an adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, among others. But this past year, he joined the writing staff of ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
TN faculty member David Steinberg, a former attorney, got his start in the industry writing feature comedy scripts, such as American Pie II. Recently he wrote an episode of The Simpsons. Twenty years ago, this sort of career movement was frowned on; today it’s envied.
Another of our faculty, Daniel Knauf, is a co-executive producer of the NBC drama The Blacklist. He’s worked on several other shows too, most notably as the creator of the HBO cult favorite Carnivale. But he moves effortlessly between television, feature films (he’s written a horror script for Will Smith), and even comic books.
What do all of these seemingly disparate media have in common? They all harness the power of story.
If you look over the faculty members mentioned on our website (just a fraction of the more than 90 who have taught in our programs), you will see virtually no celebrities. That’s because we focus, not on the glitzy side of Hollywood, but on the content creators who actually write the stories that form the narrative spine of TV shows and movies.
Calliope Authors Workshop
One storytelling medium Taliesin Nexus has neglected thus far is the book industry. Hollywood draws many of its stories from popular books, adapting them into movies and, increasingly, TV series. Game of Thrones, a massive fantasy book series, is now a popular HBO show. I wonder, if The Lord of the Rings were being adapted today, whether it would be made as a TV series instead of a sequence of features?)
We are making our first substantive foray into the publishing world by debuting a new program this summer, one with as pompous a title as the Apollo Workshop. We call this one the Calliope Workshop for Fiction and Nonfiction Authors. Calliope, for those who don’t recall their Greek mythology (or never read it in the first place), is the foremost of the muses. She was the muse of epic poetry and is usually depicted with a writing tablet in her hand. (See a theme, anyone?)
The Calliope Workshop for authors will be familiar to Apollo Workshop attendees, with the same story-based approach and interactive exercises. In addition, our faculty of seasoned book pros will also dispense practical career advice tuned to the latest trends, just as do our Apollo colleagues.
We’re still working out the final details, but the Calliope faculty promises to be at least as impressive as the Apollo’s., a varied group of successful working writers, publishers, and other experienced pros from the book industry.
About half of our attendees will be fiction writers and the rest nonfiction. But even the nonfiction authors will be expected to incorporate a narrative drive in their book.
Applying is free. The most important part is the book proposal you are asked to submit. It must have a liberty-related theme (whether fiction or nonfiction). But we aren’t looking for a heavy-handed propaganda piece — in fact, it may very well be rejected unless there is some entertainment or literary value present that has appeal beyond the "choir."
Channeling Hannah Arendt, Thomas Sowell wrote, "Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late."
Some say civilization is the collection of stories we tell each other. But who will write the stories?
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