Lights, Camera, Liberty attracts aspiring filmmakers from around the world


In a world where making a film can be as easy as whipping an iPhone out of your pocket, getting the details right is critical to crafting an enduring message that will make your story memorable. During this weekend’s Lights, Camera, Liberty film workshop in Los Angeles, Atlas Network brought a dozen filmmakers and marketing experts together with 54 aspiring filmmakers from 16 countries, all eager to learn how their stories of freedom might focus on the details of translating good stories into compelling films.

“Knowing how to tell our stories in interesting and engaging ways is often a challenge for data-driven organizations like ours,” said Bryn Weese, Senior Media Relations Specialist at Canada’s Fraser Institute. “Lights, Camera, Liberty has equipped us with the tools—and confidence—to successfully reach out to new audiences and speak with them in creative ways.”

Bryn Weese, Senior Media Relations Specialist at Canada’s Fraser Institute, during a group discussion activity.

This year’s powerhouse workshop, which is co-hosted by Taliesin Nexus, kicked off with Dr. Lyall Swim, Atlas Network’s Vice President of Training & Events, who laid the foundation for storytelling with a two-part session on messaging and understanding the needs of the audience. Producer Greg Veeser, whose latest project Ford v. Ferrari stars Christian Bale and Matt Damon, made the case for Die Hard’s relevance in understanding “The Hero’s Journey,” a key element in narrative storytelling.

Dr. Lyall Swim, Atlas Network Vice President of Training and Events, kicks off the first day of Lights, Camera, Liberty 2019.

The core of the four-day Lights, Camera, Liberty workshop is hands-on engagement with experienced filmmakers who have a track record in production and technical work. Taliesin Nexus Senior Program Director Dugan Bridges set the tone with an introduction to loglines, a one-sentence summary of plot and hook that is used to stimulate interest in a project. Participants competed for the best logline, and Veeser, an experienced logline creator, offered to share his expertise in a post-session meeting with the winner. Mariana Villalobos of México Evalúa and Alexis Faunce of Reclaim New York tied for the best pitches, and both spent time discussing with Veeser how to sharpen their ideas for production.

Participants spent a full day learning how to build a call sheet and integrate the necessary technical details, focusing on budgets, camera techniques, and the problems that arise when surprise obstacles, like car wrecks, broken cameras, bad weather, and locked sets pop up—and, as producer Victoria Hill pointed out, “every single one of these scenarios has happened to me.”

Dugan Bridges, program director of Taliesin Nexus, and Producer Greg Veeser—the cohost for Lights, Camera, Liberty 2019.

Conrado Etchebarne of Argentina’s Libertad y Progreso was enthusiastic about seeing the full spectrum of potential issues during a film shoot, pointing out that the hands-on workshop is a valuable way to learn. “The best part of the training was being able to break down a narrative script of an actual film, Safe Space,” he said. Eva Christensen of Mannkal Economic Education Foundation agreed. “The breakout sessions were particularly useful as the Taliesin people were able to immediately pinpoint and flesh out problems and ideas of my project.”

Mariana Villalobos of México Evalúa pitches her winning logline.

Writer/director Courtney Moorehead Balaker, whose movie Little Pink House tells the story of Suzanne Kelo’s fight to keep her home in the face of eminent domain abuse, screened her award-winning film and answered questions about how the film focused attention on Kelo’s personal journey, making the story more accessible by humanizing a complex policy issue. Balaker pointed out that the film’s message of civic outrage has been widely lauded by activists from both sides of the political aisle, including the progressive feminist Athena Film Festival as well as libertarian film competitions.

A participant sits in as subject during the introduction to production gear session.

The group also spent an evening at Sony Pictures Studios, the Culver City production lot where iconic films, including The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain, were filmed. Today, long-running shows such as Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune call the backlot home, and Sony also uses the space for rehearsals by some of their biggest touring acts, including Beyoncé’s 300 person dance troupe. Guide Keith Coogan, a longtime Hollywood actor, and grandson of legendary character actor Jackie Coogan, took the group through the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage, where some of the film world’s most famous soundtracks were recorded using the 20-foot long, 96 channel recording console.

Participants on the set of Jeopardy during the Sony Pictures Studios Tour.

“This program has given me a new vision for video production and the knowledge to do it,” remarked Holly Fretwell of Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, Montana. “The Atlas team is top notch at creating a comfortable setting for an intensive training course and taking care of all of our needs. The presenters were amazing. They were professional, entertaining, and informative. The group work allowed us to apply the lessons to our own projects. From the FBM model all the way to distribution, the program gave me a comprehensive look at video production from beginning to end.”

Nick Gilbert during the narrative and introduction to production gear workshop.

The weekend closed out with insights on “Marketing by Escalation” from multitalented filmmaker, musician, and internet marketing expert Rob Hustle. Hustle’s experience as a content creator has taught him how to generate millions of views with spellbinding stories, and he told a few great stories of his own as he walked the group through social media marketing strategies that engage and target custom audiences.

Dr. Denis Foretia, co-chair of the Denis & Lenora Foretia Foundation and Senior Fellow at the Nkafu Policy Institute, during a production group activity.

Lights, Camera, Liberty is an outstanding way for aspiring filmmakers to become more comfortable with everything from film concept, narrative structure, production techniques, and marketing. A selected group of participants also receive special funding for the year-long mentorship program, where filmmakers will work directly with grantees to help them create their films. Participants are also invited to submit their films for award consideration at the annual Lights, Camera, Liberty Film Festival, which is held during Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner. Applications for the film festival are due October 1, 2019. The 2019 winner, who will receive a $1,000 prize, will be announced November 7 in New York City.

Left to Right: Alex Cordell—Training Manager, AJ Skiera—Associate Director of Marketing and Communications, Vale Sloane—Associate Director of Institute Relations, and Dr. Lyall Swim—Vice President of Training and Events, during the “Exercise in Empathy” component of the audience research session.

Lights, Camera, Liberty is possible because of the generous support of the the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, the Smith Family Foundation, and Chris and Melodie Rufer. Photos from the weekend are available here.

“LCL is so full of opportunity to learn, network, and enhance your video projects—I had to attend two years in a row to get it all,” said Joseph Kast of Pacific Legal Foundation. “It’s all a truly challenging yet supportive environment, and a fantastic opportunity to meet people from all over the world who are dedicated to creating a free society.”