Watching Walter

Los Angeles, California | Film Short

Drama, History

Mitch Yapko

1 Campaigns | California, United States

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Inspired by a true story, Wladyslaw “Walter” Wojnas was a Polish/Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. Captured at 15, forced into a labor turned-death camp, Walter was taught the skill of watchmaking, and repairing Nazi watches - skills that ensured his survival for the remainder of his triumphant life

About The Project

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Mission Statement

"Watching Walter" is a film meant to remind us all that only through tolerance do we have a future. It's said that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and in today's political climate, it's more important than ever that we as humans remember and learn from our past.

The Story

Walter arrived at the tender age of 15 at the Stutthof Concentration camp and was liberated as a young man of 21 years of age. His entire family was murdered.

Watching Walter is a short biopic (and feature film proof of concept) set in both 1995 Philadelphia and World War II Nazi occupied Poland. Based on the true story of Holocaust survivor-turned-watchmaker Wladyslaw "Walter" Wojnas, it's a slice of life story that touches on several poignant moments in his life during those times. Because this is both a period piece and based on a true story, it's crucial to me as a director to be able to portray these moments in Walter's life as authentically and as visually captivating as possible. This is why we're here on SeedandSpark!

Shortly before his 15th birthday, WWII broke out and changed his life forever. After taking a bike ride into the countryside, Walter returned to find Nazi troops burning down his village and murdering his entire family. 

After their arrest, then separated on arrival, Jewish and non-Jewish prisoners were photographed and sentenced to labor work camps or death camps.

From 1939 to 1945, Walter endured the Stutthof Concentration Camp in Germany. He worked under the extreme authoritative hand of a Nazi Master Watchmaker. There he experienced sustenance rations, long hours of work, senseless beatings, and the devastation of bombings from the opposing Allied Powers. Below are Examples of Nazi watches and watches from newly arrived camp prisoners whose possessions were stolen.

After liberation, Walter earned a Certificate of Excellence for a First Class Standard of Proficiency in Watchmaking in Hannover, Germany


Boarding a ship in Bremerhaven, Germany - Bound for America


To be a watchmaker, you need to have good eye for detail. The inside of a watch is precision-built on a very small scale. You need to be good with your hands and able to work very carefully and methodically. If you are a watch repairer, you need to be good at problem-solving. 

Philadelphia Street Scene - Walter sets up shop in the famous Philadelphia Jewelry District, the oldest Jewelry District in the U.S.

Walter's Tools and Workbench  

 After Walter's death, Roberto searched for a museum that would honor Walter with a memorial plaque. The Hoffman Museum in upstate New York now houses the tools and bench in an honorary permanent display.

Turning Tragedy Into Triumph

On June 7th, 1952, Walter married his beloved wife Wieslawa (Vivian) and in 1956, became an American citizen. 

Holocaust Refugee Grandpa Israel "Izzy" Friedman and Director, Mitch Yapko, 1982

Director Mitch Yapko, 1982 Grandpa Israel “Izzy” Friedman anDirector Mitch Yapko,

My grandfather was a Holocaust refugee, having fled Poland during Hitler's rise to power (most of his family did not make it out of Poland). My approach to this project is a personal one, as I grew up learning first-hand about the micro and macro world-defining events that were the Holocaust. My degree is in History and International Relations, and so I also spent many years studying this time period, bringing with me a unique perspective on the importance of telling this story the right way. I'm also a firm believer in the saying “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In today's political landscape, it's more important now than ever that we remind people just how much we're all simply humans, and no matter who we are or where we're from, the color of our skin or the name of our god(s), there's no reason to live any other way than in respect and acceptance for one another.


To start, I'd love to shoot this on film. Being able to use 16mm film stock will give the movie a true period-authentic feel, as it was a standard film medium in both time periods we're recreating. I intend to film everything in color, but would love to transfer the WWII-era footage to black and white, both to help distinguish the two time periods, but also to draw contrast to the emotional differences of these times in Walter's life - in 1995, he's lived his life, he's made something of himself, and was able to have a loving, happy marriage; in 1939, his world was torn apart, and the majority of his formative years were spent adapting to survive in a work-turned-extermination camp. I have to believe that fact that he learned his life-long trade at the hands of his captors (and would-be exterminators) did not go unexamined by Walter, and it's certainly a theme I'm looking to explore with our talent. Showing this emotional time in black and white allows you, the audience, to experience the concentration camp with Walter - surely, this was a place that no color or hope existed for him. All that existed was the doldrum of the ticking watches surrounding him in the Nazi-controlled workshop, and so we'll also be paying special attention to sound design in every scene. A ticking clock can be calming to some, but maddening to someone who has no control over their life's own ticking clock.

In the end, Watching Walter is a bittersweet story about survival, and so every shot will be methodically storyboarded in advance of the shoot. This will allow me the time on the filming days to focus on the performances of our actors, as well as allow our director of photography plenty of time to light and frame some truly cinematic shots. So much of this film happens in the moments between the dialogue, and so the marriage of visuals and non-verbal performance and story must be perfectly choreographed. Augmenting natural light across the film will be key to helping make this feel authentic - shafts of dusty light in the watchmaker's shop will eerily mimic similar shafts of dusty light in the concentration camp workshop; hopeful lens flares and dappled light shining on young Walter riding his bike through the Polish countryside will be juxtaposed by similar lighting inside the concentration camp workshop (the idea here being that hopeful sunlight has no meaning for a prisoner in a concentration camp, other than as a reminder of something lost).

To achieve several of the shots of Walter in 1939-45, we'll use a combination of green screen and black and white stock footage to make it feel as if we're a time-traveling fly-on-the-wall, stopping to check in on Walter at a few pivotal points in his journey. Superimposing Walter onto existing stock footage will help us maintain the visual integrity of the world we're recreating.


For the shots of young Walter riding his bike, we'll use a steadicam to create a floating, dream-like tone.


For the shots inside the concentration camp, we'll shoot most of this on a tripod or dolly - as with everything else in the workshop, the shots in here will feel controlled and pristine.

For the shots in the 1995 watchmaker's shop, we'll use a combination of steadicam and dolly, to visually and stylistically bring together the two sides of Walter's life.

Our exteriors will be filmed in Philadelphia, and the rest of the shoot will take place on location in Los Angeles. We're all Los Angeles-based filmmakers, and so we have the greatest ability to make our money stretch in the family of filmmaking friends we'll be bringing on board for this.

For set decoration, we'll be reaching out to a museum in NY that actually houses Walter's real watchmaking workbench and tools to make sure we're getting it right. For our closeup shots, we'll be hiring a hand double for our actor who is actually a master watchmaker, again for the authenticity of seeing a master watchmaker's hands at work.


Our costume designer will rent period costumes and tailor them to our talent.


The timing of telling this story could not come at a more crucial period in our American history. We're more divided now than ever, with camps set up on our southern borders that are eerily reminiscent of those set up on our own soil for Japanese Americans during WWII. The hateful rhetoric coming from the country's highest position of power is nothing short of ignorant and evil. A great many people need to be reminded that we're all just here doing our best, and if we all just allow each other to exist in peace, maybe we'll be able to take a step towards harmony for all.

Walter's story is a bittersweet one, filled with hope, loss, fortitude, love, and ultimately a message of tenacity and forgiveness in the face of insurmountable devastation. It will hopefully serve as a reminder that we can do better, be better, and there's no better time than now to remind the world. After all, the clock's ticking.


Use the WishList to Pledge cash and Loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an Incentive directly.

Crafty donations, snacks, etc.

Costs $1,000

A happy crew makes for a happy shoot!


Costs $8,000

We need to replicate the Nazi workhouse and need a guard tower. Blue Cloud Ranch in Santa Clarita is our goal.

Nazi Uniform

Costs $1,000

A Nazi uniform is essential to our story. Walter reflected on their medals in his later years. The more medals, the more "kills and rank".

Cash Pledge

Costs $0

About This Team

Mark Brown - Writer

Mark is an award-winning writer for film, television and theater. Originally from Philadelphia, PA, Mark’s character- driven, socially-relevant scripts and plays have placed in numerous competitions and festivals, including the Austin Film Festival, Pasadena International Film Festival, ScreenCraft and the Sundance Institute. He attended UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & Television, Ensemble Studio Theatre NYC, and studied Improv and Sketch Writing with alumni of The Groundlings. He is a current member of the VS. Theater Company and the Station House Poets in Los Angeles.Mark was so inspired by Walter and his story of survival he felt it necessary to write about it.

Mitch Yapko - Director w/Mark Brown

Mitch is an award-winning writer/director/producer, known for his unique character work, focusing often on real characters in surreal situations. He looks for the heart of the story, and strives to make all of his films relatable. His films have shown in over 100 film festivals over the years, including Sundance Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Dances with Films, and many others. Three of his last short projects are now in the film festival circuit, spread between 75 festivals. Mitch received the Short Film Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Roberto Ioannucci - Executive


Roberto "Itchy" Ioannucci and writer Mark Brown have been best friends since their youth. Roberto played a significant role in introducing Walter, the watchmaker, to Mark. Walter shared his haunting, dehumanizing memories of the Stutthof concentration camp with Roberto, but Roberto also witnessed Walter's triumphs. After Walter passed away, Roberto inherited his collection of watch repair tools and bench. He sought out a watch museum in Upstate NY to preserve Walter's prized possessions in a permanent exhibition as a tribute to his dear friend. Before Walter passed away, he asked Roberto to share his story, and Roberto turned to Mark to write it. It's a privilege to share Walter's extraordinary life and to honor his courage and accomplishments.

Cynthia Gravinese - Executive Producer

After attending the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts, Cynthia made her way to New York City where she studied at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and upon graduation, she began working in Off- Broadway and regional theatres. As a writer, executive producer and actress her love for dance inspired her to develop “Meet Me at the Barre”, an award-winning web series currently streaming. Most recently the series earned the Best Web Series award from the Glendale International Film Festival, NYC International Film Festival, the LA International Film Festival and appeared in the Film Collective Best of Series and the Phoenix Film Festival. Besides TV, Cynthia will be appearing in the soon to be released film, Something’s More Than One Thing, produced by the Russo Brothers and directed by Jay Alvarez.

Mark Aznavourian - Executive Producer

Mark wrote his first script in 2007 and since then has written over twenty – off all genres for both television and features. His short film, BREATHE (2018) was directed by Mitch Yapko and went to twenty-five film festivals, winning many awards. Mark read Mark Dylan Brown's script WATCHING WALTER, and was immediately taken not only by the importance of the story, but also of the humanity of its main character. Since it is based on a real person and true events, Mark B. wanted to see this film made. Mark A. had such a great experience with Mitch, so it made perfect sense for this collaboration to happen, and this film to be made with this team.

Current Team