I met Wes at Writer's Boot Camp. We were students there. He had some interesting ideas, and scripts that he shared. I knew he'd do well....and he has.
Wes is now owner of Happy Fun Time Industries, where they, "take complex heady content and turn it into something hilarious, insightful, emotional and memorable."
Read on to learn more about his company, and helpful hints for anyone interested in the film business.
Below are the questions I asked him:
In 5 words? Yikes… We do more than 5 things… but I’ll try.
“We write, produce and direct Story-driven content.”
… It’s 7 words. And one of them is hyphenated. But that might be the best I can do.
2. What projects in writing are you working on right now?
I have several projects in the writing stage and a handful more in development. I’m currently writing the screenplay for a new feature for Jenkins Entertainment. They produced “Midnight Clear,” a film I wrote that won some awards and was distributed by Lionsgate. The financing for this film is in place, so we’ll go into production by Spring.
3. You speak at schools. What is the funniest or most interesting question you've gotten from a student?
The most common question, when kids find out I work in film in Hollywood, is “Are you famous?” I usually answer, “I’m really famous. But not a lot of people know that.”
… Most students answer, “That’s cool.” That doesn’t give me a lot of hope for the future.
4. Where is your favorite location to shoot?
I love shooting in locations that people avoid because it seems too difficult. I love shooting in the snow, especially. It’s beautiful, stark… it gives a strange sense of urgency to a scene.
Brazil, Magnolia & and a tie between About Schmidt & Raising Arizona (I’m cheating. Sorry.)
The British version of The Office, Mr. Show & (nerd moment…) Battlestar Galactica
The Wilderness Years (a bio of Winston Churchill about the time between being a WWI hero and Prime Minister… He was very unpopular during that time.), The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor (all of her short stories… breathtaking, scary, uplifting, odd… I love Flannery.) & Perelandra (the 2nd book in C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy)
6. What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened on a shoot?
I can’t think of anything particularly embarrassing, so how about the scariest thing?
We were shooting a sketch that required a real bear once. We met with the trainer. I was actually going to be in the scene with another guy, so we needed to hang out with the bear for a while so he would get used to us. It was a brown bear. It weighed just shy of 1000lbs… and it wasn’t fully grown yet. We were terrified but he acted like a gigantic puppy dog, so we were feeling pretty good about it. The trainer says, “Now he’s not actually a TRAINED bear but he’s domesticated.” I naturally replied, “… Uh… What? What does that mean?” He said, “He’s super friendly but he doesn’t do tricks. We can’t really control what he does. But he’s nice.”
Awesome. This should be great. So in the scene, the other guy and I were sleeping in this flimsy lean-to tent. The bear is supposed to wander in. We’re rolling, pretending to sleep and we’re afraid for our lives. The bear walks around once, then knocked the tent down, just swiped away. He sniffs our faces… He puts his foot on the other actor and sticks his nose in his mouth. Somehow the actor managed to not completely flip out. The scene was amazing… He gave us a lot more than the script called for. But it was terrifying.
Later that day, we put the gigantic bear in the back of a station wagon we were borrowing from people we didn’t know… he clawed the ceiling to bits. Again… way more than we asked for. A little bit too much, really.
7. Do you write most of what you film?
I’ve either written or co-written everything I’ve directed. My wife, Nica, is actually the person I collaborate with the most. She’s extremely talented and brings an entirely different skill set to our projects. In fact, both of us always make sure the other one gives notes on our projects, whether we’re officially on the project or not. We’re a great team that way.
8. What is the genre you are drawn to when it comes to writing?
I’ve definitely thought a lot about that and I’m not sure I have a clear answer. But my drama work always ends up funny and my comedy work always ends up pretty serious. I’m drawn to finding what’s quirky and interesting about what appears to be mundane life. That’s what I love about Paul Thomas Anderson and Alexander Payne.
9. Who edits your reels?
We usually have interns do the first few passes on all our projects, then Nica and I do the final passes.
10. What are your thoughts on Writer's Boot Camp? How has it helped your writing?
WBC has been incredible for me. I wrote Midnight Clear before I lived in LA, so I hadn’t gone through the program yet. I wish I could do it again post-WBC! It’s been fantastic for giving me the vocabulary and the tools to do what I had been doing by instinct. It makes the writing process manageable. Anyone who has ever written a feature screenplay knows that it is a monumental, soul-sucking process. It’s just too much. But WBC’s non-linear approach was exactly what I needed. People ask me all the time if I think they should go through WBC. I usually respond, “I don’t know if you should… but it’s exactly what I needed.”
The other thing that I’ll say about it is… They taught me how to be a professional writer as opposed to someone who knows how to write. I learned a lot about what working as a writer looks like. That’s something a screenwriting book or night class won’t give you. I’m not convinced a 4 year degree from a film school can do that, either.
11. What one word best describes you?
You’re killin’ me, here, Azur.
One word? …
I’m going to go with “Empathetic.” But that could change in a few minutes.
12. Which actor would you love to work with?
Philip Seymour Hoffman… I’ve been working on a screenplay about the Dust Bowl for many moons now (starting back in Writers Boot Camp… it’s still not done. Pathetic.)
He’s who I’ve always pictured in the lead role. But, honestly, he can do absolutely anything. So he’s probably perfect for the lead role in 99% of the screenplays that have ever been written. He’s mesmerizing on screen. He transforms into another person entirely and yet he’s always Philip Seymour Hoffman.
13. What is your goal for writing? Work on TV? Movies? Books?
I’m definitely drawn to feature films. I’m interested in TV, theatre and books… but I think in feature films. A friend of mine once said, “I think you’re attracted to feature writing because, in your heart, you believe that people can change.”
I don’t know if that was intended as a compliment but I take it as one. I think we grow and learn. We look for meaning in life and looking at life through the lens of feature film writing… stories with an arc… it helps us sift out the random and see the profound.
14. How do you promote yourself? Facebook? Twitter? Other? What works the best?
I’m absolutely terrible at promoting myself. I primarily use facebook but that’s because I want to use facebook. I tweet… but, frankly, I find twitter annoying. Honestly, I try to promote myself by doing the absolutely best work on any project I put my name on. If it’s big budget or small budget… if there is a huge audience for it or not… I don’t want work out there that I’m not proud of.
Now, of course, there IS work out there that I’m not proud of. But I can honestly say that when I’ve been hired to write other people’s projects, I’ve fought tooth and nail for what I think will make the project better. But at the end of the day, it’s not my baby. So I defer to the producers and directors hiring me.
That’s my lame marketing strategy. Do good work.
15. Where do you find actors for your projects? Do you personally audition them?
When I’m writing for someone else, they usually ask me my opinions on casting choices but that’s out of courtesy, I think. I give my opinions but I’m not in the casting sessions and I don’t make those decisions.
If it’s my project, I definitely audition the actors myself. A lot of times, I cast actors that I’ve worked with before because I know they do excellent work and, frankly, I know they’ll be team players on set. I’m VERY big on keeping drama on the screen and off the set.
Filming is extremely stressful by nature. I don’t want to work with people that add to that stress. That includes producers, crew and actors. I think that’s one of the things we do really well… Our sets are always a lot of fun and I know we get the best work from people because of it. They feel like they are a part of something, they have value, they have input and they have fun.
So… being present for casting is very important for seeing their performance, getting them to try different things to see how they take direction and getting a sense of whether or not he/she is a good hang.
16. Give us 3 words of advice for someone getting into your industry today.
1.) Don’t wait for someone to write you a gigantic check to create your vision. It’s not going to happen until you do it on your own first. So make something. It’ll suck. Then make something else. That’ll be a little bit better. Then make something else…
2.) Be a problem-solver. The longer I’m in this business, the more I realize that nobody really knows what they’re doing… but there are people that are really good at solving the infinite number of problems that arise on every shoot. Those people are successful.
3.) Be a good hang. People want to work with people they like. A show-runner said this at a Writers Boot Camp breakfast once (and I’m paraphrasing), “By the time I’m interviewing a writer for a show, I already know he’s a good writer. But there are a million good writers. Honestly, when we’re talking, I’m just thinking, ‘Do I want to be locked in a submarine with this guy for the next 2 years?’” … Be a good hang.
17. Where do you go in Hollywood for the best cup of Joe?
Oh, now you’re speaking my language… LAMILL Coffee. (lamillcoffee.com) A server makes your coffee at your table. And they can make it a thousand different fantastic ways. It’s an experience. And the coffee is incredible.
2nd place is Intellegentsia. For homemade coffee, I’m sort of obsessed with getting a Chemex setup. I don’t have it yet but I’ll keep you posted.
18. What's your work space like? Anything you MUST have on your desk before you can write or be creative?
I work at home quite a bit. I sit at the picnic table in my yard. It’s peaceful. But I have two kids… so it’s not always as peaceful as I would like. I have a few coffee shops I rotate through.
19. Describe a typical day at the office:
Because we’re a production company and I’m a screenwriter… There is no typical day. Honestly, time management is a constant struggle for me. There is always something that is more important that I should be working on. But I get my daughter off to school, then spend a bit of time assessing what’s urgent that day. I split time between writing and producing. I work from about 8:30 to 5:00 if I’m not on a shoot or out of town speaking. I try to keep 5:00-8:00pm sacred family time. After the kids are in bed, I usually work for another hour.
The other thing that I try to protect is having one day a week where I don’t work at all… a Sabbath. I think we’re wired to need down time. We need daily down time (and sleep), we need weekly down time (a Sabbath) and yearly down time (a vacation) … I never get the vacation. But I truly think that I won’t have anything creative to give as a writer or director if all I ever do is output. I have to have time for input. And… I want my kids to remember that I’m their dad!
20. How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?
They could fund my next project. That would be extremely kind of them. Or they could follow me on twitter (@weshalula). Or they could hire HappyFunTime to produce story-driven content for traditional ads or web content. Or they could send me a plate of homemade cookies. The cookies might not help promote me, exactly, but they would definitely make me feel like an even bigger success.
21. Why write?
Write because you have something to say.
People are weird. Especially normal people. They’re bizarre. When you see people doing odd things, ask yourself, “Why are they doing that? What’s their motivation?” … That’s almost always funny.
23. You travel a lot for your business. What's the best and worst thing about that?
The best thing is that I’m exposed to a lot of humanity. It’s easy to see patterns in human behavior. It’s easy to see how we’re all a lot more alike than we are different. I love that.
The worst part, by far, is time away from my wife and kids. I love those little stinkers.
24. What's your blog about?
Technically, we have a website for our production company (happyfuntime.com) and technically, there is blog on it. But if you visit it, you’ll see that it’s not really about anything. This falls under the “I’m terrible at promoting myself” category.
My wife. It’s not even close. She’s the perfect teammate for life for me. She understands me. She pushes me to be better. She’s adventurous. She loves me. She loves our children. She’s absolutely my biggest cheerleader.