Princess Cut – Husband vs. Wife Directors

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The Princess Cut franchise has birthed two directors:  Paul Munger and Sheilah Munger. My curiosity got the best of me. I needed to learn which one of them was the top director in the family.

To make that determination, I decided to review a few critical actions a director must take to make their film successful at the box office.

This is the second of several blog entries exploring which Munger makes the best director. If you want to follow along, you can find the films at Watchman Pictures and Amazon Prime. And for those who have VUDU, at the time of this writing, the first film in the series is free with ads.

For today’s entry, let’s start in the beginning. To craft a successful cinematic story, the director must accomplish certain tasks, or they won’t build and keep their audience. The first task is creating an attention-getting opener.

Capture the Audience

The audience has spent good money to show up for the film. They expect the director to give them confidence in their buying decision within the first few minutes of the movie. Hollywood directors often give an immediate pay-off to the audience.

Some reveal the uber-bad guy and the threat he brings, while others create a bond between the main character and the audience. This is often done with a touching or cool moment, shared crisis, or funny experience.

When the unique connection is made, the audience wants to see the story through to the end. They want to know what happens and how the main character experiences it. They’ll even consider how the main character’s choices might fit their personal life.

Presenting the Film’s Genre

In the opening, directors must demonstrate the story’s genre, tone, and pace. Genres all have certain tropes that signal what you’re watching. To prove this true, all I have to do is suggest a western, and you instantly have a sense of what you’re about to see—which includes horses.

For instance, sci-fi might include lasers, aliens, space ships, or time travel. A romantic comedy might include some form of hilarity, awkward circumstance, or hopeful adoration. A horror film might open with a startling moment, blood-slashing action, or creepy circumstances in an eerie setting.

Creating the Film’s Tone

The mood or the tone of the film must be in keeping with the genre. A piece of sweet, bubbly music won’t work in the opening of a horror film. Nor would an intense score with low rumbling bass satisfy the audience watching a child’s film.

The tone and the mood of the film are often set by music and visuals. There must be harmony or stark contrast to establish an emotional tonal quality at the story’s onset. This can be happy or sad or land anywhere in between. The key is ensuring it fits so naturally together that the audience feels it but doesn’t acknowledge it.

Setting the Film’s Pace

The pacing of the show is critical to its success. You don’t want a fast-action pace for a romantic drama—it won’t make sense to the audience. Nor do you want a long, thought-provoking pace for a cutting-edge adventure film. You must find the proper balance based on the genre your story fits.

Pace can also shift speed at specific times within the story to demonstrate relevance or alternating life patterns. A roller-coaster ride of a film becomes boring if things don’t slow down enough to reset the audience before the next thrill ride of the story.

Princess Cut 1 Opening

In Princess Cut 1, Paul opens with an intensely dramatic night scene of a man burying a wedding ring. This tells the audience that the film is a drama. But he then contrasts with a dreamy-eyed upbeat girl staring at wedding rings in a jewelry store. This suggests the story fits a romantic genre.

The audience wonders if this man and girl will get married or might collide in an emotional scene that dramatically alters their lives. The bottom line, Paul withholds the overt expression of the genre.

Princess Cut 2 Opening

Paul opens Princess Cut 2 with a harmonious mix of setting, music, and movement. The audience immediately knows who the main character is, and her life seems to be ideal. But to better grab the audience’s attention, Paul has the main character react to pain in a way that drives concern.

The main character seems to overcome it in time to move into a romantic moment. At this point, the audience thinks the film’s genre is romance, but that’s when the story shifts. Paul raises the drama levels with an emergency at the free clinic.

The audience starts to wonder what ties the emergency and the main character together. Again, Paul holds back from making a clear genre statement.

Princess Cut 3 Opening

Sheilah opens her story with the pace, tone, and setting that speaks to a romantic comedy, but she counters it with dramatic content—setting up a romantic drama. After a quick splash of title cards, she moves back to the drama, void of any possibility of romance.

At this point, the audience knows the story is a drama and who the main character is. The audience shares a concern for the main character’s circumstances, but we haven’t yet bonded with her enough to cheer her on to a better future.

Who Wins for Best Opening?

This is a tough call. Paul purposely withheld the establishment of the genre on purpose. This means he knows how to do it but chooses to keep the audience guessing. Maybe his flair for surprise overrides the audience’s need to confirm the genre they are watching.

What Paul may not know is how his choice makes the audience feel about how open they will be to his story’s message. Audience members who are unsure of what they’re watching tend to close their minds to new ideas. This kills the director’s cinematic argument.

If I were directing the film, I’d start with the jewelry store and not introduce the man until the second half of act 1. This would solidify the genre and help open the minds of the audience to the message I’d want to share. The man’s introduction would then become a tool for me to recapture the audience’s attention later in act 1.

Sheilah stays consistent with her leading character. The audience knows who she is and hopefully bonds with her through the opening crisis. Sheilah chose a crisis to start the film to symbolize the ashes of her life reflected in the PC3 title: Beauty from Ashes.

If I were directing the film, I’d take less risk than Sheilah. I’d have the opening of the film reflect a positive kindness shown by the lead to endear her to the audience. Then I’d follow it up with a series of crisis moments that place her life in a proverbial pile of ashes.

As for the winner, I’ve got to say they both win for taking chances as a director. In the long run, they will be better directors, having taken the chance on their openings. And, if their core audience loved the choices made, they’ve positioned the audience for their next film.

But do their choices lead to a stronger or weaker film? Read the next follow-up blog to find out.

Copyright © 2022 by CJ Powers

A Look at the Princess Cut Franchise

I seldom enjoy faith-based films. In fact, many are so poorly made that they rarely draw enough people to the box office for the film to break even. This is why faith-based franchises are rare.

You can imagine my surprise to learn of the Princess Cut franchise—the result of a husband and wife’s thematic storytelling of real love.

The first go at Princess Cut was a short film. Soon after its release, the filmmaker decided to expand the story and give it a second life as a feature film. Two sequels followed.

Having watched all three features, I thought I’d take advantage of their uniqueness and discuss them over a few blog posts. This won’t be your typical film review, as I’ll share my director’s view or perspective.

Producer/Director Paul Munger

I talked with producer/director Paul Munger, who was happy to receive any and all reviews for the films. He was passionate about the stories that he and his wife, Sheilah Munger, created. He pointed out that she even directed the third film.

When I heard that, I instantly knew I was going to review the films.

Why? Because my curiosity got the best of me.

I had to know if Paul or Sheilah was the better director.

You’ll be surprised by my answer.

The Logline

But before I dive into these family films, let’s start with the premise. A strong director always works from a logline. This is not a tagline. Nor is it a TV-Guide listing.

Loglines play out the overarching storyline in one to two sentences. They can be crafted in many different ways, but most reveal the main character, the uber bad guy or major conflict, and what’s at risk.

In the second film, Princess Cut 2: Hearts on Fire, Paul used a logline similar to the following:

Two expectant couples that are best friends face crushing upheavals in their lives which force them to make life-altering choices.

As a director, I find this type of logline too general. A logline is a blueprint for ensuring the story doesn’t morph into something it’s not supposed to be.

I would’ve focused the story more singularly. Here’s the specificity I would’ve given the story:

Expecting her firstborn, Lauren worries if she’s capable of being a good mom while managing the expansion of her business.

Not Right or Wrong, But Different

Neither Paul’s version nor mine is right or wrong. They are artistic choices that breathe vision into the entire production. In Paul’s version, he sees the story as an ensemble production, with no single person dominating the screen.

My version is very much about one person struggling to find a balance between work and family.

Paul’s version makes it clear that the battle is focused on man against nature or mankind. As a director, he made sure the words “face crushing upheavals” played out in clear ways, including an incredible storm with excellent special effects. Every upheaval raised the stakes in the film.

My version suggests the conflict is within the main character, who must find a way to overcome the incredible stress of giving birth while managing the risk of opening a second store.

At this point, you’ve decided on whether you prefer Paul’s version or my story blueprint.

But before you tell me whose version is of interest, let me clarify that we both built the logline from vital elements in the story. That’s right; when you watch the film, you’ll see both plotlines.

Driving the Story

The key question is what scenes best make up the throughline of the story.

A good director knows how to take the written word and translate it into a visual story on the screen. The best throughline of the story is something that has action or choices made by the featured character.

The director makes sure the audience knows what the main character’s goal is upfront. Then, they work hard to give the audience a reason to cheer the person on through til the end of the story.

If we never know the person’s goal, we never know if their ending is satisfying. Nor will we know when the film is over, except for the hints given by rolling credits.

I find single-character stories more compelling to watch. The audience can relate to the main character and face the same struggles. The audience can even try on the main character’s choices in their own life.

An ensemble piece shortens each character’s story and makes it harder for the audience to buy into a character’s choices. There is also less development time to cover the pros and cons of the suggested way of life. But, an ensemble almost always guarantees that you’ll relate to at least one of the characters.

In either case, the main story must run the entire length of the film for the audience to embrace the theme or message. This is not possible with an ensemble unless you feature one character above the others.

What’s Next

Now that I’ve introduced you to the Princess Cut franchise, I’ll explore several angles on these three films over my next few posts. Stay tuned to learn if Paul or Sheilah is the better director. And no, they do not know what I’m going to share.

©2022 by CJ Powers

Directors Embrace Adaptability

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Newbie directors ask what are the most important elements needed to be a great director. Most hope that the answer has something to do with technology or watching a lot of movies. They rarely expect the answer to be a character trait.

Thanks to my festival judging opportunities, I’ve talked with hundreds of directors. They’ve had a vast range of skills.

The director’s passionate stories always include a turning point in their film project. It included a moment when they breathed life into a scene that was about to turn bland or die on the vine.

The director saved the project’s near-death experience by choosing to be adaptable.

All directors can protect their stories by embracing three basic forms of adaptability.

Go with the Flow

In an ever-changing landscape, directors who go with the flow are more likely to thrive. No matter how well planned, there are opportunities for a director to take a creative risk.

I directed one of two promotional pieces at an old firehouse. I had time to scout the area in advance and determine the perfect set-up for speed and artistry. I asked the production manager to have 1-2 12X12 butterfly scrims available for the shoot.

On the day of production, the producer wanted my team to shoot first. I asked the production manager for the scrims to diffuse the sun. He had decided not to rent any scrims. That put the lead actors looking into the sun.

I had to adapt by moving the talent from the sidewalk onto the shaded porch and re-block the entire scene. This forced my director of photography to adapt. He had to adjust his settings to cover the 2 – 3 stop lighting difference between the shaded area and the bright sun.

Be Resilient

Directors plan out their rehearsals and production. But sometimes an outside influence causes a major setback. The director has to bounce back and show resilience to get the team back on course.

I directed a musical for the stage. The venue forced us to hold auditions the night before rehearsals started. Since the show required a large cast of kids, the auditions went long—which everyone expected.

The unexpected moment showed up in the form of the venue’s manager who decided it was time for everyone to go home. He gave us a 20-minute warning. The producer managed interference, hoping I’d finish before he lost the argument.

The manager shouted for me to stop until they could square things away. While the two argued, I went up to each nervous kid and help them understand that they were not in trouble. After 45-minutes of heated debate, he gave us 30-minutes to finish.

At that moment, I had to come across to the kids as the leader of fun. I needed to bounce back and show that it was time to play. My sole goal was to turn their concerned faces into smiles. I had to help the kids let go of the intensity and embrace playfulness.

Innovate

The key ingredient to adaptability is innovation. Directors have a team of experts with various life experiences. Directors that are innovation-oriented are on the lookout for the next best thing.

I was shooting a spring day in a YA film in October. The scene required a goose to attack a new foster child, but the goose and its wrangler didn’t show up on set. Thankfully the attack-goose puppet and the puppeteer did show up.

I worked with the stunt coordinator, puppeteer, and the director of photography. We determined the best angles and moves to reduce the number of live goose shots needed. I figured that a second unit would shoot the live goose to match our principal photography.

Three weeks later, the second unit started to film. But the deep green grass was now a light shade of November brown.

The second unit director researched solutions. He bought a type of green paint that could match the footage. The paint was unique in allowing sunlight to pass through—keeping the grass alive.

Adaptability empowers a director to succeed when plans get blocked. Directors can practice the above characteristics until it becomes a part of who they are. Then they’ll be ready to protect their next project from surprises.

© 2022 by CJ Powers