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Chris Wilczewski’s 10 steps to a great application video

The veteran has spelled it out step by step!

American Ninja Warrior - Season 10 Photo By: David Becker/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Right now, at this moment, there is only ONE WEEK LEFT to submit your application to season 13 of American Ninja Warrior (applications are due by December 14). That means it’s crunch time for anyone who wants a chance to run the course in 2021.

Over the past weeks, we’ve shared all the application advice we can find to help everyone feel confident in presenting themselves to the production team. We’ve published advice from the casting director, advice from the executive producers, and answers to the questions you were still thinking about.

Not enough for you? How about a 10-step guide to creating your video from a nine-time veteran with five trips to the National Finals under his belt? Chris Wilczewski took season 12 off from competition, but he recently took the time to share his very through application advice on Reddit. It’s SO valuable for anyone who’s stumped on how to approach creating their own video.

The text below is shared with permission from Chris Wilczewski. It has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

American Ninja Warrior - Season 10 Photo By: David Becker/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

This year I’ve had more people than usual asking me about my process for applying to ANW. So, I spent the afternoon drafting a quick guide to help Ninjas piece together a strong submission video. The outline focuses on organizing different stories and effectively communicating them in a short period of time. I don’t focus too much on how to edit or stuff of that nature. There are plenty of existing YouTube tutorials for that. Anyway, I thought some of you might find this useful!

Good Luck to everyone applying this season!

Step one: A brainstorming session

I try to think of anything the show might consider interesting about me and I vomit it onto some paper. An example for me would be just writing down everything that might be noteworthy from my past year:

  • Learned to write computer programs during COVID
  • Started doing cardio, got back into running
  • Bachelor party in Japan
  • Helped Lab’s run online programs during the pandemic
  • Wedding with some top Ninjas
  • Started learning Japanese
  • Skipped a season for the birth of my daughter
  • Training updates

Step two: Filtering out my stories

Once I feel like I have a lot of options, I try to think about my stories from the perspective of an NBC executive. I ask myself questions like:

  • On a scale of 1-5 how life-changing is this story? 5 = crazy life-changing
  • Is this a story that producers can easily retell to a large group in 30 seconds or less?
  • Would most people find it interesting?
  • Is the story supported by enough video content?
  • Is the story family-friendly?
  • Is the story unique? Has it been told before?

If the answer to all of these questions is yes and the life-changing scale is greater than 3, I keep the story.

If the answer to some of the questions is yes, I might keep it or I might toss it. I typically make this decision based on how many stories I have that I definitely want to include.

If the answer to all of the questions is no, I toss the story. Here are a few examples:

Example: Started doing cardio

  • 1 - Cardio is rarely life-changing.
  • This is a story producers could easily retell in 30 seconds.
  • Most people would NOT find this interesting.
  • It is supported by some cool drone shots of me running.
  • It is family-friendly.
  • It is NOT UNIQUE.

This story has a lot of No’s and isn’t life-changing. I’d place “started doing cardio” in the probably not going to keep the story category.

Example: Skipped a season for the birth of my daughter

  • 5 - For most people, having a child is a life-changing moment.
  • This story could easily be retold in 30 seconds.
  • Some people would find this interesting.
  • It is supported by cute baby photos.
  • It is family-friendly.
  • It is somewhat unique.

This story has a good amount of Yes answers and is life-changing. I’d place this in the likely to keep it.

When I’m finished going through each of my stories my list might look something like this:

  • Learned to write computer programs during COVID:
    Decent story, will try to include it
  • Started doing cardio, got back into running:
    A weak story, not going to use
  • Bachelor party in Japan:
    Decent story, will try to include
  • Helped Lab’s run online programs during the pandemic:
    Weak story, probably not going to use
  • Wedding with some top Ninjas
    Decent story, will try to include
  • Started learning Japanese:
    Weak story, likely won’t use
  • Skipped a season for the birth of my daughter:
    Strong story, will likely lead with this
  • Training updates:
    Weak story, but include to remind production I can still hang

Step three: Outlining my stories for my video

Once I have a list of possible stories, I start ranking them and listing out what materials I might need to include the story in my video. I try to rank my stories by how likely it is that I think ANW producers will find my story interesting.

  1. Intro- needed for all ANW videos
  2. Name, age, hometown
  3. Skipped ANW and focused on the birth of my daughter
  4. Photos and videos of my daughter
  5. Voiceover explaining how important my daughter’s birth was to me and how important it was to be home with her.
  6. Wedding with top Ninjas
  7. Footage from the wedding
  8. Video footage from the event
  9. A few voiceovers from Ninjas that attended
  10. Naj (Najee Richardson)
  11. Rosen (Travis Rosen)
  12. Bernardo (Mike Bernardo)
  13. Philip Scott
  14. Learned to rewrite computer programs
  15. Voiceover explaining how I lost a good amount of income from the pandemic. I taught myself to code to help off-set my lost income.
  16. Screen captures of: Writing code, running my program, designing 3-D models
  17. Bachelor party in Japan
  18. Clips from the trip
  19. Voiceover explaining how I went to Japan with my brother, Mike Bernardo and Tim Dexter for my bachelor party. Explain how we went to a bunch of shrines, anime stores, and video game arcades.
  20. Training clips
  21. Gather top training clips
  22. Film new training clips
  23. The voiceover describes what I’ve done to improve from last year and any noteworthy local or international competitions I’ve done.

Step Four: Scripts

Telling all of the interesting parts of your life in three minutes or less is not easy. I always draft scripts for each section so I have a good starting point. This keeps me on track and prevents me from rambling on too long for a single section in my video. I’m not going to write out my entire video but here is an example of one section:

~30 seconds

“Like many small business owners this year, Covid threatened my livelihood. Unable to operate my businesses, I pivoted my efforts to a digital model. I quickly learned to code and wrote programs to improve my business’ efficiency when operations resumed and I developed multiple apps to help support my family. Initially, I made the move to help provide options while my businesses were struggling. However, I fell in love with programming and I am still writing code even now after my businesses have reopened.”

I typically don’t read my scripts word for word when I film. I find this creates too much of a robotic monotone vibe. Instead, I use the scripts as a guide for me to communicate my message effectively then I try to put a natural spin on it.

Step five: Filming

Once I have the scripts drafted, I will look through my scripts and outline to determine what new clips I need. In my case, it looks like I’ll need some voice over clips and a few new training clips. I’m lucky I have most of the supporting footage already from previous events.

Other years I was not as lucky and my film shoots involved getting more shots. For example, in season two I was still in college and needed to get footage of me in class and on campus. I included a list of footage I was hoping to get in my outline. It looked something like this:

  • Walking on campus with books
  • Sitting at a desk taking notes
  • Drawing Ninja Obstacles while in class

Before you go out make sure you have a good idea of what you are looking for. Also, expect to take two days to film. Typically I go out day one and get everything I think I need. Then when I go to edit I realize I need more footage and need to have a second film day.

Also, before you go out, Invest in a tripod, and bribe a friend to be your camera person. To speed things up make sure you have your outline and scripts handy.

Finally, be sure to listen to the advice on the application page. Record horizontal, high energy, make sure the shot isn’t backlit. If you are filming audio make sure there isn’t a lot of background noise. Listen for planes or trucks and wait for them to pass before recording. Avoid filming audio on busy streets or parks. You don’t need to be a professional videographer but if you follow those tips and clearly communicate your message you should be solid.

Step six: Organizing Clips

Once you have all the footage you think you need, organize your video clips on your computer. This will speed up the editing process. Create folders for each of your main outline points. Place all supporting materials for that story in that folder. Make sure you don’t forget to add clips you may have already filmed. Sometimes it helps to label the clips as well depending on how many support materials you have. I usually name the clips for what is in the video I might want.

Example: I have a wedding clip of a few Ninjas dancing. I would label this “Ninjas Dancing at Wedding.”

Step seven: Edit your video

Once you are organized, you are ready to edit your video. I personally use Adobe Premiere Pro but there are a lot of simple editing programs out there that are free and easy to use. If you need help editing, YouTube is a great resource. You can pick up the basics pretty quickly for any program.

I won’t add much advice for editing except to follow your outline. Start building your video one section at a time according to what you outlined. If one section starts becoming too long, take another look at the section and see if you can condense your voiceover.

Also, don’t be afraid to scrap what you have or go back and film more. Sometimes clips don’t turn out the way you hoped and when you see them on the computer you realize the footage wasn’t very good or the audio was too low. If you run into any of these issues go back and film again. It will be worth it and hopefully, you can learn from your previous mistakes.

American Ninja Warrior - Season 10 Photo By: David Becker/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Step eight: Have a friend screen your video

Once you have a rough cut, share the video with some of your friends. Make sure you share it with friends that will be honest and tell you if the video is “eh.” Their feedback may be harsh but it might help you create a video that will get you cast. Take notes on any feedback and determine if you can fix their suggestions.

Step nine: Final touches

After you have feedback, determine how you can improve your video based on the feedback. Ask yourself an important question: Can you fix the video in post-production or do you need to film parts over again?

  • Example of an issue you can fix in post-production: The sound was a little low.
    You can usually increase the audio a little bit and the video will still play well.
  • Example of an issue you might need to re-film: Your energy was low when you introduced yourself.
    This problem cannot be fixed by increasing the volume. You will need to film this clip again.

Once you have determined how to improve the video, repeat the necessary steps from before to get the new footage you need.

Step 10: Submit your ANW Application

Finally, once you have shared the video with all of your friends and adjusted it according to feedback, it’s time to submit. Good Luck everyone! I’ll be watching this year!