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

 

Caged No More – Review

Lisa_ArnoldLisa Arnold is at a turning point in her filmmaking career. Her directing chops in the faith-based genre are within reach of the Kendrick (Fireproof, Courageous, War Room) brothers’ skills. While she is still known for her acting, she’s quietly becoming a director to be reckoned with.

Caged No More demonstrated her passion for heart touching story. Her technical skills also exceeded the typical faith-based production techniques. Several scenes bumped up into the quality levels typical in TV movies and a few scenes were straight-out cinematic.

She relentlessly went after the audience in Caged No More, giving viewers little time to breath between heart wrenching scenes. She did present some humor to lighten the mood a third of the way into the story, but it wasn’t enough to keep me from gripping my heart as the story escalated. I actually had to pause the DVD twice to allow my emotions to calm down.

cagednomore-screenshots-0002Part of this emotional charge came from Arnold’s subject matter. Caged No More is about the abduction of Jr. High girls into sex trafficking. The last national record I read had >14,000 girls ages 12 – 14 sold annually. That does not include girls 15 – 18. Nor does it count girls from less secure countries. And, it doesn’t count the boys who are also sold.

Caged No More finds an interesting balance with Arnold’s passion, the elements in faith-based films required by churches, and a form of entertainment that keeps the plot moving. Her careful crafting of the message is ideal for introducing congregations to the horrific reality our girls face.

Unfortunately, the film is not one I’d watch again due to the lack of breather moments. Nor am I interested in seeing the sequel due out in 2017, just in case she hasn’t figured out how to lace in more humor for people like me.

cagednomore-screenshots-0030However, if you love to cry during movies, I highly recommend you watch Caged No More and watch the second film in the trilogy next year. It will also give you an opportunity to see why Arnold will soon become the “queen” of faith-based films, standing next to the king Kendrick brothers in the limelight.

As for me, I’ll be trying to figure out how to un-see what was presented so I can get back to a normal life. That’s not to say Arnold didn’t use extreme tact in her presentation, she did, but once you learn what she presents you’ll feel obligated to take some form of action to save at least one girl.

Well done, Arnold! Oh, and give me a call sometime if you want to brainstorm breather moments for your sequel – giving folks like me a chance to watch.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hopes that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Star Trek 50th Expands Technologically

STB_Enterprise_Cloud_Beyond_Teaser_1SheetStar Trek Beyond released today on the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek television series. To celebrate the golden anniversary, the make-up team based in Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Dubai, set out to create 50 unique alien races to appear in the film. In reality, the final count was 53 plus all the versions of characters within each race.

The movie was the first in the Star Trek series to step away from film. The digital equipment was selected for various reasons, but the most important was its ability to extend the frame with additional information. While there are only 30 theaters that will show the extended imagery, Star Trek is being lauded for its advancements with Barco Escape.

Barco Escape projection equipment allows the theater to show the movie not only on the main front screen, but also on the two sidewalls as well. This gives the audience a sense of being in the story or location that fills their periphery. Since most of the locations are created with CGI, it was easy to extend the scenes to incorporate additional information without having to worry about film grain.

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Selected theaters attached two additional screens on the sidewalls. This process was first tested with The Maze Runner in 15 theaters. Modifications from lessons learned were incorporated into the Star Trek release. It’s hard to say if the audience will appreciate being more absorbed in the visuals, or if it will just be the next gimmick in theatrical marketing.

STAR TREK BEYOND

Left to right: Chris Pine plays Kirk, Sofia Boutella plays Jaylah and Anton Yelchin plays Chekov in Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

The good news is that regardless of which of the five release formats you watch, including IMAX and 3D, the story is strong enough to stand on its own. The character development is in keeping with what made the series successful and the visual effects incorporate nods to Inception and Star Wars.

The story is easy to follow and the adventure fuels enough energy to excite the audience throughout the film. The character development including Scotty’s probable love interest is sufficient to make each character relatable to the audience. This juxtaposition of adrenalin, humor and honor is sure to make fans believe Rodenberry’s vision to be just around the corner: a huge society of all kinds of people and aliens co-existing peacefully.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

The Mastery Cycle

Slide1I led a master class and several workshops at a conference last week. My goal was to take the students through the mastery cycle without them knowing it. The outcome was eye opening during the debriefing stage of the conference – The time when reality revealed where on the master craftsman scales each person landed.

The mastery cycle has four parts to it: attitude, knowledge, practice, and skill. The attitude step is all about adjusting one’s dreams to a reality check without draining their vision. Increasing their knowledge is the second step that requires a certain amount of entertainment in order to retain the information. The third step is practicing with a coach who can guide and correct each step of the way. The fourth step is the development of a specific skill that can shine during the process.

Once the process concludes, it’s always useful to debrief the participants and find out what they achieved or learned. Everyone gains a new skill (or part of one) or learns how to avoid a disaster going forward. Both are needed for the master craftsman’s utility belt regardless of their occupation.

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT
My classes were filled with beginning filmmakers and semi-professional amateurs. Both groups typically have a great aptitude for filmmaking, but greatly lack the skills needed to climb to a higher level of quality. Since its impossible to get to the next level until you first understand what you don’t know, adjusting the attitudes of the participants is critical to their growth.

I opened with an example of a finely crafted short story that an amateur would shoot for less than $10,000 and a professional would shoot for no less than $265,000. By explaining the difference in quality, story, skill levels, etc., I helped many of the students correct their vision and desire more skills.

INCREASED KNOWLEDGE
The next class was about how to develop a story using a simple logline as a blueprint. Loglines are one to two sentences that clearly articulate the overall story. Any variation due to overzealous creativity in the process weakens the story and hinders the film’s success.

The class developed the beats of the story based on the logline and then wrote a script to be shot the next day. Everyone in class got caught trying to take the story down a rabbit hole, but the team maintained focus thanks to the agreed upon logline – a safety net to make sure the chosen topic is adhered to.

PRACTICE WITH COACH
The day of the shoot was guided by the experienced training the inexperienced. We had hoped for a professional team coaching an amateur team, but circumstances didn’t come together as planned. Still, the experienced were able to help and encourage those with less experience. Three scenes were shot and then debriefed the following morning.

We reviewed the dailies and discussed the pros and cons that came from the shoot. And yes, there were more cons, but I prefer to say there were more learning opportunities. As long as the person learns from his or her mistakes, they are another step closer to mastering their craft.

During the shoot the director is in charge. He must hold true to the logline, the script breakdown, his notebook, and all the other tools he has in delivering the final story based on its original intent as expressed in the script. Unfortunately, the director was so busy trying to keep his cast and crew moving that he forgot to refer back to his notes.

The outcome was some really good shots and acting that had nothing to do with the story. During our review, I pointed out as many of the errors that added to the destruction of the story and why each person failed. I also pointed out that with film being a collaborative art form everyone must stay on task, rather than offering up things that don’t move the story forward.

SKILL DEVELOPMENT
Each participant got a taste of a new skill they need to develop. The director learned how to breakdown the beats of the story to make sure they are filmed. The actors learned the importance of becoming the character instead of changing the character to be like them. The writers learned that creatives can make things up all day long, but must only keep what fulfills the logline. And on it went.

The process that led to the beginning development of a new skill can now be cycled again to lift that skill to another level. The repetition will eventually see the person master the skill and others for his utility belt, which will eventually lead to the mastering of the craft.

The person who embraces the mastery cycle will eventually become the master and be able to properly break the rules in order to move the art forward. They are also the ones who are passionate about the art. They are the perfect type of people worth having on any set and in any workshop.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Labeling the Creative

LabelLabels are dreadful, even the good ones. All too often people try to categorize what they don’t understand, as if it will bring a sense of security where its not needed. The creative spirit is allusive to many and requires a label from the logical to understand why a person is unconventional.

I’ve been called unique, weird, innovative, imaginative and creative. Each label was an attempt on the person’s part to categorize me into something close to what they understand. They’re uncomfortable with me not living life in what they believe to be an appropriate manner – A lifestyle based on logic.

Most get away with slapping a label on a creative because the majority of people require the same. I’ve read estimates that there is one creative person for every 10,000 logical people. That means for every motion picture cast and crew of 300 people, there are 3 million who don’t have a clue how to relate with those creatives. However, not knowing how to interact with a creative doesn’t stop the 3 million from enjoying their film.

The good news is that most creatives have had to learn how to relate to their audiences and investors in a logical fashion. Since the creative is capable of living in both worlds, at least for a time, the one looking for fans and funds bridges the gap.

This dynamic relationship drives a certain level of fandom based solely on the unknown. Every performance or released product appears to be all the more entertaining as the creative gives fans glimpses into their soul – The most rewarding form of story.

After reading a heartwarming story, one person told me the author had talent or the ability to achieve what others cannot achieve. His friend politely disagreed and argued that the author was a genius, as defined by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. His writings suggested that genius rises from a superior capacity for contemplation that leads the artist to transcend the smallness of ego and enter the infinite world of ideas.

I suggested that the cautionary tale of artistry was the person who isn’t truly creative, but puts on the appearance of the artist. He can notably get stuck in his own ego based on the rise of fandom. However, the true creative continues to create regardless of those who appreciate his creative bent.

I’m not suggesting that all creatives are naturally humble, but the ones I’ve met create because of who they are, not how many fans they obtain. The creative flourishes during the time people notice his work and during the time no one takes notice.

Schopenhauer said, “The man in whom genius lives and works is easily distinguished by his glance, which is both keen and steady, and bears the stamp of perception, of contemplation.”

There may be a parallel in how my friends argued about genius and my perspective of artistry. I define a creative as someone who observes and contemplates the very perceptions he has acquired, in order to reduce it to a medium for public consumption. Genius or not, there’s no room for ego or labels with the artist, as he must move from philosophies to thoughts, spreading the life changing ideas the public is so hungry to receive.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers