Adaptations True to the Original or Culture

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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. https://www.pilgrims.movie/

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.

BUDGET

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.

Budget

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.

FESTIVAL PERSPECTIVES

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.

FILM LENGTH

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.

Length

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:

NOVEL

“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.”

SCREENPLAY

EXT. FORREST – DAY
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.

DAVID
I’m com’n for yah.

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

PRODUCTION TOOL

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.

BOOKS ARE NOT FILMS

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

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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

 

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.

BB2

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.

BB1

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