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

 

 

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

How to Become a G.R.E.A.T. Screenwriter

© Pixelbliss - Fotolia.comOver the past few years I’ve spoken with a couple dozen screenwriters including three Oscar® winners. In each conversation I’ve asked how I should best spend my 10,000 hours in becoming a great screenwriter. For those of you not familiar with Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that it took experts in any given field 10,000 hours of task specific practice to master their craft.

In this article, I’ve summarized the various answers that I’ve received and created the G.R.E.A.T. acronym to share how to set 21-40 hours a week aside to become a great screenwriter.

G.  GO TO THE MOVIES every week (2-4 hours/week). Screenwriters go to a minimum of one movie every week on average. Additional movies can be watched on NETFLIX or from a personal DVD/Blu-Ray library (which all screenwriters own), but it’s critically important for screenwriters to attend films in theatres every week. This brings an advantage of understanding their audience and how they react to various types of scenes in a movie.

R.  READ A SCREENPLAY every week (2-3 hours/week). Studios make their best screenplays available every year for Oscar® nomination consideration. Screenwriters download the 20-30 screenplays and read each one to learn about their competition and to glean any useful information to improve his or her skills. Screenplays can also be found online and purchased from writer stores.

E.  EXERCISE WRITING SKILLS every day (14-28 hours/week). Authors write and screenwriters do the same every day. Yes, every day. Screenwriters experience what some refer to as a form of withdrawal when they don’t write. The creative side of the brain is very aware of its lack on the days that the writer doesn’t reduce some thoughts to writing. All professionals stay up on their writing to stay polished and creative.

A.  ASSOCIATE WITH SCREENWRITERS every month (1 hour/week). While networking is critical in the entertainment business, staying connected to associate screenwriters is also important. The creative soul is helped by the sharing of tips and tricks, along with the sharing of related circumstances that only writers understand. These comradery sessions encourage us to better ourselves regularly so we have something worth sharing.

T.  TAKE NOTES every day (2-4 hours/week). Screenwriters find great moments in every day life that are worth capturing for their “future” folder. During the research phase of a given story everything is captured in multiple forms for later. This might include roughing out a quick draft of a given scene, collecting clips from another source that can be adapted, or research notes captured on a napkin or scratch pad when submerged in the library or surfing the net. Those who try to stash the information in their memory typically lose those great moments.

The G.R.E.A.T. Screenwriter is a person who does all of the above without giving it consideration, as it is a part of who he or she is. The process is fulfilling for the screenwriter and makes total sense. However, the person who wants to be a screenwriter, but doesn’t have it in their veins will find the above list painful to execute.

For instance, a screenwriter will not only watch the films they love and the types of films they desire to write, but will also watch films they would never normally watch to better understand the genre, style, and narrative structure. On the other hand, the non-writer who wants to craft a screenplay will avoid films they don’t like and that don’t match the type of story they want to write.

While studying Scorsese’s film, The Wolf of Wall Street, I learned that the screenwriter used the F-word 506 times. Due to the rule of diminishing returns, the word was weakened to a meaningless quip. By understanding the lack of impact that film made on me, I was able to rewrite an action film without any language. By the end of the story when the main character screams out, “No!”, it actually makes a far greater impact than the F-word did in Scorsese’s film.

Copyright © 2014 by CJ Powers