A Fun Romp Wins Over the Best Picture

Academy AwardsWhile I was on my way to an Oscar® party last Sunday, a friend reminded me that it was “my night” and wished me well. The comment acknowledged my love for the cinema, which I started to develop at age ten. During my freshman year at university, I attended so many movies that I developed personal friendships with most of the theater managers in town, giving me free access to all the movies I attended for four years.

During my tenure as a cinephile, I came to appreciate American movies above all others. I understood the uniqueness of American movies and could easily spot and separate those nuances from foreign films. I also knew the key elements that turned the films into iconic American treasures. On a few occasions, I was even known to win a short-clip film contest where you had to guess a film’s country of origin in a matter of seconds.

This background churned my stomach when a foreign film won Best “American” Picture, revealing that the Oscars® are no longer about America’s best. But what really bothered me was that 1917 did not win Best Picture.

I watch about 100 films a year in the theaters. When comparing 1917 to other films over the past ten years, I can clearly say that it could easily win the best picture of the decade award. Why? Because it was masterfully crafted, pulled the audience into the war with all of its emotional charge, and took us on a journey that changed our perception of war within two hours.

This year’s winner, Parasite, a Korean film, was nothing more than a screwball comedy. The story was crafted like a movie-of-the-week Rom-Com. The film had technical and artistic problems and did not represent the type of film where all departments demonstrated mastery of their craft. I saw way too many flaws on the screen and couldn’t understand how it got nominated.

I was recently asked a couple of important questions. Since America is a diversified country with Korean-Americans, why don’t I consider Parasite an American film? How many Americans need to be involved in a picture for it to be American?

The answer is not as complex as the questions might lead us to believe. The producers admitted it was an international picture when they entered it into the International Film category and won another Oscar® in that category. They knew it was not an American film. In fact, they were quoted numerous times calling it a Korean film.

A few years back, the Academy opened its doors, in the name of diversity, with the hopes that it could change the direction of the American film industry by diversifying the culture. Having raised my family in a diverse culture, I had no problem with the concept. However, the execution was terrible because instead of only letting people into the Academy who had mastered their craft, they let people in solely because of their nationality to quickly balance the number of voters by race.

The end result was a group of individuals in the industry voting for the best picture that hadn’t yet mastered their craft. Instead of the Oscar® being given to the best of the best, the trajectory appears to have awarded politics over excellence.

I believe people are tired of the politics surrounding the awards. In fact, this year’s broadcast saw a hefty group of 5 million viewers drop off from last year. Fans want to learn more about their favorite celebrities and films, not someone’s political opinion who gets a bigger paycheck by aligning their comments to a popular cause.

Fans also want to find out what American films are worth their time. Yes, American films. While there are a few of us that watch international films regularly, most people have a limited amount of time to watch films in the theater and would prefer to watch a well-crafted American film over an international film with subtitles.

If the Academy is transitioning to be a global “best of” organization and is no longer charged with the American film industry, then I’d like to know who is going to step up and help viewers learn about the best America has to offer the cinema. Maybe there needs to be a new organization that is willing to fight to keep the American film culture alive.

Or, if our global film community is strong enough to compete internationally, then a new organization that represents the global best should rise up, rather than converting our American film Academy into a global one.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers

 

Streaming Markets Explode

closeup photo of person holding panasonic remote control in front of turned on smart television

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My guess wasn’t too far off. In fact, I’d say that given the industries’ lack of experience in this area, I was close enough to satisfy any statistician. After all, streaming is new to everyone and taking the world by storm. The speed at which new channels are releasing is faster than most expected. Netflix is no longer the sole player in the sandbox.

The day before Disney+ released, I estimated that at the end of its first three months the number of subscribers would hit 30 million. Disney’s analysts estimated 20 million. The final count was 28.6 million. Disney was happy that they came in higher than was estimated and I was thrilled that my number crunching landed me close to reality.

Disney+ will obviously cross the billion-dollar mark this year and will continue to give Netflix a run for its money. Walmart is next in line to release its new streaming channel followed by Quibi and Peacock, with HBO Max and Discovery/BBC right on their tails.

Many independent filmmakers are excited about the prospects of more venues for the potential release of their films, while others wonder how many current streamers will lose ground to AppleTV+, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and NetFlix battling for viewers.

Industry experts have suggested that any company with a niche audience and 500,000 subscribers will be able to withstand the storm. Small companies like PureFlix who bounce between 125,000 and 250,000 subscribers will have to figure out how to cross the 500,000-subscriber barrier before it’s too late.

Solidifying a customer base is always more difficult than most think in the streaming world because it is product-centric. There are two kinds of viewers that need to be appeased: the moviegoers, and the binge TV watchers.

The audience that tunes in to watch long-form stories like movies and mini-series look for a title that shows them something they’ve never seen before or takes them to a place that they’ve never been. Those who like to watch serialized programming and binge-worthy titles look for character development that is done so well they can relate to them as a second family. Both types of programming are needed to capture and maintain a solid subscriber base to keep the company afloat regardless of shifting market trends.

Disney+ knows there audience very well and had no problem launching new shows to grab their attention. The Mandalorian was the biggest hit with viewers splashing millions of comments on social media about Baby Yoda. Other titles perfectly aimed at that same audience are already in production.

PureFlix is in a more precarious position. They are too tightly focused on what they perceive their niche market to be that few quality production companies create the type of content their audience needs. In other words, as the market currently stands, PureFlix is not in a position to produce enough new niche-focused content to grow their subscriber base, especially since acquisitions are light in their niche due to outside companies selling titles to NetFlix.

Disney+ will rack up a debt of $4.9 billion this year, in spite of its fast growth, on new and current programming to solidify their current subscribers and draw in new ones. NetFlix has budgeted $17.3 billion for new programming in 2020.

I estimate that PureFlix can only afford to spend about $20 million, outside of donations or investors, on new products this year since their theatrical releases have waned over the past couple of years. Their niche market is too small and extremely hard to please. However, many of their subscribers are okay with PureFlix loosening their focus a bit, since they are also willing to spend money on NetFlix and Disney+. Time will only tell if PureFlix expands its new content.

The world of streaming has changed the entertainment and edutainment industries. It won’t be too long before you’ll see micro studios pop up to produce niche programming for specific markets including Magnolia TV network that is poised to take HGTV head-on in battle this fall with Chip and Joanna Gaines at the helm.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers

 

Intimacy Coordinators Join Film Crews

man and woman lying on bed

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The #MeToo movement drove film sets to take extra precautions including the development of a new position titled Intimacy Coordinator. An intimacy coordinator oversees the filming of nudity, intimacy and sex scenes. Their primary goal is to protect the actors from any form or issues of harassment.

The protocols or guidelines are still being developed, but seem to focus around the following:

  • Meet with showrunners, executive producers, producers, directors, assistant directors, and actors to determine the degree of nudity, intimacy, and simulated sex
  • Meet with actors prior to the filming of intimate scenes
  • Maintain the continuation of consent in all stages of rehearsal and filming
  • Review contracts, nudity riders, story content, modesty garments, and wearable barriers
  • Review final edit in keeping with contractual obligations

There was rarely a need for a position of this type prior to 1964 when the Hayes Motion Picture Code was enforced. Even during the latter part of the 20th century, the small number of scenes shot that could make use of the position rarely occurred. However, in the past ten years, the number of R-rated films has dramatically increased.

In the past, most American films that received an R-rating was due to violence. That trend is rapidly shifting to increased nudity. The rating issues overseas, until streaming came into vogue, was the opposite. Many countries stopped the release of American films because of its excess violence, while nudity was rarely an issue.

While the intimacy coordinator is being attached as a production role, the real reported #MeToo issues have mostly happened during meetings in hotel rooms during location shoots. SAG-AFTRA members have made recommendations that actors do not take meetings in hotel rooms to avoid potential harassment issues from arising.

There is no telling this early in the process of intimacy coordinators will become common players or watchdogs on film sets regardless of intimacy scenes. Nor can one person oversee the behaviors of a 300-400 person cast and crew with any certainty. However, the concept of the position does seem good for those involved in uncomfortable scenes that may require the tact and diplomacy previously lacking on set.

From an insurance standpoint, the creation of the position may soon impact the production company’s liability and force compliance to keep insurance rates down. This new position may end up being a must-have position regardless of the need for it, but time will tell.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers

 

 

Changing Careers

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I’ve been pulled into a few conversations on career changes and have learned that the average person changes careers 5-7 times in their working life. This number didn’t shock me as much as our new national average of people changing jobs every 12 months.

Since the average person takes 3-6 months to come up to speed on their newest job, you’d think that companies would want to keep them in that position longer than a year. After all, training costs and mistakes due to the learning curve are substantial.

One person suggested that our culture of self-care is driving the latest turnover. He suggested that people who stay at one job too long lose track of reality. They tend to only see life from the corporate perspective and rarely get a glimpse of what is happening in the real world—outside of what TV tells them. To stay alert and keep their job interesting, people are jumping more often with the hopes that they can grow in value.

There is also the fun associated with something new. I love to learn, and being in a new position would activate me to learn all that I can. The longer a person stays in one position, the more mechanical their job becomes. Not too many people want to be in a job that they can do in their sleep. If they do, they have probably dropped to a lifestyle of going through the motions and not being present in the moment—boring.

I’m all for a person strategically shifting their career a few times to broaden their knowledge and improve their skill levels. However, if they want their future company to see them as a benefit, they have to stay at each job long enough to develop their craft to the level of mastery.

I met one woman who worked for Dreamworks, Disney, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Columbia. I met a man who worked for Pixar. It turns out that the woman had a great understanding of the industry and each company’s approach to market changes. The man, on the other hand, had developed his craft beyond that of most people in the industry.

I tried to determine which route would benefit their next job most. I concluded that the next position’s requirements would dictate which of the two would be best for the position—depending on the new company’s needs at the time. In other words, neither choice would consistently be a good choice.

Back when Walt Disney had to deal with the new rising animation union, he felt shredded by members of his staff who went on strike. It was a personal issue that changed his creative family business into a manufacturing machine. The wages and employee benefits went up, while loyalty to Disney hit an all-time low.

It took years of flops to rebuild loyalty and have employees take pride in their work. Today, Disney is a company that most people long to work for regardless of its wages and benefits.

Maybe that’s why there is a new movement among midsized companies to be slow to hire and quick to fire.

These companies don’t want their culture to be negatively affected by anyone, so being thorough in the hiring process makes perfect sense. Along those same lines, these companies don’t want to keep a bad egg one day too long for fear that they will spread their negativity throughout the ranks.

The next time I’m in a position to hire someone, I’ll follow the following three steps:

  1. Only hire those who fit your corporate culture and daily attitude.
  2. Immediately fire anyone who bucks the company culture or vision.
  3. Find ways to keep quality employees well beyond 12 months.

Whether you’re a hiring manager or looking for your next beneficial position, consider what added value you’ve gained from your current job. Then consider what company can improve by taking advantage of picking you up. Next, decide how to position yourself for a raise or a job change.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers

 

Intelligent Snowflakes and Tears

Photo by Wilson Bentley

Photo by Wilson Bentley

Man has failed to make snowflakes. His poor attempts at developing an ice process to replicate snowflakes continue to fail. The theory of evolution has also failed to make a new snowflake structure through “descent with modification” or “natural selection.” Snowflakes are still hexagon in nature and it will never change. Why? Could it be intelligently made?

I was fascinated by reading Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley’s work and looking at pages displaying his lifetime of snowflake photography. After viewing several hundred snowflakes, all of which were incredibly beautiful, I couldn’t help but conclude that none of the snowflakes were a mistake or randomly tossed together.

The closer you look at a snowflake, the more detail and beauty rises from its precisely crafted form, making it clear that it could not have been arbitrarily made. This coupled with the fact that the closer you look at something manmade, the uglier it gets with the imperfections showing through, makes my perspective easy to support.

Regardless of your beliefs, the theory of evolution can’t be proven using scientific guidelines:

  1. Testing the theory and the adequacy of alternative theories using questions that can be investigated empirically (experientially) through carefully designed and implemented observation.
  2. Link Research to Relevant Theory
  3. Use methods that permit direct investigation of the question.
  4. Provide a coherent, explicit chain of reasoning.
  5. Replicate (repeat the experiment) and generalize (repeatable by others) across studies.
  6. Disclose Research to Encourage Professional Scrutiny and Critique.

Since it can’t be scientifically verified, evolution is classified, not as fact, but as an unproven theory.

Intelligent Tears

Tears of Redemption

Photo by Rose-Lynn Fisher

The body does some pretty incredible things that we fail to appreciate. One of those things is the production of tears. We produce tears for various reasons including fear, joy, remorse, gladness, grief, and hope. Most of us understand the difference between those emotions, but we don’t typically know that the design of our tears varies based on the emotion behind them.

In The Topography of Tears by Rose-Lynn Fisher, the series of duotone photographs of captured tears is eye-opening. The photos were shot using a glass slide. Teardrops of various emotions were captured, placed on slides, dried, and then photographed through a high-powered microscope to see the differences.

The images shot of joy-based tears were beautiful. The once shot of anger produced tears were dark and haunting. The actual makeup of the tears correlated to the emotional reason the tears were generated.

The complexity of our lives during a major change was reflected in the tears of someone experiencing a life-altering change. The image was just as blocky and complex as the person’s life. The person experiencing hope produced tears that reached outward. The most beautiful tear structure was that of redemption. The second most beautiful came from compassionate tears.

Our tears are not accidental or random. Thanks to the photographs I saw, I can say that our tears reflect exactly what we are going through. Even the tears produced by a person peeling an onion showed a significantly different pattern than those produced from an emotional experience.

Ordered Lives

After reflecting on the unwavering order in snowflakes and our tears, I’ve concluded that our lives should also have order. However, while intelligence beyond our ability was involved in the creation of snowflake and tear order, we are the intelligence that determines the order of our lives. Our daily order is determined by our choices.

To develop a healthy life order, we must first know ourselves. We must learn what makes us happy and what disciplines we need to alter our chaotic path and turn it into a straight, narrow path that leads to our success.

I’m a creative person who draws in all kinds of disparate information, then uses it to produce some form of entertainment that causes others to reflect or emote. Over time, I’ve realized that I’m most creative in the morning and an order of life that can facilitate creative expression would be best scheduled early in the day.

I have a friend who is very analytical. In fact, he gets more detailed oriented as the day progresses. He sets all of his meetings early in the day when he is less critical, for the sake of his team members, and schedules all of his analytical work in the afternoon when he is at the top of his game.

How we order things is not limited to schedules. Sometimes our order of importance plays a big role in relationships. How we organize our closets or make our bed every morning also plays a role in the order we give our life. Whatever the order is that we face, the discipline it takes to fulfill our order drives our success. Without order and the discipline to enforce our order, we fall short of our goals.

I’d like to encourage you to take time this week to review the order in your life. Whether it’s how a room is organized or to make sure your personal priorities aren’t being trampled on by others, establish an order that you’d like to try for the next 90-days to see if you become more successful. I’m doing it—join me this quarter and let me know how it goes.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers

 

 

 

Should Directors Protect or Explore?

light love los angeles traveling

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I attended a one-woman show last night followed by workshopping roadshows with two keynote speakers. The juxtaposition of the two events was enlightening and inspiring. All three of us benefited from the discussion that opened up our eyes to new concepts.

This morning, I reviewed the Cana Wedding short story and broke it down based on what I had learned last night. I suddenly understood a new perspective on why there is a dramatic difference between directors who create redemptive films and those who create faith-based films—making sense of why faith-based films do poorly and redemptive films always succeed.

Here are three clarifying factors that make the difference between a redemptive story and a faith-based story.

Start Where the Audience is At

Redemptive movies always start with a realistic view of where the protagonist is at in life. The person’s situation is negative and the character needs change but is clueless about his situation. In other words, his life requires redemption. This might show up in the form of a rags-to-riches story, or clueless-to-enlightenment, or a liar-to-truthteller, or selfish-to-selfless, and so on.

This starting point always helps the audience to see the flaws in the main character, which allows them to bond or relate to them. While their circumstances may not be the same, the audience has their own hurting element that seems to stop their hopes and dreams from becoming a reality. This might include self-sabotage, anger issues, or not being good enough.

Faith-based films (and I’m not speaking about redemptive films that some audiences claim are faith-based) start with a good person doing good things and their only problem is that they need to grow from good to better—something audiences can’t relate to because we all know our true shortcomings.

The biggest issue, in this case, is that the film opens with a person who is better than the audience, which the audience can’t relate to. Sure, the audience can understand the person is better, but the director hasn’t built a bridge for the audience to move them from where they are to where the protagonist will eventually end up.

Redemptive films start where the audience is at, and moves them to where they need to be through the protagonist’s life choices. Faith-based films start with where the audience should be and move the protagonist to an even better place without bringing the audience along to see how to implement the same ideals in their life—an unachievable utopian world.

Demonstrate the Struggling Process

There is no story without conflict and redemptive films explore all aspects of a character’s struggle to move forward and find a solution to their life. A redemptive story also demonstrates the experimentation process and the results that make the protagonist waver in their search. Audiences are pulled into the story and find themselves cheering on the main character to overcome the numerous obstacles blocking his path toward a changed life.

Faith-based films rarely have deep thought-provoking scenes where the character considers anything but what the scripture says. Oh, he might be hesitant, as if that develops raw conflict, but essentially the real-life issues are avoided. In fact, one of the most popular methods used in faith-based films is having the first half of a film being about one protagonist and the second half being about a second protagonist, forcing the lack of time to stop an in-depth exploration of the character’s flaw or issue.

The truth is that the medium of film is an argument and without the conflict to reveal both sides of an issue, the director is unable to explore the subject and lead the audience from where they started in life to the new place the director would like to see them live. This lack of argument has driven many to refer to faith-based films as preaching to the choir.

Clarify the Thesis World

Redemptive stories start with a scenario that exists in the audience’s world. Directors call it the thesis world and fill act one with all the background information the audience needs to relate their life to the protagonist’s normal life.

The second act is referred to as the anti-thesis world. This is where the main character’s life is turned upside down and everything comes against him. He has to learn the very thing that will save him by the climax of the film while overcoming numerous obstacles that enlighten him to all the misconceptions and viewpoints that might cause the main character to stray from a righteous life.

By the third act, referred to by directors as the new thesis world, we find the protagonist regroup, enter into the final battle for what is right, and achieve the transformation that brings him back to his once normal world with a twist revealing that his life is new or redeemed.

Everything in the story leads to this moment. The darker the main character’s life in the beginning, the more dramatic his change in the end. The apostle Paul talked about the person that is redeemed from numerous bad life choices is given far more grace than the person who only needed to change a little bit. That truth also works in film. The greater the contrast in the character’s normal life from his new life, the more powerful the story or his God.

However, faith-based films don’t want to demonstrate the person’s before life for fear of causing someone watching the film to fall into that same temptation. The director opts to hint at the problems and only shows the good, unknowingly reducing the character’s God—sometimes to the point where He is not needed by the audience.

The only way for a faith-based director to transition to redemptive storytelling is for him to understand that when right and wrong are plainly demonstrated in front of an audience, the audience will know the truth and be able to make an adult decision about how they will proceed in life. But when the director decides to take that adult choice away from the audience in order to protect them, the audience doesn’t get to watch the full argument unfold in act two and subsequently doesn’t know how to address their own life struggles when they hit.

My stories will always start where the audience is at, have the audience follow the protagonist through the life obstacles to learn how to face them, and demonstrate what their changed life would look like through the eyes of the protagonist, so the audience can make the adult decision to choose or deny receiving redemption in their own life.

Bonus Thoughts

I liken the parable of the sower to the difference between redemptive and faith-based films. The director uses film to sow seeds. Some of the seeds fall on rocky soil. The plants quickly grow, but when the scorching sun hits, the plants wither because they had no depth of soil.

Faith-based films have little depth. The depth of soil is the deep exploration of counter-arguments to demonstrate all sides of how things work in real life. For instance, let’s say a faith-based filmmaker creates a story about prayer. If the film doesn’t explore unanswered prayer, the story stays on the surface. When the hot sun of life struggles hits the audience a few weeks after seeing the film, they will have no understanding of how to face or overcome their real-world situation.

A redemptive story is like a seed that lands on good soil and has deep roots that can withstand anything that comes against it. Not only does it give audiences a full understanding of the counter-argument and how to handle it, but the seed produces a crop—the audience tells all their friends about their new revelation from the story. Suddenly, others flock to the theater in order to gain that same enlightenment.

This is why Jesus only told redemptive stories. This is also why redemptive stories always make more at the box office. Audiences need the story to start in their normal world, no matter how dark or disjointed, and then move the audience with the protagonist through his struggles for truth, and find themselves in the third act having overcome all and receive a redeemed life.

There is nothing stronger than the testimony of a changed life—a redeemed life.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers

Christmas Jar – Review

Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 5.59.31 PMThis year another 50 Christmas films will release in theaters and on TV. Only the exceptional films, with top cast members, typically make it to the silver screen with the remainder landing on the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime. Many have tired of watching overused plotlines while continuing to watch with the hope of catching a glimpse of the true Christmas spirit.

There is only one film that I’ve screened this year that is worthy of the silver screen because it truly demonstrates grace, mercy, and redemption. The film is Christmas Jar, based on the New York Times Bestseller novel by Jason F. Wright. The film will be in theaters for one night only as a special Fathom Events program on November 4th.

The story is about Hope Jensen, a reporter who uncovers the secret behind the Christmas jars that are filled with money and anonymously left at the doors of people in need. The story follows Hope’s investigation into the jar that she received after her loss from an apartment break-in. Her attempts to capture the story behind the jar unravels into a series of events that lead to a heartfelt Christmas moment that is sure to inspire even the coldest of hearts toward the true meaning of Christmas.

The story opens with a couple of sad tearful moments and closes with the audience wiping away tears of joy. The film makes such a great impact that you might find yourself putting a Christmas Jar together with your family to give someone in your own neighborhood.

The story stars Jeni Ross (Titans, Suits, Taken) as Hope. She does a wonderful job playing a newbie journalist trying to get a shot at being a professional writer. During the investigation of her newsworthy story, she slowly falls in love with the generous and anonymous family, forcing her to decide between a future as a journalist and her moral values.

The film will make a great night out for the entire family that is looking to instill a little Christmas spirit in their lives. Tickets can be purchased here.

In theaters Nov. 4, ONE NIGHT ONLY.