The Christmas Truce of 1914

Christmas_Truce_1914.jpgA bullet split through the frozen ground and ricocheted into the trench. The British soldiers shifted position, their feet stirred the sloppy straw-laced mud as they found their footing to return fire. None of the World War I soldiers wanted to spend their Christmas Eve dodging bullets. They preferred thinking about their loved ones back home and the traditional celebrations handed down through previous generations.

Lifting binoculars to his eyes, Captain Sir Edward Hulse kept a keen eye on the Germans. The 350-400 yard no-man’s-land between the British and German trenches reduced the number of casualties and made any form of pursuit suicidal. Captain Hulse knew the battle would be drawn out and slip into Christmas Day.

When the British soldiers stood for arms at six o’clock that prominent morning, the number of shots taken were greatly reduced from the previous day. By eight o’clock, only a few scattered, single shots could be heard off to the side where the border patrol stood watch. The main fighting zone held a natural truce that was neither dictated by the British or the Germans. The eye’s of the soldiers reflected a sense of peace that morning, allowing each one to ponder gratitude for the good within the lives of their families.

Germans Extend Grace

Captain Hulse was startled by movement out of the corner of his eye. He lifted the binoculars and spied four Germans who had climbed out of their trenches and headed toward the British.  None carried weapons. He watched as they slowed to a stop in the middle of no-mans-land, making sure not to cross into British territory.

Captain Hulse wondered what message they might have carried and quickly ordered two men to meet the Germans in the middle unarmed. None wanted to take such a risk on Christmas, forcing Captain Hulse to climb out of the trench and traverse the frozen ground alone. The walk felt longer than it was, knowing that 100,000 or so men from both sides were watching every step he took.

The Captain was greeted by three privates and a stretcher bearer. One German shared how they felt compelled to wish the Captain and his men a happy Christmas. The four Germans had put their lives on the line, trusting the British to keep the unstated truce. The German spokesperson shared that the men personally had no feeling of enmity against the British, but they were soldiers who had to obey their superiors.

The conversation became complex as the Captain and soldiers discussed the terrible wounds made by the rifle bullets. They all agreed that the high-velocity bullets with a pointed nose were designed to inflict wounds at short range. They also agreed that the old South African round nosed bullets made a cleaner hole. The conversation continued for a half hour, at which time a German, who saw great similarities between men, suggested that both sides return unarmed in the afternoon to the no-mans-land to celebrate Christmas.

Christmas Party for All

Later in the afternoon, a large group of unarmed Germans entered no-man’s-land. One of the German snipers led his fellow soldiers in the singing of Christmas carols, while they watched the unarmed British move toward them. Soon they sang a chorus or two of O Tannenbaum and the British joined in with the English translation of O Christmas Tree. The men marveled at their unified ability to sing the same song with different words. Laughter and handshakes followed.

The party lasted a couple hours and many exchanged gifts, based on what they had on them at the time. Some exchanged pipe tobacco, cigarettes, pens, pins, alcohol, and other small paraphernalia. Everyone had a merry time.

A 19-year-old private named Henry William Williams smoked a pipe during the party that was given to him by Princess Mary. In the pipe was German tobacco gifted to him from one of the enemy soldiers. They had met after a joyous chorus, shook hands and exchanged gifts or souvenir trinkets. Both gifts were heartily received.

When the day grew short, Captain Hulse ordered his men back to the trenches.

An Extended Truce

The Germans promised that they would maintain the truce indefinitely. Captain Hulse said that the truce had ended, but the Germans persisted that they would not continue the fight unless the British fired first. The Captain clarified the end of the truce and continued walking back to the trenches. A short time later a few British soldiers took plum pudding to the Germans, received thanks, and returned to their trenches. Not a single shot was fired for the rest of the evening. Neither side wanted to fire on the men that they had met personally.

The night watch hours were also silent. Not a single weapon was raised against the opponent. The men were comfortable in the aura of peace that had befallen all soldiers. Several men wrote letters to their mothers during the still of the night, speaking highly of the men they had met and the miracle truce that transpired. Those writing letters never fathomed how their letters, years later, would testify to the Christmas miracle—thanks to World War I historians that documented the war efforts.

Not a single man was willing to break the miraculous gift of the truce that surpassed their understanding. They embraced the silent night with thankfulness in their hearts.

Relieved

Quietness filled the wore-torn battlefield late into the evening. The Grenadiers arrived and relieved the British soldiers. By first light, the Grenadiers stood and fired upon the Germans. A new battle had broken out and thousands of lives were lost. But the miracle story of the truce was remembered and retold every year by those who understood the power of Christmas and the joy of those who participate.

Copyright 2018 by CJ Powers

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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