A Father’s Day Dream

A Father'sA special day is just around the corner for dads. Some are looking forward to grabbing a beer and plopping down in their favorite chair to watch a sports event. Others will be dragged to a family function more geared toward women than men, yet it will all be in the name of honoring fathers. And, there will be those dads who long to capture another moment of life with his kids, no matter what their ages.

My dad, like myself, enjoyed the latter activity. He loved to spend time building special memories with my sister and me on Father’s Day, but my mom often had other plans. The older I got, the more I realized that dad just wanted three things out of Father’s Day: thanks, recognition, and appreciation.

THANKS

Dad sacrificed a significant amount of his free time to make extra money so I could do the activities I loved. He networked with key people in town to get me a job at the camera store where I bought my first professional camera system and used it to win Kodak’s national composition award.

Dad also supported my love for music and connected me with the owner of the music store in town. Within a few weeks, I found myself playing drums for elaborate parties, weddings and jazz clubs. Dad also supported my ability to perform and encouraged me to create a show of illusions that led to a first place award in the regional magicians competition.

And guess who let me use his professional 16mm movie camera to explore the world of film. It was no wonder that I shot my first documentary for CBS by age 18. Having grown up with a camera pointed at me since the age of 11 months, I felt at ease in production settings.

RECOGNITION

Without understanding what recognition was, I’d regularly share stories about my dad’s adventures with hundreds of people I met. I shared stories of his heroics like the Saturday morning we were driving downtown in our village. The bank alarm sounded and we watched a robber run out of the bank with a large bag of cash. The guy ran right past the front of our car causing us to screech to a stop. My dad told mom to slide over and grab the steering wheel as he hopped out of the car.

Since my dad was a police officer and they’re never “off duty,” he pulled his .38 Special out from his jacket and headed into the Woolworth store after the robber. He shouted to the clerk to call the police and headed down the aisle in pursuit. Police officers arrived on scene within moments after my dad handcuffed the bank robber and led him to the front of the store. He nonchalantly walked back to the car and we continued on our way as if nothing had happened.

I also recognized him when I won my first national and international directing awards. After all, he helped me understand how to capture story on film and even taught me simple, yet profound concepts like these words of wisdom he shared, “It’s a motion picture and the camera is made for movement, so if the actor isn’t moving the camera needs to move.”

APPRECIATION

My favorite times were those spent chatting with dad about life. Our talks were deep, precious and always just the two of us. If we were in a group of guys, instead of conversations about life, we took turns telling stories that fascinated every man leaning in. When in a group of women we’d listen attentively and only shared a few words when we could add value. But those times we connected alone, whether for 5-10 minutes or longer, were priceless.

I saw in my father’s eyes great pride when I took his words to heart. He knew that one day he could release me in the world and I’d stand tall, making decisions that would make him proud. In fact, I remember the day he acknowledged my manhood and shared with others how proud he was of me. But more importantly I remember the day at the cottage when I thanked him for all that he had instilled in my life. His eyes were filled with such an afterglow that I never thought was possible.

My mom told me later that dad bragged about me to all of his friends for weeks after that day. I suppose it may have lasted longer if it weren’t for the plane crash that took his life at the end of summer. Had I known the power of my appreciation earlier in life, I think he might have glowed for years.

I’ll miss dad this Father’s Day, as I recall more stories than I’ll have time to share with others. He was a servant to our family, a leader in our community, a veteran from WWII, and the best storyteller that I’ve met to date. I couldn’t even begin to think creatively if it weren’t for him.

It’s my hope for fathers all across the globe that this Father’s Day they will be thanked, recognized and appreciated. And more importantly, that they’ll be able to connect with their kids in a heartfelt manner.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Highs of Combinatory Play

Dream_Play

Being creative never ends. Nor is it something that is easily turned off. Some have suggested that once it gets into your blood or bones, you’re hooked for life. Maybe it’s the innovation that drives inspiration to do it again or possibly it’s just the thrill from the last project that gives you a boost for the next one.

There is a euphoric feeling that comes at the end of each creation that catapults a person to try something imaginative one more time. I’ve heard it described as the same result runners get from endorphins popping within their blood. They’re driven to do another run within the next 2-3 days, because their biological systems respond as if they were coming down from a drug high. Everything within them screams for another fix that only a run can bring.

But creativity is not a drug. Nor does it create drug like responses. The built in thrill comes from triumphs of moving from concept to completion. And I’m not speaking of just any type of accomplishment, but the ones that naturally cause a person to play. Being creative is all about being flexible, a good troubleshooter, and most of all a person who loves to play.

If the project isn’t fun, then it’s not a creative project.

Even Einstein took time to play with ideas. He used a concept called combinatory play to develop a good number of his theories and inventions. He started with two columns of lists. Then he drew a line between an item on the first list and another item on the second list. The result was something completely new to consider.

Computer Slicer
Coffee Maker Ticket
Sun Glasses Soda Can
Toast Window
Bagel Small Container

If a person draws a line between the bagel and slicer, he would start to come up with the invention of the bagel slicer, which of course was invented. Connecting Coffee Maker with Small Container may have led to the single cup coffee makers of today. There are many other combinations that will spark creative thinking that leads to innovation.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”  —Steve Jobs

I’ve been told many times that I’m the most creative person any given he or she had ever known. They’re also amazed at the wide and diverse range of activities I’ve experienced in life. The wealth of experiences within my memory gives me numerous things to ponder every day. And, with all of those experiences I’ll never find myself bored. After all, the beginning of any creation can pop up in my head just by considering a possible combination as I play mental gymnastics.

I’ll never forget inventing an illusion in middle school and then seeing it used in a television magic special that Friday night. I realized that the combination of experiences I used to create the illusion wasn’t unique. Someone had already dreamt up the same idea. But I felt great knowing that my idea worked and looked amazing. It gave me a high and I dove in to create again.

The afterglow of creativity always energizes additional inspiration with new perspectives and ideas. The playfulness around the conceptual makes it fun to bring the ideas into reality and the word failure never shows up, simply because there’s not enough time to be critical when exploring various possibilities. It’s all about play and feeling great.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

 

The Riches of Cross-Gender Conversation

Conversation_with_Opposite_GenderWhenever the entire family got together to celebrate holidays someone would inevitably mention the matriarch we all lived under. The women in the family predetermined my childhood activities and there were so few men that no one argued for alternate experiences.

In Cub Scouts I was labeled a “mama’s boy” and by the time I entered Boy Scouts the words, “Mama’s little cherry tart,” rang in my ears weekly. The repetitive degradation limited my dialogue with guys, but thankfully the women in my life supplied an ample amount of conversation for a young boy.

Not only did I learn to be a good listener, but I also got pretty good at jumping back and forth between non-linear simultaneous banter. My dad’s ability to carrying a conversation exceeded that of most men too, especially when filled with his unending list of stories that captivated everyone in the room. I’m not sure if our skills developed to help us survive living within the matriarch or we were hardwired to communicate from birth.

By the time I received my drivers license, I realized that few men were able to chat for any length of time. I unconsciously developed more female than male friendships. This was probably due to my comfort level conversing with women, but also because I understood that the more people shared, the more fascinating their life story.

Finding a good conversationalist was like discovering a hidden treasure filled with heartfelt pieces of gold. As trust developed through a series of chats, the information shared became more profound and admirable. The level of vulnerability increased and the waves of delight and amazement for the person’s life achievements commanded respect. Meeting a man or a woman capable of carrying on a vulnerable conversation inspired my life and blessed me with great intangible wealth.

But a few days ago, I read a Focus on the Family article that if heeded takes away that treasure. The words were a warning to married men about conversing with women. The thought of not having in depth chats with women to placate someone’s fears was absurd.

The article referenced the “Billy Graham’s Rules” and suggested all men need to follow it to protect their marriages. But the piece wasn’t clear that the rules, actually called the “Modesto Manifesto,” were put together by a group of guys wanting to protect their ministries from any appearance of controversy. It had little to do with their wives.

Vice President Pence’s choice to never be alone in a room with a woman who isn’t his wife was also mentioned. Based on what I’ve read about Pence, he is a man of integrity and does not yield to what he knows is wrong. Surely his wife knows of his integrity too, so why does he avoid being in a room with another woman? Is it because he doesn’t trust himself or women?

Being a man of good character and integrity should give you access to conversations with women, not force you to sever the possibility from life. I’ve learned more from women in my life than I have from men. I can’t even begin to comprehend how little knowledge I would’ve amassed using the alleged protection rule.

Integrity to me means that I will live my life in the same way in public and behind closed doors. I will endeavor to be honest at all times, sustain my moral principles through example, and live uprightly according to godly standards, not man’s. I will also live a holistic life and not present a divided self. I will be a creative person in public and in private.

As for being goofy, since it’s a side effect of my imagination, I will choose when to reveal it and to whom. After all, few people would want me to act goofy at a funeral. But, in keeping with integrity, I have no problem with people learning that I can be down right goofy. Or, as my kids put it—Weird.

So if I were married, I would hope my relationship with my wife reveals who I am. I’d want her to see into the deepest part of my soul where life long trust is built. With that kind of access to my heart, I believe she would trust my integrity and our marriage. This state of partnership would then allow for conversations with anyone I meet.

Now, this is not to say that I’m not careful. I am. I’d be a fool to continue an in depth conversation with any person, man or woman, which does not live by similar standards. If a person is trying to win or persuade me away from what I know is true and right, then I immediately lose respect for them and see no need to continue the conversation. I politely walk away.

A few years after my divorce, I remember meeting a woman that was super hot and equally as sweet. My integrity told me to walk away, not because she wasn’t of value, she was, but there was something about her that stopped me from being me. I had to continue living an integrated life based on the principles that I adhere to and her presentation was hindering my moral success internally. Left unchecked, it could eventually dampen my morals externally.

I do not want to be a moral failure. Nor do I want to cut out the riches in my life because some men were fearful they might do wrong without a pact. I do not make fear-based decisions. I do not answer to how an organization, author or a group of men think I should live. I answer to only one person—the creator and protector of my soul.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

A Surprise Request to Screen Megan Leavey—Review

MEGAN LEAVEYRegal Cinema contacted me with the hopes of attending a prerelease screening of Megan Leavy. The invitation was not the standard film review request, as veterans were also invited to attend. Surrounded by heroes, my expectations quickly grew. I wondered if director Gabriela Cowperthwaite might be the next Oscar winning female director along side of Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty).

Megan Leavey receives a wide release on June 9, 2017. The film is based on a true life story of a young Marine Corporal (Kate Mara: House of Cards, The Martian, Iron Man 2) whose unique discipline and bond with her military combat dog saved many lives during their 100 plus missions in Iraq.

While the film takes you on a journey with Leavey and Rex training to be warriors, and even highlights a few missions, the film is not a war movie.

“I think of Megan Leavey as a relationship movie about someone learning to value themselves by virtue of valuing and caring about something else,” said director Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

Known for her documentaries on the protection of animals, Cowperthwaite made sure the audience experienced what the dogs and their partners work through during their bomb sniffing duties.

MEGAN LEAVEYThe film opens with Leavey living a hot mess of a life. She runs away from it by joining the Marines. Through a series of circumstances, Leavey is assigned to partner with Rex, her military German shepherd. They train hard together and build a relationship that helps Leavey understand what love and devotion is about.

Midway through the film they face an attack and both suffer an IED injury that puts their partnership in jeopardy. Leavey puts in for retirement and seeks to adopt Rex so they can work through their healing process together as civilians, but Rex gets redeployed making Leavey’s PTSD recovery extremely difficult.

For Rex’s sake, Leavey steps up her life, as a Marine would, and goes to battle for Rex’s retirement and his adoption. Her shear will and passion for Rex is enough to spark her creativity and she does what no one had every done before. The outcome will bring pride to your heart and a tear to your eye, especially if you are a dog lover or know a veteran who had a hard time adapting to civilian life.

Unfortunately the film has several unnecessary scenes that make it feel about 20 minutes too long. And, a few scenes that you’d love to see in depth were only alluded to instead of being shown. However, the acting is top notch by most of the cast and the love between Leavey and Rex will keep your interest.

PosterAfter the screening several veterans sitting nearby shared how they knew a person just like Leavey and felt the overall story was accurate concerning their attempts to reintegrate into civilian life. They also loved watching the end credits featuring footage of the real Megan Leavey and Rex.

Also in attendance was a millennial filmmaker who discussed the film with me as we left the theater. We debated about the holes in the story and the lack of exploration in the areas of Leavey’s life that I wanted to better understand. But we quickly agreed that this moderately budgeted film was well worth supporting, as non-blockbuster films (the theater staples of the past century) seem to be few and far between.

We also agreed that Cowperthwaite was not the next Oscar contender, nor was the film a war movie. Megan Leavey is a dog lover’s movie about finding oneself through the caring of another. While the intensity of the battle scenes should be avoided by children, the film is of value to older kids.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Picking a 3, 8 or 12-Week Shooting Schedule

StripBoard

Sample Scheduling Strip Board

A friend of mine surprised me with a note detailing the results of his unique research. He was adamant about learning why certain films succeed with a shooting schedule that kills other films. The correlation was eye opening and made me curious about my list of shooting scripts.

Typical Movies of the Week (MOW) fit easily into a 3-week schedule due to time constraints and budgets. Although some networks are satisfied with the results garnered by 2-week schedules because they prefer few set-ups and lots of close-ups.

Beginning filmmakers also use the 2-3 week schedule because they don’t yet have the artistic flair or knowledge of what to do with the extra time provided in an 8-week schedule. Many newbie directors can’t tell what the actor did right or wrong, so they move to the next shot without any exploration of how to best capture the human condition.

Oscar® loves the 8-week schedule because it keeps the story intimate and gives plenty of time to explore the artistic values that expose the human condition. The vast majority of Academy Award nominees and winners hold well to the 8-week shooting schedule. Few Oscar® winners use a shorter or longer shooting schedule.

Highly commercial films are forced to use the 12-week schedule due to its elaborate shots, visual effects and global storylines. The bigger box office spectaculars have even stretched the shooting schedule out to 6 months in order to properly create the world of adventure adored by audiences worldwide.

Understanding why the films in each category could succeed was impressive, but I found the list of failures more enlightening.

Many horror and Faith-based films attempt to make an 8-week film in 2-weeks and wonder why their box office couldn’t hit Hollywood’s $40MM mark that determines success within the industry. While most horror films shot within a 3-week schedule hit $12MM, Faith-based films tend to hit $3MM. I was curious about the gap.

According to the research, horror films use a simple “coming after you” action device to move the story forward and salts in a secondary plotline of romance or something from “Geekdom.” Faith-based films seldom use action plotlines, so the story has no forward movement. The filmmakers rely solely on the message’s innate value rather than salting it into an action throughline.

Of course, 8 and 12-week scheduled films usually have a strong action plotline and one or two subplots to entertain the masses. This structure in of itself demands more shooting time and exploration of the human condition. Comedies on the other hand don’t adhere to the story structure, as they explore improvisational work by the talent. Doing so can accidentally remove the pacing and format of the story, making it fall apart in the eyes of the audience.

Most $40MM plus stories are shot on the 8-week schedule using full story structure with an action plotline and two subplots. The longer schedule attracts larger names to the project that can draw a larger audience. The key to the film’s success typically rests on the director, writer and talent. Story is king and knowing how to direct is essential.

Most of the stories I write are for 8 and 12-week schedules. However, most of the shows I’ve been hired to direct have been for 3 and 8-week shooting schedules. The shorter schedules were due to investors or producers that wanted to spend as little money as possible to achieve their results, rather than investing the amount needed to honor the story’s natural schedule.

When I shot Mystery at the Johnson Farm we scheduled 11 pages a day and shot lots of close-ups with little coverage. When I was in The Dark Night’s parade scene we were capturing less than a page a day. On Nolan’s heavy stunt days they were lucky to capture one to two eights of a page a day.

The story demands a certain amount schedule for each of its specific scenes. To rob the story of what it requires only lowers the quality of the film. To give too much time to scenes causes the show to become bloated, forcing the editor to battle the director—trimming favorite shots for the sake of pacing and entertainment value.

The key question with independent film … is the story well structured enough to require the golden 8-week schedule or is it too weak? If it’s weak the filmmaker can either adjust the script or refocus his distribution to a small cable network in place of a theatrical release.

©2017 by CJ Powers

The Oddity of Friendship

Seneca.jpg

Seneca, Roman philosopher

In the world of entertainment there are fans and super fans, all of which become “friends” in social media. In the world of business there are co-workers and managers, also listed as “friends” in social media. This is also true in religion, government and education.

But is it meaningful?

How friendship looks through the eyes of 21st century inhabitants seems to be dictated by mobile devices. The art of friendship has disintegrated through the politically correct posturing of social media and the lack of personal attention given to others.

My recent trip to Michigan in support of a long time friend caused me to wonder how many of my “friends” I would support through their grief. More perplexing to my psyche was the question about which ones might support me.

I came to realize that the depths of friendships we have are solely of our own making. Oh, it’s a two way street through the give and take of life events as they unfold, but we still choose our friends. We also determine how much vulnerability and intimacy we bring to each relationship.

I heard one person say that they only look for friends that will not judge them. Yet, everyone judges whether or not a person is worthy of his or her time and friendship, and rightfully so, as we only have time for a couple intimate friends.

The first-century Roman philosopher, Seneca, wrote letters on the two pillars of friendship: “a friend is a person with whom (one) may be sincere;” and, “one who seeks friendship for favorable occasions, strips it of all its nobility.”

I’m all too familiar with the person who wants to strike up a friendship to advance their career or social status. Fair-weathered friends are far more common than most think and happens within all levels of society. We can even lower our standards for the sake of what we too can draw from a relationship.

But let me be clear, I’m not condemning partnerships designed to move businesses forward or give life to charities, but rather I’m speaking to that intimate level of friendship that we all desire deep within our hearts. I’m speaking to the friendship where each involved will willfully give their life for their friend should circumstances require such a compassionate resolve.

True deep friendship is not about what we might gain from the other person. It’s about what we give of ourselves to maintain the relationship.

Seneca said, “He who regards himself only, and enters upon friendships for this reason, reckons wrongly.”

My recent travel out of state was a seed sown into my friendship that may or may not ever be reciprocated. I was okay with that idea, as I was giving to the friendship not drawing from it. The day I need to draw from it will come soon enough in the scope of life’s ups and downs, but for now I needed to make a compassionate deposit.

Seneca had additional thoughts on how to capture more true friends than false ones when he said, “If you consider any man a friend whom you do not trust as you trust yourself, you are mightily mistaken and you do not sufficiently understand what true friendship means… When friendship is settled, you must trust; before friendship is formed, you must pass judgment. Those persons indeed put last first and confound their duties, who … judge a man after they have made him their friend, instead of making him their friend after they have judged him. Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul. Speak as boldly with him as with yourself… Regard him as loyal and you will make him loyal.”

Judging a person by their character and ability to maintain information as a confidant is of great value when deciding to let them into your heart for a meaningful relationship. Guarding your heart from those who don’t qualify for intimacy is even more critical.

Over the past few years I’ve met many good listeners and people of good report. The character of many has caused me to step up my personal efforts. But, finding a person who will not share my inner most thoughts with another person has come up empty all too often.

Most people of good character, in the name of love and wanting what’s best for me, report back to someone who tries to watch over me. Oh, I don’t mind a mentor or two, but I long for that one person who will keep my comments to themselves—someone who is willing to be a true friend.

The oddity of friendship is perplexing. We all have lots of secondary friends that are of great value. We have even more fair-weathered friends who support us circumstantially, which can be helpful. But, so few of us have that one friend who will keep our deepest, darkest secrets.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

A Mere Man

a mere manMy travels took me on an adventure that I’ll never forget. The wisdom I gleaned as the trip events unfolded took me from the somber depths of death to the invigorating honor of eternal life. I saw what few men today have an opportunity to witness and yet it came without pomp and circumstance.

To support a special friend of mine, one who has endured much and was still found with love in her heart toward mankind, I hopped in my car and headed off on what a map program suggested would be a five hour trip. Eight hours later I arrived at the funeral parlor where her father’s viewing had gathered countless souls.

I quietly stepped into the room. The polish on my shoes looked dull compared to the luminous look of joy on my friend’s face. We embraced, as long time friends do, and she scurried me off to meet members of her family that I had never met. Each face reflected thankfulness for my long journey and desire to be of encouragement. But it was I who was encouraged.

One sister attempted to share the value of my attendance, but her eyes suggested that her words fell short in explaining what the moment meant to her sister and family. Her eyes seemed to search for better words, but all she could do was give my hand a gentle squeeze and share a genuine smile.

Her mother received me with open arms and a warm heart. In the midst of her grieving she temporarily set her pain from the loss of her husband aside and showed me compassion. She too was generous with encouraging words and I realized that my presence meant more than any feeble attempt I might make speaking words of comfort.

The generosity of shared love within the room was overwhelming and I quickly forgot I was in a funeral parlor. Somber comments mixed with the jovial soon filled the air as people took their seats and listened to many shared life experiences with my friend’s father. Each talked about their encounter with him and the changes he instilled in their lives. And a few, after sharing their personal growth, pointed out his humorous idiosyncrasies.

Laughter filling the room did everyone’s heart good like medicine. The humble setting was permeated with honor for this man of God. All in attendance recognized his humility. Those who heeded his advice to pray and read the Word of God daily gave amazing testimonies. The number of miracles I heard caused my head to spin.

And yet, he was a mere man.

Eager to hear every life-changing story, I mingled for some time after the service ended. I listened attentively to numerous people and shared few words of my own. My confidence in this man’s legacy was resolute. He indeed was a god-fearing man that was led by the Spirit of the Living God. I had no doubt and I wanted to be a mere man, too.

Moments later I found myself chatting with a woman whose life had been ravaged for the past several years. In a last ditch effort to survive the stream of abuse she endured, she filed for divorce. Our conversation reminded her of what “life” was supposed to look like, which greatly contrasted her present conditions.

Relief came over her face and a glint of hope sparkled in her eyes. It had been too long since she had something to look forward to in life, but on this day hope welled up within her soul. She sensed that the next chapter in her life might be about beauty in place of ashes. She thanked God for our divine appointment and left with great expectations to see what He had in store for her life going forward.

“A divine appointment.” That’s what she called it. Something astonishing had happened and I knew it had nothing to do with me. I felt like a mere man.

Then it dawned on me.

My friend’s father was a man who believed in truth, spoke words of love into the lives of those around him, and made himself available to be an encouragement during their times of need. He was far more than a mere man—He was a man who chose to engage with those that needed encouragement.

© 2017 by CJ Powers