The Film and Corporate World Flex or Die

PosterIt was an amazing weekend for the box office. Independent film Beautifully Broken exceeded the film distributor’s (ArtAffects) lifetime box office gross (including adjustments for inflation for its previous titles) in its first weekend with just under $500K as a limited release. However, the small ad budget restricting the film’s promotions and the lack of available screens for expansion in this saturated market might kill the picture’s chance to surge this weekend. In other words, this weekend might be its last in theaters.

Crazy_Rich_AsiansCrazy Rich Asians was the biggest winner with a $25MM take at the box office. While most films’ ticket sales drop 35-60% during its sophomore weekend, Crazy Rich Asians fell less than 6%. This is in keeping with the new movement of audiences looking for lighter films with redemptive endings. You can read more about it in my post titled Gen Z Drives New Stories.

Filmmakers always need to be ahead of the curve to lead shifts in the marketplace, rather than try to catch up to the trends. Corporations have also been forced by the demands for innovation to be flexible and agile with every market shift. The good news is that trends are not only trackable, but they give off hints 3-5 years in advance—for the alert CEO.

IMG_0142In my latest talk, No Box Creativity: Building Innovative Teams, I speak to the patterns of change that every company faces. From entrepreneurial and boutique businesses to Fortune 500 companies, I share case studies of why some companies fail and others expand.

Companies like Radio Shack and RCA disappeared due to inflexibility, while Britain’s GKN, originally a coal mine, became a cutting-edge aerospace company since it launched 144 years before airplanes were invented. GKN’s flexibility allowed it to transition to iron ore and become Britain’s largest producer by 1815. Shifting again in 1864, the company produced fasteners and became the world’s largest producer by 1902. By 1990 the company sold off its fastener business and provided services to Boeing. GKN clearly knew how to think out of the box.

Earlier this year, Adobe and the Forrester Consulting group released their findings from a survey dedicated to learn more about creativity in business. Numerous Fortune 500 companies participated in the survey of which 82% of the companies saw a correlation between creativity and business success.

With innovation being a big influencer in the marketplace among startups at the turn of the century, most people weren’t overly surprised by the findings. The real surprise came further into the survey with the revelation that while companies saw the correlation, only 26% did anything about it.

The first two decades of the 21st century have started to see numerous out-of-the-box oriented companies meet their demise due to disruptive innovation brought on by competitors. Large agile companies like Lucent Technologies with 165,000 employees quickly dropped to 25,000 employees due to its improper handling of its own disruptive innovation—IP phone technology switches. Lucent was soon taken over by Alcatel, which was then absorbed by Nokia.

The business community in a short period of time shifted from a box mentality, to an out-of-the-box mentality, to a no-box mentality. Unfortunately, only an estimated 10% of the market shifted with each change and another 45% attempted to catch up. This left 45% of the businesses to waver and shrink, if not totally collapse like Radio Shack and Polaroid. The survivors that held on either purposely or accidentally stumbled upon a sustainable customer need that had not yet been disrupted.

The survey made it clear that innovation is the only thing that will save businesses in our future ever-changing, no-box marketplace. That innovation can only flourish when led by creative thinkers that understand our new intangible marketplace. Companies desiring to be leaders in this new frontier are forced to learn more about No Box Creativity to drive their innovations and catapult their disruptive market share-grabbing initiatives.

If you know of any companies looking for a guest speaker on surviving the trends using creativity to innovate, please let them know about my latest talk No Box Creativity: Building Innovative Teams.

© 2018 by CJ Powers

 

“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

 

Gen Z Drives New Stories

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Screenwriters will shift the perspective of their screenplays next year to reflect the lives of Gen Z (born after 2001, although some groups have labeled them from 2000) as they move into decision-making roles in America. In 2019, this upcoming generation is also expected to outnumber the Millennials. According to Bloomberg analysis, our population next year is estimated to be made up of 32% Gen Z and 31.5% Millennials.

The tonality of many films will also shift from dark stories to happier and more optimistic ones, in keeping with Gen Z’s outlook on life. This generation is the first to have only known a digital world. They were raised during the war on terror and the global recession, driving them to seek out things associated with joy, peace, and happiness. To capture this market, studios will have to shift to stories that bring hope and joy to audiences.

Faith-based production companies will have to be careful with how they proceed. Films with a utopian worldview go too far to the opposite extreme and will be seen as silly. This is due to Gen Z being surrounded by a tremendous amount of darkness in their upbringing, and yet they were able to learn how or found ways to overcome it. Films with redemptive endings will quickly capture the market. Stories depicting true life with happy endings, which Gen Z can directly relate to, is expected to dominate the box office.

Having planned ahead for this shift in the market, several companies will join the streaming and video-on-demand competition. Due to the disposition of Gen Z for happier programming, you’ll see Disney and WalMart enter the market in 2019 and 2020. In the meantime, Netflix will hit its saturation point and may have to rebalance and reduce its original programming to meet the slowing subscription growth and the influx of Gen Z decision makers.

Niche companies like Pure Flix will also have to adjust to the shifts in market demand. Their primary (Baby Boomers) and secondary (Gen Xers) market is rapidly shrinking, so Pure Flix will have to develop new lines of programming to satisfy the Millennials and Gen Z. However, they might have a wider window to adjust than most companies, as their evangelical audience lags in the area of change by 10-20 years depending on demographics.

This lag effect began in the 1980s with religious programming on TV stations, and then moved into Christian Contemporary music. Prior to the 1980s Evangelicals created cutting-edge entertainment that competed head-to-head in the general marketplace. Most Christian entertainers today are no longer able to manage a livelihood in the field of entertainment, let alone create cutting-edge films, TV shows, and music.

While there are less than 15,000 TV stations (includes low-powered stations) still working that once carried a few hours or more of religious programming each week, today only 100 TV stations broadcast evangelical shows. The story online is a bit different with Roku offering about 200 religious channels. However, most of these channels are large churches uploading their sermons for their congregation with little narrative stories to choose from.

The top three companies perfectly positioned for this new generation are Disney, Marvel, and Pixar. Their upcoming shows have just enough darkness in them to keep the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers coming to the theatres, while stepping up the Gen Z joy indicators. As for the Millennials, the only satisfaction aimed at this people group comes from the Millennial stars playing the characters within the Gen Z stories.

For those tracking the entertainment news carefully, most have already noticed the companies that led the release of darker films a couple decades ago have hit financial and political struggles. If they haven’t already, most will see bankruptcy looming or larger companies buying out their libraries.

The best news about these major changes in the industry will be at the independent level. Film budgets will slowly drop, making name artists more available for new cutting-edge and uplifting stories aimed at Gen Z. Redemptive stories will be salted with romance, chivalry, and patriotism. Heartwarming films like The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins have even begun to see a resurgence.

This is not to say that people will long for the sappy; those days are over when it comes to Gen Z. This generation wants reality with silver linings. They know that happiness can be found in the darkest of situations, especially since darkness can only prevail for a shortened duration.

I’m looking forward to these changes and can’t wait to see all the films written with Gen Z in mind. The doors will be open for more mainline films with universal stories that are filled with redemptive qualities, wholesomeness, and morals.

© 2018 by CJ Powers

PC or Master of Craft

Academy AwardsThe Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences may have forgotten its charter. It seems to no longer care about giving awards to the best of the best in the motion picture industry, or protecting old films from decay that impacted our culture, but is instead now focused on answering to the politically popular.

A resignation letter was sent last April to John Bailey, AMPAS President, from board member Bill Mechanic, the former Fox studio chief, sharing a long list of serious problems that the organization failed to address. Mechanic was known for being nominated as a producer of Hacksaw Ridge.

In the letter, Mechanic reminded Bailey that “We have settled on numeric answers to the problem of inclusion, barely recognizing that this is the industry’s problem far, far more than the Academy’s. Instead we react to pressure.”

His suggestions that the #OscarSoWhite political bandwagon took the Academy off course included his mention and dismay for last year’s batch of invitations (774) to join the Academy that didn’t include a single white man, regardless of merit. This year’s invitation went out to a record-breaking 928 future members. By 2020, the Academy hopes to have doubled its number of women and diverse members.

No one doubts that Denzel Washington earned and deserved his nine Oscar nominations and two wins. His work and talent is obvious to fans, let alone the thousands in the industry that can speak to his techniques and why he is the best of the best. But with the flood of new Academy members that were invited in the name of diversity, rather than for having mastered their craft, the next Oscar going to an ethnically diverse actor may be questioned from the viewpoint of politics over talent.

While I’d agree that diversity must be addressed, it’s not the job of the Academy. Diversity can only increase at the studio and independent levels, with the exception of the Academy’s own staff and board. The Academy must return its focus to only inviting members who have mastered their craft after years in the industry rather than inviting newcomers because of their ethnicity.

Many industry professionals feel that the recent announcement of the “Popularity” Oscar takes the Academy even further away from its charter of awarding the best of the best. Heated discussions concerning this new award, which has no rules concerning how a film gets nominated, has studio executives struggling to get answers.

Some say that if the Popularity award is based on box office or fan favorites, the award will always go to Disney/Marvel/Pixar. Several have joked that Deadpool, the Ryan Reynolds’ popular vehicle, would win every year that it releases another chapter in the franchise.

Mechanic also mentioned the need to bring the Oscar award show into modern times concerning its format and look. But the Academy instead decided to show less awards next February and hope the Popularity Oscar will be enough to draw and keep people tuned in.

Unfortunately, the recent decisions no longer guarantee that budding artists, who count on the Oscars to point them in the right direction concerning artistic accomplishments and quality, may no longer be able to trust the now politically-driven Academy.

© 2018 by CJ Powers

Stunt Actor Bob Beck

A group of filmmakers got together this week to share insights into the world of filmmaking. Every person that spoke shared one of their stories of struggle to climb their too familiar ladder one rung at a time. The resounding truth that all shared was of someone giving them an opportunity after having noticed their hard work, diligence, and stick-to-itiveness.

A film set is typically filled with lots of people that carry stars in their eyes and a core group who are willing to do whatever it takes to master their craft. The funny thing is that a film can easily eat up an entire year of a person’s life with only two weeks of the workload being related to glitz and glamour. The vast majority of the time is relegated to some of the most strenuous work and harsh deadlines experienced in the industry.

This natural filtering effect results in few who survive the world of filmmaking. Only those driven by an internal passion strive to create the life-changing art that splashes on the silver screens across the world—each story challenging or supporting a cultural change when aimed at the general public.

CJnBob

CJ Powers with Stunt Performer Bob Beck

Bob Beck is an actor and stuntman who understands the grind of the movie set. Having never met Bob, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he and I shared a couple of scenes in The Dark Night, proving once again that the world of film is very small. Bob spoke at this event I attended and warned newcomers to make sure they always treated the production assistants, the lowliest of positions on a feature, with respect.

“Today’s PA’s are tomorrow’s directors,” said Bob. “You never know who you’ll be working for in the future, so treat everyone with respect.”

After the gathering, Bob shared with me how he was talking with a guy on set that was dressed on the unkempt side of the spectrum. He was thankful that he had treated the guy with the same respect as he tries to do daily with everyone, because within the hour he learned the man was the producer.

Bob shared additional experiences from Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, and other films he’s performed in. We were also treated to a short film he shot as a fun project with several of his stunt friends. I’m sure you can imagine that the film was nothing more than a bunch of guys creating well choreographed mayhem, which was very entertaining.

BobOnCamera

BOSS © MMXII LIONSGATE TELEVISION INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Can you imagine being invited to a party put on by stunt guys? Years ago I attended one that broke out into an incredible fight with bottles breaking over people’s heads, men slamming through tables as they crashed to the floor, and a few women jumping from the rafters onto the backs of their alleged bullies. It didn’t take long after the adrenaline jolt for the team to move the crowd into the dance room to continue the party on a less dramatic level.

Bob shared how he got his start in film acting and later stunt coordination. His humble beginning was as an extra who happened to be standing in the right place at the right time. Since the picture had just lost a stuntman due to certain conflicts, and Bob was about the guy’s same size and build, he was asked to step in and let the stunt experts beat the living daylights out of him, using pulled punches and the like.

A few bruises showed up after Bob went through numerous takes of the beating without any pads on his body. His penchant to do whatever it took to make sure each take was excellent caused the stunt coordinator to notice him. The man decided to show him grace by rewarding him with an extended contract, changing his life from working in his dad’s business to the film industry.

BobBurnsThankful for his career, Bob continues to master his craft and learn the latest techniques to be engulfed in flames without being burnt up, while having a Chicago Fire star drag him through the burning hallway during a rescue attempt. And yes, the flames are real. Controlled, but real. Even while coated with the fireproof gel that’s layered on his head, Bob’s face can feel the extreme heat as he gets within inches of the flames for dramatic affect.

The life of a stuntman is rigorous and calculated. Safety measures are taken to ensure success to whatever degree is possible. Some stunts are repeated several times to get just the right angle of action for the camera. Bob is already attached to his next feature, but due to non-disclosure agreements wasn’t able to share the details. Suffice it to say you’ll be seeing him continue to push the envelope for your entertainment.

© 2018 by CJ Powers

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