Getting Past the White Blank Paper

A common question I get is, “How do you get past staring at that blank white sheet of paper when you create?”

My answer, “I doodle on it until it’s no longer intimidating.”

The key to any creative project is getting started. You can start at the beginning, the middle or the end, as all elements will have a part in the final creative piece. It might take on a different form or launch you into a better direction or story, but all elements are part of the journey that develops the idea into something worth sharing.

I remember being mesmerized as a little kid watching Mary Poppins. She was wholesome, magical and very smart. When Jane and Michael struggled to clean up their room, she reminded them that, “A job begun is half done.” This statement proved to be true in life and helped me understand the three things necessary to move a creative idea through to completion.

  1. Start Anywhere and in Anyway.

IMG_3363Creatives tend to start with a doodled idea on the nearby napkin. I’ve yet to meet a great film director who doesn’t have doodles in the margins of his notebook. It’s a natural process for creatives to doodle out ideas and turn them into something greater than intended.

For some, clipping magazines for a vision board will kick their ideas off in a powerful way. Others create living reels, storyboards and mood reels. Another might shoot off lots of photos, stick them on the wall and arrange them to find a potential story. There is no wrong answer to spark ideas that can cross over to your next big thing.

  1. Improve Upon the Idea

Once the creativity has been started, the refining process kicks into gear. All first ideas lack luster and rarely fit the final work of art. The journey of creation requires rework 80% of the time to bring the art to life. Three steps will help the creative hone their ideas…

  • What If: Asking what if questions force the mind to consider multiple angles and perspectives on the art. By interrogating the idea for all possible vantage points, a richness of greater value is added to the work.
  • Examine & Re-examine: Focusing in on the craft and bringing the idea to a master level allows the creative to determine the best possible way to share the story or idea. Instead of retelling the age-old story of Sleeping Beauty, Disney diverged from its standards and told the story of Maleficent. Critical and creative thinking can help this process explore new avenues of possibilities.
  • Inspire with Imagery: Finding quotes, verses or images that spark emotions related to your idea will inspire and move the process forward. The creative always welcomes the possibility of sparking something new that polishes an idea or brings it into a unique and fascinating light.
  1. Add Magic

The sparkle or the ah-ha moment lifts the idea above scrutiny. That simple element of magic also transforms the art into something entertaining that must be talked about among friends. Whether it’s a unique moment in a story, the juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated items, or an uncanny perspective that enlightens, the magic gives the art wings to transcend the culture to something better than its current state.

Get started in anyway you choose and then recreate to make your work better and better, until you finally find the magic element that will make your idea worth sharing by others. It doesn’t matter if your audience is a business team, little children or out of town relatives, everyone needs to be entertained enough to open their minds to your shared idea.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

 

 

Labeling the Creative

LabelLabels are dreadful, even the good ones. All too often people try to categorize what they don’t understand, as if it will bring a sense of security where its not needed. The creative spirit is allusive to many and requires a label from the logical to understand why a person is unconventional.

I’ve been called unique, weird, innovative, imaginative and creative. Each label was an attempt on the person’s part to categorize me into something close to what they understand. They’re uncomfortable with me not living life in what they believe to be an appropriate manner – A lifestyle based on logic.

Most get away with slapping a label on a creative because the majority of people require the same. I’ve read estimates that there is one creative person for every 10,000 logical people. That means for every motion picture cast and crew of 300 people, there are 3 million who don’t have a clue how to relate with those creatives. However, not knowing how to interact with a creative doesn’t stop the 3 million from enjoying their film.

The good news is that most creatives have had to learn how to relate to their audiences and investors in a logical fashion. Since the creative is capable of living in both worlds, at least for a time, the one looking for fans and funds bridges the gap.

This dynamic relationship drives a certain level of fandom based solely on the unknown. Every performance or released product appears to be all the more entertaining as the creative gives fans glimpses into their soul – The most rewarding form of story.

After reading a heartwarming story, one person told me the author had talent or the ability to achieve what others cannot achieve. His friend politely disagreed and argued that the author was a genius, as defined by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. His writings suggested that genius rises from a superior capacity for contemplation that leads the artist to transcend the smallness of ego and enter the infinite world of ideas.

I suggested that the cautionary tale of artistry was the person who isn’t truly creative, but puts on the appearance of the artist. He can notably get stuck in his own ego based on the rise of fandom. However, the true creative continues to create regardless of those who appreciate his creative bent.

I’m not suggesting that all creatives are naturally humble, but the ones I’ve met create because of who they are, not how many fans they obtain. The creative flourishes during the time people notice his work and during the time no one takes notice.

Schopenhauer said, “The man in whom genius lives and works is easily distinguished by his glance, which is both keen and steady, and bears the stamp of perception, of contemplation.”

There may be a parallel in how my friends argued about genius and my perspective of artistry. I define a creative as someone who observes and contemplates the very perceptions he has acquired, in order to reduce it to a medium for public consumption. Genius or not, there’s no room for ego or labels with the artist, as he must move from philosophies to thoughts, spreading the life changing ideas the public is so hungry to receive.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Leveraging the Creative Subconscious

CreativeAfter watching a dozen documentaries about screenwriters, designers, directors and editors, I’ve come to the conclusion that these artists, at least the good ones, know how to leverage their subconscious. The art they create not only has a footing in reality, but their perspective is greatly enhanced by a highly creative filter from deep within the right side of their brain and their heart.

The most exhilarating creative ideas that pop into my head come early in the morning or at times when my mind is off playing or well rested. The pros take advantage of those moments to strengthen their work and bring new entertainment value to bear. This same moment allowed me to write this blog in the fraction of time it normally takes.

To leverage this strength, my friend David did creative work in the morning and analytical work in the afternoon when logic ruled his mindset. That’s not to say he was never creative in the afternoon, but the level of creative play was typically reduced after hours of exploration and work.

There are three commonalities among professional creatives that are worth understanding.

PLAY

Deadlines and pressure never increase creativity, but the opposite magnifies the creative flow. The strongest fuel of imagination is play. It’s made up of the same elements we explored as children and allows our inner child to come out to have fun. It can’t be taught or demanded, it can only be given a safe environment in which to let go so the creative can be free to pretend.

Play allows hearts to touch or bond without being romantic, which non-creatives don’t get, as they’re convinced something more has to be there, but its not. Play also allows passion to rise and solidifies why a work of art is important. Without it, people can’t understand what the artist saw in the work.

PROCRASTINATE

Non-creatives who have watched the procrastination process of the artist assume the person is lazy; not realizing their mind is going a million miles per hour. The percolation process is what gives flavor to the creatives’ work. A long bought of what appears to be boredom turns into aggressive workflow that can easily go late into the night or until the creative has to flop onto his bed.

Many creatives will plan ahead for their moments of procrastination by determining in advance the item they want to ponder. Most find their breakthrough by morning or in the drifting of their mind. Harnessing this natural phenomenon gives professionals an added benefit of what appears to be a secret weapon of the imagination.

OBSERVE

The best writers I’ve met or learned about through blogs and short films take time to watch a movie every day. They also peruse scrapbooks, magazines and other mind stimulating products. Not only do the myriad of observations fill them with ideas, but it also helps them to know what to avoid because it has already been done.

The most fun is watching others live their lives. People have the funniest idiosyncrasies that inspire. While some might suggest these oddities are a sign of the person’s weakness, the artist sees it as their humanity emerging in a unique fashion. These peculiarities make the person wholly them.

Being able to leverage the elements that feed the subconscious, the creative can explore matters of the heart like no one else. The more this process was protected by society, the greater was the renaissance of the time. It’s no wonder that most movements were birthed in the church, which at one time was a protected place for many hearts before the decades of judgment that ensued.

Over this weekend, as America celebrates its Independence, find time to play, procrastinate and observe. See if anything arises within your soul that must be reduced to some form or expression of art. Take this weekend to determine if being more creative will give you insights into humanity and a wisdom found by few.

The Scrappy Storyteller

IMG_0172bI’ve met hundreds of storytellers in my life and found that few understand how to conform their abilities to a marketable style. I’m not talking about a niche genre, but an actual style that incorporates the core essence of who a person is that includes their creative methods and delivery.

The Scrappy Storyteller is a great example. Lisa is a storyteller, artist, and Steampunker. Everything she does demonstrates those core elements regularly. In fact, her love for using her hands to patch things together seems to be integral to her projects.

Yesterday I received a presale copy of her new comic book. It’s a mystery that features Alethia Grey from Milwaukee during the late 1890s. This sci-fi steampunk novella is fun and a quick read. But Lisa’s entertainment value goes beyond the story. The graphic novel is published on high quality paper with a durable glossy cover in keeping with the era’s desire for things to last.

To support her super fans, she offered special gifts for all who purchased the book during her presale period. Appropriate for her style, Lisa patched the items together by hand. The pieces were clearly in true steampunk fashion and reflected a creative heart and loving spirit that was befitting of the artist’s core essence.

IMG_0171bMy gifts came in a handmade bag. A personal handwritten thank you card was included. The cover of the card proudly displayed her DIY artwork. Inside the bag was the comic book, a decorative pin, art made on a stretched canvas, and a small card reminding me of her other product. Her slogan read: handmade tales told a piece at a time.

For anyone who has followed Lisa or gotten to know her in person, it’s clear that she lives story. But, not from a glitzy Hollywood type mentality. Instead she takes personal care in creating homespun stories that she pieces together as she shares it.

Aurelia was one such project. She was the creator and showrunner for an elaborate live production where fans played characters in her Internet story. Lisa was able to carefully craft her story to include all the elements fans added. The nationwide team created entries that were written, recorded as audio only and produced on video.

Lisa has a rare talent that allows her first impressions to ring true in the souls of her fans. She is gifted with words, has a great eye for style, and the ability to turn discarded items into art. But what makes her really unique is that everything she does easily fits the expressions pouring from her heart. I call that unique combination integrity of art.

Artists no longer need to find themselves or their style. Instead, they need to look inward and learn who they are. Once they understand their core self, they can filter all their art through the style that rises from within. Lisa has accomplished this very thing and helps others to follow in creating continuity within their businesses and super hobbies.

Lisa can be found through her steampunk blog at ScrappyStoryteller.com or for those wanting to create integrity within their art can find her business at LisaEngland.com.

© 2016 by CJ Powers

For Money or Art

Dolly move during scene 1Filmmaking is one of the few businesses that give you the choice of making art or a profit. Those entering the industry must either work their way up through the ranks, or capture the market’s attention with an extremely “artistic” film or a very lucrative one. Most filmmakers opt for the artistic film.

The sex appeal surrounding an art film is intoxicating, but rarely launches a filmmaker. There is total freedom in how the filmmaker advances through his process and he answers to no one. While this builds a lot of self-confidence, it can also be confusing when the film turns out less than artistic.

Independent filmmakers have released just under 300,000 films out of the 5MM produced from 1971 through last year. That means only 6% received distribution. The fact that only 19 filmmakers launched careers from their short film is more disheartening. Unfortunately 16% of the 19 made bad features films that ended their career. In other words, out of all the filmmakers producing a short film since 1971, only 0.0000032% of the producer/directors succeeded at launching a viable career – This answer would normally be rounded down, but I’ll generously round the percentage up to zero.

Since a short film is not about launching a career, but practicing the art or craft, filmmakers must make the decision to create a story that will sell or attract attention. Many will perceive the filmmaker that says, “I’ll create a film that does both,” as ignorant. But, if he accomplishes the miracle, he’ll make history.

In my next workshop, I’ll share the key elements that must be in a short film to win awards. I’ll also share the opposing elements that must be in a short that’s designed to make money. Since it’s not possible to do two opposite things at the same time in a short, filmmakers will quickly understand that they must make a choice.

The story structure used for a moneymaking short is very different than an art film. Many have tried to break the structure and create their own, but it’s resulted in the film not making money and not getting any attention. But hopefully those filmmakers learned more about their craft, which they can consider successful.

I’ve won numerous awards with short films (that didn’t make any profit) and also have made $15,000 – $168,000 on my short films (that didn’t win any awards). That experience taught me a few lessons that I’ll pass on to those attending the workshop. I will also share the secrets I’ve learned as a panel judge for several festivals.

Structuring a short as an artistic film or one to be exploited is critical for success. Those filmmakers that don’t use the proper structure create films that only excite their friends and make no money. In fact, years later the filmmaker might look back at the film and see nothing of value because he didn’t commit to either direction.

In the workshop we’ll discuss commercial and artistic loglines, story beats, outlines, writing drafts, rewriting for visual impact, adding subtext, rewriting dialog, and building conflict. We will also talk about stereotypes and character development – Why one is good for art and the other for making money.

I’ll let you know once the workshop location and dates are locked in. The workshop will take place over four 2-3 hour sessions. The networking alone will be amazing, but you’ll feel powerful when you leave the workshop knowing exactly how to pull in money or awards with your story.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Story — Endow Experience with Meaning

CFD81E31-5644-4EE4-A744-32C46B021CC0Persuading a person to your perspective is ascribed to two forms of communication: argument and story. Film is considered both an argument and story. Yet, many independent filmmakers never try to argue their point to a mass audience or share a story that’s saturated in experience and meaning. They simply want to create something cool, which adds to society’s noise.

The number of independent films, both short and feature, hit its peak and started to decline last year. The main reason for the drop was due to filmmakers leaving the industry. Many cited their inability to “break in” to Hollywood, as the reason for exit. When asked what changed perspective or infused meaning they had hoped to give their audience, none were able to answer. Their response suggested they had all been a part of the noise.

One filmmaker stated strongly that he didn’t make his film to persuade the masses, but instead created it to encourage like-minded people that agreed with his philosophies and ideas. He was asked a follow up question, “What meaning did you attach to the character’s experience for the edification of the audience?” His response was, “I had lots of lessons in the film.”

Having talked to thousands of independent filmmakers, I can tell you that a person who says they’ve put lots of messages in a film, has failed to provide the audience one clear understandable message. The film becomes a conglomerate of noise.

Story is a gift that allows us to turn meaningless activities into art filled with purpose. Without purpose, the artistry of a story fails to appear. It’s only when a single purpose or vision is conformed by artistry that a memorable story survives the test of time. When watching great story, audiences catch and embrace the meaning as their own, much like watching a good friend work through a crisis to success.

If you felt the need to label the outcome, we would call it a testimonial of the main character. After the hero overcomes his greatest obstacle, he is able to testify to his success. He lived through the painful process and not only landed on his feet, but also demonstrated to the audience a solution they can implement in their lives as well.

In other words, stories that stand the test of time are those that show a main character who attaches meaning to his or her experience. It is also a story that is easily shared with the masses because of its universal appeal. Whenever meaning is attached to a character’s activities, the story is of great interest to all viewers.

One benefit of losing filmmakers who don’t endow their experiential stories with meaning is the reduction of noise in the market. The less noise producing filmmakers, the easier it is for audiences to find the filmmaker who produces great stories.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

 

Don’t Boycott the Academy Awards®

Academy AwardsTwo factions are digging in their cleats to push their political agenda to the masses. One group suggests the Oscar® nominations must be more diversified. The other group suggests those receiving nominations did so on the merit of their work, not their skin color.

Side arguments have also risen suggesting that blacks shouldn’t complain, but instead “improve their craft to get nominated.” Still others suggest that “if you don’t like segregation, then close down the BET network.” More political strikes come from those suggesting it’s “the studios fault for not producing enough ‘black’ material.”

The arguments continue to divide the once unified art form, sending more professionals to television. Most shows are made with a universal audience in mind, but some are now suggesting that more “all black films” must be made. Diversity is now requiring more segregation for equality. Oh, the ebb and flow.

Everyone in the industry knows that audiences determine what films are made. If they support Star Wars to the sum of billions, then sequels will follow. If they don’t support the independent art film, then fewer art films will be made.

On average, white male actors dominate the box office. White females come next and then black men. The list continues through all nationalities, races and known orientations. It’s not rocket science. For some reason black actors like Denzel Washington (6 Oscar® Nominations and 2 Oscar® Wins) can draw a large audience of all races, while Tyler Perry (Zero Oscar® Nominations) draws a smaller mixed audience and a larger black audience.

Female leads draw fewer viewers than men, unless they happen to be Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Lawrence. Why? Because men and women both like watching men on screen and fewer men and women like watching women on screen. If you want people of color to have more lead roles on screen, you need to give the audience incredible talent to change their minds about what they prefer to watch.

Three factors can create a green light project: talent, money and distribution. But, only one factor can determine a film’s success: the audience. Whoever can build an audience can make whatever film-starring vehicle they want, but it doesn’t mean it’ll be award winning.

As for the Academy, it’s open by invitation to those who do great work for a universal audience. Those who create niche films typical don’t get invited. Why? Because they don’t reach a large enough audience for the Academy to notice them. That’s not to say the Academy doesn’t try to award great filmmakers who practice outside of the universal audience segment, they do with best short film and documentary categories.

The Oscars® are the best of the best based on wide distribution. The blacks that have won Oscars® in the past deserved it. To suggest that a poorly acted film like “Straight Outta Compton” should get a nomination because they’re black, only weakens the well deserved Oscar® received by blacks in prior years. Yes, Compton’s was a good film (although written by two white guys), but the acting was only up to the caliber of a music video, not an award level theatrical picture.

The Academy doesn’t give everyone a trophy for showing up to set. They keep things extremely competitive to raise the standards in the industry. You have to be “excellent” in the eyes of “all your peers” to win.

Now, some think Will Smith (2 Oscar® Nominations) should have received a nomination for “Concussion.” However, the story wasn’t as powerful as the “Erin Brockovich” story that landed Julia Roberts her Oscar®. While Smith may have performed well, Oscar® is usually associated with great stories.

It takes the right combination of audience, money, talent, story and excellence to land a nomination. And, it takes the admiration of ones peers to cash in the nomination for a win. By sticking a couple music video actors in the nominations reduces the weight the nominations carry among peers. If the nomination means nothing, the win becomes nothing more than political, which kills the awarding of the art form by peers.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers