Oaxaca Screenwriting Workshop for Film + TV: We All Have a Story

Arrive Thursday, March 28 and depart Wednesday, April 3, 2024–Semana Santa Experience

What makes a good story? And how do we translate that to a movie or television? We might say: That show has a good story line, or I love those characters (or not), or The plot is unbelievable (as in, either amazing or false). A story is a simple thing – someone wants something, and someone or something stands in their way. The purpose of storytelling is to give meaning and to express wonder. It’s the emotion and empathy that you personally put into a story that makes it compelling. We have created this workshop to provide you with tools to develop and tell a worthy story, and then to pitch it to those who might produce it. This is the perfect opportunity to take a novel, short story, a work of fiction or creative non-fiction, documentary, and personal essay, and begin to turn it into a screenplay worthy of viewing in a movie or on television. Through personal coaching, learning sessions, and group feedback, you will gain the skills to create structure, plot, and formatting.

Whether you are interested in writing a TV pilot, a feature film, a short film, a documentary film, or a work of literary fiction, knowing your core concept and message, and developing fully realized three-dimensional characters is essential to the ultimate success – however long that may take – of a writing project.  We will help you get there.

Meet your instructor: Harry Werksman

Harry Werksman is a veteran screenwriter who promises that you will participate in a free-spirited, free-wheeling exchange of ideas, sprinkled with creative writing exercises, that are designed to warm up your writing engine. If you are an experienced writer and need encouragement and feedback, this is the place for you. If you have always wanted to write a screenplay and you consider yourself a novice, we can offer you a solid path from which you can pursue your dream. All experience levels welcome.

Werksman has worked in the entertainment industry as a writer-producer for many years. He has been nominated for two Emmys, one Golden Globe, one Saturn Award, one People’s Choice Award and three Writer’s Guild Awards (WGA). He has won a WGA Award for GREY’S ANATOMY, a Golden Globe for UGLY BETTY, and won both a People’s Choice Award and a Saturn Award for MOONLIGHT. Other credits include: EON-4, STAR TREK: DS9, EARTH: FINAL CONFLICT, FARSCAPE, THE INVISIBLE MAN, DEATHLANDS: HOMEWARD BOUND, VERITAS: THE QUEST, FINAL FANTASY XV and CASTLE.

In addition, Harry is a seasoned instructor! He has taught for The American Film Institute, UCLA Extension Writer’s Program, New York Film School, The Institute for British and Irish Studies (Oxford University), New York University, and more. Harry holds the B.A. from Northwestern University, and master’s degree from New College, Oxford University, England.

And now, after nearly 30 years in the industry, he’s left Los Angeles for the wind-swept, wide-open spaces of Santa Fe, New Mexico. He continues to write and teach – acting as the Lead Instructor for the Southwest School of Story Telling’s summer film camp for high school students; has earned a master’s certificate from University of New Mexico and the Santa Fe Watershed Association in climate change; and has begun to seriously explore the world of documentary filmmaking.

How Travel Boosts Creativity: Why Write in Oaxaca

Harry tells us that by traveling, we look at the world through an entirely different lens and connect with the greatest of all Muses, Nature. He notes that many of his most creative thoughts come when he least expects them, when he has taken his mind off the challenges he faces, even for a brief time.

He says, In this space, far away from the demands of everyday, competing, and conflicting thoughts, frustrations melt away. Eliminating external distractions allows my mind to relax. I can contemplate my ideas and understand the emotions and motivations I’m trying to convey through words. This is when the magic happens.

Think about Kerouac’s On the Road, Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night, Chopin’s Winter Wind: all these incredible pieces were inspired by travel. Finding inspiration in a creative field can prove difficult, with many experiencing a form of writer’s block. Often, the solution is as simple as going somewhere new and having new experiences. In these new surroundings, you may experience a renewed inspiration to get you going again. You may even enter a ‘flow state,’ in which you completely lose yourself in your work and complete a creative project without even trying!

By immersing yourself in a foreign environment, you are helping to strengthen the neurons that like to make connections, solve problems, and embrace new ideas. This will feed into your work, with your new surroundings, offering inspiration.

Location: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

We are based in the famed tapestry weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle, located about forty minutes outside of Oaxaca city, where there are 2,000 looms and artisans create award-winning floor rugs and wall-hangings . Here, in a retreat-like setting, we are based in a lovely, small bed and breakfast inn within steps of the 17th century church and pre-Hispanic Zapotec temple and archeological site. Walking trails and cobblestone streets attest to an ancient culture more than 8,000 years old. Up the road, about seven miles from the village, native corn was first hybridized 12,000 years ago. We will be there over Semana Santa Easter celebrations rooted in syncretism – Spanish Catholicism and ancient mystical-spiritual traditions. Being here allows us to immerse ourselves in rituals, observances, meet locals, and retreat into a world of creative inspiration.

What the Workshop Includes

  • Expert instruction and private coaching session
  • Lodging at an excellent bed and breakfast inn
  • 6 breakfasts
  • 3 lunches
  • 4 dinners, including Gala Grand Finale Dinner
  • Mezcal tasting
  • Guided visits to local artisans
  • Participation at Semana Santa Procession
  • Dance of the Old Men enactment
  • Transportation that is part of the itinerary
  • Support for a student scholarship at the Oaxaca Learning Center

The workshop does not include alcoholic beverages, tips, transportation to/from the airport or city to the workshop location, airfares to/from Oaxaca.

Preliminary Program: March 28-April 3, 2024 – Seven days, six nights

Day 1: Thursday, March 28. Please arrive to our Teotitlan del Valle lodging by 4 p.m. to check in. 6 pm welcome reception and supper. Sign up for individual coaching sessions with the instructor. (D)

Day 2: Friday, March 29. Breakfast is at 8 am, followed by a morning session that includes discussion about What is a story? What is a script? This includes a deep dive into format, structure, plotting and the process of scripting for TV, film, short, documentary. You will begin to develop a Concept Document and Character Thumbnails. 11:30 am lunch. Noon break to join the village Semana Santa procession. Afternoon individual consults with instructor and free time. 6 pm Mezcal Tasting followed by dinner. (B, L, D)

Day 3: Saturday, March 30. Breakfast is at 8 am., followed by a morning session to explore the Who, What, Where, and When of a good story. The Why will not be given – you will start your project by teasing out Why this story is important, valuable, meaningful. Through readings and feedback, you’ll better understand what works, what doesn’t, challenges, areas of difficulty and areas for improvement. You’ll continue to work on Concept Document and Character Thumbnails to ensure you are reaching your intended goal. Lunch is at noon, followed by individual coaching sessions, free time to write. We meet at 4 pm to visit a master weaver before dinner. (B, L, D)

Day 4: Sunday, March 31. Breakfast begins at 8 am followed by our morning workshop session that focuses on the “Character To Do List.”  We all make lists: errands to run, groceries we need, holiday gifts to buy, project milestones to hit. We will use this format to explore character as part of the script. And, we will continue to write Concept Document and Character Thumbnails. Lunch is at noon. Then, it’s writing, free time, and personal coaching sessions. Dinner is at 6:30 pm. (B, D)

Day 5, Monday, April 1. After breakfast, our session will focus on The Writer’s Room, by experiencing how this group format advances the project. We will collectively craft a single scene either from one of the concepts pitched or of our own that will represent the core scene of a potential story.  A Writers Room is where the writers pitch, brainstorm, and workshop ideas together. A collaboration, the group can vary from several to more than a dozen people. How they operate depends on the executive producer/show runner or their top lieutenants. This is where script ideas are born and polished for production. After lunch, we move into personal writing time, free time, and individual coaching sessions with the instructor. At 4 pm, we walk to the plaza to witness the Dance of the Old Men. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m. and on your own. (B, L)

Day 6, Tuesday, April 2. After breakfast we meet again from 9 am to Noon. Each participant will make a presentation to the group of their Individual Concept Documents and Character Thumbnails, to receive feedback, reactions, suggestions, identify areas of difficulty and improvement. This feedback will be the basis for the final rewrite on your own after lunch. At 4 pm we will meet local artisans who will present and discuss their work. We gather at 6:30 pm for a Reading and Celebratory Grand Finale Dinner. (B, D)

Day 7, Wednesday, April 3. Breakfast is included on your departure day. We are happy to help you arrange transportation (at your own expense) to the airport or to the city if you choose to extend your stay. (B)

Note: During the personal coaching sessions, each participant will be scheduled to meet for one hour with Harry Werksman. There will be opportunities, too, to meet for informal chats, answer questions, or help break up a creative/mental log jams that hold up the creative process.

(Itinerary subject to change at our discretion.)

Please complete this Registration Form and return to Norma Schafer at norma.schafer@icloud.com to participate. Thank you.

Note: You can add days on to the tour — arrive early or stay later — at your own expense. We also suggest you arrive a day early (your own hotel expense) to avoid any unforeseen flight delays.

Cost to Participate

  • $2,695 shared double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • $3,295 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $500 non-refundable deposit is required to guarantee your place. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 50% of the balance is due on or before November 1, 2023. The third payment, 50% balance, is due on or before January 5, 2024. We accept payment using Zelle, Venmo, PayPal or Square. For a Zelle transfer, there is no service fee.  We add a 3.5% service fee to use Venmo, PayPal or Square. We will send you a request for funds to make your deposit when you tell us you are ready to register. (We need details on how your account is registered to make the request.)

After January 5, 2024, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before January 5, 2024, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date (less the $500 non-refundable deposit). After that, there are no refunds UNLESS we cancel for any reason. If we cancel, you will receive a full 100% refund.*

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes $50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Check out Forbes Magazine for best travel insurance options. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/travel-insurance/best-travel-insurance/

Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure.

COVID-19 Precautions. We trust that you are fully vaccinated and take all precautions when traveling, including mask-wearing in airports and on airplanes. Thank you.

We ask that you test two days before traveling to the tour, and that you inform us if the results are positive. Please bring 4 self-tests with you. We ask that you do a self-test 48 hours after arrival and then periodically thereafter if you feel you have been exposed. Face masks are strongly suggested for van travel, densely populated market visits, and artisan visits that are held indoors. We ask this to keep all travelers safe, and to protect indigenous populations who are at higher risk.

Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico! It’s a Mexico requirement.

Churro Sheep, the Heritage of Spanish Conquest, and Tierra Wools

There are so many similarities between living in Oaxaca, Mexico, and northern New Mexico. With the conquest, the Spanish brought the pedal loom and sheep to the Americas. Churro sheep, an Iberian peninsula breed and the first to be domesticated in the Americas, are especially sturdy. They survive, even thrive, in harsh climates and at high altitudes. This is the wool used by New Mexico Navajo to weave their famous rugs. This is the wool used by Oaxaca Zapotecs to weave their famous rugs.

As I drive from Taos, NM, to Pagoso Springs, Colorado, to meet up with Carol Estes and her family for camping, I pass through Chama, NM. Here, off the road almost obscured in a forest of pine trees, is Tierra Wools. I remembered it from my last camping adventure from two years ago. I wanted to make a stop to see what it was all about, zoomed by before I could make the turn. For a moment, I hesitated and considered going on, thought better of it, did a U-turn, and pulled into the driveway.

It was a hot day, and the barn door was wide open to let in any semblance of a breeze. Five people were learning to weave at treadle looms of the type predominant in Teotitlan del Valle, not much different from the ones introduced by the Spanish in these parts over five hundred years ago. They call them Rio Grande Valley looms here, much too localized for their historical impact.

As I stepped through the front door, I entered a world of color and texture, walls filled with skeins of locally grown Navajo-Churro sheep wool, hand or machine spun, and most dyed with natural plants and cochineal. It was astounding to find a shop like this in a town of 912 people. Tierra Wools pride themselves on making everything from local sources, and their history runs deep.

I share this with you because finding sources for native wool that is naturally dyed, where people are keeping their traditions alive, is important. If you are a knitter or weaver, perhaps some of these amazing skeins will entice you. They did me.

And, here’s what car camping looks like in the San Juan National Forest! My Subaru is equipped with a 20”wide x 66” long blow up mattress. Cozy for one small woman!

Clothing for a Hot Summer: Light and Airy

We need to dress lightly to be comfortable in this extraordinary heat. I brought these pieces back from Mexico when I returned in April, thinking they would be perfect for summer dressing, not realizing how much we now need lightly woven gauze cotton or beautifully embroidered linen to keep our bodies cool. We still want to look good when we go out or invite others in, and these blusas and huipiles fit these needs. Plus, they are easy care — wash in the machine on gentle using a mild soap (not Woolite, it leeches color) like Ivory. Then hang to dry. Press with a warm iron, if needed. There are 16 items. Be sure to scroll down to see everything!

How to Buy: Send me an email.Tell me the item you want by number. Send me your mailing address. Tell me how you want to pay. Choose one of four ways.

You can pay one of three ways: 1) with Zelle and no service fee; 2) with Venmo or 3) with PayPal or 4) with Square. If you choose either #2, #3, or #4, we add on a 3.5% service fee which is their charge to us. Tell us which payment method you prefer and how your account is registered (email, phone number, other?). We will send a Request for Funds to your account. The request will include the cost of the garment + $14 mailing. If you want more than one piece, I’m happy to combine mailing.

P.S. Please measure carefully. All sales are final. Why? Because we have already purchased and paid the artisan makers for these textiles at the price they set, doing our part for cultural continuation and sustainability.

#1. From San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca, handwoven on the back strap loom by Brisaida, this native white cotton is a loose weave. The blue is indigo dye, with designs achieved using the supplementary weft technique. Measures 22-1/2″ wide x 25″ long. $235.

#2 From Coban, northern Guatemala, where a tropical climate dictates that women weave very fine cotton. This, too, uses indigo dyed threads to achieve the designs in the cloth created using the supplementary weft technique. Measures 27″ wide x 35″ long. $295.

#3. From San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, a very fine white cotton blouse embroidered with blue trim. Easy wearing! Measures 23-1/2″ wide x 27″ long. $135.

SOLD #4. Egg yolk yellow cotton blouse handwoven on the back strap loom with an amazing embroidered collar from Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca. Measures 23″ wide x 26″ long. $95.

#5. Black on White embroidered blouse from San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca, where they make the famous wedding dresses! A crop top for ultimate coolness. Measures 25″ wide x 23″ long. $165.

#6. San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca, huipil with natural dyes — wild marigold and logwood, handwoven on the back strap loom by Brisaida. Measures 30-1/2″ wide x 30 ” long. $265.

#7. White on White blusa woven in Pinotepa de Don Luis with rare purple snail dye trim around neckline and collar. Measures 22″ wide x 26″ long. $185.

#8. Pale yellow linen blouse with the finest embroidery I’ve ever seen, made in Chiapas. Measures 23-1/2″ wide x 24″ long. $135.

#9. This quechquemitl, which is a native Mexican design, is like a short poncho. You put it on over your head. This one is handwoven on the back strap loom in Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas, a light cover-up to embellish your dressing. Measures 35″ wide x 31″ long. $145.

SOLD. #10. Handwoven cotton blouse with supplementary weft designs from the Triqui group in Oaxaca’s Mixteca Alta. Measures 20″ wide x 24″ long. $110.

SOLD. #11. This blouse from San Juan Guichicovi, Oaxaca, is cotton woven on the treadle loom and decorated in free-form machine embroidery. It measures 21″ wide x 23″ long. $145.

SOLD. #12. From San Juan Colorado, a White on White blouse with a beautiful square collar, perfectly executed on the back strap loom Measures 24-1/2″ wide x 24-1/2″ long. $165.

#13. San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, embroidered blouse on very fine cotton. Measures 24″ wide x 24″ long. $135.

SOLD #14. San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, embroidered blouse, similar to the one above. This is a somewhat lighter color way. Measures 24″ wide x 26″ long. $135.

SOLD. #15. All natural dyes are what makes this Triqui huipil very special. It incorporates cochineal, wild marigold, indigo, and tree bark. It measures 25″ wide x 35″ long. $295.

SOLD. #16. A turquoise blusa embellished with sparkly threads in the supplementary weft design, from Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas, where tropical weather dictates a lighter weave. Measures 23″ wide x 24″ long. $125

Thank you for looking and shopping. Buy today and I will mail on Wednesday, July 26. Otherwise I will mail on August 4.

News and Updates: A Brief Report

Good morning, everyone. I’m still in Taos and won’t be returning to Oaxaca until just before Day of the Dead. So, far, it’s been a whirlwind of a summer. Hot, dry, filled with non-stop activities and I’m holed up now, taking it easy. I’ve hosted my son’s 50th birthday party, joined a reunion of Chiapas 2020 tour-goers for the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, then did a presentation about Oaxaca and Chiapas textiles at the Kent State University WARP Conference in Ohio.

On Thursday, I’m heading off to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, where I’ll meet up with dear friend Carol Estes for camping and relaxation with her family along the San Juan River. Carol and I met in Oaxaca about 10 years ago, when she decided to make Oaxaca City her home after retirement. Oaxaca has a way of making connections that are lifelong and important.

I joined SOMOS this year. This is the Taos literary society. An open mic is held on the third Thursday of every month and I’ve been participating since I returned from Oaxaca in April. In June, I read a new piece entitled Lipstick. The feedback was so positive that I decided to submit it to Minerva Rising Press to be judged for publication. Lo and behold, they accepted it, paid me a stipend, and published the piece. Very exciting. Here it is, in the event you’d like to read it. Please write me if you have comments or feedback. I’d love to hear from you.

Lipstick by Norma Schafer

The creative writing process is very energizing and gives me an opportunity to express thoughts and feelings with the written word. I don’t do it to get published. I do it for self-reflection, understanding, and observation. The process helps me know myself more fully as I reconcile past and navigate the future.

We will continue offering writing workshops in Oaxaca starting in 2024. The first up will be a Screenwriting for Film and Television with two-time Golden Globe winner Harry Werksman. Our Women’s Creative Writing Workshop Retreat will be back in early January 2025. Interested? Get on our list by writing Norma Schafer. We will hold these in Teotitlan del Valle, where we find inspiration in this small, amazing Zapotec rug weaving village where time moves slowly, and we can savor culture and community.

Yes, it’s HOT. I have a beautiful selection of clothing, light weight, gauzy, breathable, perfect for summer dressing, that I will offer for sale this week. The pieces are from Oaxaca and Chiapas, where weather drives comfort. Stay tuned.

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is fast approaching. We still have spaces open on our village day tours during this magical time. Please forward this info to anyone who will be in Oaxaca to experience a more intimate view of this important celebration. 1) Day of the Dead on the Ocotlan Highway. 2) Day of the Dead in Teotitlan del Valle. 3) Day of the Dead in Mitla.

And, if you are thinking of coming with us to Original in Mexico City in November, we hope you will decide soon. There are only three spaces open. Same for Chiapas 2024. We are also committed to offering a winter 2025 trip to Guatemala, and we are in the planning stages now.

Eric and I are working behind the scenes to open an online gallery shop that features home goods, rugs, clothing and other art/design pieces from Mexico, especially Oaxaca and Chiapas. We are close to being ready to launch and we will let you know.

As an educational organization, we are dedicated to giving back to communities. We are exploring how we might establish a Oaxaca Cultural Navigator scholarship that will support students who want to complete their high school education and pursue university studies. A part of your registration fees will be dedicated to this endeavor.

And, there is a flock of baby quail trailing behind their mother on my patio at this moment. I couldn’t get a photo fast enough before they took flight. So, this one of Big Horn Sheep in my yard will have to do!

Please stay cool, hydrated and healthy.

Textiles Front and Center: WARP

I’ve been a member of WARP (Weave a Real Peace) since 2017 when Thrums Books recommended that I organize an international textile conference in Oaxaca for the organization. Over the years, I have come to respect and embrace what they do even more — connecting textile artisans from around the world to support, encourage and promote creativity and economic opportunity. This is the WARP mission:

WARP is a catalyst for improving the quality of life of textile artisans worldwide.
We are an inclusive global network of individuals and organizations who value the social, cultural, historic, artistic, and economic importance of textile arts.

The international conference at Kent State University located about forty-five minutes east of Cleveland, Ohio just ended. It was a three-day, jam-packed event that included demonstrations, discussions, presentations, a marketplace filled with textiles for sale from all over the world, a fashion show, an auction, a gallery show, delicious food, and great networking among all of us — weavers, dyers, spinners, educators, collectors, makers, entrepreneurs, and social justice advocates. Now, I’m back in Albuquerque with my son, and will return to Taos tomorrow.

WARP is an inspiration and a place for us to share what we love. It is where we can talk about and see innovation and change. Kent State gave us a place to explore this — how design innovation melds with technology to create ikat, jacquard, and supplementary weft on technologically advanced, computerized looms. It is where we can understand how the Fibershed movement of farmers, fashion activities and makers influences a new textile economy — earth and people friendly, sustainable, and circular, minimizing fast fashion waste. It is how we can embrace the resurgence of innovation in the Rust Belt by meeting entrepreneurs like Faan‘s Aaron Jacobson, who started a Cleveland-based fashion company after working as an architect in China. They make low-waste, recycled, community-centric, eco-friendly fashion with everything sourced locally. We meet John Paul Moribito, assistant professor and head of textiles at Kent State. They open our eyes to creating textiles that speak to a Queer sensibility with beads, loose shimmering threads, evoking drag queen glamour. We talk with Praxis who created a community garden of indigo, involved children and the local neighborhood in natural dye activism to overcome the slave history of indigo culture in the USA.

This is also a place to share our concerns about what threatens hand weavers across the globe. As the global economy tightens its grip on the production of cheap goods made in countries that have no regulation for labor protections, and where often political prisoners are forced labor to reproduce what is authentic around the world, we must read labels and be vigilant about buying hand made. In this way, we personalize rather than depersonalize the shopping/buying experience.

Daniel and Norma, last dance of the evening

A highlight for me during this conference was seeing my friend, North Carolina ceramic artist-potter Daniel Johnston, who is engaged to be married to WARP’s executive director Kelsey Wiskirchen. I’ve known Daniel for almost 25 years, and met him when he was a young studio apprentice with Mark Hewitt Pottery in Pittsboro, NC. I attended Daniel’s first solo show in Asheboro, NC, bought some of his work and continued collecting, going to see his new kiln in Seagrove, and attending studio openings. Even as I was leaving NC, heading to New Mexico, I went to visit him and Kelsey before I left.

The great news is that they have purchased land in Abiquiu, near the Georgia O’Keefe home, and will be back and forth between NC and NM. So, once again, dear people whom I love are migrating to the southwest. In case anyone is interested, Daniel is represented by the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe. He has a major installation at the North Carolina Museum of Art sculpture garden, and is among the most decent, humble, and caring young men I know (similar to my son, Jacob). A perfect match for Kelsey who mirrors his attributes.

I delivered the last presentation of the conference, talking about and comparing the weaving traditions of two villages, one on the Oaxaca coast — San Juan Colorado, with a Chiapas Maya village — San Pedro Chenalho, just outside of San Cristobal de las Casas. We had a lively discussion about cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, and I’ll be writing more about that as soon as a survey I’m conducting comes in. BTW, we have a few spaces open for both these textile study tours.

Next WARP Annual Meeting: May 16-18, 2024, Golden, Colorado. Join Us!