Meeting A Magic Dragon

PiffCJ

I got to meet Piff the Magic Dragon last weekend. You might be familiar with his older brother… Steve (were you thinking, Puff?).

No, I didn’t travel to Piffland through the mentalism of Mr. Piffles (his chihuahua). Nor did I head out to see him at his Las Vegas show. Piff came to Chicago, and I got to chat with him (and goof around) before his performance at the Chicago Improv.

Piff is a magician who has been performing for 20 years. But his Piff persona was launched nine years ago and given a big push on season 10 of America’s Got Talent. He received a golden ticket for his performance and headed into the quarter finals, semi-finals, and the finals. Unfortunately, he didn’t get enough votes for the finale.

Piff, or should I call him John Van der Put, also starred on Penn & Teller: Fool Us. While he didn’t fool Penn and Teller, his humor and performance was so appreciated that the guys rated his act their “favorite of the season” and said Piff was “a stunningly good magician.”

Magicians worldwide have recognized his talents. Van der Put won the 2008 British Ring Close-up Magician of the Year, while The Magic Circle awarded him their 2011 Close-up Magician of the Year, 2012 Stage Magician of the Year (as Piff), and the 2013 Carlton Award. In 2013, The Circle also inducted him into their Inner Ring with Gold Star.

I’ve cracked up laughing every time I’ve seen him. After meeting him last Saturday and watching him come up with humorous, off-the-cuff comments, I now consider him the funniest of all magicians that I’ve seen perform—and I’ve watched lots of magicians.

TailThe funniest laugh I got was learning about how John became Piff the Magic Dragon. He was the only one to arrive at a costume party in costume. This drove him to mope around, getting more grumpy as the night progressed. His sharp wit, self-deprecating humor, and deadpan delivery had people laughing throughout the evening. One of his friends suggested he add this persona to his act and Piff was born.

Piff’s YouTube videos have received millions of viewings. He not only has a Las Vegas show, but he has also been touring for the past four and a half years as Piff. His deadpan delivery is so effective that those posing with Piff for selfies work hard to get him to crack a smile. However, one of his crew members who always helps shoot selfies, seems to only click the button when Piff is straight faced.

While some have suggested Piff’s slight 1/32 inch crook in his lips was him holding back laughter, I wasn’t surprised by him joining in the audience’s laughter several times during his live performance. Piff brought people onto the stage to help him with tricks, but they managed to say things that were odd, awkward, or unique, of which Piff took advantage, to generate loud outbursts of laughter from across the audience.

In fact, I laughed so much that I’d have to consider asking Piff to be my best man, er, ah, dragon, should I find Ms. Right—Just kidding… or am I?

© 2018 by CJ Powers

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

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

When I met Prince

PrinceYesterday, when I heard about Prince having passed away, I reflected back on the day we met. It was at a party in La Crosse, WI. He came down from Minneapolis with a couple of his buddies to have the “college experience.” La Crosse was a college town with three universities and a mile long strip of bars.

Drinking started on Tuesdays with 99¢ beers. Wednesday nights were ladies nights. Thursdays were weekend pre-parties. And, Friday and Saturday were full blown party nights. Since Old Style Brewery was in town with the largest six-pack in the world (32,000 gallons per can), all bars served the same beer.

But on this night, there was a dorm party at Coate Hall at the University of Wisconsin. I had recently come off of a film shoot for CBS. I was hired as a cinematographer to shoot all location footage for a documentary titled The Chileda Institute. I was reviewing my up coming production schedule for The Wisconsin Television Network when a group of guys barged into my room.

The student had brought his new “friends” in to introduce me to Prince. He said we had to meet since we were both in entertainment. But, before the guy finished his introduction, the self-proclaimed head of Prince’s entourage introduced Prince as an up coming star that was putting an album together (For You) and it was destined to be a hit.

Prince was embarrassed by the over the top introduction. We shook hands, sat down and chatted. The other guys took off to find some “babes” to build excitement into the party.

It didn’t take long for our conversation to focus on art. Prince was a true artist and not much into the party scene in those days. Neither one of us had a drink in our hands, but we probably had more fun talking about art than anyone else did chugging the brew. A spontaneous conversation about art is far more appealing for artists than the overture any brew can make towards fun.

Our conversation was interrupted when his entourage returned with lots of women. One woman shoved a beer into his hand and pulled him toward the door. He told me that I should be a part of the music circuit during my production down time and he’d help make it happen. Then he disappeared into the crowd of women and that was the last time we’d meet.

Prince was true to his word. During that next week I received a call from the new venue in town and by the weekend I was a concert roadie. My tenure in the music industry was short lived, as I worked six days a week in television. But I did have the opportunity to work the John Denver World Tour and the Beach Boys Tour.

The experience opened my eyes to an entire world that I didn’t know existed. Some day I’ll take the time to share about it, but for now I’ll just say, “Thanks Prince, for our great chat and my intro into the music industry.”

Copyright 2016 by CJ Powers

 

The Toy Story 2 Argument: People vs. Ideas

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

Ed Catmull offers business lessons from Pixar and Disney in his book, “Creativity, Inc.” I agreed with his perspective on the value of people over ideas, which runs counterintuitive with the majority of production companies.

Most of his philosophy came about during his work on Toy Story 2, a production that originated as a direct to video release, but took a sharp turn and became one of the most successful theatrical sequels of all time. Unfortunately the success and its lessons came at a great cost that formed Catmull’s philosophy.

The argument comes from the business value that either the people or the ideas are more important. The determination of what a company values most determines the processes that exploits that value. If ideas are more important, then the company churns their employees in search of great ideas, but if the people are more important they see to their needs knowing that they will create great ideas.

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up,” says Catmull. “If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.”

Putting a team of the right people with the right chemistry together is the necessary precursor to getting the right ideas. But not everyone agrees with this philosophy. When asked among industry peers the responses to people vs. ideas generate a 50/50 response. This statistically suggests that no one is responding to fact or experience, but rather are all guessing, picking a random answer, as if flipping a coin.

“To me, the answer should be obvious: Ideas come from people,” says Catmull. “Therefore, people are more important than ideas.”

The key is determining what makes the people the right people for a project. Some would suggest character alone is sufficient, while others state the importance of mastering one’s craft or holding years of experience. I find that what makes for an ideal person to join a team is one who subscribes to a continuous pursuit of knowledge, the endless exploration of their craft, and a willingness to learn from peers.

“In the end, if you do it right, people come out of the theater and say, ‘A movie about talking toys— what a clever idea!’ But a movie is not one idea, it’s a multitude of them. And behind these ideas are people,” says Catmull. “The underlying goals remain the same: Find, develop, and support good people, and they in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas.”

It’s no wonder that master craftsmen are drawn to others who have mastered their craft. Nor is it strange that excellent creatives gravitate to projects that attract like-minded creatives.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers