5 Motifs of a Redemptive Movie

© ktsdesign - Fotolia.comThe most repetitive conversation I had at a recent conference was about the difference between redemptive and faith-based stories. They shared that a redemptive film has five motifs that permeate the story, which delivers a single message. In contrast, faith-based films do not have commonality of format, form, or motifs, and always have multiple messages within the story.

The simplicity of a single message within a redemptive film allows the filmmaker to explore the story from the key perspective of each motif—impacting the audience with a demonstration of how to implement the message within their personal lives.

Here are the five motifs of a redemptive film that are both demonstrated and emphasized:

  1. Moral character: The film demonstrates what moral and immoral actions look like. It also demonstrates both in its proper light, distinguishing between right and wrong. Many times these issues are demonstrated or revealed through the attributes of the main character facing a moral dilemma.
  2. Judgement breaking moral law, making mistakes, or being disobedient: The consequences of breaking the film’s moral code is demonstrated. The ramifications that impact others is also demonstrated.
  3. Blessings of faith in and obedience to moral standards: The blessings and good fortune of obedience is demonstrated. When outside circumstances hinder or attack the blessings, the filmmaker demonstrates the internalized good or blessings that remain.
  4. Unmerited sacrificial love that covers another’s moral dilemma: This act of selflessness always heightens the climax of the story, as it is the single most impactful act that anyone could give another—or that anyone could receive. Sometimes it’s done to redeem the main character and other times the main character does it to redeem another after having become a changed person. Regardless of who makes the sacrifice, the main character’s need for someone to save him is first made clear.
  5. What a moral world would look like: This short sequence demonstrates what the benefits of following in the main character’s footsteps looks like. While it might not be a perfect utopia, it becomes clear it is a more fulfilling life.

Act one typically introduces us to a character who is likeable in spite of his moral waverings. He soon faces a circumstance that forces him into act two where he explores both the moral and immoral sides of every issue hinted at in the first act, including outcomes and ramifications. By the third act someone makes a sacrifice to right the character from his bad choices, giving him a chance to demonstrate sacrificial love to others. At the end of the film we see what the main character’s new life looks like as a result of him embracing the gift of grace he received.

The audience goes home having vicariously experienced the very things demonstrated in the movie. They have the opportunity to embrace the positive decisions to see if they, too, can experience the same beneficial outcome of a sacrificial lifestyle.

Faith-based films don’t set up the audience to vicariously explore the good and bad options as well as the outcomes—most only show the good. Instead, the audience is informed about what is the right and wrong way of living and have to decide if what’s preached has merit. And if it does have merit in their personal life, they have the information, but without any demonstration of how to apply or implement changes in their life.

What distinguishes these two types of films is driven by the audience. Faith-based audiences demand the films are based on ideals and are generally family friendly and safe for all ages. Redemptive audiences desire the raw truth and the practical applications to implement into their own lives what is demonstrated on screen. Faith-based films are also pushed to be overt in preaching their numerous messages, while redemptive films must lightly salt their single message into the story where it fits organically.

Faith-based audiences are firm on this issue because they don‘t ever want the filmmaker to appear weak in his or her stand on spiritual issues—not wanting to “deny Christ” with anything less than the overt message. Redemptive film audiences want to, after watching the demonstration of the main character’s choices, make their own decision about whether or not the filmmaker’s message is right for them. They don’t want anything “forced down their throats.”

There is a place for both types of films in the market, but clarity can reduce the confusion on what the audience can expect. To over simplify the matter:

  • Redemptive films organically demonstrate a single message to the general public.
  • Faith-based films preach numerous messages to the like-minded or proverbial choir.

By the way, for the fans of faith-based films, the stories shared by Jesus were redemptive stories, but that’s a topic for another blog some day.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers



Preparing the Pitch

Woman reading a treatmentPitch meetings became more popular over the past few years due to its ability to quickly sift and sort the weak from the strong stories. Two weeks ago, I participated in a three-hour pitch session that included a couple dozen distributors and investors, along with a few dozen filmmaking hopefuls. Each person was given 5-7 minutes to share whatever information they thought might get them a significant followup meeting. The outcomes brought tears to the eyes of some newbies and hope to those who had refined their craft year after year.

When I wasn’t in a pitch, I took time to coach a few of the rookies with the hope that their next pitch would be improved. I asked one woman, who was sulking deeply, to share her pitch with me so that I might give her a tip or two. Hope filled her eyes and she dove into a very complex opening that I wasn’t able to follow. I shared a few adjustments and then watched her walk back into the pitch room.

Seven minutes later she returned to the prep room with a big smile on her face. She shared how the distributor enjoyed her pitch and asked for a copy of her script. I watched her dance around the room and head into the hallway with a sense of adventure stirring from within. Here are the three adjustments that I suggested:

  1. SHARE YOUR PASSION: Film is an emotional medium that takes people on a ride. The pitch needs to take on the same emotional tamber as the film. The explosive beats must be shared boisterously and the loving beats with tender care. If the listener can pick up on your emotional tone, they will be entertained and assume the film will do the same.
  2. BE YOURSELF: When a distributor or investor is listening to your pitch, they will judge the story on its merits, but from the perspective or through filter that you offer. Their decision to greenlight a project is based on three weighted factors: You (60%), your project (30%) and your business plan or ROI (10%). They want to know who they’ll be working with and whether or not you’re a storyteller.
  3. TELL A COMPELLING STORY: Pretend you’re hanging around a campfire and are taking turns telling stories. When it’s your turn, tell the story in a way that captivates their interest or raises a question that they have to have answered. Share some personal traits about your main character and the struggle he or she overcomes. And no matter what, don’t sound like a salesperson.

I used an iPad during my pitch sessions to show illustrations that reflected the style and design of the stories I shared. It quickly got everyone around the table onto the same page, saving enough time to discuss our next steps.

All but one of my meetings were successful. The odd one out was due to the exasperation of the distributor who had endured 2.8 hours of bad pitches. When I started to introduce myself with a handshake, he told me to sit down and dove into a lecture about what he needed, eating up 6.8 minutes of my 7-minute slot. I chose not to interrupt him. I knew he was exhausted and wouldn’t have been able to hear a word I said, so I just listened.

When he finished, he apologized for eating up my time and suggested it was my turn to talk. I said, “I have a story that meets every need you mentioned except for two.”

“Really? Wow, that’s great, let me hear it.”

“Unfortunately my time is up,” I said concerned for the next filmmaker awaiting her turn, “but I’ll be back in touch with you if I decide this is the direction I’d like to go. Thank you for your time.” I shook his hand and walked away. I glanced back to see a look of confusion on his face. He knew that his rant had blocked my opportunity and I wondered if he felt the loss of a potentially great story slip away. But I doubt it.

Film is a collaborative art form that requires all players to embrace some compromise in the melding of artistic values and ideas to be successful. While I might have raised some level of intrigue, I hadn’t given him any story information to merit him making a follow up call to learn more. I was the only one who lost.

Most everyone in the film industry I’ve met are polite and professional, not knowing who out of those they’ve met might launch their next level of success in the near future. Burning bridges is always avoided and being your own passionate, storytelling self is embraced.

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Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

Meet Producer Mark W. Koch

MarkProducer Mark W. Koch (Lost in Space, The Perfect Game) is a powerhouse, Type-A personality that is constantly ON. He was born in Detroit and raised as an atypical midwesterner who went on to set HBO’s all-time February record with his premiere of Judicial Consent. He also produced the Patrick Swayze hit, Black Dog, which made the box office’s elusive top ten list.

Four months before the release of Lost in Space, Mark’s personal life changed course due to a spiritual encounter. When I met him a couple weeks ago, he was more interested in talking about his new book The First Hour for Men than about his latest film project. The 30-day study guide is aimed at men who want to give God an opportunity to fulfill His dream in their life.

Some saw this change in Mark’s direction surface after he accepted Mel Gibson’s challenge to help market The Passion of the Christ. Picking up the gauntlet, Mark’s company helped develop a promotional network of 50 non-profit organizations including CBN, TBN, and Promise Keepers. This led to a record-breaking opening for what is now the highest grossing Christian film in history.

In his attempts to live a more balanced life, Mark helped his son enter the NASCAR world. He founded Prelude Motorsports, Inc. to manage Blake’s NASCAR Nationwide / Sprint Cup career. Blake’s first full primary sponsor signed for the 2016 NASCAR season.

bookWith cinema still pumping through his veins, Mark continued to develop A-list films, but now from a morally responsible position. To maintain his moral stance and to help others do the same, he shared his morning rituals in his book. Mark starts off each morning with 30 minutes in prayer, 30 minutes of Bible reading, and a minimum of 15 minutes of physical workout.

When he gets home, his evening rituals include a minimum of 30 minutes with his kids and one hour with his wife. Regardless of how packed his day is hustling in the Hollywood system, Mark makes sure that his minimum times on all that is important to him are met.

As our conversation came to an end, it was clear that Mark firmly believes America can be restored in strength, power, and morals, one man at a time.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers


Easter Movies to Watch and Avoid

This Easter season will once again bring an influx of faith-based films to a theater near you. Several of the films will gear up with tremendous hype and false marketing, not out of choice, but rather out of ignorance—blind to the promotional materials not matching their films.

Since I’ve already endured the bad films, there’s no reason why you should find yourself suffering, too. Here are a few tips of what to watch and avoid.

I-CanI Can Only Imagine—WATCH

(March 16, 2018—I’ll give it 4 out of 5 stars)

Out of all the faith-based films being released this season, I Can Only Imagine is the one worth seeing. The film tells the true life story of how the band Mercy Me got started and how the title song became the number one Contemporary Christian hit single of all time.

The best part of the film was watching Dennis Quaid (The Rookie; The Parent Trap; Yours, Mine and Ours), known for happy protagonist roles, play the antagonist—showing off his true acting chops. In fact, his performance was so good that I bought into his creepiness and got a little weirded out, wondering what in his life he might have drawn from to pull off such a nasty character. Quaid’s performance alone is worth the ticket price.

That’s not to say the entire film was great. The story had a hard time getting started and the director clearly struggled with how to end the film, resulting in three back-to-back endings. The standard practice for creating a clean ending is done by making sure all of the subplots resolve prior to the start of the ending sequence. If you only have time to see one Easter movie, pick this one.

PaulPaul Apostle of Christ—AVOID

(March 23, 2018—I’ll give it 2.5 out of 5 stars)

All of the eggs were placed in this big budget Easter basket and stars Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ, Person of Interest) who plays Luke. With so much at risk, there will be a lot of promotional money thrown at the public to launch this costly production. Unfortunately, the funds didn’t show up on the screen. And the story… you’ll be confused during the first 30-40 minutes as you try to figure out what the film is about.

The secret… the film is a story about Luke, but it’s being promoted as a story about Paul. The main character that interacts with the supporting characters is Luke, and Paul is only used as the archetype or the wise counsellor—the Obi-Wan Kenobi, if you will. The story takes place in Paul’s last week before his beheading, a time when he has Luke write his final letters.

There is a tremendous amount of artistic license taken in the film, so don’t expect to drink in the moments as if you’re watching the reenactment of Scripture. The reality of Christian suffering is softened with all the bad scenes taking place off camera. And, the number of people nodding off during the screening I attended was massive. Can you say boring and confusing? Don’t waste your time on this one.

Gods_Not_DeadGod’s Not Dead 3—AVOID

(March 29, 2018—I’ll give it a generous 3 out of 5 stars)

God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness never gets the audience to care about the main character. Nor does the audience know why the film is supposed to be important. In other words, this is a TV movie that’s been placed on the silver screen in hopes of it becoming an event film for Easter. Or, the producers are trying to force the trilogy to become a franchise, even though it’s not trending in social media or at the box office (Film 1 $60MM, Film 2 $20MM, Film 3 TBD).

The film gets close to touching on some important issues, but it never takes the time to explore any of it in a depth useful for the audience.

While the budget is supposed to be bigger than its freshman and sophomore counterparts, the story wasn’t properly crafted for the big screen. The film used small screen story structure and stereotypical character development. Within the first five minutes of the film you know how the story will end. In a case like that, the director must get the audience desiring to see how it will unfold, but he didn’t.

Tomb_Raider_(2018_film)Non-Religious Films Competing for Audiences

The films with the greatest chance of drawing in families, regardless of controversy, are the following:

  • Tomb Raider—March 16, 2018
  • A Wrinkle in Time—March 23, 2018
  • Ready Player One—March 30, 2018

These movies are all being promoted as event films for the entire family, but be careful to discuss the stories after watching, so no one accepts the liberal messages without due consideration. The studios know that making high quality, popular films is ideal for delivering their agenda and changing the culture, so expect an attempt for clear, easy to swallow messages being salted into the movies.

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Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers


Workplace Wisdom from an Entertainer

BookI met CBS’ national correspondent for Inside Edition, Megan Alexander, last week. She was a speaker at a film and television conference I attended and had a signing for her latest book Faith in the Spotlight. Between the pages are applicable suggestions designed for the person that wants to honor their faith, while thriving in the professional workplace.

Her husband Brian is a man committed to their relationship and family, a standard that she can count on in her weekly travels. Brian engaged me in a short chat and I soon realized the sacrifice their family quietly suffers in order to help and encourage professional woman (and men) to influence their marketplace with wisdom, advice and good ole fashioned morals.

Megan lives with her family in the Nashville area and commutes to New York and other locations for 3-4 days each week. It takes a toll on her and her family, but they know it is the right thing to do at this time. But being the right thing doesn’t stop a professional woman in the entertainment world from facing unhealthy and relentless demands that Megan must counter to maintain her faith.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” Eleanor Roosevelt

A clear example from a couple years ago was Megan’s “after the Oscar” segment that challenged her beliefs. When she came into the studio that morning, the wardrobe person pointed to the dress she was supposed to wear. It was a knock-off dress made for less than $100 designed to look like the $5,000 dress Angelina Jolie wore on the red carpet.

The dress was provocative including a slit that went so far up the leg there wasn’t much left for the imagination. In that moment Megan was faced with a career decision that might compromise her faith. She took a few minutes to think about how to solve the problem and reached for a black conservative dress, suggesting someone else would be better suited to show off the white dress.

Not only did the contrasting dress allow her to maintain her beliefs on what’s proper attire to wear, but it demonstrated to the audience a valuable lesson on how great professional women can look without compromising their beliefs. Another lesson came from the moment that was helpful to everyone in the room.

Most compromising situations can be precluded if we think through several scenarios we might face every day.

Megan learned that talking about a less expensive version of a red carpet dress is an annual segment after the Oscars®. She now knows to chat with wardrobe in advance of the show to predetermine the types of dresses she will wear. She also learned that the wardrobe person is only doing their job based on the directives given from the segment producer.

In her climb up the career ladder, Megan has attended several churches that catered to stay-at-home moms with morning Bible studies. Her needs for fellowship and spiritual encouragement were not facilitated by the churches because she didn’t fit the stereotypical model of a Christian woman.

The person impacting millions of people every week had no one ministering to her.

It didn’t take long for Megan to start her own Bible study. She still gets together every week with a group of women in New York for encouragement and camaraderie in maintaining their faith in the entertainment industry. And yes, you would know every woman in the group if I shared their names.

Every one of us needs to have accountability to maintain our beliefs. Megan’s new book Faith in the Spotlight gives golden nuggets of wisdom that are practical and easy to apply. Her words come from the heart and are laced with years of experience navigating a fickle industry where you can be “the toast of the town one day and yesterday’s news the next.”

Take it from a woman who has to battle fierce competition where “someone is always looking to take your job or steal your spotlight.” Megan knows what it takes to stay relevant and her book empowers the reader to do the same. This book is for anyone who wants to thrive in their career, while maintaining their beliefs.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers


The Shape of Best Picture

Academy AwardsThe Shape of Water took home the Best Picture Oscar® and was the perfect choice in reflecting the media’s interpretation of who we as a country have become. The picture presented the LGBTQ community in a positive light and as the new norm of society, even though it makes up less than 2% of the population. The story also focused those with a liberal we/they political mindset to a new enemy and quickly divided the audience.

The antagonist, or the uber bad guy in The Shape of Water, was a white, Christian man who required his wife to submit and loved shooting guns. The proxy antagonist was a white, male business owner who, after being propositioned by a homosexual, refused to serve the man going forward. Both men were put into the light of being extremely evil.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was snubbed, in the name of politics, even though it was a better choice. That’s not to give my stamp of approval for it, as I’d prefer a couple films that weren’t nominated due to its lack of politics.

In Three Billboards, the protagonist treated everyone the same and demonstrated unity. No dispensation was required of any people group, as everyone in the film was equal. The protagonist and antagonist had a profound respect for each other. While neither backed off of their heated position, they treated each other with a commendable amount of dignity. They shared laughs and tears, and made sure each one’s opinion was clear and respected, regardless of the conflict between them.

Some say the large increase in Academy members included people that haven’t mastered their craft, but are politically far left, making a difference in the award outcome. While minorities were limited in the past and the pendulum swinging wide will help balance the industry, many members are now voting based on politics for the sake of balance, rather than on art.

I watched all nine movies nominated for Best Picture and disagree with the outcome. While The Shape of Water was brilliantly made, the story was working overtime with its heavy-handed political agenda—destroying the very art it was creating. Three Billboards respected the audience and provided a unique look at political issues that are worth considering by both sides.

Last week I was at a conference with numerous filmmakers and television producers. I had a chance to talk with many of them and watched seven film premieres. Most of the pictures took the we/they approach of an overt, in-your-face presentation. But one film, which brought me to tears, demonstrated a respect for the audience and stirred everyone in the room with what I’ll call “the right way” to present inclusion. I’ll share more about that film in a future post.

This year’s Best Picture is a perfect selection if the award is to represent the political climate in our nation. Many filmmakers have jumped on the bandwagon of overt content to further the phenomenon of dividing our culture with the we/they mentality—a sad commentary.

Art, when done without an overt and disrespectful agenda, helps the nation look at important issues, while uniting both sides in the name of healthy progress.

Unfortunately, The Shape of Water did not respect the audience and elevated the LGBTQ community as the new norm, which in of itself might help the pendulum swing to a healthier place, unless the lack of respect neutralizes the effort. Three Billboards shared the same valuable message without alienating or disrespecting its audience.

I’m a firm believer that films should artistically stir change through exploration, not politics. And, the award for Best Picture should be given to the best crafted film, not to the one with an in-your-face political agenda. So, call me old fashioned, because the trend is not likely to change until filmmakers that believe in the intrinsic value of storytelling get funded.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

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Selecting The Best Story Angle

The Angle of StoryI have a friend that found an incredible story that’s worthy of being developed into a screenplay. When he first told me about the true events, he talked about it from the perspective of the children. After chatting on the phone with the family, he shared the story again, but this time from the mindset of the mother. When he introduced me to one of the children, I heard the story from the father’s viewpoint. It was clear that the real life elements, or story beats, were significant enough to impact everyone in the family, giving us several choices in how to develop the motion picture.

After analyzing the information presented, I broke the elements down by each potential story angle to determine which one was best for the film. The categories I used included emotional beats, high stakes at risk, and entertainment value for the audience. The weighting of each category helped determine from what angle the story would be told.


Film is an emotional medium that requires a story with passionate and poignant twists and turns. While beginning filmmakers think the story must first drive home a valuable message, it’s the emotional throughline that earns the right for the filmmaker to speak a message into the audience’s lives through the B-plotline. Those who try to craft the message within the action plotline soon find their story meanders or falls flat. The action plotline must take the audience on an emotional roller coster ride to properly make use of the medium. The film should therefore be from the perspective that drives the main character through a series of actions that heighten the emotional appeal and the story’s consequences.

Some of the films with clear emotional beats include: Les Misérables, Star Trek 2009, The Blind Side, The Darkest Hour, Schindler’s List, and The Wizard of Oz. These stories were well developed and crafted for the screen. The films were visual and hit every story beat that takes an audience on a journey of exploration. The stories argued both sides of a specific message in a way that enticed the audience to side with the filmmaker’s beliefs.


The character with the most to lose typically finds themselves in circumstances that amps up the volume of the emotional beats. This is critical to drive the story to its climatic conclusion. While stories typically have comic relief or temporary lulls in the action, so the audience can catch their breath, the story must be driven by choices that turn into physical and visual action. A “talking-head” plotline, where the main character spews forth nothing more than teachable moments, does not move the story forward or raise the stakes. The throughline must overcome the rule of diminishing returns, which is only possible by raising the stakes.

The rule of diminishing returns relates to the weakening of the audience’s buzz. The college student who gets his first car is excited to drive a secondhand clunker because its his. When after graduation he gets a normal car, he finds it difficult to get excited if he has to drive a clunker again. After a wonderful promotion and driving his upscale company car, the newly married driver struggles to find the excitement in driving the minivan on weekends. With every increased excitement, comes the rule of diminishing returns that makes it harder to generate the same buzz experienced in past events.

P.T. Barnum was a showman who used the rule of diminishing returns to his advantage. Everything he did had to increase its shock value to draw in an audience during the depressed era. Curiosity drove the people to purchase tickets over and over again as Barnum kept increasing the amazing acts within his show. Film is the same way. The audience must be taken on a journey that continues to amaze. The good news is that a director can use techniques to reset the audience’s expectations before every emotional increase so his story doesn’t get out of control.


At today’s high ticket prices and costly cable packages, audience’s demand their monies worth. They want to be taken on a journey that they’ve never been on before or introduced to a character that they can learn about for the first time. To accomplish this goal all stereotypes must be dropped by the filmmaker. He also must find ways of allowing his unique character to directly impact the plot based on his or her choices. The audience must find the story fun in order to watch it a second time, or stirring enough for those who like to have a good cry. A great story with fantastic production values are always at the top of the box office list or award categories—due largely to the embedded entertainment value.

The Oscar nominated film, The Shape of Water, takes the audience on a alien-like journey in time during the Cold War. The audience is also introduced to a compassionate, mute woman. Her unique circumstances and personal drive grabs the audience’s attention, whether they agree or disagree with her life choices. While the film is a far left propaganda piece, it’s entertainment value drives curiosity among conservatives who may revisit their political views after watching the filmmakers perspective.

Developing a cinematic story with great emotional beats, high stakes at risk, and emotional value, earns the filmmaker the right to speak into the audience’s life. The result is consideration by the audience of the filmmaker’s argument, but only when the picture is properly developed using the above proven elements.

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Copyright 2018 by CJ Powers