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

In Development

In Development“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.


“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.