How Actors Read a Script

grayscale photo of man holding smartphone

Photo by James Frid on

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.


Adaptations True to the Original or Culture

man holding clapper board

Photo by Martin Lopez on

I recently completed writing a short film adaptation for the festival marketplace titled The Sacrificial Gift. The screenplay is based on the original story titled The Gift of the Magi written in 1905. I will be placing the screenplay up for sale so a filmmaker that’s looking for a wholesome story with a great plot twist and moral lesson (provided by the original story) will have a shot at winning several festival awards.

The last short story I wrote for the screen, not only opened up doors for its producer, but it helped expand the awarded actress’ career with a reoccurring role on a major television network. And yes, I too won a festival award for best screenplay. But that was then, and now I’m looking to sell The Sacrificial Gift to an interested producer.

Adaptations are an interesting type of story because some follow the original so closely that the film appears to be a period piece, or worse yet, it’s not understandable by contemporary society. Others use the original only as a springboard to a new creative direction that is so far from the original that it’s hard to see the relationship. Still, others find a balance between updating the story for contemporary culture while maintaining as much of the original author’s passions and intent.

A friend sent me the following link to an adaptation and suggested I watch it this weekend while the movie is free (online through tonight). Here is the link should you want to watch it.

The writer of this latest version of The Pilgrim’s Progress, the original written in 1678, struggled with how to make the content relevant for today’s audience. This is a very hard decision to make and if the writer is not completely focused on the initial decisions can easily wander and create a glorious mess.

In this film, the writer wrote most of the dialog for Baby Boomers and the action for kids. The director took things a step further and cartoon-ized the bad guys with silliness, while keeping the protagonist highly dramatic, enduring pain after pain—something difficult for kids to watch.

However, Paul Bunyan’s greatest allegory still remains at the core of the story within this adaptation. Unfortunately, that means most people in today’s society won’t understand the story as the film has it unfold. Yet, in spite of these choices, Bunyan’s original story is still the second most sold book next to the Bible.

I did not want to cannibalize The Gift of the Magi, but I did want to bring it into the 21st century. I changed the main Christmas Eve setting to a typical weekend in the average American household. Instead of the holiday driving the exchange of a young couple’s sacrificial gift, I used a marriage enrichment challenge.

The original was about hard times when there was little a person could do to survive, making the sacrificial gift significant. However, with super-powerful computers in everyone’s hands these days (that’s right, smartphones are more powerful than the big mainframe computers were back in the 70s) I wanted the lack of face-to-face time to drive the need for the gift exchange.

Since I’m a person who understands the difference between an entertaining film and a heavy or important film, I’ve also added in some great humor that sets up the message in a new powerful way. Yes, you will laugh and you will have your gut hit with the impact of the final twist in the plot. But the question is, how close to the original did I keep the story?

It doesn’t really matter.

Why? Because the producer and director will also add in their artistic choices. Then, the actors and editor will also salt in their viewpoints. But hopefully, the director will honor my adapted story as I intended it and help keep everyone focused on the same impactful outcome that was designed. But we won’t know how the team handled my story until its premiere.

I’ve got to be honest. Most directors today don’t know how to properly read a script, let alone know how to keep its critical elements intact. So as a writer, I have to find ways of saying goodbye to my little darlings every time I sell a script—hoping the director knows what he or she is doing. In any case, if the intent of my screenplay is honored, the theme and plot twist from The Gift of the Magi will also be honored.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

Creativity in Short Film Festival Selections


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I know numerous filmmakers who make short films to keep themselves sharp in between their major projects. I also know several students who shoot shorts with the hopes of being discovered. All of their creative knowledge goes into shooting the story they believe might help them achieve awards and attention.

However, the festival circuit is a highly competitive market with a uniqueness not considered by most filmmakers. Few producers contemplate the steps necessary to find the right festival for their story and build the film in a fashion that garners the greatest number of invitations by festival selection committees or jurors.

To help the filmmakers out, I’ve decided to write about a creative approach that will increase their chances of winning a meaningful award. I use the term meaningful because there are less than 50 festivals that will bring acclaim to a filmmaker out of several hundred. It’s easy to win an award if you’re willing to submit your film to small festivals with little competition. There are even fewer Academy Award-qualifying festivals.


The first consideration is the film’s budget. Few filmmakers have taken time to research their return on investment based on their out-of-pocket production budget. Statistically, the higher the budget, the greater the chance of being accepted by any given festival. This is true because the audience, and certainly the selection committee, can see the quality of a film increase with a bigger budget. That’s why some first-time filmmakers hate competing against a company like Pixar who enters high budget animated shorts from time to time.

While the selection process is easy for higher budget films, winning is not. The Short Movie Club conducted a survey and learned that higher budgets do not guarantee to receive an award. Here is a table I put together based on the research results of winners. I put it in the order of best to the worst chance of winning.


Odds of Win

$10K 3.60%
$20K 2.45%
$500 1.64%
$5K 1.21%
<$20K 1.09%
$0 0.77%

You can see that the budgets, or lack thereof, create an interesting return on investment. The zero-dollar budget is filled with passionate friends who want to help make the film, but when production hits harder than most realize, their skills don’t make it to the silver screen. However, the volunteer cast and crew that gets to eat, thanks to a $500 budget, puts more of their sweat equity on screen. Budgets that exceed $20K are also hampered in the amount of effort that clearly comes across on the screen. Whether the crew is made up of professionals that are trying out new positions, or a passionate group that wants to use the short as a political statement, something falls short in higher budget films.

However, when a passionate group makes a film that they believe in, and have a few extra dollars for CGI work, great music, or something substantial that can differentiate the show from others, the odds of winning an award goes up.


Once the budget is settled, then the genre becomes most important. In qualified festivals, documentaries, dramas, and animation shorts rule the awards ceremonies. In unqualified festivals, animation, horror, and sci-fi bring home the awards. Selecting any other genre greatly reduces the filmmaker’s chance to win.

The one exception is niche festivals. For instance, a faith-based festival rarely will give an award to any film except for that of the faith-based genre. That also holds true for LGBTQ+ festivals not giving space to films that are not overt in their agenda.

Knowing the perspective of the festivals of interest prior to production helps the filmmaker creatively focus on the elements that are award-worthy. Promotional dollars can also be saved by not marketing the film to the wrong outlets and markets. However, the smaller the niche, the less likely the filmmaker will become known for his film.


The shorter the film, the greater the chances of a festival accepting the film. Here is a table showing the acceptance rate based on the length of the film.

Length of Film

Odds of Acceptance

5 min. 25.00%
10 min. 11.26%
15 min. 11.73%
20 min. 11.57%
25 min. 11.79%
30+ min. 10.92%

The win rate is a very different set of percentages, as it reveals that brevity is king. The only exception is the 15-minute film that has enough time to develop a character that is worth rooting for. The caution comes in the development process that suggests the tighter the story, the better the chances of winning.


Odds of Win

<:05 min. 7.00%
5 min. 1.84%
10 min. 1.39%
15 min. 2.00%
20 min. 1.45%
25 min. 1.01%
30+ min. 0.91%

I’ve been a festival judge numerous times and I can tell you that based on the vast majority of submissions that I’ve seen, 99% of them demonstrate that they are not award-winning films in the first 60-seconds. It is therefore prudent for filmmakers to immediately capture the attention of the audience with as much on-screen quality as possible.

However, most shorts do not immediately introduce you to the problem or the main character in the first 60-seconds, which guarantees that they will not win an award. Most film entries open with the mundane so you get a feel for the character’s life before something significant happens—killing the film’s chances of surviving the overloaded festival circuit.

Award-winning filmmakers typically open with a scene that oozes of the protagonist’s character or immediately drops the audience into the middle of a problem that is in full swing. While there are some films that win outside of that formula, the vast majority of awards go to the filmmaker who makes a film according to the needs of the targeted festival.

The process of developing a story for a particular festival takes a tremendous amount of creativity. And, it’s very limiting in that the film might not play well in commercial markets that do not hold to those constraints. In fact, if you make a 30+ minute film and release it on Amazon Prime, you’ll make good money and are almost guaranteed to not win a single festival award due to the film’s length—unless you apply to the Emmys.

Filmmakers have to pick between festivals and commercial exploitation. Rarely can a film be successful in both venues. Unfortunately, most filmmakers disagree with that statement, attempt to prove it wrong, and fail miserably. This multiple decade long attempt at reinventing the proverbial wheel in filmmaking continues with every generation. Their hope is more powerful than the measured reality.

Creativity must be applied with reason for success to ensue.

© 2019 by CJ Powers

Is The Book Or Film Better?

Book vs. FilmThe number of scripts I receive for consideration or review every year is astounding. Each of the major studios receive about 100 scripts a day and 99% of them are not worth reading. The biggest dilemma I face comes from the author. Most of the scripts I receive are from talented literary authors trying to write a screenplay, which seldom goes well.

The first problem that I typically encounter is the author using detailed and flowery words in long-winded descriptions, as if it were lifted right out of a novel. Few authors understand that the screenplay is written in a specific manner for budgeting and creative purposes, and obviously, for the screen. Here is a scene example that I’ll use to discuss the differences:


“Adrenaline pumped through David’s veins as his pace quickened toward the lone grave hidden beneath the canopy of large oak trees deep within the forest. His soiled gym shoes stopped in front of the fresh pile of dirt rounded over like a grave before rain settles the soil. David’s face aged 10 years in that moment and his legs weakened. He dropped to his knees with sorrowful eyes, knowing that he might be facing his daughter’s burial site. His hands looked like gnarled creature paws as he stroked away at the soil, digging deeper and faster with a weak hope of finding an animal in her place.

But he knew the truth. His hands would soon find his kidnapped daughter. He readied himself for the sight, as he plotted a new vision for revenge. His hand snagged a piece of material. The same as the dress his daughter wore at her seventh birthday party, the night she was kidnapped. David’s face flushed and turned stone cold. A fiery revenge welled within his soul forcing him to his feet. “I’m com’n for yah,” he groaned. With more energy than he thought possible, David bolted through the woods focused on his target.”


Exhausted, David scrambles through the forest. He stops at a fresh grave. Grimacing, David drops to his knees. He paws through the soil. David stops, hardens himself and glances off in the distance.

I’m com’n for yah.

David runs from the grave, letting a streak of sunlight hit the floral cloth protruding from the soil.


The same overall action occurs in both depictions of the scene. The screenplay version is measured at 2/8 of a page, which tells the production manager how long the segment will take to film and how much it will cost. The word choices within the screenplay suggest the needed shot list to capture the story. The list includes:

  • XLS: David running in forest
  • MS: David panting as he runs
  • CU: David’s gym shoes stop at the grave
  • MS: David drops to his knees
  • MLS: David kneels at daughter’s grave
  • CU: David
  • CU: Hands digging
  • MS: David’s dialogue
  • LS: David running away from grave
  • XCU: Dress protruding from grave

With the scene being 2/8 of a page, the DP and 1st AD know they have to capture the full shot list in an hour to stay on budget. If, however, the scene were written like the novel, it would take 4-6/8 of a page and the team would allow 3-4 hours for the shoot. Unfortunately, the scene will still only take 15-20 seconds on screen, making the novel version far more costly to shoot—forcing the project over budget.

When properly written, a screenplay reveals the shooting schedule, budget, and camera shots.. It also hints at the character arcs and the emotional tonality the actor must consider when developing his character. There are also hints sewn into the script about the editorial pacing and tempo.

A person who knows how to read a professional screenplay can easily spot the above. But the novelist has no clue what information must be laced into the scene or how to concisely interweave it. Most don’t understand how this scene is likely to be shot handheld because of the story’s emotional turmoil and shooting schedule.

Beginning screenplay writers find themselves writing something halfway between the novel and professional screenplay, which inaccurately reflects the shoot requirements with information that cannot be seen on screen. A screenplay improperly written becomes a useless tool for the producer and production team. The better the screenplay writer, the more accurate the budget.


A second factor I face with authors is their misguided understanding of what makes for a good film versus a book. The original story allows the reader to get inside of the protagonist’s head, while the film can only show what happens, unless you like a lot of narration, which slows a film down and pulls the viewer out of the film story.

Books are about thought and films are about action. They are two different mediums and must be treated according to its own form. While most authors feel disgruntled about having their story altered to better fit the medium, they hate with a greater magnitude films that try to follow the book and end up destroying the story as a result.

The vast majority of great authors have to get used to seeing their “A” plotline become a “B” plotline in a movie, and their “B” plot become the “A” plotline. This inverted plotline structure makes for a far greater motion picture, and opens the story up to a wider audience than what the book was aimed at. Since movies cost a lot more than a book to create, this distinction is significant.

While there are additional factors that authors face when transitioning their work to the screen, I’ve run out of room to mention them in this post. The key is to understand that film and books are very different and require opposing skills to pull off. Flexibility is paramount for the author desiring a shot at the silver screen.

© 2018 by CJ Powers

Understanding the Visual Draw of Men

Understanding_VisualWe’ve all heard that men are visual. We’ve even heard that they are more visual than women. We’ve also been told that this difference is significant. So monumentally different, in fact, that women can’t quite understand what it’s like to live in a man’s visual world.

In a recent video hosted by Dennis Prager of Prager U, Dennis clarified some of the visual differences between a man and a woman. His examples were all related to sex, since this is one area more easily explained. However, the difference between a visual person and a literary-oriented person are far more reaching than the one life category of sex.

The Internet shifted from being a literary to a visual platform in 1994 with the first release of pictures and direct broadcast images. This expanded to far more homes in 2010-2014 with the introduction of broadband connections. Today there are hundreds of millions of visuals being consumed daily across the globe.

This increase in video-based Internet connections causes many women to believe they have become more visual. The great decline in the written word suggests there is something to the idea. But being visually versus literarily driven is not determined based on the amount of visuals consumed. It is established by how the visual impacts the individual.

I had the opportunity to observe a woman in her natural life setting as she interacted with the Internet, TV, and a book. She considered herself a visual person, as she explained during our conversation about visually driven men. She never understood how her thoughts of being visual were skewed by the fact that she was not actually visual.

When she read her book, I tried to converse with her, but nothing seemed to get through. Once I became overly rambunctious about chatting, she set the book to the side with extreme anger for me having interrupted her story. She was a literary-based person and I had interrupted her flow.

During a movie she watched on TV, I interrupted her often and she had no problem responding. She even took her eyes off the screen numerous times during our conversation. Pulling away from the visual medium took her little effort. In fact, she got up and walked into the kitchen several times without concern for having missed any visual information.

The Internet gave an interesting twist to my observations. When she was reading text, our interactions were just as adversarial as our book experience. But she had no qualms about being interrupted while watching videos online. The pause button was simple for her to push regardless of the visual story unfolding.

The woman who thought she was highly visual didn’t understand the drive that visuals have on men, nor the understanding that she was not consumed by the visuals. When we discussed it, she tried to point out how visual she was due to her inability to pull herself away during one part of the movie. I asked what was happening at the time and she mentioned her transfixiation with the dialogue—a literary, not visual element.

To help women understand men’s visualness, I’ll explain it using literary terms. Visuals are typically a man’s first language. Little boys do not chatter it up like little girls do, instead they keep a close eye on their toys and make sounds as they picture the dump truck backing into the construction zone filled with its load of gravel.

When I was at a Fortune 50 company a woman handed me a stack of reports to review before my afternoon meeting with our male executives. The pile was just shy of an inch thick. After reviewing the materials, I designed a one-sheet dashboard report with seven graphics.

I placed the thick report in front of each executive and handed them my one sheet. Within two minutes the action steps were decided and the executives asked if they had missed any key points from the report. I merely pointed out the woman’s name who worked diligently to produce the report and suggested they give kudos for her impressive and detailed efforts.

They agreed, got up, leaving the reports on the table, and took the dashboard report. The visual tool was a reference for our newest venture announcement minutes later, which was based on the report. The executives never read the report, but they referenced the visual dashboard report daily. Why? Because it gave the same information using their first language of visuals.

After my last speaking engagement, I was surrounded by business people wanting more information. One person noticed the notes for my keynote presentation and asked if he could take a picture of it. Within a few seconds men were lining up to do the same. For longer speeches, I use a sketchnote outline.

My notes are made up of a series of visuals depicting each portion or step of my speech. The pictures are directly correlated to my talk. I’d say it’s similar to an infographic that rapidly explains my entire talk with pictures. In fact, when these moments happen there is always one or two people who demonstrate their prowess by citing the part of my talk for each picture they see. They are amazed at how well the picture captures the talking point, which of course is why I do it.

I’m a visual person who has never been able to give a talk from a written outline. However, I found that longer talks are easily presented using a sketchnote outline. Why? Because I’m visual. Or, I can put it another way…I read, write, and speak visual first, English second.

So what language drives you…visual or literary?

© 2018 by CJ Powers

Story and Audience Targeting


The number one problem producers and pastors have in common is their ability to bring the right story to the right audience. Both have to target multiple age groups with a story that’s broad enough to touch everyone, yet only a percentage within the larger group will find that the story resonates with them.

To compensate, many pastors will tell several stories within their sermon to help demonstrate how the teaching applies to each generation. Filmmakers do the same thing by having some scenes aimed at Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z. The scenes must play well enough for all generations to accept it as a functional part of the film’s story, but the generation that the given scene is aimed at will find that particular scene speaking into their lives.

I wrote a screenplay titled The Professor that is aimed at a four-quadrant audience. Some scenes are specifically for Gen Z, while other scenes jointly aim at Millennials and Gen Xers, and a few scenes speak directly to Baby Boomers. The results are clearly spot on when my script is read by each generation. Not because each of my scenes work for everyone, but because there are specific scenes that speak into each generation’s life without detracting from the other generations reading the story.

To develop a story that speaks specifically to each generation takes a tremendous amount of work. The four-quadrant audience, which is broken out between old and young, and male and female, is the basis for each generational viewpoint. In other words, to speak directly into each guardant within each generation will take a minimum of 16 scenes. Those details are better shared over several chapters in some future book I might write.

For now, I’m going to share the three base drivers that must be used to target a story to the right audience. Since only one driver can be clearly used through the protagonist, I’ll use the hero model for my explanation.

Story is about change. The person who changes the most is the protagonist or hero (yes, there are exceptions, but I’m trying to keep this post short). The hero has a worldview that is driven by a core belief that can be categorized as lawful, moral, or ideological.

LAWFUL: The hero believes in institutions like government, religion, schools, and any other man-made system used to protect or grow our communities.

MORAL: The hero takes responsibility to make a difference when something goes wrong with our institutions or thinking. This might be a whistleblower, vigilante, or a (fed up) underdog.

IDEOLOGICAL: The hero believes in something that is overarching and sees each life as a small pebble in the greater scope of humanity. However, the hero also understands that each pebble might be the one that creates the avalanche, like the final straw on the camel’s back.

From these three vantage points we can quickly direct the perceptions of the audience as they follow the hero on his journey. Gen Z is all about the ideological and they want it in the form of what is real. They can see through the fake or the trumped up.

The Millennials and Gen Xers both relate to the moral and feel a responsibility to correct the wrongs put in place by the Baby Boomers. And the Boomers, well, they are all about the lawful and supporting the institutions that made their generation great.

Pastors find their words about the institution of communion and worship resonating with the Baby Boomers. Those pastors who empower church members to help those hurting in the community find their messages speaking to the hearts of the Millennials and Gen Xers. And, those pastors who talk about the actions we must take in order to participate in God’s overarching plan find Gen Z embracing every activity required of them to fulfill the big picture.

The pastor who wants to teach on prayer would tell Boomers to pray without ceasing according to the scriptures. He’d teach the Millennials and Gen Xers how prayer changes us and thereby changes our communities for the good. To Gen Z he’d teach the truth that some prayers go unanswered, but for the ones that are answered, they are only answered when they are prayed. For God’s overall plan to work, we each have to pray daily for our part in the matter and for others.

The filmmaker has to break things out in a similar fashion. If he is making a film that suggests we can’t be great living a life of apathy, the message must be contoured for each generation. A scene designed to resonate with a Boomer might include the hero learning the discipline of football basics. The Millennial and Gen Xer might be moved by a scene about the hero realizing that he must perform well at the game to earn a scholarship to lighten the financial load of his parents concerning his college tuition. The Gen Z scene could show the hero playing defense across from the starting offensive line to prepare them for the sake of all the students counting on a homecoming win.

By targeting each generation with the right portion of the story drives box office success. Films that only reach one generation must be all the more targeted in its marketing approach to draw the right crowd. By creating a universal story that can touch multiple generations, a filmmaker and a pastor can stir far more people with the right message than others who don’t target their story.

© 2018 by CJ Powers