Here is a behind the scenes look at a low budget :30 commercial spot we produced for a local auto shop to play at the Marcus Theatre in Addison before Rogue One: A STAR WARS Story starting on December 16, 2016.
I was interviewed by William Pelarenos, radio talk show host of Legal Eagles on Smart Talk Radio 1590AM. The official air date of the show is December 3rd, but I was given permission to upload the broadcast to my blog.
I 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
Yesterday, 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
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
“Hurry up and wait,” is an adage from the motion picture industry. It reflects the tone on set during a production and the short flurry of activity followed by a long duration of waiting that accompanies it. People visiting the set either get very excited about the process or hate the sheer boredom that they may face.
“Feast or famine,” is another common phrase that reveals the process starving artists go through on the path of their careers. However, few talk about it and some even pretend to always be on top of the world financially. The funny thing is that everyone knows the entertainment industry employs more freelancers who also work in part time sales positions and the restaurant service industry.
While actors work hard to be ready for the moment when a big break comes their way, others are steeped in development preparing the next story to be made into a motion picture or television show.
The development phase of the project can last anywhere from six months to six years on average. Star Wars spent seven years in development, while James Cameron’s Avatar required more development time in order to create the technology used to make the movie.
Recently I was asked by one of my blog followers where I was in the filmmaking process. He had been following the show “Working Title” and was disappointed that he hadn’t been able to read more over the last few weeks. So I gave him an update on where I am in the filmmaking process, which I’ll now share with you.
NOW IN DEVELOPMENT
“Working Title” is now titled “Tried & True.” The film is still in development and we are fine-tuning the screenplay. In parallel, we are seeking investors to fund the film with a budget of $12 million. The story is aimed at the general audience and gives a Playboy law student’s viewpoint on exploring whether or not a son can take down his evil father, an attorney for the mob, through divisive anger or by showing mercy.
“Steele Blue” is also in development. While there are a few tweaks that need to happen in the screenplay, I’ve spent a significant amount of time rewriting the novel that I completed last year. The story is about a maverick detective who needs to take down a drug kingpin before he releases cherry meth into the Chicago schools, where her son attends. Working with a PTSD blocked memory, the detective starts to fall in love with the very man she must take down.
I’m also in development of a television sitcom designed to go head-to-head against Duck Dynasty. The series is built around Southern comedians who deal with the basics of life in a moral, yet red-necked way. Every development meeting that we’ve had with the talent has made me laugh hysterically at their everyday antics. I can’t wait to tickle your funny bone with more news about this series.
“The Tree Jumper” is a motion picture vehicle designed to introduce new talent to the silver screen. This coming of age high school adventure film is loaded with action, heartfelt moments and eye-opening drama. While aimed at the Millennials, it will touch the hearts of everyone and bring a new understanding of the differences between conditional love and sacrificial love. One of my favorite sequences is when Jeremy tree jumps to save a couple from a crashed Cessna dangling over a ravine.
It’s hard to blog about shows and development because of all the secrecy and copyright restrictions. However, I hope this update gives you an appreciation for all the work that happens behind closed doors in developing great story.
There was an awkward moment at yesterday’s luncheon that rose from a serious woman’s comment about homosexuality. She innocently mentioned a man who might be able to help those in the audience better understand the circumstances faced with friends or relatives coming out of the closet, but her delivery was unknowingly unique.
She introduced him without any forethought as a man who “loves the brain, sex and Jesus.” Everyone cracked up and his wife turned 30 shades of pink.
The odd introduction coupled with a subject matter that is awkward for many, set the stage for numerous jokes throughout the afternoon. While some poor jokes surfaced out of nervousness, most jokes opened the door for people to explore the subject for the first time. I was impressed by the willingness of people to learn about things outside of their comfort zone.
This was made possible in the moment of introduction, because Bill took things in stride and added some additional humor – Causing many to feel more comfortable about the subject matter. His comicality brought a sense of joy into the room and disarmed internalized tensions of many. His words were filled with grace and self-deprecation.
What made the moment funny for me was remembering back to the promo piece I shot last week. Bill was one of the actors who made everyone on set laugh with little effort.
The comedian’s skills far exceeded what you might expect from a conservative university professor that teaches classes on the brain. And amazingly, he returned from a three month sabbatical that utilized his theological degree and other credentials in writing a book on how sexuality of female Evangelicals affects their brain.
So, when the woman casually asked him what he did over the summer, it’s easy to understand how she summarized his passions the way she had.
I lost track of how many degrees Bill has, but I’ll never forget how funny his impromptu shtick was on set. He was in rare form last week and he had the entire cast and crew in stiches. Several people thought we should rewrite the promo to include more of Bill doing his hilarious adlib, but the script had already been approved.
After seeing Bill in his horse riding costume, I immediately thought of “My Professor’s Study,” a live action/animated children’s series I designed for ages 8-12. Once financed, I’ll have to consider Bill for the role of the goofy professor. I would also plan to shoot the script with enough time left over for Bill to spin his humor through impromptu play.
What is it about people with numerous degrees, like Bill Cosby, that creates some of the funniest impromptu bits?