The Search that Launched a Career

Stacey_CJI met Stacey Montgomery after one of her speaking engagements. She is a woman who believes strongly about empowering kids. She moved to the Chicago area from the east coast for school and stuck around after graduation due to her landing a great job. Since then she’s become an entrepreneur. I asked her how she transitioned to being an owner of a growing company known for empowerment.

“I was looking forward to buying a Christmas card to send out because it was the first time that I sent out my own Christmas cards,” says Stacey. “To me, that’s what adulting is all about, sending out Christmas cards… I wanted a card that represented me, a card that had a relatable character, my skin tone, but also represented my personality.”

Our new inclusive culture hadn’t caught up to the needs Stacey faced in purchasing cards, so she went home and drew her own card.

“I sent it to family and friends, got great feedback, and some of them suggested, ‘You know, you should sell this.’”

Stacey acted on those suggestions and soon had orders from Marshall Field’s, Nordstrom, Carson, and numerous independent stores. She then shifted over to developing licensing deals with companies like Target. The positive cashflow allowed her to expand her offerings beyond Christmas cards. She soon developed invitations, note cards, stationery, and the like.

“I realized that my quest, my obsession with finding a good card, the perfect card, was all about confidence. It was all about me wanting to see something, or wanting to give something that really represented me, my personality, what I look like, all of that combined. I realized that that wasn’t just something that I want. It’s what people want. It’s what kids want. It’s what adults want. We like to see positive images of ourselves and what we like out in the world.”

We like to see positive images of ourselves and what we like out in the world.Her revelation focused her business pursuits on building the self-esteem of kids with diverse skin colors. She wanted her product line to encourage kids and build their confidence.

“I started making illustrations of kids with different skin tones, different skin colors, different ethnicities… I wanted people to see the diversity in the world, and I wanted people to see, kids to see, themselves… Kids would come up and look at it, and they would see something, and they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s me! That’s me!’ That was what it was all about.”

With thousands of kids trying to build confidence based on who they are, Stacey started crafting special guided journals to help them work through and find their intrinsic value.

“What I wanted to do was to… encourage kids to, again, think about themselves, about their gifts, to have a place where they can… navigate some of the challenging situations and the negativity. In school, there’s bullying, there’s name-calling… There are difficult situations academically, socially… A lot of situations are challenging. So I really wanted the kids to have a foundation that was all about self-love, belief in themselves, (and) self-worth.”

To continue driving success, Stacey sought help from a marketing strategist who had her focus on developing a mission statement, an ideal customer, and a family of related products. She was coached to use the mission statement and her ideal customer as a filter to determine what great products to produce and which ones to drop.

While the process was daunting, she stuck with it to help more kids.

“I’m not trying to reach just one kid, I’m trying to reach thousands of kids,” she says. “I now conduct workshops in schools, I have subscriptions to my journals, I work with somebody to develop a curriculum, and it’s all because I really honed in on my mission and my ideal customer.”

Stacey’s materials are aimed at kids 8-12 years of age. Her website is located at and offers an array of items that help build the self-esteem of kids who are of varying ethnicities.

©2018 by CJ Powers

Interview on WCGO 1590AM

I was interviewed by William Pelarenos, radio talk show host of Legal Eagles on Smart Talk Radio 1590AM. The official air date of the show is December 3rd, but I was given permission to upload the broadcast to my blog.



Interview with Princess Cut Writer/Producer/Director

I’ve known Paul Munger for a few years and I’m excited about his latest film project. Paul is an award-winning filmmaker and I originally met him electronically through social media exchanges about filmmaking. He lives a quiet (not counting the noise generated by all his kids), high moral lifestyle and loves the medium of film.

Princess Cut is a love story that suggests true love is worth waiting for and based on how Paul and his wife live daily, the values depicted in the film will be worth watching.

Mimi SagadinLet me take pause for a moment and give a shout out to my friend Mimi Sagadin who is one of the leads in the film. Mimi and I meet at a film conference where she taught actor workshops and I taught screenwriting workshops. We had a great time chatting about the art of film and improving our craft. Not only was she a generous, loving and humble person, but I also learned that Mimi is very careful about the films she stars in, which speaks highly of Paul’s writing efforts.

So without any further ado, here is my latest conversation with Paul…

CJ: Where did your inspiration come from for your latest film Princess Cut?

PAUL: One of the foundational desires of the human heart is the yearning to love and be loved. My wife and I drew from our own experiences in trying to navigate the maze of romance and these became the core elements of the story. Additionally, some events that happen in the movie are loosely based on insights  penned by bestselling relationships book authors such as Eric & Leslie Ludy, Joshua Harris and Voddie Bauchum.  The books themselves make their way onscreen through organic and interesting scenes. You’ll have to watch the movie to find out how!

CJ: You’re promoting the film as a faith and family friendly film. What key elements of the film reflect that genre?

PAUL: I’m absolutely convinced that there’s a wide group of people across the country who can identify with me and my dilemma. As to identity, first and foremost, I’m a Christian.  And secondly, I’m a family man, with 8 children ranging in age from 13 to 1. Now here’s my dilemma: When we have family movie night, I’ll head to the video store with high hopes, but almost invariably I’ll have a really tough time finding something suitable for all of us to watch together.  We’re simply looking for quality stories that affirm our faith and don’t include offensive elements such as profanity, nudity, and graphic violence. Those are some of the guiding principles that embody Princess Cut, and we expand the value by adding in positive portrayals of family life and the Christian faith.

CJ: You found new talent in Ashley Bratcher, while bringing on board veteran of faith-based films, Jenn Gotzon. What was it like working with these two?

Ashley BratcherPAUL: These two actresses are splendid jewels.  Rising Carolina talent and lead Ashley Bratcher is really one to watch. As a versatile method actor, she dove into the role of Grace with extraordinary fervor.  I was impressed and grateful that she always came super prepared.  Not only did she take direction extremely well but her timely input on scenes or wording of dialogue beautifully enhanced the final product.

Jenn GotzonJenn Gotzon was the first talent I brought on board.  I always knew I wanted her as part of the team, having had the privilege of working with her on Alone Yet Not Alone and The Screenwriters. Equally as talented, she brought her experience to bear in the role of Brooke. Jenn’s dedication to go at the performance until we nailed it was an invaluable asset during some long shooting days crowded with cast and a host of extras!  Factor in an always positive attitude and winning personality, and you’ll see on-screen why I wouldn’t have wanted any other person for the role.

CJ: In what way did the film challenge your directing skills?

PAUL: Honestly, I never thought I’d be the one directing Princess Cut. But it turned out to be one of the most delightful experiences of my life. When you have a talented team like I was blessed with, it makes your job so much easier.  We had one of the most harmonious sets of which you could ever dream. But of course there’s always hurdles to overcome. For instance, when one of our key actors became sick we had to make some critical decisions that required massive reshuffling of the schedule.  In God’s providence, this turned out to our benefit.   And throughout production, I was constantly challenged to find new and better ways to clearly communicate my desires to the cast and crew. But in the final analysis, I learned and grew so much, and wouldn’t change a thing.

CJ: You have a Kickstarter campaign to raise the final funds to post the film. How are you getting the word out and how would you like people to help?

PAUL: After months of research and careful preparation, we launched our campaign on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter because of it’s name recognition and powerful tools. As the name suggests, crowd funding happens best when there’s a crowd! To me, that’s the exciting thing happening here, is that together we’re building a community, a family of engaged viewers who interact and share in this journey of love.  Our desire is to encourage the pursuit of selfless relationships and to build up and benefit families everywhere. If you share that goal, we’d be most grateful if you would share your thoughts and feelings about Princess Cut with your family & friends through Facebook, Twitter and your blog.

CJ: What is the most important take away you want the audience to have after watching the film?

PAUL: It’s the same core we’re trying to impart to our own children that we’ve woven into what we hope will be an entertaining love story, and it happens on both a horizontal and vertical plane: Give love time to blossom into maturity! That only happens when you’re patiently waiting on God’s timing (vertical), purely seeking the best for the one you profess to love (horizontal) instead of greedily grasping after what they can give or do for you.

CJ: Since I have readers from 144 countries and your crowdfunding allows for international participation, I hope several people will help you reach your goal.  Thank you for taking time to answer my questions.

PAUL: Thank you for the questions and asking about Princess Cut, it’s really an honor!  Be blessed!

Mom’s Night Out — Interview with Producer Kevin Downes

Mom's Night OutI had the opportunity to interview producer Kevin Downes about his latest film, Mom’s Night Out. It’s a comedy due to release on May 9th. The synopsis is as follows:

“All Allyson and her friends want is a peaceful, grown-up evening of dinner and conversation . . . a long-needed moms’ night out. But in order to enjoy high heels, adult conversation and food not served in a paper bag, they need their husbands to watch the kids for three hours—what could go wrong? MOMS’ NIGHT OUT is an endearing true-to-life family comedy that celebrates the beautiful mess called parenting.”

Kevin DownesHere are the highlights from our conversation…

CJ: Most summer films seem to be aimed at men, but this film seems to be designed for women.

KEVIN: Most of my films in the past have been sort of geared toward men – Films I’ve acted in like Courageous, or films I’ve produced. And, I’ve just really felt like God has put it on my heart to make a film for women. That’s really where it started for me in wanting to produce Mom’s Night Out.

CJ: How have the reactions at the pre-screenings been?

KEVIN: It’s been a lot of fun to see the response and the affirmation. We’ve heard so many times, “Oh, finally a film for us.” It’s a laugh out loud comedy that women can enjoy and have a night out with their friends or their husbands. Or, even with their dad or their mom. They can have a fun evening and still be affirmed as they go through the journey in the story of Mom’s Night Out.

CJ: How did you get into the female psyche to find the humor?

KEVIN: As a producer you surround yourself with great talent. The screenplay was written by Andrea Nasfell, who wrote from experience. She has some young toddlers herself and wanted to really write from her experiences as a mom and the craziness of parenting. And, have it be in a comedic form. Jon Erwin co-wrote the funny male testosterone moments from his perspective. He also has toddlers at home, so it was a good combination.

CJ: There is definitely a lot of humor in the film. Would you say it’s more situational comedy, or so true to life that it’s funny, or…

KEVIN: It’s all of the above. A piece of it goes to the fact that its so true to life that… We heard many women say, “They had a camera inside of my home. That’s my story. That’s me.” That’s what makes really effective storytelling, when you can create scenarios and elements where the audience is so engaged that they’re able to laugh at some of the things that maybe weren’t that funny when they were going through them, but when they see it on the big screen it can be quite therapeutic and funny.

CJ: I know comedy can be a very serious business when shooting. How was the atmosphere on the set?

KEVIN: It was very important for myself and the Erwin brothers, they have young children too, to have it be a family atmosphere on set. Our families were present on set almost everyday, as much as they wanted to be. The filmmaking process is often one with long hours, as it takes a long time to shoot a movie. But, it was quite the family environment on the set. It was actually a lot of fun for me…and I hope to have the same type of atmosphere on other films even if they’re not family comedies.

CJ: Does having the family on set change your production process?

KEVIN: Not necessarily. All of my past films have been something families can watch. Our process didn’t necessarily change throughout the filmmaking. We wanted to make sure the byproduct and the enjoyable atmosphere match that of the actual film itself.

CJ: What would you say the target market is for the film?

KEVIN: This is a family comedy. Whether you go to church or not, there’s gong to be elements in here that will make you laugh out loud. We’ve tested it for all types of audiences and we’ve had all different types of backgrounds affirm it. It’s a film for moms and a film for dads. It’s a film for parents. Even if you don’t have children, you’ve got a parent, and you’ve experienced some element or experience that we’ve outlined in this film. It’s an ensemble cast so there are multiple storylines that will affect multiple age groups. So, I think it’s a film for everybody.

CJ: Recently there has been a lot of family and faith-based films released. Do you think there’s an overload of this type of film?

KEVIN: I think we’re just beginning to see what the market can handle. Two years ago it was thought that the market could only handle one movie of this type a year, which obviously has been blown to shreds in the past couple of months. Mom’s Night Out is a family comedy and we haven’t had a comedy come out yet in this space, so I think that’s very unique to the film. One of the things that’s very interesting is that it takes so long to make a movie that all the films released to date have been in the production process for several years. The timing of all of them hitting at the same time isn’t planned per se, but I’m excited about the results from all of these films because I think it’s a very underserved audience. And the audience is making their voice heard by showing up at the theaters and letting them know that this is the type of film we want.

CJ: Does this film have anything Oscar® worthy or is it designed for just having a good time out?

KEVIN: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a comedy get Oscar® attention, so we’ll start there. The performances are wonderful. Our actors are really talented. From Sarah Drew (Allyson) to Sean Astin (Sean) to Patricia Heaton (Sondra) to Trace Adkins (Bones) and the rest of the cast, are just really, really good. The Erwin brothers did a wonderful job in hand selecting their cast. Audiences won’t be disappointed. As they walk out of the theater they’ll certainly tip their hats to the cast because the performances are spot on.

CJ: What was your favorite part in the making of this film?

KEVIN: First, as a producer, I enjoyed seeing the cast perform in their environment – In their element. The cast had such a good time everyday making the film. Secondly, as an actor, I have such wonderful scenes with Sean Astin and he’s such a brilliant actor – It was such a gift to be able to act with him. He is so good at comedy. I feel really fortunate and blessed working with such talent.

CJ: Were there some favorite outtakes that occurred?

KEVIN: Sean and I had a funny bit where we’re tied together with saran wrap and it took us two nights to actually film that. It was actually a lot of fun to be taped to Sean Astin while twirling around the living room. Some of my favorite outtakes are from Patricia Heaton who does a great job with comedy and does it so effortlessly. I can’t wait for people to see her performance because she is so good at what she does.

CJ: Is the comedy designed as a faith-based film?

KEVIN: Filmmakers often make films that reflect their worldview and you’ll see that played out in Mom’s Night Out. But it’s also a film for everyone. It’s not designed specifically for the faith audience.

CJ: Do you feel kids can understand the humor?

KEVIN: There is definitely humor on the level that kids can understand. It was actually tested for ages 8-12 and they get a kick out of it. Even my five and six year olds like it. I don’t think its just adult humor.

CJ: The early success of the story suggests you might have a sequel in mind already. Is that the case?

KEVIN: Well, sure. I’d love to make five or six of them, but first we have to see if it actually performs. So we’ll see what happens May 9th. It’s a fun genre to create. I think clean comedies are completely underserved. We don’t see that in many of them — And comedies that tip their hat at women, even more so.

CJ: Is there anyone thing you want the audience to get out of the film besides a lot of fun?

KEVIN: May 9th is your chance to be able to make your voice heard when Mom’s Night Out comes to theaters. Whenever we go and buy a movie ticket we’re basically casting our vote for the movie we want to see, and Hollywood listens to that. So you’ll specifically see more films like that come out in the future.

CJ: Kevin, thank you so much for your time.

KEVIN: I appreciate it.


Heaven is for RealHeaven is for Real is the near death story of a young boy named Colton who visited heaven, while fighting an illness that brought his father and mother to their knees in prayer. During his recovery, Colton shared what he saw in heaven, which changed his family, community and world forever.

The film was directed by Randall Wallace (Braveheart, The Man in the Iron Mask) and is based on the best selling book by the same name, which was written by Colton’s dad, Todd Burpo. Todd is a down to earth pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska. He is also a firefighter for the volunteer fire department and a chaplain for the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighter’s Association.

Todd BurpoI had the good fortune of connecting up with Todd and here are the highlights of our conversation:

CJ: During the pre-screenings, was the film enjoyed more by conservatives or liberals?

Todd: When many comment about Heaven is Real the movie they don’t identify themselves as one or the other. They’re either a fan or a hater. But I will say this, on Heaven is Real the movie, I’ve seen God assemble incredibly talented people and some strong Christians for this project.

CJ: Your book is about your son Colton’s life experience. Were you concerned about the filmmakers getting the story right?

Todd: Three years ago when I agreed to do this (film), I didn’t want to do it because I was scared, you know, how are we going to make sure we tell this story accurately? I had a lot of serious questions and God said, “Well, you’re gonna have to trust me. But I’m going to show you that I’m bigger than Hollywood.” And three years later, what you’re going to see come to that screen…God has answered that prayer. He has brought Christians like Devon Franklin, T.D. Jakes and Randall Wallace to this project…But one of the things they’ve all done is commit to telling the story Colton’s way.

CJ: I like how the team was committed to “tell the story Colton’s way.” Did this come about organically?

Todd: At the very beginning, if I was going to agree to this process, that would be the agreement the producers and Sony had to make. This is Colton’s story that they couldn’t change. There were boundaries they had to agree on and they were willing to accept those. And throughout that, I think the person in the creative process who triumphed that more than anyone else was Randall Wallace.

CJ: Can you give me an example of how that unfolded?

Todd: I would hear actors and actresses talk at the end of the day about how Randy Wallace would bring the cast together and say, hey this is what we’re doing today. This was not only meaningful and creative, but a spiritual journey for Randall Wallace and he kept that on the set throughout the whole making of this film.

CJ: Wallace is known for films like Braveheart and my favorite, The Man in the Iron Mask. Those films have a lot of heart and it sounds like he drove this picture in the same way.

Todd: People think I’m joking when I say this, but I’m serious. I tell people you’ll find that I’m the simple one and he’s the brilliant one.  He’s incredibly brilliant. But the thing about Randall that he says about faith and that he brought to this movie, and he did it wonderfully, he says faith is not just a decision of the intellect, but it’s a decision of your heart – your whole soul. The emotions and everything, which I wanted to make sure was a part of this movie.

CJ: How do you think the film will do with all the adventure films being readied for release?

Todd: This is not going to be a big sci-fi type movie, but it’s a reality movie. And the reactions from the audiences that I’ve seen has surpassed what I’ve seen from big action movies…I’ve seen people cry and later stand up and cheer in this film. It’s amazing. I think the only other film I’ve seen the audience react so emotionally and get tied into was The Passion of the Christ.

CJ: Typically distributors don’t put a lot into the distribution of stories likeHeaven is for Real.

Todd: The giant’s getting ready to wake up. There’s going to be a huge push to more than 2,000 plus theaters and you’re going to see all that media stuff come. From everything I’ve seen, Sony is not only surprised, but they are incredibly behind this movie because of the screenings and just how positive they’ve been.

CJ: What was it like when Colton first started sharing his experience?

Todd: People in the city don’t understand the small town dynamic. You can’t do anything in private in a small town of 2,000. Everyone knows everything. In fact, I can probably almost tell you who lives in every house in my town. So when Colton started sharing with some of his friends and other people…there’s no way to put a lid on the bottle. I mean, it either happened or it didn’t. He’s going to tell what he saw and experienced. This has happened now eleven years ago and the thing about our community, I think in the movie you have to compress time a little bit, but this happened slowly as people discovered it.

CJ: How has it impacted those around him?

Todd: Today, his friends at school are some of his best defenders, which I like that as a parent. When people criticize him, they’re like, “He’s been telling this story for years, way before the book came out, and nothing’s ever changed.” I think that’s some of the best credibility. Of course, we still have people around here that because of other faith or things they’ve been taught, they don’t want to accept what Colton has said, but the fact that Colton has been saying this for eleven years, no one can deny that.

CJ: Sharing an experience all the way through childhood gives credence to the story and it’s hard to argue.

Todd: Well, some people still try to, but I agree with you. You know, when he said, “I know what I saw.” That’s been Colton’s position and he’s been consistent on it.

CJ: Some times the greatest messages come through the innocent perspective of children. What do you hope the audience will take away from the film?

Todd: I think there are a few messages in this film that I think are outstanding. The first one is that faith is a struggle. Some people think you have to have everything figured out to believe in God or to trust God in the midst of difficult circumstances and that’s not true. Faith is, even when God doesn’t do exactly what you prayed for, you still believe and trust in him anyway. You’re gonna see that struggle…the honesty about faith in this movie. I think some times as Christians we try to pretend that we’ve got everything all fixed and that’s not being honest.

I think we need to get people grace and understand. I know what its like to hurt. When my son talked to me about my daughter in heaven…We had a miscarriage, we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl. We were carrying that broken piece (of miscarriage) around, as a lot of people do, and when you can admit your broken pieces that’s when you can start addressing and sharing them, and get some help with them. This movie is going to help people do just that, talk about what’s broken inside so hopefully God can fix those broken pieces.

CJ: The film is scheduled to open after the blockbusters start to release. Do you think the film will be able to make as big of an impact?

Todd: Audiences have connected with it so well. I was marveling at the reaction of it. And, I think the realness…is what really gets the audience into this film.

CJ: What’s next for you and is your family ready for it?

Todd: I learned that God’s got lots of surprises in store for me. So we just try to get through every day, (one) at a time. I feel as a person of faith that I can try to do the right thing and be obedient today and just leave the results up to God. When we come back home, where we spend most of our time, we say no (to speaking requests) way more than we say yes because we want our kids to still be in school. In fact, Colton is still in public school, not home schooling, and he cant’ miss so many days of school. So the fact that we spend more days at home rather than out on the road and we’re just the Burpos at home, I think that’s the best thing for us and Colton to keep grounded.

CJ: Do you talk through issues with your kids about being in the public eye?

Todd: The biggest thing that Colton’s concerned about now is what his friends are going to say after the movie comes out. So he deals with some real teenage questions that as mom and dad we have to sit down, pray about things and talk through things with him. We’ve said to him that worrying will never make tomorrow better, but it sure can make today a lot worse. We’ve just got to pray about those things, but we as a family have to have those discussions.

CJ: I appreciate your time and openness in sharing about Heaven is for Real.

Todd: Thank you.