Placed in Competition

I received notification from a second festival this week that my screenplay had placed. While it was a wonderful honor, it wasn’t the big win. However, I was able to review the judge’s notes to learn how to better improve my story. And yes, in the meantime, I’m still waiting to hear results from several other festivals.

Reviewing the judge’s notes was an eye-opening experience. First, let me share a few of the positives.

STEELE BLUE: The Forgotten Crime is a strong, interesting script with a compelling premise. It’s a classic cop story with a psychological twist. The mystery aspect makes the story intriguing and keeps the audience engaged. The story moves at a consistent pace and maintains consistent tone, and the stakes are raised appropriately along the way. 

The script does a good job of making each character feel distinct and individual. Cassie is a great protagonist for the script, a “maverick” whose world is rocked by her slowly recovered memories. Her relationships on the force are varied in dynamic, but her begrudging bond with Samantha is a highlight. Her relationship with Kevin is also a major part of the script, and his… (okay, I’ll avoid the spoiler alert) …is one of the script’s best twists.

I was really happy with the positive comments. Each one reflected key elements that every great story requires. I feel like I really nailed the execution of the screenplay and made it visual enough that the judges were happy overall.

However, since the screenplay only placed, it meant that either there were several better stories in the competition or my story had a major flaw that overshadowed all the good points.

Instead of writing out the judge’s negative comments filled with lots of spoiler notations, making it hard to read, I thought that I’d share the concepts of each issue.

The judge made it clear that he or she thought there were two issues that held the story back. One was that the judge thought the PTSD information the doctor presents in the beginning of the film “seems a little unbelievable.”

When I was interviewed on a radio show during the release of the book version of the story, I explained the exact case information that the story was based on. The radio host suggested that sometimes life is stranger than fiction.

In fact, several interviews raised the same issue and each time I shared that the things I made up in the story everyone accepted without consideration, but the true PTSD case the story was drawn from seemed unbelievable to just about everyone. I was tempted to scrap the true events from the story and replace it with acceptable fiction. But I didn’t.

Okay, I’m going to interrupt the negative comments and share one more positive comment.

This is a well written script that feels polished and professional. The script makes good use of flashback to provide context and delivers exposition naturally. I enjoyed Steele Blue and could definitely see it coming to life on screen. 

Now that I feel a little better, I’ll share the second negative issue.

The judge suggested that I might have been trying to set up one particular twist in the film that he or she figured out before the ending. This led the judge to determine, “that the twist didn’t land.”

If the judge was paying attention to the very first few pages of the screenplay, he or she would have learned the answer to the alleged “attempted” twist. There wasn’t a twist.

From the first pages of the script, I let the audience in on a secret so they could watch and see how the main character responds to circumstances, as she is blinded from certain knowledge—all while the audience knows from the very beginning what is happening.

Of course, it is possible that the story pulled the judge so far into the character that he or she bonded, living in the moment as the main character experienced life’s moments.

While I suppose that is a good thing, it is also a bad thing.

The fact that the judge couldn’t totally follow the journey of exploration of the characters life and instead wanted a huge twist at the end of the film, suggests that maybe I should have approached the story from a very different perspective—keeping the audience in the dark throughout the film.

But I wrote this film as a female buddy cop story, not as a thriller. Yes, it is very much an action film, but again, I didn’t write it as a thriller. So maybe I need to ask myself how I might improve the story so future judges don’t decide it should be a thriller and mark the story down because it isn’t one.

Or, maybe I should just keep writing action/adventure stories laced with profound relationships and see if I can build an audience that like the types of stories I write.

As for the true-life PTSD information that seems unbelievable, maybe I stop worrying about educating the audience about real issues that victims face and instead just entertain them with made-up moments, which are more believable, but have no basis in the strange societal elements we all face.

In all reality, I’ll reread and rethink the judge’s comments another two dozen times before I settle on how to improve the story. In the meantime, there’s still hope that the other festivals where I’ve been accepted might have good news come announcement day. I’ll let you know once I get notified.

As for tomorrow, I’ll just be thankful that I’m able to tell stories for the screen. And who knows, maybe a few of them will get produced.

© 2020 by CJ Powers

The Camera Cannot Lie — False

Photo by The Moon Unit © 2020

I know of a person who lost their job because of a social media picture. They were depicted in an unflattering manner that caused their company to distance itself from the employee. It wasn’t fair and the person had no recourse. His supervisor said, “The camera cannot lie.” Yet, everyone knows that Photoshop allows pictures to be easily altered.

I once posted a picture of an actress in a place where she had never visited and wearing an outfit she never wore. Three quarters of her image wasn’t even her. Before you think ill of me for doctoring up her picture, she did give me her approval to use her likeness for the fundraiser. But what about those who don’t bother to get approval to manipulate a picture?

The man who lost his job was the recipient of a bully’s outrage when he said, “No,” to being leveraged. Unfortunately, it cost him his job and savings, as it took him two years to get the altered photo removed so he could find another job.

I shared the story at a speaking event and a person from the audience interjected that at least we can still trust videos. But can we?

Deepfake is a professional term defining a new Ai-based technology that allows a production company to alter reality in video. You might remember seeing a young Princess Leia appearing in Rogue One or how about Grand Moff Tarkin played by an actor who was deceased.

Deepfake also allows production companies to use other actors to play historical people with a scary level of accuracy. I recently watched a video of an actor playing President Obama. The Obama character looked, moved, and sounded just like him, but he said things that Obama would have never said. The video was 100% believable. Every viewer thought the clip was actually President Obama.

Okay, so at this point most people won’t care too much since it costs $100 million to create such incredible and believable magic. Ah, but that is no longer true. Recent breakthroughs in Ai technology makes similar software available to just about anyone who buys the app. Of course, the more they understand media, the more realistic their manipulated videos look.

I watched a $150,000 clip created by an effects house and compared it with an iPhone clip made with an app, and it was really hard to tell which one was the special effect. When I saw the two side by side, it was easier for me to see the difference, but without that point of reference, I wouldn’t have been able to guess.

Today, if you want to manipulate someone’s future by altering a video so they appear to be doing something inappropriate, you can do so with a simple app. To help protect us from tech-based corruption, several companies have developed Ai inspectors to determine the legitimacy of a video clip.

Unfortunately, if the video is up and downloaded numerous times around the Internet, the picture elements that Ai uses to distinguish the real from the fake are no longer useful.

I’m sure the first questionable public manipulations will be in the political arena with people screaming that the video is real, not fake. But it will soon be followed by videos that discredit religious leaders with the showing of illicit events or radical comments that never occurred.

Times have changed and photos and videos are no longer trustworthy. In fact, by searching YouTube for deepfake examples, you’ll see things that will open your eyes to the technology. But be aware of your reaction and take note. Why?

Because today over 70% of people in America do not trust TV news because of its heavy bias, but when a crisis hits, most of that 70% tune in to a news program to learn the “truth” about the crisis. The irony of that circumstance is amazing.

When you see the next deepfake picture or video causing someone to lose their job, will the power of the image overshadow your thinking until you believe it? Or, will you find yourself suggesting that the video is probably not really a deepfake video? Or, will you consider that the only reason a deepfake was used might be because the person is really bad anyway?

Deepfake is now here and we must be ready to NOT believe the fake picture and video that might cause a knee jerk response and judgment to knock down good leaders. By the way, the picture of the woman above is deepfake. No such person exists.

For a more in depth article on how deepfake is being used in advertising, read what The Moon Unit is doing.

copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers