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
Advertisements

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

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

 

3 Step Creative Team Building Approach

Last night I met several high performance people in back-to-back meetings. I was amazed at their expertise and ability to shine in their sector of the marketplace. It prepared me for a surprise experience later that night that boosted my confidence. I felt like I too could shine in my own way and the test was moments away.

IMG_0142On Monday night, I gave a talk to a group of filmmakers interested in learning about how to protect their intellectual property. The speaking engagement went out on Facebook Live and allowed me to test materials from my new book that’s almost ready for release. The audience response from those in the room was better than expected and the online comments were also satisfying. That positive experience fueled my risky choice to last night’s surprise.

Dale Carnegie shared in one of his books the importance of being ready at all times to give a talk, should you be asked. I’ve heard religious leaders say something similar about always being prepared to share in season and out. Well, my surprise opportunity came last night during my last meeting.

When I entered late, due to my earlier meeting, it wasn’t possible to quietly take a seat without notice, as the host of the meeting welcomed me. I hate it when the flow of a meeting is interrupted and everyone turns from the front of the room to see the guy walking in a half hour late, especially when it’s me—which thankfully is rare.

As I took a seat, the host announced the four guest speakers and their topics. The fourth speaker’s name was CJ Powers. Yep, he announced that I was the last speaker of the night.

The woman sitting to my left leaned over and said, “I didn’t know you were speaking tonight.” To which I replied, “Neither did I.”

She was quite concerned and asked if the host was punishing me for being late. I had no idea why I was suddenly named a speaker, but I did know the host well enough to understand his motivation was not negative. I quickly raised my hand and asked what he said the title of my talk was. He answered, “How to Build a Successful Team.” Everyone in the room laughed, thinking it was a joke. At the end of my presentation, the look of amazement on everyone’s face and the hearty applause was well appreciated.

Here is a condensed paraphrase of what I shared last night…

img_0123.jpegThrough my unique experiences working for both Fortune 50 companies and small mom and pop shops, I’ve had the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to exploring the building of excellent teams that drive revenue. I’ve learned the three steps that were always prevalent in successful teams and missing in the less fortunate ones.

1. Diversity of Perspective.

One day I was asked to attend a brainstorming session in a large company’s think tank. They collected together the top creative people from two nearby corporate campuses and placed us in a room with what I’ll refer to as a widget. It was the company’s latest patented invention and no one knew what to use it for or how to promote it. In other words, it was ahead of its time.

The team leader handed us each a piece of paper with 100 numbered lines on it and asked us to list out 100 ways the widget could be used. After fifteen minutes, I had 23 ideas and peeked at a few other nearby papers, not to cheat, but to find out if I was on track. Most had 7-8 ideas at that point, which didn’t surprise me since my thought process is significantly different than most associates. But I too, soon laid down my pen before hitting 30 ideas.

Thankfully the team leader inspired us with a shift in perspective. He suggested that we probably had brainstormed based on our life experiences and should now consider the widget from our grandmother’s perspective. I immediately came up with another two dozen uses. Then he suggested we take a child’s perspective. By the time I reached 100 uses for the widget, I realized the importance diversity of perspective makes in developing a productive team.

2. Empowerment to Fail.

I’ve heard people say that American inventor, Thomas Edison, failed 1,000 times before he invented the lightbulb. I’ve also heard it was 10,000 times. While the exact number is sketchy at best, it was clear that failure was a big part of Edison’s success. He felt empowered to find out what didn’t work, moving him that much closer to the solution he sought.

Cleaning product 409 got its name from the number of experiments it took to come up with the right formula that worked. Numerous stories exist about the failure of people that got to the top because they embraced and learned from their failures. Michael Jordan who still is in the top five of all time NBA scorers is also in the top five list of players that missed the most shots.

I learned that people who fail and push through for success always end up on top, while those who avoid failure rarely get anywhere in life. Empowering a team’s failure to build confidence and knowledge improves their success rate for the long term.

3. Praise for Success.

My upbringing implanted the idea that all incentives must be financial to be effective. However, several recent studies suggest that financial incentives only work well for immediate effect and for most blue collar workers, while events, parties, and excursions work best for white collar employees (The research did not include bonus programs, as it was only looking at project based incentives).

Regardless of the function a person serves, all employees appreciate some form of public praise or recognition for their success. People have always appreciated being acknowledged in some form or another, making praise an essential part of team development.

The common denominator in the above three steps used to build a successful team comes down to the individual. When you attribute the success to the person, allow them to fail forward and gain knowledge, and encourage them to infuse the essence of who they are in the project, success is always the outcome.

If you are interested in having me speak to your company or organization, please feel free to contact me. Also, please check out my new website for speaking engagements at speakercjpowers.com

A Chance to Excel with Kevin Riley

IMG_6193I met Kevin Riley a month ago and had the opportunity to attend one of his speaking engagements last Friday. Kevin authored “Guiding Your Child from Pee Wee to Pro.” The book is designed to help parents nurture their child’s athletic development, but I found his information to also be applicable to business, filmmaking and spiritual growth.

Kevin, after years of speaking engagements to parent groups, parks and recreational organizations, and state and national conferences, realized the repetitiveness of one comment, “I wish I had known all this information years before.” This moment of enlightenment drove him to research what turns a good performer into a great one.

“One thing that really surprised me as I was going through and doing all this research, and doing interviews, et cetera, was that 97 percent of the population has the chance to excel,” says Kevin. “To get in that one percent. 97 percent of all of us have the opportunity, have the capability, to excel. And that’s because, and I’m sorry to say, we’re all essentially the same.”

The Elite Use Long-Term Memory

Kevin went on to share the things we have to do to excel and get into the top one percent, which are not hard to do. He started with a simple question, “Where does expertise come from?” Kevin adds, “It comes from your memory. And more specific, it comes from your long-term memory.”

I was fascinated to learn how experiences move into our working memory or short-term memory. Most of those things that are important to us and memorable, then move into our long-term memory. But the key is turning long-term memory into a tool to be used as an expert.

“Now you are already a near-expert,” says Kevin. “A near-expert is very close to an expert, but not quite. Raise your hand if you can remember any detail of getting here today. How many of you drove? Okay. Do you remember accelerating? Do you remember putting on the brakes? Do you remember turning the steering wheel right or left, whichever way you had to go? Do you remember with any detail doing those things?”

“More than likely, no. You may remember, ‘Okay, this is the route that I took. And there’s a stoplight over on Indian Trail and 31.’ But do you remember actually going through it? Your driving was automated. That’s why you can hold a conversation with someone in the car and still drive.”

The Elite Automate Their Motor Skills

51EreC9uL7L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_“What you want to do, and what athletes do, is they automate their motor skills. They have a lot of information, a lot of experiences in their long-term memory. Another benefit of having a lot of stuff in their long-term memory, for athletes and you also, is that you can chunk information. When you’re presented with a situation, your brain will pull up past memories to assist you in accomplishing what you’re trying to do.”

Kevin used tennis as an example to explain how memory chunking works. Research has shown that human beings have an extremely hard time reacting to a tennis ball hit at 100 miles per hour. Yet pros return Roger Federer’s 130 mile per hour serve. This is done by the chunking of information.

The athlete anticipates the shot based on the server’s stance, foot position, body angle, the loft of the ball into the air, the hand position on the racket, the air temperature, and the condition of the court. The array of information based on remembered experiences allows the player to reduce the number of possibilities of where the ball will land to a small area on the court that he can respond to.

“The other thing is, if you have a lot of information in your long-term memory,” Kevin says, “is that the connections, the electrical signals within your brain actually move faster than someone who doesn’t have a lot of information in their long-term memory.”

The Elite Practice with Variation

Kevin shared that when he coached, he’d have the kids repeat things over and over again in the same way at every practice. The activities lost its importance and was no longer memorable, causing the players to plateau. Once he shifted to variable practices that kept things important and memorable, the players saw increases in their skill levels.

“A shortstop will never throw a ball to right field or centerfield or even left field. There’s no reason for that,” says Kevin. “But what it does, (in a variable practice), it disengages the brain from what he normally does, throwing to first, so then when he throws back to first base he has to rethink. It starts to become memorable to him—Again.”

The best thing to do during practice is random activities. The coach could call out an action to a player and they have to immediately do it, something different every time. It’s a slower way to practice, but its more memorable and will stay in the players long-term memory for immediate action at another time. It also builds the player’s ability to make quick decisions under pressure.

Kevin says, “Every time an athlete goes out they need to challenge themselves. They just can’t keep doing the same thing. Even if it’s just a half a percent, a quarter of a percent more in something. Either make something a little faster, reverse the order, it has to be a challenge every single time.”

When people begin to get comfortable their skills plateau. The only way to continue growing one’s expertise is to challenge the mind in new ways. Getting feedback from a coach or someone knowledgeable about the technique can help pinpoint what skill area needs work and then by using short, intensive focused segments of practice can stimulate the mind with a level of importance, while being memorable.

“For an athlete, and on average, it takes about 7,000 hours of practicing this way,” says Kevin. “Okay that’s two, two-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week, for 50 weeks a year. We don’t have time to do that. We have other things going on. But I would challenge you… Practice using these techniques in your domain for 30 minutes a day, four to five days a week. Try it for a month. Research shows that if you can do that your performance and your knowledge, your availability to chunk information will remarkably increase over a period of a month.”

The Elite Use Kevin’s Information

“Everyone is relying on traditional, out-of-date exercises, practice methods, and there’s a new way to do things,” says Kevin. “Science is evolving on how the brain works and how people learn. To improve, you need to learn how to improve.”

Kevin’s new methods have been well proven by athletes, business executives, and many in the field of entertainment. The key is recognizing that we are all pretty much the same, not having that exceptional talent, yet able to become experts by using a process. To demonstrate our sameness and how processes can change our outcomes, Kevin had us play a game.

We played the harder version of Flippy Cup within a two-minute time constraint. The game’s conditions included only one person going at a time, the next person not being able to start until the previous person succeeded, and the cup starting upside down on its wide mouth and being flipped upright onto its narrow base. All the teams righted one or two cups.

We were then given two minutes to create a strategy or process that could change our few flipping opportunities based on ordinary skills into three to five times more opportunities. One person was to clear the table of fallen cups. Another fed the cups into an ideal starting position. And, the other person focused solely on their finger-flipping abilities. During the next round, our table of average guys became experts in our process and we won with a score of five flipped cups.

“It’s really true that the vast majority of the population is average. We all have average IQs, and as far as our physical abilities we’re all born pretty much the same. And its practice, and how we practice, that can improve.” Kevin says, “In the two minutes that we did it, people started to use their chunking ability, their long-term memory, and a method to improve. And they’re the team that won. Improvement is about process.”

Kevin’s message was easy to understand and his demonstration clearly supported his point that the most successful, the ones that reach the top, have a process. Everyone else seem to use a shotgun approach, hitting and missing arbitrarily, with no way to replicate a specific successful outcome again and again.

© 2018 by CJ Powers

Meeting A Magic Dragon

PiffCJ

I got to meet Piff the Magic Dragon last weekend. You might be familiar with his older brother… Steve (were you thinking, Puff?).

No, I didn’t travel to Piffland through the mentalism of Mr. Piffles (his chihuahua). Nor did I head out to see him at his Las Vegas show. Piff came to Chicago, and I got to chat with him (and goof around) before his performance at the Chicago Improv.

Piff is a magician who has been performing for 20 years. But his Piff persona was launched nine years ago and given a big push on season 10 of America’s Got Talent. He received a golden ticket for his performance and headed into the quarter finals, semi-finals, and the finals. Unfortunately, he didn’t get enough votes for the finale.

Piff, or should I call him John Van der Put, also starred on Penn & Teller: Fool Us. While he didn’t fool Penn and Teller, his humor and performance was so appreciated that the guys rated his act their “favorite of the season” and said Piff was “a stunningly good magician.”

Magicians worldwide have recognized his talents. Van der Put won the 2008 British Ring Close-up Magician of the Year, while The Magic Circle awarded him their 2011 Close-up Magician of the Year, 2012 Stage Magician of the Year (as Piff), and the 2013 Carlton Award. In 2013, The Circle also inducted him into their Inner Ring with Gold Star.

I’ve cracked up laughing every time I’ve seen him. After meeting him last Saturday and watching him come up with humorous, off-the-cuff comments, I now consider him the funniest of all magicians that I’ve seen perform—and I’ve watched lots of magicians.

TailThe funniest laugh I got was learning about how John became Piff the Magic Dragon. He was the only one to arrive at a costume party in costume. This drove him to mope around, getting more grumpy as the night progressed. His sharp wit, self-deprecating humor, and deadpan delivery had people laughing throughout the evening. One of his friends suggested he add this persona to his act and Piff was born.

Piff’s YouTube videos have received millions of viewings. He not only has a Las Vegas show, but he has also been touring for the past four and a half years as Piff. His deadpan delivery is so effective that those posing with Piff for selfies work hard to get him to crack a smile. However, one of his crew members who always helps shoot selfies, seems to only click the button when Piff is straight faced.

While some have suggested Piff’s slight 1/32 inch crook in his lips was him holding back laughter, I wasn’t surprised by him joining in the audience’s laughter several times during his live performance. Piff brought people onto the stage to help him with tricks, but they managed to say things that were odd, awkward, or unique, of which Piff took advantage, to generate loud outbursts of laughter from across the audience.

In fact, I laughed so much that I’d have to consider asking Piff to be my best man, er, ah, dragon, should I find Ms. Right—Just kidding… or am I?

© 2018 by CJ Powers

 

Elevator of Providence

ElevatorDoorPlacing the razor to my face, which was lathered with shaving cream, became difficult when the lights flickered. I had skipped shaving yesterday, so it was important to finish. After a few strokes, the lights went out and I faced the dilemma of going to work with a partially shaved face or hunting for a flashlight in the dark.

I banged my hand into the door as I reached for the doorknob. The handle was not where I had imagined. Once found, I opened the door to a window-lit bedroom and spotted my cell phone laying on the desk. After swiping up for the flashlight, I moved into the bathroom and positioned the light on the right side of my face. There was enough bounce light coming off of the glass shower door to illuminate my left side. Within a few minutes I was clean shaven and curious.

There was a rythmic thumping noise coming from outside my unit near the hallway. Faint voices bantered back and forth, so I figured they spoke on the topic of the day—the electrical outage. Choosing to take a very short shower, I jumped in and lathered up in record time, but I hesitated to rinse when I heard a plea for help. I stood motionless trying to hear the words being uttered.

My shower backs up to the elevator and I realized someone was trapped inside. I scrambled to dry off and get dressed with the understanding that taking time to help the woman would make me late for work. I chuckled as my mind flashed back to the end of work yesterday. In that moment I thought about providence.

Circumstances caused me to work an additional hour past my normal quitting time. One of the owners told me to come in later the next day to avoid overtime. So here I was staring providence in the face with an hour given me in advance to help calm the woman and her anxious dog. I was amazed and immediately focused on making sure the woman was okay.

She and her dog had been trapped in the pitch black box suspended around the third floor for 10-15 minutes. The woman’s voice trembled with fear as she responded to someone a floor lower shouting about the phone in the elevator. The backup battery had failed and the phone line was dead.

I looked for the elevator key, but there was not a breakable glass case that held the key. “I’m going down to the first floor to get the elevator key,” I said.

“Thank you,” she responded with a tone of relief in her voice. Her confidence level was boosted.

I moved swiftly down the hallway lit by a couple fading emergency lights and was thankful that the staircase was still lit. On the first floor I bumped into the building manager who providentially arrived seconds earlier for a planned meeting. “The fire department is on the way,” she said.

“I’d rather the woman trapped in the elevator not have to wait any longer,” I said. “Let’s grab the elevator key and I’ll head upstairs and speed her escape.”

The building manager moved quickly to the glass case and noticed it was cracked open. The key was gone. “I’m not surprised,” she said. “The new laws only allow police and firemen to open an elevator door in emergencies.”

“Today would be a good day for an exception, is there another key somewhere else?” I asked.

She took me into the elevator room where the equipment is stored. As we entered, she threw the light switch to the “on” position and nothing happened. Then she laughed.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “You did it out of habit.”

She nodded and scanned the room for a backup key, but couldn’t find one. Then the thought hit her. “There’s probably one in the Knox-Box,” she said. We headed toward the one hanging in the foyer. After struggling to get into it, she remembered the one at the backdoor.

I watched her struggle with it. “Don’t worry about it, the firemen are here,” I said when I noticed the reflection of red lights flashing on a pane of glass.

The building manager walked out to the Fire Chief car, but no one was there. I circled back to the front door and went outside to see if he was doing a quick inspection of the surroundings.

“There’s a woman trapped in the elevator on the third floor,” I said.

“Is the electricity out?” he asked.

“Yes.”

The Chief got on his radio and instructed his team of the situation. He entered the foyer and met with the building manager. They went to the Knox-Box at the front door and found no elevator key. She took him next to the one at the back door, which was also void of an elevator key.

“I have a universal key in my car,” he said. “I’ll get it.”

“Shouldn’t one of the smaller keys open the elevator box next to the elevator? Won’t there be an elevator key there?” asked the building manager.

“Yes, but it’ll be faster to grab my keys.”

Soon a fireman dressed in full gear carrying an axe entered the foyer with keys in hand.
“Oh, don’t bring that axe in here,” said the building manager. “We don’t want anything destroyed. There is a key.”

The fireman held up a metal loop of a dozen different elevator keys. “I’ve got the key right here. Where is the woman?”

“I think she’s stuck between the third and fourth floor,” said the building manager.

“She’s on the third floor,” I clarified. I’ve already talked to her and she’s expecting me to come back up with the key. I can take you there.”

The fireman signaled for me to lead the way. I was being followed by two male firefighters, a female firefighter, and the building manager. When we got to the elevator door the fireman started working his loop of keys, but couldn’t find one that seemed to engage the mechanism needed to open the door.

“Shouldn’t we get the key from the Knox-Box to open the elevator lock box and get the key we know works with this elevator?” asked the building manager.

“I have every known elevator key right here,” the fireman said as he lifted the loop of keys.

“Okay,” said the building manager with a huff.

The fireman worked a key, then another and another. Then he pulled the loop back and the keys slipped, forcing him to start the search over.

I thought about providence and wondered if it was about to show itself once again. Just then the lights in the hallway came on. The building power had been restored.

“Should I turn the elevator back on?” said the voice over the fireman’s radio.

“Yes, turn it on,” he responded.

The sound of power surging was heard. “The lights came on,” shouted the woman trapped in the elevator.”

I leaned toward the door and said, “Push the door open button.” The door opened and her shaking dog charged into the hallway. The woman followed with a broad smile on her face. Everyone was relieved.

Realizing her predicament the woman asked, “Is the elevator working now?”

“Yes,” answered the fireman.

“Well I need to take the dog downstairs then,” said the woman. She stepped back in the elevator, but her dog fought to stay out.

“It’s good to get back on the horse after a fall,” I said. “The dog will need to rebuild his confidence.”

The woman looked at me and nodded. Then she gave the dog a big yank and his little feet slid across the carpet and entered the elevator. She pushed the first floor button and the door closed. She was back on schedule to letting her dog outside.

I stood in awe of the team of people who gathered to help the woman. After watching everyone head toward the staircase, I turned toward the opposite staircase and passed by many congregating in the stairwell with questions and stories to share.

One man who followed me asked, “What happened?”

“Providence was able to save the woman before any of us could,” I said.

I opened the stairwell door and we were met by a lady with lots on her mind. “I just got off the phone with the power company,” said the lady. “They said there was an accident and they lost power to 155,000 buildings in the area. They also said the power will be on in about two hours.”

I smiled and quietly stepped away from the group. I glanced back and saw the man who had followed me step away from the group. He seemed to be in a daze. As I entered the garage I heard him mutter, “He knew something happened. I want that ability.”

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers