The Student Body – Review

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-9-14-36-pmThe rebirth of ethical journalism was evident in this controversial documentary. The filmmaker held nothing back in pushing to get truth and perspective from lawmakers that launched the measuring of embarrassed children to obtain countywide obesity numbers for political purposes.

The Student Body follows student journalist Bailey Webber as she seeks to learn why her friend received a terrible letter from the school administration stating that she was obese. Lawmakers had implemented controversial mandates requiring students to have their body mass index (BMI) recorded in the name of reducing the student obesity epidemic.

Webber battled months of red tape and chased after political figures to learn that the government hadn’t consulted a single doctor or child psychologist during the development of the law. Her perseverance finally landed an interview with the man that led the development of the law, after being turned down by him dozens of times.

Not only did the film open the viewer’s eyes to the controversial program that now includes 20 plus states (Webber’s state no longer on the list), but also it unearthed the fact that lawmakers are no longer concerned about the public’s viewpoint. And, they have changed enough laws to control the public’s freedom of speech so it no longer interferes with their tactics.

This politically charged documentary told from a teenager’s perspective premieres October 5th in New York City. While there are several slow segments, the most compelling elements are tied to a passionate teenager who drives the audience’s thirst for truth and justice.

There is no doubt in my mind that Webber has earned the right to produce a sequel. Her earthy style demands the audience’s attention, as she initiates authentic encounters that produce truth regardless of the person’s choice to remain silent or politically correct.

It’s been years since a journalist sought after the truth regardless of viewpoints or political positioning. Webber’s gift to the audience also includes her growing awareness that our government does not work like she was taught in school.

The awakening from her innocence is readily shared with the audience, not as a girl who is crushed under the weightily system, but as a young woman emerging into a person of strength—ready to straighten out our government and realign it to the constitution.

The Student Body is a must see documentary if you want hope that the next generation is capable of correcting our distorted government.

©2016 by CJ Powers

Behind the Writing of Steele Blue

steele_blue_bookcover_72I was recently asked during an interview in the United Kingdom what my passion was for writing. While I later realized he was asking about how story drives my actions, I flashed back to the numerous things that helped birth my new novel Steele Blue.

The initial vision was launched during a chat with my friend and actor, Francine Locke. She was interested in me writing a screenplay that would give her an opportunity to really explore the emotions of a deep character. I shared my desire to write something that allowed me to reminisce about my dad, who was a cop.

Within a few minutes of bouncing around various ideas with a new spin to differentiate the story from anything previously released, we came up with a crime story called The Cop Shoppe. I immediately pictured the lead as Francine and began writing. Since she was nothing like the female officers I knew, I realized that I had to change the character into a composite of women currently on the police force.

Francine didn’t mind a bit and said she’d take any role as long as she could be a part of what we brainstormed. I was free to take the story in a whole new direction and base it on the cops I grew up with and a strong woman who captivated me. And, after watching Francine’s acting on the USA Network and ABC’s Nashville, I better understood her abilities and created a character that one day she could have a lot of fun playing.

By this point I was writing a new draft of the screenplay titled By the Book. Many of the scenes were written to touch the hearts of women, while salting in plenty of action for the men. Lisa England helped me sort through the merging and organizing of those ideas so I could better blend the scenes into one cohesive story.

That’s when the collaboration ended. My life got spun around a few times and I emerged with a new passion. I hacked up the script and started writing more heartfelt scenes and life threatening situations to fit the mood of my recent life experiences. I quickly learned that the screenplay greatly limited my expression, so I shelved the script and started writing the novel.

I had no idea how time consuming it was to write a novel. The worst part was when I finally got to the place where my confidence started to rise and I quickly learned that I was only a fourth of the way finished. Aargh!

Writing a novel is not about writing, but rewriting. I spent hours cutting things that didn’t work and polishing things that did. Entire chapters were birthed in the shower, while some paragraphs took months to fix or drop from the story. My writing vastly improved during the process, causing me to go back and rewrite the finished chapters into something better.

Then something funny happened. I had a few friends read the book and they shared how certain segments were more believable than others. The things I added into the story from true-life events seemed implausible to them and the fiction I made up was soundly accepted. It was a weird moment when I had to make the decision to keep or drop the information I salted in from the real world.

I decided to keep most of it, but turned some of the real-life stuff into a fictional version of the truth. I figured that the book was designed to entertain, not educate the masses on PTSD, which caused the main character’s memory loss. I’d rather have the readers focus on the struggle my maverick detective worked through in balancing her roles and time as a mom, lover and cop.

Steele Blue: The Forgotten Crime is about Diaz, a notorious dealer that’s expanding his cherry meth distribution in Chicago, who desires undercover Detective Steele as his life partner. Fighting to keep her cover intact with plans to bring down the drug kingpin, Cassie spends extra time with Diaz, blurring the lines between justice and her growing love for him.

Realizing her precarious situation, Cassie sees to her son’s safety and works hard to regain her memory from the night of the opera house fire—the night Diaz lost his first love. Feeling slighted, Diaz hunts down everyone involved in the death of his “Carmen.”

Racing against the clock, Cassie tries to find balance between her motherly duties, her infiltration as the kingpin’s girl, and her role as the officer tasked to close the case. Cassie is forced to face her fears in discovering the missing piece of her memory that will bring Diaz down. But will it alter her future?

Please pick up a copy of the book on Amazon.com today and let me know how much you enjoyed the adventure. And, please tell all your friends about the book. Without your help it can’t become a best seller. Thank you and happy reading!

@2016 by CJ Powers

Steele Blue: The Forgotten Crime

steele_blue_bookcover_72This week was busy with the release of my first novel in paperback. My first interview for the book was in the United Kingdom, which was a fun kick-off event. I’ve already talked with a couple bookstores interested in having me in for book signings. These activities are starting to make me feel like an author.

Steele Blue: The Forgotten Crime is about Diaz, a notorious dealer that’s expanding his cherry meth distribution in Chicago, who desires undercover Detective Steele as his life partner. Fighting to keep her cover intact with plans to bring down the drug kingpin, Cassie spends extra time with Diaz, blurring the lines between justice and her growing love for him.

Realizing her precarious situation, Cassie sees to her son’s safety and works hard to regain her memory from the night of the opera house fire—the night Diaz lost his first love. Feeling slighted, Diaz hunts down everyone involved in the death of his “Carmen.”

Racing against the clock, Cassie tries to find balance between her motherly duties, her infiltration as the kingpin’s girl, and her role as the officer tasked to close the case. Cassie is forced to face her fears in discovering the missing piece of her memory that will bring Diaz down. But will it alter her future?

There are elements in the book that came from rubbing shoulders with cops my entire life. My dad was a Sargent on the police force and many of his friends were cops. Every time we got together the group would share true-life stories from their work. They shared stories that were scary, hilarious and unreal sounding—even though all of it actually happened.

I crafted the main character, Cassie Steele, from interviews with two female detectives. Due to a coupe plot twists in the book, I also salted in observations from a local woman. This combination plotted out over actual Chicago locations that I walked made for a fast paced story sprinkled with humor.

I’ve already heard from two women who read the book faster than I thought was possible. They loved the mother and son relationship, and Cassie having to work through her life balance issues to become the hero by the end of the book. One man said that he couldn’t wait until the movie comes out to see the Lake Shore Drive chase scene.

This book means a lot to me and I hope all of you will purchase a copy. Let me know what you think about the story and be sure to pass word about the book onto everyone you know. I could sure use the help getting the word out of the book’s availability. Happy reading!

© 2016 by CJ Powers

A Day at the Art Festival

The Glen Ellyn Festival of the Arts was at Lake Ellyn this past weekend. There were several dozen booths filled with painted canvases, mounted photographs, custom jewelry, handcrafted pottery, and many other forms of artistic expression. The least expensive item was on sale for $7.00 and the most was $65,000.

Jeremy Ashcraft.jpgGlen Ellyn is a small town that has a strong understanding of the arts. The village has several galleries and an indie art theater. Some would argue that my hometown has more happening in the arts than most culturally elite cities.

I had a lot of fun walking through the booths. It didn’t take long to figure out which booths held artists of the highest caliber compared to people who threw something together and called it art. A simple conversation with each “artist” revealed the truth about his or her status.

Mark Schroll.jpgMark Schroll and I enjoyed a wonderful talk about his selections and techniques. He was a down to earth artist that focused on the details he found fascinating, intermixed with a passion for generalizing Americana in a way that left the person feeling great about life. He seemed to appreciate my interaction, as I dove into the heart behind his work.

Jennifer Collander.jpgJennifer Collander’s art caught my attention. There was something about her whimsical style coupled by the pains in life that brought a new perspective to the ordinary. The painting I’ve pictured captured my attention for the longest of time, as I tried to understand the warm swirling feelings it generated for me. It made no sense, except that it made me want to be more expressive in life, which is why I’ve written this post.

Kelly Griffin.jpgKelly Griffin and I hit it off well. Halfway through our conversation about how she captured her image, she realized that I understood art more than most who pass by. After briefly sharing my background, she talked about her background in television. It didn’t take long to realize that we could artistically collaborate. She also had what it takes to be a great producer.

Laura Gardner.jpgLaura Gardner was well traveled and captured numerous international sites on canvas, while backpacking. To keep things compact, she taped her canvas to small cardboard palettes for travel and then stretched the canvases after returning home. Her work was beautiful and depicted the true feel of the locations unlike those artists who only paint distant locations based on photographs.

April Dippy.jpgArtistic works included hand carved cutting boards, furniture designed for children, pottery and jewelry of every type, and numerous photographers distinguishing their styles through color, mounting and subject matter.

Table.jpgGetting to know each of the artists personally made a big impact in my day. I love engaging with real artists that are not only in touch with their feelings, but have mastered their art in a way that allows them freedom of expression.

Getting Past the White Blank Paper

A common question I get is, “How do you get past staring at that blank white sheet of paper when you create?”

My answer, “I doodle on it until it’s no longer intimidating.”

The key to any creative project is getting started. You can start at the beginning, the middle or the end, as all elements will have a part in the final creative piece. It might take on a different form or launch you into a better direction or story, but all elements are part of the journey that develops the idea into something worth sharing.

I remember being mesmerized as a little kid watching Mary Poppins. She was wholesome, magical and very smart. When Jane and Michael struggled to clean up their room, she reminded them that, “A job begun is half done.” This statement proved to be true in life and helped me understand the three things necessary to move a creative idea through to completion.

  1. Start Anywhere and in Anyway.

IMG_3363Creatives tend to start with a doodled idea on the nearby napkin. I’ve yet to meet a great film director who doesn’t have doodles in the margins of his notebook. It’s a natural process for creatives to doodle out ideas and turn them into something greater than intended.

For some, clipping magazines for a vision board will kick their ideas off in a powerful way. Others create living reels, storyboards and mood reels. Another might shoot off lots of photos, stick them on the wall and arrange them to find a potential story. There is no wrong answer to spark ideas that can cross over to your next big thing.

  1. Improve Upon the Idea

Once the creativity has been started, the refining process kicks into gear. All first ideas lack luster and rarely fit the final work of art. The journey of creation requires rework 80% of the time to bring the art to life. Three steps will help the creative hone their ideas…

  • What If: Asking what if questions force the mind to consider multiple angles and perspectives on the art. By interrogating the idea for all possible vantage points, a richness of greater value is added to the work.
  • Examine & Re-examine: Focusing in on the craft and bringing the idea to a master level allows the creative to determine the best possible way to share the story or idea. Instead of retelling the age-old story of Sleeping Beauty, Disney diverged from its standards and told the story of Maleficent. Critical and creative thinking can help this process explore new avenues of possibilities.
  • Inspire with Imagery: Finding quotes, verses or images that spark emotions related to your idea will inspire and move the process forward. The creative always welcomes the possibility of sparking something new that polishes an idea or brings it into a unique and fascinating light.
  1. Add Magic

The sparkle or the ah-ha moment lifts the idea above scrutiny. That simple element of magic also transforms the art into something entertaining that must be talked about among friends. Whether it’s a unique moment in a story, the juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated items, or an uncanny perspective that enlightens, the magic gives the art wings to transcend the culture to something better than its current state.

Get started in anyway you choose and then recreate to make your work better and better, until you finally find the magic element that will make your idea worth sharing by others. It doesn’t matter if your audience is a business team, little children or out of town relatives, everyone needs to be entertained enough to open their minds to your shared idea.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

 

 

Collaboration and Mock-Ups

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Sample Mock-Up

The best products come from the collaboration process and use mock-ups to perfect the concept early in the development stage. Wedding planners use 2D mock-ups to determine seating arrangements. Book publishers use 3D mock-ups to photograph books before they are printed. Filmmakers tend to create mood reels to promote film concepts in need of funds.

Regardless of the project, creativity is key in the collaboration process, which drives some form of mock-up. The tool allows the team to visualize spatial relationships, size and details. It also improves communication and an understanding of how the product impacts the human condition – the customer.

Every businessperson can benefit from using mock-ups by following three key principles.

SPEED

Rapid prototyping has been alive for centuries. It’s ideal for finding the flaws in a product quickly. A mock-up of a book’s main photo or background with typography can be quickly discerned as being too small or the wrong color. The faster you learn what doesn’t work, the sooner the ideal look comes into play.

The playfulness of the mock-up process stimulates creativity that one-ups the previous concepts. Each step moves the creators a step closer to their final design and a clear understanding of the products use and feel. Rapid prototyping trims off months of development as it brings focus to flaws that are quickly corrected.

MASS

Transferring the conceptual into the physical realm gives creators an understanding of the complexities and vast details required to polish the details of their product before production. This not only saves large sums of money, but it also alerts the team to the depth of focus required to turn their imagination into reality.

Without understanding the massiveness of the project, creators are often blindsided by the large scope of their concept. Few professional filmmakers start shooting a script without first counting the cost of time and effort involved in shooting 1,400 – 1,800 shots that it takes to make their picture.

IMPACT

The human condition rarely makes its path known in the ever-changing structure of society. Focus groups are used to hone in on a plausible direction by observing potential customers interacting with a prototype. The perceptions brought to bear by various age groups and other demographic profiles help the team redefine their key market segment.

Since 80% of all books are bought based on its cover design and 15% from the book’s back cover copy, authors are able to obtain advanced customer responses with prototypes. Speakers can test the impact of their topics with one-sheets and sales people can explore presentations with previz.

All collaborators can make use of mock-ups and vision boards to get a sense of how the service or product will make a difference in their marketplace. By focusing on the speed, mass and impact an idea will generate, the team is able to find its flaws and make the necessary improvements so release day is a rewarding celebration.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers