“Beautifully Broken” Interview with Director Eric Welch

Eric_WelchI met Eric last spring at a media conference where I watched 2-3 films a day during the week. The screenings were 1-6 months ahead of their theatrical release date. I was only impressed with two of the films: I Can Only Imagine and Beautifully Broken. Both films were hybrid films that were closer to being that of a redemptive story like The Blind Side, Les Misérables, or Gravity, than a faith-based film.

Unfortunately, both movies released as faith-based films, greatly reducing its potential audience. However, I Can Only Imagine survived with a cumulative $83MM box office against 10 new releases. Beautifully Broken released today against 23 new films with far less promotional dollars, yet the emotional story is every bit worth watching.

I had to give the film’s director a call this morning to chat about his first feature being released. Here is my conversation with Eric…

CJ:        Beautifully Broken is about three families that end up being intertwined and they’re from different walks of life.

Eric:     Absolutely. The film is about three families coming from different worlds. Two completely different worlds. The springboard of our story starts with action. It begins in Rwanda, and William Mwizerwa, a Rwandan businessman, is thrown into a decision when he is forced to flee Rwanda because of the genocide that’s taking place and the tribal warfare. He has to leave his [extended] family behind and escape to Kenya with his wife and his daughter.

CJ:        I understand he faced the difficult decision to accept an opportunity in America, but he had to get established there before being able to bring his family.

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Eric:     So, he leaves Kenya, and ends up going to America where he meets Randy Hartley, a man who’s going through his own set of challenges. Through the friendship that these two [men] strike up, an amazing story unfolds that shows the redemption and power of God in people’s lives. Through the course of the film, we see these men in their relationship save each other’s families. Then there’s a third family involved that’s a little bit of a curve ball in how that family interacts. The stories blend together in the end for a very inspirational and powerful film.

CJ:        When I watched the film last spring, it felt like an international version of The Blind Side. There were similarities where a family decided to help somebody else and in return, they received blessings within their own life.

BB4Eric:     I think that’s an interesting parallel. I think the thing that is unique about this film, is that you have certain assumptions and stereotypes out in the world today about people in other countries. Just like The Blind Side challenged some of those stereotypes, I believe this film does even more so. You assume that just because … one of the lines of the film is, “Just because you see no tears does not mean the person hadn’t cried.” That’s really true of so many stories in this film, but also in life. We have assumptions that people live Facebook lives. Everything is perfect because you see they’re out traveling or doing this, that, and the other, but people have things in their lives that hurt. They have things that they don’t wanna share. There’re scars. There’re pains. The glorious thing about this film is that you see how God can use different people’s stories to bring hope and healing to other people.

CJ:        I certainly picked up on that theme of helping others can actually change the world around us. Did that theme just rise from within the three stories that came together, or did you find a way to bring focus to it in the film?

Eric:     The way the movie unfolds is true, and people may think that it’s hard to believe. If Hollywood wrote the story, no one would believe it, but Hollywood didn’t write this story. God did. It’s just an amazing true story, and a lot of things that happened will really shine and inspire people.

BB5One of the craziest things is we had the premiere the other day. We had the premiere in Franklin at a place called The Factory. The first job William got when he came to America, was at The Factory. It’s mind blowing to think this man escaped Rwanda, came to America, first job that he had was at this factory, and 20 plus years later we’re celebrating a film about this gentle, quite hero in the same place that he had a job.

Now if that isn’t God, I don’t know what is because you couldn’t have written that. That’s just such an amazing way that God just kind of sees the larger narrative.

CJ:        I’m always amazed anytime there’s some form of providence that occurs. We had talked a while back about the fact that this film wasn’t quite a faith-based film, but it’s also not quite categorized as a redemptive film. The film is in between both camps. I Can Only Imagine was also more redemptive than faith-based and ended up making $83 million. What was it like creating that unique balance between a faith-based and a redemptive film?

Eric:     It is a bit of a challenge to walk that line. Our film deals with some real issues, and that’s what’s resonating with people. We don’t shy away from tough topics, and we show them in the light of God’s redemption. But the quote that the friend of mine had encapsulated on this film when he saw it was, “I don’t wanna call it a faith-based film because it’s a different type of movie. I wanna call it a film about faith.” You’re seeing how faith infuses in real-life stories.

CJ:        I appreciate the naturalness to which the elements came out. They weren’t forced like in many faith-based films, but rather came out of the circumstance that each person faced.

Eric:     Yeah, there’s not an agenda that we’re trying to push on people. We’re really just trying to tell a story of how these people were able to overcome … hopefully you’ll find yourself in one of these characters, or someone you know, and identify with these people.

CJ:        I know you come from the world of short films and music videos. You’ve made quite a few. Was this your first feature?

BB6Eric:     Yeah. Coming from the world of music videos, it was a challenge. It was literally like filming a music video every morning. Every morning, five, six o’clock in the morning you show up on set and you’re just like boom, go. Most music videos you only get to film a day based on budget and usually the artist’s availability. So, this was like doing a music video every day for two and a half months. It was a marathon.

And continually I was telling myself, “Okay. Pace yourself. Pace yourself.” There’d be nights where I wouldn’t go out to eat after being offset. I would just go home, look over what we had to do the next day, and go to sleep because it’s a grind. It’s 14, 16-hour days sometimes and you’re up, standing up on your feet, directing, working with people and then the pressure cooker of the clock is a real thing. So, yeah. It was a challenge. Like an idiot, I took on a film that has three storylines weaving together in two different countries. So, I jumped into the deep end of the pool, if you will.

CJ:        The last time I saw a film with three interwoven stories was Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Now, he had the added issue of showing parallel action while each timeline was different. One took place in a couple hours, one in a day, and one over several days. You fortunately had a more equally based timeline. But what was it like being able to track the three stories and how they kept interweaving?

Eric:     We had a great script to work with. That really was my guideline, and laying the script to the timeline of what happened with everyone and trying to make sure that you tell each individual story of each family clearly, but then also [considering] how their stories are gonna weave in toward the end was a real challenge. There’re props that you have to consider, like this comes up later, so make sure you film this, but also the dialogue and what you could and couldn’t say. We had to be very careful because it’ll affect the story later on, but not just in one story. The other families are affected but nuances and changes in each story.

So, I had to be very specific. Had to know that story inside and out before we went filming because in the chaos of making a film sometimes, like we have this scene at a roadblock. It’s a pivotal scene in the movie, and we’ve got a car on fire here. We’ve got militia soldiers going from car to car questioning people. Then you have your main family there stopped at the roadblock and what are they gonna do? You have to capture dialogue, and there’s a prop that plays a really important part in the film. So, there’s all these elements that you have to capture and the sun is moving. You can’t stop it. I’m not Joshua. So, there’s that continual process of trying to beat the clock and make sure that you get everything in a pressure cooker.

CJ:        The scene with the car fire was beautifully cut together. In fact, it was almost like a music video, which I thought did a couple things. One, it really revealed the danger that the characters faced, and it softened the action enough, as a PG-13 film for families to better handle.

Eric:     Yeah, well I mean that’s the thing. Our film deals with real situations, but it’s not a graphic film and that’s something that I as a filmmaker have embraced. I think people … there’s a lot of times films, they have to be gratuitous and they have to go over the top to show something. It’s like going back to 300 and Meet the Spartans. There’s a Spartan, there’s blood splattering on the lens. It’s just like, “Okay. Got it.” I think people are sophisticated enough in storytelling these days that you can imply something is happening and people get it. They understand what’s going [on] without having to jump in and get in the weeds on things.

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It’s really a beautiful story that covers the common ground that we all have no matter what our social, economic, racial, or nationality of our background. It really covers all those bases and propels you to an inspiring end that is a beautiful story and really touches people’s hearts.

We had a pre-screening last night and the first person coming out of the theater was like, “Man, thank you for making this movie because I went through what this character went through…” This was a grown man in tears. I had four or five fathers come to me in tears, expressing their story, what they went through. I think we’re seeing a lot of people come through this film inspired and challenged and healed in some way.

CJ:        I remember when we met. I must have seen nine films by the time I saw yours. The one thing I remember clearly about yours is that it was, to me, the most real. It truly touched, not just through the theme, but also watching how, when we do something that we think is trivial or little, it actually can impact someone else’s life in a massive way.

Eric:     I appreciate you saying that. You saying that is very humbling because I know the other films you saw and that means a lot. Thank you for sharing that.

CJ:        I think certainly as a director you have certain hopes and aspirations for where your film is going to head and what you hope it will accomplish, but there’s so many other factors. For instance, it can be frustrating if the marketing department doesn’t agree with the directorial department. And, instead of your film release being up against 3-10 other films this weekend, your film is releasing alongside of 23 new films. That’s a lot of competition for the audience to search through for a good film. The good thing is that out of the three dozen movies I’ve seen this year, yours still stands in my top ten films worth watching in 2018.

Eric:     Well, I … hey, that … thank you. I mean, what can one say? That means a lot because I know your background. I know what your passions are. That’s a huge honor to be in that top 10.

CJ:        So, you’ve come out of the gate with a great first feature, so what’s next on your docket? Do you have any plans or thoughts?

Eric:     People will ask that, and they wanna know, “What’s he gonna do next? I really enjoyed this, what’s next?” I’m like, “Well, God only knows and he ain’t saying.” So, I am just taking it as it comes. The first thing, I promise you, will be rest ’cause we’ve been pushing on this film hard for several years.

CJ:        You definitely have to take time off and relax. Congratulations on your opening. I’m excited to watch the numbers and see how many people see your film over the next two weeks. I hope it does better than your 23 competitors.

Eric:     Well, I appreciate your support.

CJ:       All right. Well, have a great day and I hope you celebrate your weekend.

Eric:     Hey, thanks so much. I appreciate your support and reaching out and it was great talking with you.

© 2018 by CJ Powers

 

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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

 

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