Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Future of Story Interview Series: Michael Wiese

By Ann Baldwin and Michael Wiese

Get to know some of the best-selling screenwriting and filmmaking authors and teachers in the industry in The Future of Story Interview Series and meet them in-person at The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27.

Michael Wiese is a producer, director, author, and publisher. After producing the highly popular “Hardware Wars” (a Star Wars parody), Michael was an entertainment executive with Showtime and later Vice President of Vestron Video where he launched a comedy line with Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, and over 300 other videos. He was responsible for creating video lines for National Geographic, Smithsonian, NOVA, Audubon, and PBS.

Today, he oversees Michael Wiese Productions which publishes a line of over 150 professional filmmaking books that are used in the major motion picture studios and in over 700 film courses throughout the world. For over 30 years, he has presented filmmaking seminars throughout the world for Kodak (including at the Cannes Film Festival), The AFI, The International Film & TV Workshops, and many others. He is the author of The Independent Film and Videomaker’s Guide and his films include The Sacred Sites of the Dalai Lamas: A Pilgrimage to Oracle Lake (Tibet), The Shaman and Ayahuasca: Journeys to Sacred Realms (Peru), and Talking with Spirits: Journeys into Balinese Spirit Worlds, which he’s about to premiere in Los Angeles at The Future of Story Conference August 27th.

Ann: Can you tell us when you started MWP, how it came about, and what your goals are for your company?
Michael: MWP was launched in San Francisco in the late 70’s to produce independent films. I had some success with my films and wanted to share what I learned with my fellow filmmakers and so I started presenting seminars. The seminar handouts became my first book (which no one wanted to publish) so I published it myself. You have to remember in those days there were no books on filmmaking. It was very hard to learn about screenwriting or filmmaking. Early on I decided to dig in and open the doors to this information so that other filmmakers could succeed. I wrote 3 more books then started to look for other accomplished filmmakers and writers to add to the line. Now there is an entire genre of ‘writing/filmmaking’ books in bookstores. This wasn’t always the case.

MWP’s goals are to influence and contribute to the next generation of filmmakers so that they can bring forth meaningful films that will inspire and transform audiences.

Ann: How many MWP authors do you have and what are their backgrounds?

Michael: We have 130 or more authors. Their backgrounds are extremely diverse. Some are highly successful in Hollywood as writers and producers or directors, others are indie filmmakers, others are professors at the top film schools, others are script doctor/gurus, and some are all these things. What they share in common is a passion to share what they’ve learned and a sincere desire to bring others along. We have over 1 million books in circulation. A little known fact is that these few authors have greatly influenced filmmaking worldwide.

Ann: You started a new imprint of MWP this year called, Divine Arts; what can we look forward to with this new line of books?
Michael: MWP had been moving in this direction for quite some time with filmmaking books that brought in other disciplines like psychology, mythology, symbolism, and the like. We called these books ‘conscious media’ because we were going beyond the ‘how to’ aspects of filmmaking and diving deeper into the exploration of the nature of reality. During some profound experiences in the Amazon with a Peruvian shaman (read the new book or watch the film “The Shaman & Ayahuasca”) my wife was told we should publish a new imprint and Divine Arts was born. It’s come together amazingly fast and with great ease. We brought on Manny Otto as Associate Publisher and have already released 5 books. The imprint will publish books on emerging and ancient wisdom traditions which integrate divine practices in daily life.

Ann: Tell us about your new film Talking With Spirits: Journeys into Balinese Spirit Worlds.

Michael: For over 40 years Bali has been a source of inspiration for me. The Balinese acknowledge ‘the unseen world’ with offerings and elaborate rituals. Spirits participate with humans in healing and bringing harmony to the human realm. Last year the doors swung open and I was allowed to film some extraordinary people working in the spirit world. This film challenges everything we know about the source of creativity, inspiration, and the nature of reality. It is really a gift of a lifetime that I received and I’m excited to share it with others at The Future of Story event.

Ann: What is your favorite room in your home and outside environment? Can you describe them and tell us why you like them?

Michael: Great question! Our library has bookshelves that rise up two stories. You can only reach the top shelves with a ladder. Beneath it is a long antique library table where my wife and I study. The room is filled with paintings, textiles, sacred artifacts, and instruments that Geraldine and I have collected from around the world. It is a room full of inspiration.

Outside is a 2-acre garden that we’ve been working on for the 13 years we’ve lived in Cornwall. We are in a tiny forested valley with a stream that runs down to the sea. It is reportedly the warmest cove in all of the UK and we have a jungle-like environment with sub-tropical plants. At every morning meditation, I am welcomed by the trees and thousands of flowering plants. My connection with the garden is my connection to the planet and its processes.

Ann: Do you have any special quotes or sayings that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire, motivate, and encourage you?

Michael: No special quotes. (I lie. We will be publishing a book of Buckminster Fuller quotes through Divine Arts next year). I am more a visual guy. We have two paintings by the Peruvian visionary painter, Pablo Amaringo, which are quite extraordinary and take me right back to the multi-dimensional world of the shaman. They remind me that we are connected to everything and participating in many, many simultaneous worlds all the time.

Ann: What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Michael: Once I finish my current film of Lama Chime Rinpoche’s teaching – which I am finding very difficult to do (How can I dare cut anything out!) I will edit another feature documentary in my personal sacred journeys series that I shot last year in the Amazon. It’s called DIETA IN THE JUNGLE: 10 Days with Ayahuasca. Next I will edit TAKSU: The Power Source of Inspiration, which I shot a few months ago in Bali. I’ve got a very full plate. These are ‘little’ movies that require minimal financing that I can produce, write, shoot, and edit myself. Gone are the days where I was willing to go through development hell. I can’t tell you how fulfilling it is to simply be able to make these little movies with the same freedom as an artist with a pencil and a drawing pad.

Ann: Can you tell us about The Future of Story Conference coming up in Los Angeles on August 27th and what your role is?

Michael: For many years MWP has invited its authors to meet together to discuss publishing, filmmaking, and share ways we could support one another. We’d have a smashing good time. Fifty or more authors would show up. I would look around the room, amazed at the brilliance that was expressing itself. These events were very empowering to everyone. At some point it occurred to us to open this up to the other writers and filmmakers in the community. The magic was too good to keep to ourselves.

My role, among others, is to hold the space or the vision for the event. My job is to see that this event goes beyond anything that’s been presented before, so I need to set the context. In short, I don’t ‘do’ anything. That’s Ken Lee, VP of MWP: he is the master doer. He joined us up with friends from c3: The Center for Conscious Creativity, The Writers Store, and of course, the 30+ writers themselves. We’re all in this web together. It takes a lot of people to make this happen.

Ann: What special benefits will screenwriters and filmmakers get by attending this conference?

Michael: What I really hope is that everyone will walk away with an “a-ha” recognizing that we can affect our world by the kind of stories we tell. I think a good example is the key art for the event – the landscape of buildings created from the word “story”. The image is ambiguous – which I like. You can see the city as either apocalyptic or as a future utopia. The stories we tell ourselves will indeed lead us into our future so it’s very important that we get clear on who we really are, how we relate to the environment and to each other, and how we want to live. Manifestation starts with the word.

I also expect attendees to make some great connections. Besides the 15 or so writers/filmmakers on the panels, there will be another 15 authors willing to meet and interact with the attendees. Everyone will be open and accessible so you can meet your favorite author, discover new books and tools, and further your connections. It should be a regular love fest!

Ann: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about The Future of Story Conference?
Michael: I am expecting that The Future of Story will be very powerful and transformative and that in 2021 we’ll look back and say, ‘whew, that was really something’.

Ann: Thank you, Michael, for taking the time to share your knowledge and insights with us.
Michael: Thank you, Ann, for the great questions and opportunity to do so!

Onward and upward!

To learn more about how you can meet Michael Wiese and over 30 other MWP authors of some of the best-selling books on screenwriting and filmmaking in the industry, visit and sign-up today to attend The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles on August 27th.

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