The Library of Focus

LibraryThe Art Institute of Chicago is a wonderful place to explore painting styles that have brought pleasure throughout the centuries. Some of the great classics are on display including works from Winslow Homer, Grant Wood, and Edward Hopper. Each piece of great art can capture your attention and maintain your focus for several minutes, unless you’ve experienced what I call “artistry overload.”

The last time I visited the museum, I felt the effects of artistry overload after attempting to pause at each of the 1,000 plus paintings and appreciate what the artist was attempting to communicate. My time dwindled quickly and I never got to the works of art that I appreciate most.

I did, however, learn to appreciate several new artists that most people raced past on their way to more familiar corridors. My observation that day helped me to realize that knowing when to pass or pause was essential to understanding and appreciating great art.

I first became aware of artistry overload when I visited the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Prior to attending, I had watched two documentaries on the making of the park and read a couple of behind the scenes books regarding the details missed by most vacationers. I was ready to experience the park through the eyes of the artists who created the venue.

The turnstiles spun as a large crowd moved into the park. I tried to avoid bumping into too many people as we funneled toward the entrance. I was ready to see the park with new eyes. Everything I had learned popped into my mind as I saw the very things I read about.

Glancing around, I realized that I was one of the few appreciating the full artistry of the show (“Show” being one of Disney’s four keys to a great guest experience). Most hurried past on the way to their favorite rides.

The layout of the Magic Kingdom was designed to be a show, similar to watching a movie. The first things you see are the trailers or coming attractions. When you enter through the tunnel that resides under the train tracks, you see posters on the walls featuring the coming attractions from inside the park.

Once you enter Main Street Square, it’s like watching the opening credits. The signs and windows are covered with the names of people who made the Magic Kingdom possible. For instance, above the Main Street Athletic Club are the words, “Big Top Theatrical – Claude Coats, Marc Davis, John DeCuir, Bill Justice.”

The sign honors the four men listed, three of which are Disney Legends, although they had nothing to do with any make-believe Big Top Theatrical company. Claude Coats painted all the sets for Disney’s first animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and he also worked with Imagineering to design numerous rides including Pirates of the Caribbean. Marc Davis was one of the Nine Old Men, core animators during Disney’s life.

John DeCuir was a production designer and art director who not only won three Oscars for his work on The King and I (1956), Cleopatra (1963), and Hello, Dolly! (1969), but also illustrated in watercolors numerous theme park ideas that Disney dreamt up for the Magic Kingdom. Bill Justice, who painted many of Disney’s ideas, also animated characters in Disney’s classics, but is most known for animating Thumper from Bambi (1942).

There are dozens of credits throughout Main Street that pay tribute to the park’s artists, but are only appreciated by the discerning eye. I had fun scanning Main Street’s heritage, but soon tired from all the visuals bombarding me. I was experiencing artistry overload. The more I knew and could appreciate, the slower my trek down the boulevard.

I shared what little I had accumulated concerning artistry overload to a friend, who happily suggested that I shift my focus to what I use in a library. He said, “Picture shelves upon shelves of books expanding across aisles and aisles of floor space. All of which are due appreciation at some point, but not today.”

My mind jumped to my last library visit. I headed straight for my two favorite stacks of books. One held the books on entertainment and the other on movies and filmmaking. The carpet was well worn from my many visits and the nearby table was comfortably familiar. It was a place that never overwhelmed me, as I had already perused every book on the shelves.

That was my answer. I had to return to the Art Institute of Chicago multiple times. Once to see the traveling Monet exhibit, another time to study the miniatures, which I’m so very fond of, and another time to explore one new artist. Maybe during another month I’d visit my favorite artists and then plan future explorations to improve my discerning tastes and expand my horizons.

Heading back to the Magic Kingdom with a plan created great relief. I spent three entire days exploring things that most people miss. In fact, after a discussion with a cast member, I soon found myself behind the scenes and appreciating the artistry of show far more than I could ever have imagined.

The key was seeing things from a library of focus. No longer would I see the entire library as I entered, but instead I’d focus on only the things I was ready to explore. Just as a great movie can be watched numerous times to pick up on all the director’s hidden Easter eggs, how I enter new locations with a sense of appreciation changed to only take in what I could manage on any given day.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

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Google’s PC Police Algorithm

Toxic_WordsThe PC police are expanding watch over the Internet. No longer will you have true freedom of speech, as Google and other search engines are working to block your toxic words from being published.

I tested Google’s new algorithm to see if my word choices would be blocked. Here is a sentence I wrote that was 2% likely to be perceived as toxic.

“Those who accept media bias without consideration find themselves following unhealthy trends.”

I then decided to make the comment more opinionated to grab the attention of the reader and found my words were 97% likely to be perceived as toxic.

“Those who accept media bias without consideration find themselves following idiots.”

Here is the winning version of my statement that was 0% likely to be perceived as toxic.

“Those who accept media bias without consideration find themselves following trends.”

I next tried a few religious comments. The following statement was 34% likely to be perceived as toxic.

“Shows about Jews should be banded from the media.”

After correcting the word “banded” to “band” the statement was 18% likely to be perceived as toxic.

“Shows about Jews should be band from the media.”

I then switched out the word “Jews” to “Muslim” and then “Christian,” which dropped the likeliness of the statement to be perceived as toxic to 1% for each.

It was apparent that the algorithm used was based on machine learning, which draws from biased news sources. The more sources stating that certain words are toxic, the greater the bias being policed becomes.

In other words, if you fill the Internet with documents, stories and news briefs stating how hateful the word “gismo” is, you’ll actually shift the algorithm to determine that the use of the word is toxic.

While its unlikely a group of caring people will produce 20 million articles using the word “gismo” as a hate word to change algorithm results, some might consider sidelining their competition by turning their important phrases into hate words.

I think we’re at a turning point and need to leave ethical and moral decisions to man, not machines. Then again, can you really trust them?

© 2017 by CJ Powers

New Fan Based Studio to Launch

Have you ever wondered how much crazier our culture can get? Did you ever ask yourself who can make a difference and turn our society right side up? Well, in a short time you will be able to do something specific to make a difference. That’s right, you.

With your help, Maverick 7 Studios will launch this month. Maverick 7 Studios is a fan based film and television company that produces movies and shows to counter trends in the seven areas of culture: Arts & Entertainment, Media, Education, Business, Family, Government, and Religion.

Maverick 7 Studios will launch a new regulated crowdfunding offer to unaccredited fans up to $1MM plus an A+ regulation offering to accredited investors. The total goal is to raise $50MM in funding for the new studio, a part of which you can own.

The first titles headed into development are all redemptive stories. In redemptive movies the protagonist lives in error or evil and takes action to improve his life, but falls short until someone shows grace and saves or redeems his life for the good.

Based on current negotiations, the following titles are in development to be produced:

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Based on the best selling Christmas book by MaryAnn Diorio,

Jody Pettit O’Dair ran away to experience a life of adventure and excitement, but since her departure, she was abandoned by her husband, lost her job, and struggled to keep her two children respectable. Seven years after she last spoke to her mother, Jody dreams about her past family Christmases and decides to head home with the hopes that she’ll be welcome.

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In association with Powers Productions.

Maverick Detective Cassie Steele battles PTSD memory loss, while fighting to keep her cover intact. Her plans to bring down the drug kingpin get side tracked as she 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 and started his killing spree with all 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.

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In association with Midst Entertainment.

Eric Stafford, a renegade law student whose life is not his own, struggles to break free from his father’s plans. After his father gets a mobster boss exonerated on a technicality, Eric begs him to seek justice and restore the family name. When Eric learns that he’s next in line to work for the mobster, he selects a 2,000-year-old debate for his mock trial with the hope that it will break him free from a future of supporting injustice. As the case unfolds, Eric learns that the greatest injustice in history has a life giving power that he’s never known.

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In association with Powers Productions.

Take a group of spirited kids… put them in charge of a streaming web-based television station in a resort with visiting guest stars… and you’ve got intergenerational antics galore!

KIDS-TV offers lots of laughs as the kids and their special guests learn they have more in common than they think.

In the pilot episode, new crewmember Carolyn Morris suffers from a terrible identity crisis. Stacey, the station manager, mistakes Carolyn for someone else, and puts her in an embarrassing situation – during a live broadcast. With a little help from her new friends, Carolyn manages to show her real stuff – through a dazzling animated/live-action musical production number, the likes of which Stacey has never seen.

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From Best Selling Authors Peter Marshal and David Manuel.

The Admiral: A Voyage of the Soul” focuses on Christopher Columbus, a complex man driven by two opposing forces: missionary zeal and a growing desire for money, position and power.

In his personal journals, Columbus reveals the inner passion which compelled him to sail west – a divine call on his life to, in his own words, “bear the light of Christ” to peoples of undiscovered lands. The Admiral explores the inner drive which sustained Columbus through years of frustration and disappointment, and how once he had discovered the New World and its gold, the purity of his motivation became corrupted with the great seductions of the world – money, position and power. The irony is as tragic as it is obvious: Columbus abused and enslaved the very people he had set out to convert.

As an old man, the Admiral looks back with regret on all the suffering he has inadvertently caused. Painfully he acknowledges his diversion from his calling and returns to the conviction of earlier years, where he finds peace.

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In association with Powers Productions.

Pastor Paul Ryann breaks his promise to his wife when a junior high kid’s bad choice prompts him to intercede. Returning home two hours late, his wife sends him on their anniversary trip to Israel alone, in hopes of him learning how to respect her.

During his flight, Paul meets two traveling companions. Together, they tour Old Jerusalem and stumble upon two men assaulting a woman. The men notice Paul capturing the incident with his camera and chase after them. They dodge in and out of crowds and alleys until they duck into an old dark shack where the floor gives way and plunges them down into an ancient stone well.

As the water rises, Paul, in true “Indiana Jones” style leads the three to safety. When they emerge, they find themselves thrust back in time—33 A.D. during the triumphal entry of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem.

During the week leading to his crucifixion, the three are loved by the Master and forced to face their deepest internal pain. In return, Paul struggles with the decision of saving Jesus from his harsh death and making sure it happens.

 

Additional Projects in Association with Powers Productions.

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Grandma’s Attic

This spectacular holiday musical is about three kids who are told to go into grandma’s attic and find one thing that reminds them of her before the contractor who swindled the property bulldozes the house down.

Filled with new songs of fond memories, Grandma’s Attic is bursting with comedy, the hunt for grandma’s hidden secret that’s sure to save the house, and a patriotic finale that puts the contractor in his place.

Space Academy

High school students living in a space station in geosynchronous orbit, use a space elevator to return to earth for history class in their school’s holographic simulator. During each class the students “relive” history as they walk among historic figures who made a significant difference during their lifetime.

JC Agents

A group of teens go undercover using high technology to perform random acts of kindness throughout their community. This series features missions that kids can do at home and thrilling adventures using tomorrow’s technology.

Adventure at Thunder Falls

Thirteen-year-old Kit Calloway has trouble trusting God after the death of her little brother. When an ill-fated camping trip with her family and friends places her in life threatening danger, she must risk trusting God again.

My Professor’s Study

The professor’s study is an imaginative and safe place where kids can explore their own character traits and make right choices in developing additional skills on their own.

Wonder Worm

Animated children’s series about a mild-mannered worm who fights for truth, justice and Biblical morals.

Crucible of Freedom

The true story of George Washington based on the best selling book The Light and the Glory.

Esther: The Musical

Pageantry, intrigue and treachery based on the biblical book of Esther.

 

© 2017 Powers Productions, Inc.

Directors Pull in Summer Audiences

popcorn-movie-party-entertainmentDecades ago the major studios drew audiences to the silver screen with big extravagant pictures. A few decades later movie stars became the biggest drawing card to pack out film houses. But recently we’ve seen a shift to a new role that is drawing in millions to the box office—the director.

The audience is no longer willing to sit through a star driven movie just because their favorite actor plays a role in the film. Over the past few years, films that had Bruce Willis in its trailer or on the one sheet poster disappointed many. Why? Because the films weren’t really Bruce Willis type films. He was just in the movies for a paycheck.

This summer we saw a lot of film actors fail to deliver audiences to theaters like Scarlett Johansson’s Ghost in the Shell and Rough Night, Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, Charlie Hunnam’s King Arthur, and Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

But it was the directors that brought the solid draw as social media buzz surrounded the filmmakers, not the stars. The successful films used lesser-known actors in leading roles under the guidance of strongly directed vision. The box office successes included Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman.

Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group told Variety, “To be theatrical, you need to be distinctive now. That’s what Spider-Man and Baby Driver have in common. Even though they are as different as night and day, the audience can feel both are distinctive, and so theater-worthy.”

Director Alex Kendrick, of the faith-based Kendrick Brothers, has carved out a niche for himself that draws in enough audience to generate about $60MM every time he releases a film. While Sony has rarely understood how he does it, they have acknowledged his distinctive films. In fact, there have been many who have tried to follow in Alex and Stephen’s footsteps, but all have failed to replicate their distinctive style.

One of the reasons I study a lot of film is to make sure I create something that hasn’t been done before. A director’s style coupled with his writer, DP and Production Designer choice makes for a uniqueness that is seldom replicated. The heart and soul of his vision must come through in order to create a successful title that will storm the box office.

There will never be another Christopher Nolan or Alex Kendrick, no matter how often a budding filmmaker suggests he offers a similar style.

I’ll never forget listening to an interview with Phil Vischer, of Veggie Tales fame, before he became famous. In the interview he was likened to Walt Disney, which surprised me since I was familiar with both artists. The two were highly creative and did the voices for their primary animated characters, but their styles and audiences were very different.

The thing I remember most about the interview was how quickly Phil’s distinctive style was getting lost behind the Disney name. Don Bluth, known for The Secret of NIMH, had the same problem differentiating himself from Disney. It takes a strong director to carve out a niche for his own style that is memorable and draws an audience to the box office.

So who’s your favorite director?

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Facebook Hackers Attack

FacebookBy now you’ve noticed that my personal Facebook profile no longer exists. That means I’m no longer able to communicate back and forth with you in Facebook. Why?—Because my profile was hacked and then deactivated.

My blog and books generated about 6-40 new “friends” a week, but suddenly jumped to 100-300 and then to 500 daily until I hit the 5,000 friend cap. The growing number of new friends attracted the unscrupulous who sneaked in. One person even figured out my password and removed me from managing my page.

But now, if you’re reading this post in Facebook, you found my professional page and either liked it or I transferred you as an initial like. The number of likes will drop in the first few days as some will unlike the page. And, some who wanted to communicate with me will have to hang in there for a bit before I reopen communications with “friends.”

If you want to like my new hack free page on Facebook you can search for me in Facebook with the following: @cjpowersppi

Or, you can use the URL: http://facebook.com/cjpowersppi/

I’ll get back to my postings in the near future, after resting up from the 48-hour hacker battle I endured.

 

 

Creative Child’s Game Simplifies Value Decisions

How to Assign Value to Disparate Projects for Equal Consideration

Have you ever wanted to know which project to start next? Did you get frustrated comparing unrelated activities in an attempt to determine which provided the greatest value? The solution is as simple as a child’s game.

No, I’m not talking about a Six Sigma Pugh Concept Matrix to determine which potential alternative solution can more quickly and easily be engineered into a viable product for just-in-time manufacturing.

I’m talking about a simple game that boutique tech businesses use to prioritize projects by overall value.

It’s called a weighted decision matrix and its fun to use.

Picture a simple table with the name of the projects listed down the far left column. Across the top of each column is the criteria that you’ll use to measure a projects overall value. Where each project and column intersects are the letters H, M, and L. The far right column holds the total of the criteria scores for each project.

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STEP ONE:

Name each project in the first column. Name the criteria being considered at the top of each column.

The H M and L represent the importance level of the criteria for the project—giving it a high, medium or low level of importance for each particular criterion. Circle the level of importance that each project holds based on the given criteria.

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STEP TWO:

Give a value to each H, M and L. With less complex decisions I use the following values: H=4, M=2, and L=1. If the decision is more complex I use: H=9, M=3, and L=1. Then total the score by adding the values from each cell. The decision is obvious—I need to write a blog on Decision Matrix (see below table).

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But many times life is not so simple because some criteria are more important than others, which requires some form of weighting.

STEP THREE:

When criteria are not equal, a numeric value must be attached that will work as a multiplier. I use a 5-point scale to make sure each criteria receives its due credit or strength in the formula. However, when sorting through a large number of projects, I switch to a 10-point scale in order to pick up on the value of subtle nuances for each criterion.

In the below table I’ve given each criteria a numerical value. In the first cell the M was circled and is valued as a 2. I then multiply it with the weighted criterion value of 4 and get a new total cell value of 8. Each cell is added together for a total score of 40.

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The weighting has clarified what’s more important and shifted the score to a tie. In this case I would’ve been better off using the larger spread of values: H=9, M=3, and L=1 as in the below table. However, the scoring is so close that the decision of what blog to write had an original score of 10, shifted to a tie, followed by coming in second place (see below table).

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Here’s where the game gets tricky. You have to be totally honest with yourself whenever assigning values to what’s important. Deciding between H, M, L is pretty easy, but the choice is more difficult with a 5-point criteria value—even more tricky with a 10-point value.

In the table below I changed the weighted amount for the third criterion from 3 to 4. Why? Well, since most of my readers run families, small businesses and departments, I thought the category should hold a higher level of importance.

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Now look at what happened to the scores. The numbers made the decision very clear, but only because I was being truthful about the third column’s actual value of importance.

WARNING: As in all games that use numbers, a person can cheat to make things read anyway they want, which defeats the purpose of playing.

STEP 1A:

It’s important to use only the criteria that are truly important to a project. Extra criteria that’s not seriously weighted only complicates your decision making process.

If you’re an artist, consider some of these criteria:

• Passion Zone
• Stretch Comfort Levels
• Gain Knowledge
• Generate Money
• Advance Career
• Network Expansion
• Develop Skills
• Touch Lives
• Build Relationships
• Fun & Games

The above factors can all impact a decision for an artist deciding whether or not he or she is interested in signing on to a film project. Sometimes it’s worth doing if it expands your network or you can learn something significant from the experience. Other times making money is the number one weighted factor.

In business, other criteria might be considered like:

• Meets Objectives
• Forwards Career
• Meets Boss’ Bonus Requirements
• Generates Commission
• Creates Double Digit Growth

The above list can go on and on, but the idea is sound. Figuring out what criteria is important for the projects being considered helps change the decision from an aggravating dilemma to a child’s game that’s easy to solve with a quick hand written table or spreadsheet.

Members of different departments that make up a special team can also play this game. Each can add a few criteria to the table to make sure their area of expertise is well considered by the decision maker.

The biggest decision I faced was sorting through 11 projects with 32 criteria. Thankfully it was on an automated spreadsheet and the answers were quick and sound.

Let me know what other games or tools you use to decide which project should be next.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Humanity of Dunkirk—Review

Nolan_at_CameraChristopher Nolan has another success on his hands with Dunkirk. While it won’t drive the box office like The Dark Knight, audiences will marvel at the humanity of self-sacrifice demonstrated. But before I say much more, I have to warn you that this film requires a lot of thinking and possibly a second viewing to fully comprehend.

Nolan’s artistic choices, which will not surprise fans, were spot on and amazing. However, his decision to tell three complete stories simultaneously, which all converge in act three, forces the audience to pay close attention during the entire two-hour film. This is not the type of film you’d want to excuse yourself from to take a call, get a refill, or use the restroom.

The story is about the actual events in May of 1940. Germany advanced into France and trapped Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. British and French forces provided air and ground cover, while troops were methodically evacuated using every naval and civilian vessel that could be found.

The orders were to evacuate 30,000 men leaving the rest as acceptable losses, but the man in charge demanded 45,000. Thanks to the self-sacrificing actions of many that evolved into heroes as the events unfolded, about 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers were actually evacuated.

BeachThe movie opens with no credits and what appears to be a boring scene, until you realize it was one of the few lulls in an intense battle that catapults you back to the reality of World War II. The film alternates between three stories told from the perspective of land, air and sea. Each story focuses on only one hero in the making based on the significant self-sacrificing choices made.

While the film has little dialog, due to the circumstances that prevail on screen, each story rises in intensity to the point where you demand to know the outcome. You soon realize that your body is contorting in a rhythm that cheers on each protagonist to make the right choice, not the safe one. Warning: No one under five feet tall should ride this intense emotional rollercoaster.

I can’t remember a film that caused me to flinch, duck and squirm in synchronicity with the protagonist for some time. And when my favorite of the three storylines climaxed, my heart felt every pounding second of contemplating the young man’s decision. He did what was right for the war efforts, not what was right for his own soul. His self-sacrifice gave rise within me to rejoice at the epilogue of that storyline—and, determine for myself to consider the greater good of those around me over my own need for survival.

Dunkirk was a stirring and uplifting film worthy of an Oscar. But, most who attend the screening will get lost in the braided stories and wonder what I saw in the film. To them I heartily say, “Watch it a second and third time until you get it.” Yes, it is worth your time. But, if you only enjoy movies where you don’t have to think, avoid this one no matter what the cost. The value of this film only rises out of thought and ones ability to relate to one of the three main heroes.

AirMy friend emotionally clicked with the air story and I related to the sea story. But both of us took much needed time after the film to discuss what we saw, as the film’s complexities were similar to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Our discussion allowed us to better comprehend what we missed and the other had caught.

If it weren’t for the difficult-to-follow braided storylines, I’d give this film a 5-star rating, but its complexities reduces it to a solid 4-star rating. However, for those who don’t struggle to follow the three intertwined stories, you’ll certainly give it a 5-star rating, no questions asked.

As we reflected on the film my friend said, “I’m not sure what we just watched, but it’s obvious it was something really great. I think this is the kind of film you can watch over and over again, picking up on all the subtleties you missed in previous viewings.” I agreed. Dunkirk will be as great as you can keep up.

© 2017 by CJ Powers