Envisioning the Art of Filmmaking

ConVal High School: Students explore scriptwriting with filmmaker Aaron Wiederspahn of the Monadnock International Film Festival

  • Filmmaker Aaron Wiederspahn is leading a scriptwriting seminar for ConVal High School students.
  • Filmmaker Aaron Wiederspahn is leading a scriptwriting seminar for ConVal High School students.
  • Filmmaker Aaron Wiederspahn is leading a scriptwriting seminar for ConVal High School students.
  • Filmmaker Aaron Wiederspahn is leading a scriptwriting seminar for ConVal High School students.
  • Filmmaker Aaron Wiederspahn is leading a scriptwriting seminar for ConVal High School students.

Aaron Wiederspahn says technology has made it easier for people to create their own videos and post them online. But often what they create just isn’t that interesting.

“Everyone has cameras and editing software these days,” says Wiederspahn, a filmmaker from Munsonville who is one of the organizers of the Monadnock International Film Festival. “What’s getting lost in the shuffle is the storytelling.”

So Wiederspahn’s helping about 20 ConVal High School students discover how best to tell their stories during an 18-week program on the art and techniques of screenwriting. For the last few months, they’ve been meeting twice a week, with the goal of creating scripts that will be ready for a public reading as part of MONiff’s festival weekend in April.

“We’ve been covering the fundamentals,” says Wiederspahn. “We’ve talked about the classic three-act structure — the incident, the journey, the solution. We’ve done exercises on creating a backstory for characters, developing a timeline. We’ve talked about the importance of developing a dramatic premise and understanding the motivations of the central protagonist. What does the character want?”

Building a script requires a different mindset from the other types of creative writing that students may have done.

“Film is a visual medium,” Wiederspahn says. “If something doesn’t need to be said, don’t say it. Keep the story moving.”

Wiederspahn’s most recent feature film “Only Daughter” was named best New Hampshire film at last year’s NH Film Festival, and Wiederspahn was named filmmaker of the year. He also wrote and directed the feature film “The Sensation of Sight,” which starred well-known actor David Strathairn and had many scenes filmed in Peterborough and the Monadnock region. Last year’s inaugural MONiff weekend drew more than 1,500 people to Keene and Wiederspahn hopes to expand the festival this year.

“We wanted to add an outreach component, and Joe Byk from Peterborough, who’s on our board, suggested doing something with ConVal,” Wiederspahn says. “He connected me with [ConVal Dean of Faculty] Gib West and we put this program together. The people at ConVal have been amazing, especially the students.”

The aspiring screen writers don’t earn academic credit.

“This is really in beta mode right now,” Wiederspahn says. “We’d love for it to become part of the curriculum, both here and throughout the state.”

During a session last week in the Applied Technology Center at the school, Wiederspahn jumped between tasks. He gave one student feedback on a first draft she’s submitted and heard about another’s plan to write an indie romance script about a Satanic milkman. He granted extensions to two others who had misplaced assignments.

After half the students had to leave for a junior-class assembly — the sessions are held during the TASC block, which makes attendance unpredictable — he gave the rest a dialog exercise, telling them to write the conversation that might occur between Joe and Mary when they meet for coffee to discuss “that thing about each other that they can no longer live with.”

That type of exercise is important, Wiederspahn says, because you never know where a dialog will go.

“You start writing one thing, then it becomes something completely different,” he tells the students. “You have to be open to that discover how to follow your characters.”

It’s also important to overcome fear.

“Often the first draft can be a train wreck,” Wiederspahn says. “You have to push past that little voice in your head that says ‘This isn’t any good.’ And you can’t be afraid of what people are going to think.”

Wiederspahn hopes students come to realize that they each have a unique perspective to offer.

“It’s really exciting when they realize they each have a one-of-a-kind voice,” he says.

Wiederspahn’s planning to have several of the scripts read during the MONiff weekend; one student will get a $1,000 prize and they’ll all get passes to the festival. He says producers of all types of media are continually looking for content, so opportunities abound once students produce a script.

“The challenge is learning how to walk before you run,” he says. “You start small and you start to accumulate small victories. I want them all to have success, to have something they are proud of. Then you grow from that.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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