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
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The Love Triangle (or Box)

Love TriangleYoung filmmakers rarely use a love triangle within their movies. They miss the tremendous amount of conflict and story development that rises naturally from the mix. Their eyes are closed to the internal stories tumbling within the souls of each character and how it externally manifests itself in humor and drama.

Relationship triangles in life happen more times than we admit. But, I’ve experienced the dreaded relationship “box” and found the experience stranger than fiction. However, the true elements from within the experience make great tools for interesting movies.

I spent a couple summers in high school and college at my family cottage on beautiful Bughs Lake. It was a small lake that perfectly reflected its surroundings until the ducks flew in, putting ripples in the water just before dinner.

There were four of us that hung out together. Sue was the most beautiful, the smartest and most charismatic. She had the artistically sculpted legs of a dancer and a personality that could keep people entertained for hours. Her cousin Lori was also hot with well-toned muscles and a deep tan. She was the most energetic of the group and pumped life into every room she entered.

David lived one lake over and joined us numerous times for whatever the day’s activity would bring. He was a jock that looked like a California surfer and turned every head. We had a blast water skiing together and cruising around trying to figure out how we could win the hearts of Sue and Lori.

When the four of us hit the nightlife together, we were the most fun group in town. This was partly due to the group dynamics and we simply had lots of fun, which was contagious. But there was one other factor that stimulated interest. No one knew who might someday have the chance to date whom. It was like being in a lover’s triangle of sorts. But I’ll call it a four-cornered box to make my point to filmmakers.

I wanted to spend as much time with Sue as possible. Although our time together was limited to practicing dance for clubbing and planning how we could connect her with David. I wanted Sue to be happy, so I did everything possible to persuade him, but David was fixated on Lori. And yet, I was the one Lori invited to her prom – Forming a box.

I’m not sure if Sue ever dated David, or if he ever dated Lori, but I was pulled out of the mix. In fact, my family situation escalated with one crisis after another until it culminated in the selling of the cottage. With all the emotional turmoil I faced and the overwhelming responsibilities dumped in my lap, I lost touch of everyone. My last memory of Lori was when I totally messed up her after prom swimming event and never had the guts to apologize.

I never reconnected with David. And as for Sue, I eventually noticed her on stage during a performance my wife and I attended. She and her husband were professional dancers that traveled with the show. I took my wife backstage so we could reminisce for five minutes in between Sue’s performances. My wife felt a bit awkward since Sue was far more gorgeous than I had ever described. But it was okay because Sue and I were never more than summer friends and dance partners.

Love triangles, whether real or only perceived by a character, fuels internal struggles that launch external actions. Some are filled with humor and others drama, but in either case an audience is captivated until the end of the story.

In addition, the director can take turns revealing something first to the audience, while keeping the character in the dark, or vice a versa. This shifting of patterns also creates great interest in seeing the story to its conclusion.

For instance, let’s say our relationship box only existed from the perspective of my character, which is probably true in real life as well. Maybe Lori never liked me enough to date, but couldn’t stand the kids at her school. Because of our group friendship she trusted me enough to escort her to prom. In other words, she was just drawing from our friendship with nothing more in mind.

If the audience knows her request was just one of friendship, but my character was convinced she liked him, he’d find himself in awkward moments – Trying to avoid getting too close for fear of losing focus on Sue. Or, maybe she really likes him and uses the friendship to leverage an opportunity, but he’s so blinded by his false hope for Sue that he misses his opportunity with Lori.

Now, keeping the triangle/box idea in play, we can see that the only person that stands a chance at winning is David. He could realize what Sue has to offer and change his focus, or he could finally get Lori to slow down enough for him to win her heart. The audience then feels sorry for my character, as he slowly walks off into the sunset alone.

The reason love triangles work in movies is because they force the storyteller to reveal things about each character to a depth that stirs the audience. The viewers learn to care about the characters and want to see how things work out. The triangle technique develops the characters beyond the two dimensional stereotypes that reveals both internal and external circumstances.

Multi-dimensional characters always draw an audience and build the fan base for a sequel. The simple interaction between each character’s goals is enough to drive interest for a 90-minute stretch of story.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Emotional Beat of Story Changes Audiences

captain-americaAnimators almost have a corner on the structural elements required to emotionally impact an audience. While all filmmakers have the same opportunity to develop emotional storytelling techniques, animators were forced to learn the skills in order to give life to inanimate objects.

I produced my first animation in college. The experience caused me to stumble upon the key elements necessary to stir the audience’s emotions. The story must contain the “what” and “how” of a character to hook the audience. The “what” is the main character’s want or what he’s fighting for. The “how” is the action it takes to obtain it.

Strong stories have a proactive main character with an internal conflict. As he chases after his “what,” he experiences the internal conflict being played out in his external world. It’s not until he solves the internal conflict that he can solve the external conflict. The decisions that he makes toward this resolution not only plays out the “how,” but it also sends him on a journey that leads him to being born again—he becomes a new person.

This rebirth is also experienced by the audience, giving them the same tools for life that the main character experiences. This new life doesn’t mean the character gets his “what,” but it does mean he gets his “need.” In other words, the character doesn’t get what he was chasing, but he gets something better. He gets what he truly needed, even if he didn’t know he needed it.

The goal of every director is to entertain the audience and once they are receptive, direct their attention to the emotional core of the story. This changes the audience’s lives. Unfortunately, most rookie directors have no idea how to get the audience invested enough into the main character that his life tools become the tools of the audience.

But it’s not a secret. The core of every story demonstrates the essence of the director’s intent, whether he is privy to his own heart or not. The choice narrative in of itself holds the key.

Seymore Chatman, an American Film and literary critic said that form or narrative structure, “communicates meaning in its own right, over and above the paraphrasable contents of its story.”

This is why films like Captain America can win more people over to ideals like God and country, wholesome living, and righteous standards than most faith-based films.

In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers is a “flawed man” because he lives with real and honest character traits from the 1940s. He doesn’t fit into our modern superficial politically correct society. He has to figure out if he’s going to continue living with old world ethics or change. His struggle takes us on journey. We experience people making fun of him because he doesn’t swear. He is also laughed at and makes enemies for sacrificially and unconditionally giving of himself for a friend. But by the end of the journey he decides to hold to his convictions—The audience making the same decision for their own lives.

war-roomIn the successful faith-based film, War Room, Elizabeth is not a “flawed woman,” but her husband is battling temptations. Elizabeth doesn’t have to work through any obstacles to change, she only has to learn how to pray to save her husband from temptation. As a result, Elizabeth gains one tool (the power of prayer) for her life utility belt. The audience does not accept the tool because we never see her battle and overcome obstacles that give value to the power of prayer. We see that she only needs to put in her time and God answers her prayers.

Unfortunately in real life many prayers go unanswered, or the answer is “No.” We don’t get to see Elizabeth struggle through unanswered prayers and how they change her perspective for the good, creating a greater value in prayer than a god catalog order. Having her face unanswered prayer and finding the fortitude to continue praying anyway demonstrates to the audience how important it is to pray regardless of the outcome—a tool everyone would like to have in their life utility belt.

There is, however, one controversial scene where Elizabeth speaks out loud to the devil. Some might say this is a moment of her working through a struggle to overcome adversity and reveal the power of prayer, but its not. The scene only shows that by speaking prayerfully out loud you can also succeed by causing the devil to flee. Elizabeth doesn’t overcome any flaws or grow internally through adversity in any way, thereby not passing on any life tools to the audience.

Story is about change and growth. It’s also about redemption of our flaws being reworked to make us heroes, which all audiences want to implement in their own lives. Most importantly, it’s about instilling the value of the theme in the hearts of the viewers. When each of these things is in place, audiences add significant positive change and life tools to their life utility belts.

The irony is that the makers of faith-based films know the exact tools needed for people to live fulfilling lives, yet they don’t create stories that give these great tools to the audience. In the mean time, Hollywood, who knows little about life tools, makes great stories that hand both uplifting and destructive tools to the audience.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Story, Structure and Style

© ktsdesign - Fotolia.comMentoring in the moment is an important function of giving back. Not only does it give me an opportunity to help new upcoming filmmakers move up a level in the business, but it also gives me a fresh perspective on what unforeseen industry changes might be slowly approaching.

In a recent conversation with a young female director, I was asked, “What are the three most important things that a director brings to a script?” After answering, I realized that there are indeed three specific things a director brings to a script that determines the success of a film.

STORY

The director brings the story to life by attaching his vision to it. He is responsible for finding the holes in the story and making it whole. He also has the power to determine how it is to be told and position it so the audience can easily understand and embrace it. If the story fails, it’s the director’s fault.

One first time director argued the point with me by suggesting he was not at fault, but his bad writer was to blame. I asked him if he was sure and he confidently defended his position. Once I could see that he put his entire defense into the bad writer, I asked why he chose to make the film when he knew the writing was so bad. His argument proved him to be either a bad director or a foolish one for shooting an unworthy story.

STRUCTURE

The director determines the beats of the film and the visuals that will best depict the story. He is responsible for the development of the characters and the emotional highs and lows of the picture. He even holds the responsibility to inspire his team to perform admirably within the confines of the budget.

An experienced director with 35 plus features under his belt told me that he left the structure of the film to the writers and director of photography, while he focused solely on the actors. I asked him how the film was translated from the page to the screen without his artistic touch. He suddenly realized that he had given up his artistic choices to chance happenings – When the written word happened to match well with the visual depiction.

STYLE

All directors have an artistic style that evolves into something that few can replicate. When a person watches a Woody Allen movie, everyone knows it’s his, even if his name was left out of the credits. Just sharing director names at a party immediately invokes the look, feel and overall style of his work within the person’s mind. Consider Hitchcock, Spielberg, and Nolan. It’s hard to say those three names without seeing their style show up in your mind’s eye.

I recently chatted with an up coming director who was struggling with his first short film. Every time someone helped him improve his story, he lost interest in it and started over. I realized that something about the suggestions must have spun the style of his show within his mind to become something he was no longer passionate about. This was disconcerting since directors always spin the suggestions into their own version that matches their stylistic vision.

Directors put their fingerprint on everything they do. It shows up in the perspective from which the story is told to the structure of its emotional beats to the overall look and feel that is presented. The director owns the success of a film and has the three key tools that place his fingerprint onto his work.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers

97 Films Recommended by The Church of Satan

Good vs. EvilI’ve written about Christian films in recent days due to the surge in religious films. Some of the films are great redemptive stories for the general market, while others are preachy and intended for the like minded. In both cases, the genre has been difficult to define by production companies and distributors.

Another type of film is also getting attention and it too is hard to capture within a defined genre. Some refer to the films as satanic, while others suggest it is atheistic. In reality, it’s a genre that is more based in “I-theism.” In other words, pictures about a main character that is his own “god” – A person that establishes his own subjective hierarchy with himself as the most valued.

The films might also reflect the strong satanic beliefs followed like:

  • All forms of emotions from love to hate are healthy.
  • Ritual is for self-psychotherapy to purge any sense of conscience or emotion that hinders intelligently moderated pursuit of pleasures.
  • The prime dictate in lifestyle indulgence, over compulsion.
  • Animalistic tendencies and concern for the ecosystem.
  • All forms of sexuality between consenting adults.
  • Societal laws that regulate behavior so that a maximum of freedom might be obtained.
  • Justice where the punishment fits the crime when working to maintain an equitable society.

BladerunnerWhile some of this content sounds fine, like justice fitting the crime, it’s the intent and overarching goal that is self-centered. The purpose of the philosophy is to help individuals take their place, as god in their own lives, which is what Satanism is all about. That’s right, for most followers, it’s not about worshiping the devil, but self.

The list of films is one that Magus Anton Szandor LaVey felt best guided a viewer toward Satanism. While most of the filmmakers didn’t know they were leading their audience down a religious path, some were purposeful in their intent.

There was no surprise reading some films from the list like Rosemary’s Baby, Bedazzled and Svengali. Each of those films had overt satanic elements. However, some films were more of a surprise including classics like Citizen Kane, Metroplois, and Fantasia. Even more shocking was the family friendly film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

The List of Films is NOT to be FearedWhen it comes to films like All the King’s Men, Bladerunner, The Comic, Pennies From Heaven, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, Scarface (the original), The Stepford Wives, and Westworld, I can understand how the elements appreciated by the cult can be gleaned from the films, but that doesn’t make the film itself a satanic film.

Depicting a characteristic or a human flaw doesn’t make a film satanic, for it’s how the element is demonstrated that determines how it is received. For instance, a film about a wretched sinner that is later redeemed doesn’t make a film satanic, yet it might get the title onto the list.

Intent and performance determines if the content is redeemable or not. A selfish character may make the list, but if the film depicts a realistic cause and effect of his life, followed by a redemptive outcome, the film does more for the soul than a story steeped in teachings that convince audiences to put themselves above others – Looking out for number one.

The bottom line is that the list of 97 films is not to be feared or avoided, as some would conclude, but can bring an awareness of perspective.

A film like Les Misérables depicted a character that may have made a more recent list. But the story’s realistically portrayed redemptive qualities were far more powerful, putting the character’s original life choices in perspective with love, humility and gracious generosity that overcomes all. There has never been a better movie depicting the redemptive qualities of grace and mercy. Yet, some avoided the film for fear that their character would be negatively affected.

Redemptive stories will always overcome self-centered stories. Call it good versus evil, or God versus Satan, if you will. But, most of the highest grossing films of all time are stories of redemption. And, most satanic films do poorly at the box office.

What’s your view? Can a filmmaker unknowingly make a Satanic film?

Copyright © 2914 by CJ Powers

12 Essentials of Directing Actors

Movie director.In watching and chatting with numerous actors and directors over the years, I’ve learned a few things that directors do poorly and several they do well. During this time frame the ideals have changed within the production world, so I’m writing only those key points that relate to actors giving a truthful performance. I hope directors will find these recommendations helpful.

  1. TAKE AN ACTING CLASS. Actors are vulnerable and sensitive people who need encouragement and an understanding director.  The best way to inspire great performances is by understanding the acting process. To keep up with the latest trends, I take acting or an improvisational class every so often.
  2. MAKE A CONNECTION. An actor’s job is intense and exposed, which can cause them to feel overly sensitive or vulnerable. The director needs to come along side of them as a trusted advisor. Actors rarely need to be challenged or have an authority figure bear down on them, as most self-critique or compare themselves to their own detriment.
  3. KILL CRITICAL SPEAK. The director owns the set and must stop any cast or crew from saying anything negative to actors. Direction must only come from the director who fully understands the vision and can give proper and affirming recognition. If anyone on the set feels a need to make suggestions or confer with the director about someone’s performance, it must be done in private, if at all. The director MUST protect the actors.
  4. ASK QUESTIONS. The last thing an actor needs on set is an authoritarian or a director that bellows out commands or instructions. Each actor is an expert at her character and because the director is focused on everything, the professional actor will maintain that expert status. It’s therefore prudent for the director to change the actor’s performance inductively by asking questions. By drawing the actor into the thinking process, she is able to discover for herself what the character needs to do. This activity strengthens the actor’s ownership of the character and enhances her performance.
  5. TREAT ACTORS EQUALLY. An actor’s emotions can take its toll throughout the shooting day. Great directors try to keep an eye on each actor’s emotional status and take specific time to remind her that she is liked and respected. The director is a powerful leader that must share this treatment equally with all actors to maintain a mutually warm environment from which the actors can safely perform.  Leaving an actor out of this personalized attention can send her reeling out of control.
  6. BE COURTEOUS. Directors can raise the performance bar by being courteous and avoid the common mistake of telling an actor how she blew it. By saying, “What was that? You can’t bellow out your lines. Let’s do another take and give me less,” the director increases the actor’s fear and stiffens her next take. Instead, a director might consider saying, “I’d like to try something a little different on this next take. I wonder if you could maintain your emotional intensity and drench the other character with a dangerous calm.” This gives the actor more to work with and inspires creativity and performance.
  7. AVOID COMMON ACTING PROBLEMS. Acting is self-conscious and self-judgmental, which many times can cause an actor to act from her head instead of her heart. The director must work with the actor to make sure she is focused on the character and not herself. This approach will avoid numerous problems that typically rise during any given shooting day and help to draw out an honest or truthful performance.
  8. PROMOTE RELAXATION AND FOCUS. Relaxation is important to make sure the actor doesn’t project her voice as if on a stage. It will also impact the way she carries herself. When a scene calls for tension, it will naturally grow from the relaxed state and appear in her hands, walk, voice and face. Anytime anxiety creeps in, the actor becomes stilted in her performance. A director can improve the performance by reminding the actor of what she’s done well. Even redirecting her focus off of her feelings and back onto the character will reduce the temporary lack in confidence.
  9. CLARIFY SUBTEXT. Reviewing subtext during rehearsal will help an actor focus on each line, glance or action. Every element of her performance must lead to her character’s super objective or what she is fighting for. The subtext can be clarified with a verb to be played, a character she plays to, and an intended effect that her character wants as the outcome.
  10. KILL ANTICIPATION. It is difficult for a director to have an actor play a part “naturally” in a specific way, as the mere mention of doing it naturally makes the performance stilted. Within that moment the actor gets trapped in her head and starts to anticipate a line or action. She might also purposely hold back in an attempt to be more natural, which creates an awkward lag and reveals that the actor has done this moment several before in rehearsal. One of the best ways to avoid this conundrum is to walk the actor through the character’s thinking process, while salting in moment-by-moment clues as the performance unfolds – Just like in real life.
  11. KILL INDICATING. It’s common for an actor to increase the visible size of her performance in hopes of reaching the audience or allowing them to see her character’s personality. Unfortunately, the lens is only kind to subtle performance and the actor finds herself overworking and destroying her character in the process. Having the actor think about a secret or some internal struggle during the performance, allows the audience to see that there is more depth to the character without an over-the-top performance. Giving direction to the actor as if you’re speaking to the character also generates this subtle secrecy effect.
  12. SPEAK IN VERBS. Many actors memorize certain actions to help them “do business” during their scene and it weakens their performance because it doesn’t naturally flow from the character. Instead of having an actor pull something out of her bag of tricks, the director can share verbs that stimulate creative ideas that develop new actions based solely on the character. An example might come from a script line like, “She keeps up with her dodging in and out of shadows.” The immediate thought an actor might come up with is moving from tree to tree peering around as she tries to keep up with the other character. However, the director can bring to bear an arsenal of variations on this movement by asking the actor to “trail” the other character. Or, he can step up the intensity with each word suggested: follow, track, pursue, hunt, stalk, or chase. Each verb intensifying the action and giving a new mental picture for the actor to perform.

If I were to add a “don’t” to the list for amateur directors, I’d have to recommend NOT ever demonstrating how you’d like something played. This act instantly reduces the director’s credibility to zero and he doesn’t get what he’s asks for, as his performance never plays out the way it was in his head. It is also insulting to the actor who is the expert on her character, who would never do things like the director demonstrated. This is not to take away from the director showing an actor their blocking, as he walks the actor down the path, while discussing the character’s motivation.

The key is to remember that the actor is an expert at her character and the director can’t be due to his high level of knowledge on the entire picture. However, the director will know what works and what doesn’t and must use questions to help the actor create variations of performance until the director gets what will work best on screen – Something the actor trusts the director to accomplish.

Copyright © 2013 by CJ Powers
Illustration © shambulin – Fotolia.com