Screen Fatigue Leads to Human Touch

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The need to communicate is a part of the human condition. The recent stay-at-home programs helped launch Zoom from a small business tool into a common household name. But today, Zoom is becoming less appealing due to screen fatigue.

Social distancing forced many companies to use video conferencing and webinars for multiple daily meetings. Add to this phenomenon the staggering growth of virtual social gatherings and you find most working adults in front of a screen well beyond what their bodies can handle.

Screen fatigue overcame the fresh, exciting moments that new media brought to social communication.

Our desire to communicate with others has increased during our seclusion. Our appetite for connection was never satisfied by meeting on screen. We as a people group needed to get outside and connect in person to feel any level of fulfillment. Long periods of isolation didn’t even feel good to many introverts. Cabin fever set in and screen fatigue made everyone more susceptible.

We as humans need physical touch for our sanity and to feel connected. This is due to what psychologists refer to as phycological hungers. One of the phycological hungers that Dr. Eric Berne noted in Transactional Analysis was Contact Hunger. His work states that physical touch develops comfort and identity. The moment of touch also causes a visceral sense of connectedness and a healthy separateness.

Physical touch develops comfort and identity.

In societies that have looked down on forms of interactive touch like hugs, handshakes, and kisses, the individuals are more susceptible to being emotionally unhealthy and filled with distress. Those societies move into a progression of dysfunction, more so than that of a society that accepts touch and has to deal with some issues of abuse.

The extended COVID-19 isolation has starved many people from human touch, which has driven a need for more personal interaction. Screen fatigue has added to this problem and has driven people to seek outdoor gatherings. Since most are spaced six feet apart, the growing hunger will not be satisfied.

Kory Floyd Ph.D., recently published an article on “Skin Hunger” in Psychology Today. He pointed out that the starvation of physical touch is no less detrimental than water or food starvation. In a recent study, he found that adults deprived of human touch showed a great increase in depression, stress and loneliness. He also noted that they were less happy and they saw a major drop-off of their immune system leading to significant health risks.

Both noted experts helped me understand that our skin hunger will drive us to any oasis of human touch that is available. And, just as our bodies can’t go without food for more than 40 days, our skin can’t go without human touch. The phycological factors of blocking physical touch lead to dysfunctional problems that our society is not prepared to handle. The isolation of the healthy will drive people to hunger for what their bodies need in order to survive.

The next time you find yourself feeling empty while on a social video conference call, remember that those virtual relationships will always lack the touch that your skin needs to survive. We are a physical people that must interact to feel fulfilled and to solidify our identity. The next chance you have to extend your human touch, remember that doing so will feed person’s skin and bring health to their soul.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers

A Fun Romp Wins Over the Best Picture

Academy AwardsWhile I was on my way to an Oscar® party last Sunday, a friend reminded me that it was “my night” and wished me well. The comment acknowledged my love for the cinema, which I started to develop at age ten. During my freshman year at university, I attended so many movies that I developed personal friendships with most of the theater managers in town, giving me free access to all the movies I attended for four years.

During my tenure as a cinephile, I came to appreciate American movies above all others. I understood the uniqueness of American movies and could easily spot and separate those nuances from foreign films. I also knew the key elements that turned the films into iconic American treasures. On a few occasions, I was even known to win a short-clip film contest where you had to guess a film’s country of origin in a matter of seconds.

This background churned my stomach when a foreign film won Best “American” Picture, revealing that the Oscars® are no longer about America’s best. But what really bothered me was that 1917 did not win Best Picture.

I watch about 100 films a year in the theaters. When comparing 1917 to other films over the past ten years, I can clearly say that it could easily win the best picture of the decade award. Why? Because it was masterfully crafted, pulled the audience into the war with all of its emotional charge, and took us on a journey that changed our perception of war within two hours.

This year’s winner, Parasite, a Korean film, was nothing more than a screwball comedy. The story was crafted like a movie-of-the-week Rom-Com. The film had technical and artistic problems and did not represent the type of film where all departments demonstrated mastery of their craft. I saw way too many flaws on the screen and couldn’t understand how it got nominated.

I was recently asked a couple of important questions. Since America is a diversified country with Korean-Americans, why don’t I consider Parasite an American film? How many Americans need to be involved in a picture for it to be American?

The answer is not as complex as the questions might lead us to believe. The producers admitted it was an international picture when they entered it into the International Film category and won another Oscar® in that category. They knew it was not an American film. In fact, they were quoted numerous times calling it a Korean film.

A few years back, the Academy opened its doors, in the name of diversity, with the hopes that it could change the direction of the American film industry by diversifying the culture. Having raised my family in a diverse culture, I had no problem with the concept. However, the execution was terrible because instead of only letting people into the Academy who had mastered their craft, they let people in solely because of their nationality to quickly balance the number of voters by race.

The end result was a group of individuals in the industry voting for the best picture that hadn’t yet mastered their craft. Instead of the Oscar® being given to the best of the best, the trajectory appears to have awarded politics over excellence.

I believe people are tired of the politics surrounding the awards. In fact, this year’s broadcast saw a hefty group of 5 million viewers drop off from last year. Fans want to learn more about their favorite celebrities and films, not someone’s political opinion who gets a bigger paycheck by aligning their comments to a popular cause.

Fans also want to find out what American films are worth their time. Yes, American films. While there are a few of us that watch international films regularly, most people have a limited amount of time to watch films in the theater and would prefer to watch a well-crafted American film over an international film with subtitles.

If the Academy is transitioning to be a global “best of” organization and is no longer charged with the American film industry, then I’d like to know who is going to step up and help viewers learn about the best America has to offer the cinema. Maybe there needs to be a new organization that is willing to fight to keep the American film culture alive.

Or, if our global film community is strong enough to compete internationally, then a new organization that represents the global best should rise up, rather than converting our American film Academy into a global one.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers


Streaming Markets Explode

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My guess wasn’t too far off. In fact, I’d say that given the industries’ lack of experience in this area, I was close enough to satisfy any statistician. After all, streaming is new to everyone and taking the world by storm. The speed at which new channels are releasing is faster than most expected. Netflix is no longer the sole player in the sandbox.

The day before Disney+ released, I estimated that at the end of its first three months the number of subscribers would hit 30 million. Disney’s analysts estimated 20 million. The final count was 28.6 million. Disney was happy that they came in higher than was estimated and I was thrilled that my number crunching landed me close to reality.

Disney+ will obviously cross the billion-dollar mark this year and will continue to give Netflix a run for its money. Walmart is next in line to release its new streaming channel followed by Quibi and Peacock, with HBO Max and Discovery/BBC right on their tails.

Many independent filmmakers are excited about the prospects of more venues for the potential release of their films, while others wonder how many current streamers will lose ground to AppleTV+, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and NetFlix battling for viewers.

Industry experts have suggested that any company with a niche audience and 500,000 subscribers will be able to withstand the storm. Small companies like PureFlix who bounce between 125,000 and 250,000 subscribers will have to figure out how to cross the 500,000-subscriber barrier before it’s too late.

Solidifying a customer base is always more difficult than most think in the streaming world because it is product-centric. There are two kinds of viewers that need to be appeased: the moviegoers, and the binge TV watchers.

The audience that tunes in to watch long-form stories like movies and mini-series look for a title that shows them something they’ve never seen before or takes them to a place that they’ve never been. Those who like to watch serialized programming and binge-worthy titles look for character development that is done so well they can relate to them as a second family. Both types of programming are needed to capture and maintain a solid subscriber base to keep the company afloat regardless of shifting market trends.

Disney+ knows there audience very well and had no problem launching new shows to grab their attention. The Mandalorian was the biggest hit with viewers splashing millions of comments on social media about Baby Yoda. Other titles perfectly aimed at that same audience are already in production.

PureFlix is in a more precarious position. They are too tightly focused on what they perceive their niche market to be that few quality production companies create the type of content their audience needs. In other words, as the market currently stands, PureFlix is not in a position to produce enough new niche-focused content to grow their subscriber base, especially since acquisitions are light in their niche due to outside companies selling titles to NetFlix.

Disney+ will rack up a debt of $4.9 billion this year, in spite of its fast growth, on new and current programming to solidify their current subscribers and draw in new ones. NetFlix has budgeted $17.3 billion for new programming in 2020.

I estimate that PureFlix can only afford to spend about $20 million, outside of donations or investors, on new products this year since their theatrical releases have waned over the past couple of years. Their niche market is too small and extremely hard to please. However, many of their subscribers are okay with PureFlix loosening their focus a bit, since they are also willing to spend money on NetFlix and Disney+. Time will only tell if PureFlix expands its new content.

The world of streaming has changed the entertainment and edutainment industries. It won’t be too long before you’ll see micro studios pop up to produce niche programming for specific markets including Magnolia TV network that is poised to take HGTV head-on in battle this fall with Chip and Joanna Gaines at the helm.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers


Intimacy Coordinators Join Film Crews

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The #MeToo movement drove film sets to take extra precautions including the development of a new position titled Intimacy Coordinator. An intimacy coordinator oversees the filming of nudity, intimacy and sex scenes. Their primary goal is to protect the actors from any form or issues of harassment.

The protocols or guidelines are still being developed, but seem to focus around the following:

  • Meet with showrunners, executive producers, producers, directors, assistant directors, and actors to determine the degree of nudity, intimacy, and simulated sex
  • Meet with actors prior to the filming of intimate scenes
  • Maintain the continuation of consent in all stages of rehearsal and filming
  • Review contracts, nudity riders, story content, modesty garments, and wearable barriers
  • Review final edit in keeping with contractual obligations

There was rarely a need for a position of this type prior to 1964 when the Hayes Motion Picture Code was enforced. Even during the latter part of the 20th century, the small number of scenes shot that could make use of the position rarely occurred. However, in the past ten years, the number of R-rated films has dramatically increased.

In the past, most American films that received an R-rating was due to violence. That trend is rapidly shifting to increased nudity. The rating issues overseas, until streaming came into vogue, was the opposite. Many countries stopped the release of American films because of its excess violence, while nudity was rarely an issue.

While the intimacy coordinator is being attached as a production role, the real reported #MeToo issues have mostly happened during meetings in hotel rooms during location shoots. SAG-AFTRA members have made recommendations that actors do not take meetings in hotel rooms to avoid potential harassment issues from arising.

There is no telling this early in the process of intimacy coordinators will become common players or watchdogs on film sets regardless of intimacy scenes. Nor can one person oversee the behaviors of a 300-400 person cast and crew with any certainty. However, the concept of the position does seem good for those involved in uncomfortable scenes that may require the tact and diplomacy previously lacking on set.

From an insurance standpoint, the creation of the position may soon impact the production company’s liability and force compliance to keep insurance rates down. This new position may end up being a must-have position regardless of the need for it, but time will tell.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers



Should Directors Protect or Explore?

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I attended a one-woman show last night followed by workshopping roadshows with two keynote speakers. The juxtaposition of the two events was enlightening and inspiring. All three of us benefited from the discussion that opened up our eyes to new concepts.

This morning, I reviewed the Cana Wedding short story and broke it down based on what I had learned last night. I suddenly understood a new perspective on why there is a dramatic difference between directors who create redemptive films and those who create faith-based films—making sense of why faith-based films do poorly and redemptive films always succeed.

Here are three clarifying factors that make the difference between a redemptive story and a faith-based story.

Start Where the Audience is At

Redemptive movies always start with a realistic view of where the protagonist is at in life. The person’s situation is negative and the character needs change but is clueless about his situation. In other words, his life requires redemption. This might show up in the form of a rags-to-riches story, or clueless-to-enlightenment, or a liar-to-truthteller, or selfish-to-selfless, and so on.

This starting point always helps the audience to see the flaws in the main character, which allows them to bond or relate to them. While their circumstances may not be the same, the audience has their own hurting element that seems to stop their hopes and dreams from becoming a reality. This might include self-sabotage, anger issues, or not being good enough.

Faith-based films (and I’m not speaking about redemptive films that some audiences claim are faith-based) start with a good person doing good things and their only problem is that they need to grow from good to better—something audiences can’t relate to because we all know our true shortcomings.

The biggest issue, in this case, is that the film opens with a person who is better than the audience, which the audience can’t relate to. Sure, the audience can understand the person is better, but the director hasn’t built a bridge for the audience to move them from where they are to where the protagonist will eventually end up.

Redemptive films start where the audience is at, and moves them to where they need to be through the protagonist’s life choices. Faith-based films start with where the audience should be and move the protagonist to an even better place without bringing the audience along to see how to implement the same ideals in their life—an unachievable utopian world.

Demonstrate the Struggling Process

There is no story without conflict and redemptive films explore all aspects of a character’s struggle to move forward and find a solution to their life. A redemptive story also demonstrates the experimentation process and the results that make the protagonist waver in their search. Audiences are pulled into the story and find themselves cheering on the main character to overcome the numerous obstacles blocking his path toward a changed life.

Faith-based films rarely have deep thought-provoking scenes where the character considers anything but what the scripture says. Oh, he might be hesitant, as if that develops raw conflict, but essentially the real-life issues are avoided. In fact, one of the most popular methods used in faith-based films is having the first half of a film being about one protagonist and the second half being about a second protagonist, forcing the lack of time to stop an in-depth exploration of the character’s flaw or issue.

The truth is that the medium of film is an argument and without the conflict to reveal both sides of an issue, the director is unable to explore the subject and lead the audience from where they started in life to the new place the director would like to see them live. This lack of argument has driven many to refer to faith-based films as preaching to the choir.

Clarify the Thesis World

Redemptive stories start with a scenario that exists in the audience’s world. Directors call it the thesis world and fill act one with all the background information the audience needs to relate their life to the protagonist’s normal life.

The second act is referred to as the anti-thesis world. This is where the main character’s life is turned upside down and everything comes against him. He has to learn the very thing that will save him by the climax of the film while overcoming numerous obstacles that enlighten him to all the misconceptions and viewpoints that might cause the main character to stray from a righteous life.

By the third act, referred to by directors as the new thesis world, we find the protagonist regroup, enter into the final battle for what is right, and achieve the transformation that brings him back to his once normal world with a twist revealing that his life is new or redeemed.

Everything in the story leads to this moment. The darker the main character’s life in the beginning, the more dramatic his change in the end. The apostle Paul talked about the person that is redeemed from numerous bad life choices is given far more grace than the person who only needed to change a little bit. That truth also works in film. The greater the contrast in the character’s normal life from his new life, the more powerful the story or his God.

However, faith-based films don’t want to demonstrate the person’s before life for fear of causing someone watching the film to fall into that same temptation. The director opts to hint at the problems and only shows the good, unknowingly reducing the character’s God—sometimes to the point where He is not needed by the audience.

The only way for a faith-based director to transition to redemptive storytelling is for him to understand that when right and wrong are plainly demonstrated in front of an audience, the audience will know the truth and be able to make an adult decision about how they will proceed in life. But when the director decides to take that adult choice away from the audience in order to protect them, the audience doesn’t get to watch the full argument unfold in act two and subsequently doesn’t know how to address their own life struggles when they hit.

My stories will always start where the audience is at, have the audience follow the protagonist through the life obstacles to learn how to face them, and demonstrate what their changed life would look like through the eyes of the protagonist, so the audience can make the adult decision to choose or deny receiving redemption in their own life.

Bonus Thoughts

I liken the parable of the sower to the difference between redemptive and faith-based films. The director uses film to sow seeds. Some of the seeds fall on rocky soil. The plants quickly grow, but when the scorching sun hits, the plants wither because they had no depth of soil.

Faith-based films have little depth. The depth of soil is the deep exploration of counter-arguments to demonstrate all sides of how things work in real life. For instance, let’s say a faith-based filmmaker creates a story about prayer. If the film doesn’t explore unanswered prayer, the story stays on the surface. When the hot sun of life struggles hits the audience a few weeks after seeing the film, they will have no understanding of how to face or overcome their real-world situation.

A redemptive story is like a seed that lands on good soil and has deep roots that can withstand anything that comes against it. Not only does it give audiences a full understanding of the counter-argument and how to handle it, but the seed produces a crop—the audience tells all their friends about their new revelation from the story. Suddenly, others flock to the theater in order to gain that same enlightenment.

This is why Jesus only told redemptive stories. This is also why redemptive stories always make more at the box office. Audiences need the story to start in their normal world, no matter how dark or disjointed, and then move the audience with the protagonist through his struggles for truth, and find themselves in the third act having overcome all and receive a redeemed life.

There is nothing stronger than the testimony of a changed life—a redeemed life.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers

How Actors Read a Script

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Have you ever felt like a character on the screen just didn’t seem like the person they were meant to be? Or, the character seems just shy of a full deck and inauthentic? There is a simple reason for it—the actor is a newbie or doesn’t work on developing their character properly.

When a great actor is developing a character, they take hints from the writer. Every word on the script is an important hint to who the character is and how that person behaves. Skipping over any of it would limit the actor’s ability to truly capture their character in an authentic manner.

I recently watched the movie JUDY starring Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland. Her performance was so rich and spot-on that I actually believed I was watching Judy Garland, which is sure to land her an Oscar® nomination for best actress. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see past the character to Renée.

When rookie actors get a copy of their script, instead of reading every word on the page carefully, they jump down to the dialog and start reading one of their lines. This forces them to miss a lot of what the character is all about and why they make the decisions that they make. Most of the nuances of a character are written in the description lines and are therefore missed.

I try to remind all rookies that they are called actors because of their actions. I suggest they would be called vocal-ers or word-smiths if the dialog was central to their character, which it is not. Actors are called actors because they move and behave in visual terms. In fact, they were named for their most notable trait of acting before sound movies were invented.

A pro would read the below page word for word. In fact, some acting coaches will tell the actor during their first read to read everything out loud except for their own lines. This is to force their attention on all the character hints in the script.


A dim light hangs over a small table. GREG, 50s, unshaven and wearing unkempt clothing sits across from:

DETECTIVE, early 30s, a professional type wearing business casual. He reads a REPORT.


I needed food, my ulcer was acting up.


Jump to the part where you hit the guy
and grabbed the bread.

Greg faces the Detective.


You make me sound so—

The Detective leans in to listen.


Look, the system made me feel indignant,
so I acted that way. That’s it.


You don’t believe in taking
responsibility for your actions?


The program’s for the less fortunate. I’m
not one of them. Temporarily unemployed.


That’s unfortunate.

The Detective jots a note.

Let’s break down the hints…

The “INT.” stands for interior, which means the scene is happening inside… the interrogation room during the day. While we can’t tell that its day time, the actor needs to know that he is in an interrogation room instead of being at work. That immediately tells the actor his day is not a normal one and it has an added level of stress. Plus, he must figure out the “why” this has happened by reading on.

The “A dim light hangs over a small table,” immediately sets up the seriousness of the interrogation. This man is in a backroom somewhere as compared to the waiting area of a police station. The man is in jeopardy of some kind, another hint for the actor.

The line “GREG, 50s, unshaven and wearing unkempt clothing sits across from…” tells the actor that he was out in public looking like a bum. This hints to his character no longer carrying about what he looks like or taking care of himself. Since most people care how they look in public, the script is suggesting that he has been suffering for some time and has lost all hope.

When people get to the place where they’ve lost all hope, they can either become super depressed or very angry at anyone who differs in opinion about their behavior. This gives the actor two ways to explore his character during rehearsal.

Next, the detective is introduced and we need to read it from Greg’s perspective. The line reads, “DETECTIVE, early 30s, a professional type wearing business casual. He reads a REPORT.” The detective is unengaged. He is off with his face in paperwork. The script hints to the fact that this man is unmoved and sees the moment as another task he must handle. Again, this is from Greg’s viewpoint based on searching for hints to his behavior.

The actor must find a way to reengage the detective if he ever wants to get out of being locked up or fined. The decision is to open his mouth one more time. Yes, the script suggests that they’ve been there for some time because Greg’s first dialog implies that he’s been talking about something and he is just reiterating the information.

His line reads, “I needed food, my ulcer was acting up.” This is clearly a sympathy move and the wording suggests that he’s tried several different angles on his story, but none have captured the detective’s attention enough to let him go. Or, the detective has an agenda that Greg hasn’t yet figured out. It also tells us that Greg had been in a bad situation long enough to develop an ulcer from it.

The detective speaks next revealing his perspective with the dialog, “Jump to the part where you hit the guy and grabbed the bread.” Ouch. The other actor has revealed the big issue that this short is about. Greg must respond, but how. What are the hints? The most important hint comes in the description, “Greg faces the Detective.”

We know from life that when someone faces a person during a serious issue, they are taking the stance of being their equal. In other words, Greg is ready to go head to head with the detective. This is the first key point of conflict. This is the salt in the wound moment. The do or die moment. What will Greg do or say?

“You make me sound so—” Bam! Greg held his tongue. He cut himself off. He didn’t lash out. He showed restraint. This hints that his hitting the man was purposeful because Greg is capable of controlling himself. Curious then… what position will he take?

“The Detective leans in to listen,” along with the audience. What is Greg up to? Does he have the guts to say what’s on his mind, especially since the detective leaned in to find out? Greg is now on the spot. This is visually a point of intimidation. Will Greg crack? How would this character feel when being confronted? Does he retreat a bit, or charge forward with boldness? Or, attempt to charge forward, but quickly retreat. The actor will most likely draw additional hints from other places in the script to help him make the decision.

“Look, the system made me feel indignant, so I acted that way. That’s it.” Okay, Greg showed his cards or should I say he didn’t speak the truth, but instead pointed blame in another direction. Then he attempted to end the conversation by saying “That’s it.” He weaseled out of the situation with a lame comment that he hopes the detective will accept so they can both get out of this poorly lit room.

Will the detective call him on it? Of course, because it creates more tension in the scene, which makes stories interesting.

I won’t take any more time going through the first page, but you get the idea that the actor must take hints from all parts of the script, not just the dialog. Remember that the actions and descriptions will give the actor the greatest amount of hints for the physicality of the character and his behaviors.

Well-crafted scripts are loaded with instructions for performance and character development. Rookies don’t understand how many hours it takes to properly craft the concise, full-meaning words on the page.

Some newbies might even suggest that the dialog needs to be rewritten because it isn’t the way the actor would say the lines. Instead, quality actors realize that the words were specifically selected to make the character who he is and the actor needs to find a way to get into the character enough that those lines come across authentically.

Audiences want to see characters that they’ve never seen before and they want to be caught up into that person’s world as authentically as possible. To that end, the actor must learn everything he can about his character and make him believable.

© 2019 by CJ Powers




Advanced Visual Storytelling

I’m a firm believer in continuing education. Recently, I took a masters class in advanced visual storytelling. This was a writing class that required us to translate our written short story to the screen. The assignment required only one scene plus an establishing exterior shot at the beginning and end of the story. I made the creative decision to not use the exterior shot at the end of the story, hoping to keep the audience focused on the protagonist’s experience.

The story had to include a beginning, middle, and end. However, the professor said we didn’t have to use an ending if the short was getting too long. The goal was to create a 30 or 60-second story, figuring that no one would watch past that point. I made the decision to make the story about 2-minutes long in order to develop the characters. I was warned that most people would not watch the full two minutes.

The big question that I faced was whether or not I developed the story to the point that people would watch it for the full two minutes. A secondary question for me came from wondering if such a short film could still be of value, as I’ve never told such a short story.

Then there are those social media questions about whether or not the film would take off and go viral. I decided to not make the show public, but private. This means that if a person tells their friend to watch it, they won’t be able to find it by searching the internet or YouTube. The only way for their friend to watch the video is by having the link sent to them.

That means the show can’t go viral unless each person purposely takes the time to pass the link on to someone that will then watch it and pass the link on to someone else. In other words, the only way to see this clip is for someone who has a relationship with someone else that has the link. No one can accidentally stumble across the story.

Mathematically, if everyone that watches the film from this site shares it with two people they know, and those two people do the same, the film could be seen by 300 million people within seven days. But, the odds of anyone sharing the video in the first place is less than one percent. But regardless of the math, here is the story for your entertainment.