A Creative’s TO-DOs

The Creative's TO-DOs-9I was taking a walk the other night weaving and roaming through very different areas of town not normally visited by the average person out for a stroll. My goal was to get an hour of fresh air to clear my thinker, which works far better than you might suppose.

The journey took me past multi-million dollar homes, a homeless person sleeping on a hammock strung up between two park trees, and a curious person who wanted to know what creatives should do to keep fresh.

A smile came over my face as I shared my Top Ten List:

10. Change Your Place and Pace

To alter your perspective it’s always good to change your place and your pace. Putting yourself in front of people you haven’t yet met will also give you an opportunity to stretch your perceptions to new ideas and viewpoints. When my family was young we attended a church made up of over 70 different nationalities. During my travels overseas I stayed with locals every chance I got.

Being in a new place that moves at a different pace than what I’m accustomed to creates a plethora of benefits. Add to this the interaction with people in accordance to their culture, always gives me a fresh perspective. And sometimes, just a simple walk around the local lake is sufficient to clear my thoughts.

9. See Activities as Productions

Viewing social and work activities as things that add or detract from your brand of creativity is essential to productivity. Social? Productivity? “How do the two relate?” you ask. Well, creatives use both sides of their brain. The right side is where their genius comes from, while the left side allows them to manage their business.

Everything they touch must be modular and seen as a production requiring both the creative inspiration and the methodical process to finish the project. When all of the creative’s work is segmented into projects, he is free to jump around between them in his mind when he is relaxed or socializing. This shift in perspective fuels the creative genius and generates solutions far more powerfully than planned brainstorming sessions can provide, although done properly, brainstorming can work wonders, too.

8. Reduce Ideas to Writing

Ideas pop into my mind at lightning speeds and disappear once the next distraction or greater idea pops up. By making sure some form of the idea is quickly reduced to writing ensures that I have a trigger point to regenerate the idea for further exploration. Without a handy note, the busyness of the day can slow my recall for several hours or even days.

Most creatives I know use a creative journal, commonplace book, lookbook, capture book, or vision board. Most business people I know use Evernote or OneNote software. I’ve used all the above depending on the project. Anything will work to collect the information you want to keep for further use in one place.

7. Capture All Feelings

All forms of artistry are able to directly impact the culture when it is emotionally charged. To that end, it’s important for creatives to capture the feelings they experience and what happened to elicit the response. By collecting these expressions for study, the creative is able to explore various methods or techniques to become an added tool in their entertainment belt.

A commonplace book can be a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and the feelings the information generates. The captured notes of expressions can be organized for later use in your writing, speaking or other art forms.

6. Kill the Mediocre

A writer’s group I attended recommended we “kill our darlings.” The reference was to get rid of those little scenes that we personally adore, but don’t move the story forward. Killing the mediocre is also vital to the life of any creative project. Items on the Internet need to regrab the individual’s attention far more often than an orchestra playing lakeside at sunset.

I’ve been called my worst critic on more than one occasion. While my budget typically determines the quality of my projects, my desire for adventure makes sure I avoid boredom at all costs. I have no problem dropping complete scenes in films if I feel boredom slowly sneaking into my life while viewing the piece. I’d rather drop the scene than lose the audience. Most everything that is not excellent must be cut.

5. Build Posterity

I’m amazed at how the works of Mark Twain have survived several lifetimes. Even some of his quips out lasted his life as quotes, crossing into another century thanks to great orators. The concept of developing an idea and presenting it in a way that future generations can admire and grow from is a wonderful legacy and worth achieving when the subject matter permits.

Posterity can only happen when a creative puts a great deal of thought into the universal truths we all face. Those truths shall always out live the test of time since every generation deals with the same issues in its own unique way. During my childhood I read a comic book about cloning. Later in life I learned about cloned animals being used for mass produced foods. Recently I read about medications made through the DNA splicing process that can pinpoint only disease ridden cells. The human condition that forces us to consider whether or not cloning is good or bad for society will be around for decades to come. Therefore any works created that addresses the decision process will be timeless.

4. Fail Upward

I like to see “the artistry of mistakes” (a title from one of my future books) in all of my goof ups and foolish moments because most come directly from my heart. There seems to be a seed of creativity within my errors that will be cultivated into something special later in life, since all things have an opportunity to be redeemed.

The very concept of failing upward suggests that we can learn from our mistakes, and we can stumble across new ideas that we would never consider without our initial bumbling idea that humorously caught our attention. I’ve learned that my greatest works were birthed from my greatest pains—a subject all creatives must embrace.

3. Stylize Your Projects

Branding your projects is essential for people to learn about what’s important that’s birthed from within your soul. For the audience to see your heart, they must see your flair. It’s the creative touch from a passionate heart that attracts a following or fandom, which eventually pays the bills. Creatives must be found before they can inspire others and a creative’s style is his calling card.

It is easy to see when the creation of a stylized product came directly from the artist’s heart. It’s like a fingerprint that makes it theirs. I’ve heard numerous speakers that are really good, but the thing that distinguishes one from another is the amount of heart or passion they put into their subject. The more stylized a person is in their heartfelt presentations, the harder it is for them to present something that isn’t truly theirs. I’ve seen the disconnect become more obvious with speakers that use ghostwriters and filmmakers who direct a script that they don’t believe in.

2. Share the Wow

According to eMarketer Pro, the average adult spends 12 hours and 7 minutes a day consuming media. There are over 5,000 new television productions and 600 movies released every year in America. The audience has gotten so good at “reading” media that they are no longer impressed unless the creative takes them somewhere they haven’t been, shows them something they’ve never seen, or revealed an angle of an idea they’ve never considered. To get their attention, the creative must share something that wows.

Pixar came onto the scene with a product that caused everyone to say, “Wow!” When Toy Story 2 was in development, the team had in mind to make an inexpensive follow up video that would quickly add money to the coffers. The thrown together story was terrible and the creative team finally decided to rework it, breaking their goal for achieving a quick, cheap money making product. Adding more time to the production schedule, the team focused on making sure each sequence had a wow factor. By the time the film was ready, they shifted from a video to a theatrical release that generated a far greater income than the original film.

1. Make it Meaningful

The worst words for a creative to hear from their audience is, “That’s nice.” The best words would touch on how the art stirred the person’s heart or changed their direction in life. To receive this type of encouragement, the creative must be vulnerable and put their heart into their story or production. And, the story must have something meaningful in it, which is why Oscar contenders always touch on society’s greatest barriers.

That’s not to say that a fun adventurous story can’t be meaningful, it can. The best way to encourage a person is through fun and entertainment that opens their mind to consideration. In the 1620s the meaning for the word entertain or entertainment was “to allow (something) to consideration, take into the mind.” This referred to the person being entertained to consider the notion or opinion shared within the entertainment. The more meaningful the theme or story was, the more it directly impacted the way the person thought going forward.

When creatives focus on the above Top Ten List of TO-DOs, they succeed in articulating, whether visually, orally, or in writing, their heart and the direction or journey they feel others should travel. A creative’s art becomes the cornerstone of change in their community, whether global, national, or local.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers
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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

 

Stunt Actor Bob Beck

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

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

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

CJnBob

CJ Powers with Stunt Performer Bob Beck

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

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

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

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

BobOnCamera

BOSS © MMXII LIONSGATE TELEVISION INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018 by CJ Powers

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Counter Programming Coming Soon

Deadpool 2Deadpool 2’s huge box office showing is a sign that it’s time for Disney to diversify from their current superhero trajectory. The mega hit broke numerous records with its expected irreverent tone and supercharged irony introduced to audiences during its freshman release in February 2016.

The second sign was the buzz generated by those hating the Avengers 4 film’s cliffhanger ending that forces the audience to wait a year for the next installment. The on-screen Marvel Universe is starting to show wear, but it did get a temporary shot in the arm from The Black Panther.

History suggests that the Marvel film franchises might soon follow the same pattern Marvel experienced with the collapse of the comic universe after they merged all the characters into one set of stories—The Avengers.

It turned out that those reading Captain America wanted him to stay dominant against the uber bad guys, but the superhero’s enemies got so big it took numerous Avengers to stop them. Even Thanos, who seems to be the ultimate villain is nothing compared to Captain Marvel who will be introduced next year to help save the day, making Captain America look like an ordinary guy.

Steve Rogers, who became Captain America, attracted a lot of people to the Marvel universe because he was a conservative that believed in doing what was right regardless of the odds. He was also fully human, just like everyone in the audience, but thanks to a unique science that greatly increased his strength, became an icon for individuals standing up to all that detracted from a wholesome lifestyle.

But Rogers has since become insignificant to the extraordinary powers soon to be displayed by Captain Marvel who can easily wipe out Thanos, once she shows up. No longer does the universe relate to the typical man and woman on the street, as the stories now take place in space, rather than in our own backyards.

CaptainM_ThanosDeadpool 2 makes fun of these superhero counterparts as the story breaks the fourth wall numerous times to give a wink to the audience. Tongue-in-cheek humor allows Deadpool to even make fun of Ryan Reynolds, the actor who portrays him. The film systematically lets go of all superhero conventions. An example includes blowing up the main character in the beginning of the film, tossing his bloody body parts out into the audience in the 3D version.

For Deadpool 1 & 2 to work at the box office, audiences had to be getting tired of the superhero formula, which is a sign to Disney and the lagging Warner Brothers DC Universe to start diversifying the types of films being released.

bookclub-1Book Club was one counter-programming film that wasn’t given enough screens to satisfy the audience’s demand. The film was allocated to smaller screens, stopping many fans from finding seats due to sold out theaters. While the $12.5MM box office take might normally seem small to a studio executive, he or she must look past the dollars and realize that the falsely constrained opening was caused by the film being relegated to smaller theaters—another sign that audiences want to watch a lot more than superhero films.

Counter programming is a must to balance the coming superhero releases this summer. There are so many weaker franchise films releasing that this tiring trend will become more obvious with sliding turnouts. Diversifying before the coming slump is key to keeping audiences happy, but studios tend to milk every dollar from their shining stars and CGI worlds.

Studios have never been able to turn on a dime, opening the doors for independent filmmakers ready to release alternative programming. The best part of the process for independents is that the audience votes with their ticket purchases. The market is ready for a new trend to develop, and it is likely to be the type of films that will swing the pendulum back to the conservative side of telling wholesome and moral stories.

In other words, it’s time for the maverick, disruptive films to be conservative, wholesome and moral. Keep your eyes open over the next three years and see how the coming trend plays out.

© 2018 by CJ Powers

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