The Difference Between 3 and 4.5 Stars

Behind the Scenes with CJ PowersThere is a clear distinction that I’ve noticed between average and above average films. Most audiences pick up on the vibe, but can’t put their finger on the “why” behind the flat performance of an average film. Add to this the convoluted approach to look-alike pictures and it’s easy to understand the drop off in theater attendance.

The director is first to blame when a motion picture falls flat. While some might choose to direct a bad script, most directors that kill films do it instinctively. These directors are typically not immersed in the art form, which causes their natural gut instincts to be diametrically opposed to the requirements of telling a great story.

I remember a series of summer workshops that I conducted on writing and directing. In one arts conference I coached a class on how to write an award winning short film. We carefully crafted the story to include several key beats that made an emotional impact about the human condition. The final script was so amazing that I wanted to pony up a few dollars and make the film.

The script was then given to my director’s class. I taught on how to develop the story for shooting, and how to pick shots and blocking that would extenuate the beats. We even had detailed discussions on each character and the motivations that would drive their actions.

The individuals who signed up for the production workshop, which didn’t have a professional at the helm, shot a few of the scenes using a director from my earlier workshop. The next day everyone from the writing, directing and production workshops got together to watch the dailies. The excitement waned as we watched the flat clips. Disappointment eventually turned into an amazing conversation.

The screenplay had four very specific beats that were necessary to make the story clear and emotionally powerful. The director decided to experiment with the script and made artistic changes that unknowingly erased the story beats. He also gave up the helm, in the name of education, to other would-be directors and let them all have a shot at directing the scenes. None of them even knew what the story beats were.

The interpretations and experimentation were so far from the original script that it played flat and had no forward movement to the story. Nothing in the footage held the audiences attention or took them on a journey exploring the human condition. Even the dialog that the actors “improved” missed the focus of the story. Not one piece of footage looked like the award-worthy script.

Only directors immersed in the art form and focused on the story beats can bring a clear awareness of the human condition to the screen. Their gut instincts are well crafted to the medium and developmental process that turns great stories into great films. The sheer focus of a director on the story beats will transform and upgrade any film by an extra star or two.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

Developing A Cinematic Story

Developing A Cinematic StoryIndependent filmmakers are known to dive into projects without fully developing their story. Some come up with a cool scene idea and toss together a film to facilitate what’s in their mind’s eye for that 2-3 minute segment. The words that flow from their lips two years later is something like, “It didn’t quite turn out the way I pictured.”

The reason is elementary: Film is an argument, and the scene didn’t attempt to address anything worth arguing about.

The first place I’d check out, if given a new time machine, would be that large room where the Constitution of the United States was argued. I can imagine a group of passionate men fueled by their ideals on freedom of speech and religion, and the increasing weight of taxation without representation. It was a venue of the greatest arguments in the history of our country.

Great films cover both sides of an argument. The development process determines how the filmmaker will visualize the argument and lead the audience from a general understanding of the topic to his perspective. But most independent filmmakers can’t tell you what their film argues, which gives insights into why their film will fail at the box office.

A couple months ago, I watched an independent film that will fail during its release this summer because the story’s argument wasn’t explored with the audience, but rather was covered over by 22 unrelated messages. In fact, the argument was so underdeveloped that it took me the first 45 minutes of the film to determine who the main character was and his goal.

Here are a few guidelines that I’d like to suggest to new filmmakers for their consideration during the development phase of their motion picture:

  1. Determine what your film will argue.
  2. List all key points of the argument from every vantage point or perspective.
  3. Determine what view you’d like the audience to hold when leaving the theater.
  4. Select the strongest or most widely-held opposing argument for your antagonist.
  5. Create an 8-step flowchart that moves a person from an opposing viewpoint to your perspective, starting with their belief and ending with yours.
  6. Brainstorm a character that can best move the audience from the start box to the end box of the flowchart in a way that leads the audience to embrace his process.
  7. Based on the above, write a premise that can drive the action or movement of the film.

A simple way to develop a premise is to use an outline similar to the following:

[Title] is a [genre] about a [hero] who, after [big beat that happens to hero], wants to [hero’s desire] by [hero’s plan], which becomes increasingly difficult because of [obstacles/complications].

This quick formula will get your story launched in your mind’s eye and help you to immediately see if the story can be further developed. Here is a sample using The Fugitive that I tweaked for readability.

The Fugitive is a thriller about an innocent doctor who, after being sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife, escapes to find the real murderer, which becomes increasingly difficult with a determined Marshall hot on his trail.

Once you have your argument and premise, the next step is to determine how to weave the two ideas into a compelling story. The throughline will drive the audience’s interest, and the visual depiction of the argument will alter their perception of culture and their future life choices—that is, if the story is well crafted.

A well-designed argument that takes a person from a common view to your perspective is entertaining and can help audiences make culturally significant life changes. Since the motion picture is an argument, it’s easy to see why films have driven our culture for over a hundred years.

Our rich history of cinema suggests that filmmakers must learn how to properly develop their stories for the silver screen. To help encourage filmmakers move in that direction, I’m going to pull together some steps worth sharing in future blogs.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

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4 Steps to Setting the Value of Your Services (Part 1 of 3)

BusNotesPt1

My Denver omelet was tastier than normal and I wondered what happened in the kitchen that made it more flavorful. Its value went up and the menu’s price tag no longer mattered. I took another mouth-watering bite and looked across the table at the CEO of a small marketing firm that I was coaching.

I suddenly saw a connection, as she struggled to accept the value of her newest service offerings. The streamlined approach simplified her workload, which compelled her to reduce prices that were already under valued. She was basing the asking price on her ability to streamline her work efforts rather than on the service’s value to the customer.

Many small firm executives struggle with the perception that unless it involves a melee of sorts, the service or product must be priced lower to justify its value. Truth be told, in today’s market the client’s outcome determines the services value.

Executives can learn to position their services based on the value of the recipient’s outcome by following the below 4 Steps.

1. Value Your Clients Success

Last year I coached a small business owner whose declining revenue numbers suggested his doors would close within 6-12 months. I was asked to increase the store’s sales in whatever manner might work. While my strategy was foreign to the team, I was fully supported and given an expense account to implement my action plans.

Within 6-8 months the measureable results had increased the revenue percentage by double digits and brought in about 130 new customers. Each customer spent an average of $1,000 per visit—a 100% increase over the national average order size benchmark. The elated owner said, “You’re worth ten times what I’m paying you!” I suddenly realized that my value was in the end result, not in how much I struggle or sweat.

By placing a focused value on the outcome, clients are willing to pay for those results. Most will not care how much it costs, if it’s a small percentage of the revenue it generates. Everyone likes a project to pay for itself and then some. The happy client is always the one who gets the results they asked for, not the one who saved money and is forced to close down.

2. Value Your Ingenuity of Development

One business I coached never front loaded any lessons learned or ramp up time when starting a new project. The owner felt that his customers shouldn’t have to pay for his education, especially if it is required on their project.

I asked him what his greatest value was that drew his customers. He pointed out that they come to him because of his expertise. It didn’t take long for him to realize that his learning curve on the current project would soon be a part of his expertise and of great value to his customer.

I suggested his ingenuity, education and development time, which are his greatest assets, should be included within his pricing. After fidgeting a bit, he agreed to charge 50% of the learning costs since the customer would gain from his new knowledge.

Companies are willing to hire someone who can figure things out quickly to get them up to speed in new market areas. Whenever someone comes along with similar, but not exact experience, they are snapped up for the sake of speed to market. The cost is never the issue; the only concern is productivity and timeliness of release. So all ingenuity during the development stage is of great value whether learned on the job or outside of it.

End of part 1 of 3. Part 2 covers steps 3 & 4 with part 3 providing sample pricing.

© 2017 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

Inspiring Leaders Develop 3 Easter Eggs of Success

© apops - Fotolia.comMy son gave a great talk at a large conference of social web developers. While the talk didn’t come together until a few days before his presentation, it was extremely well received and life changing for the participants. Others also grew by watching his talk on the web weeks later.

When Chris explained how he put his talk together, I realized that he followed the Dale Carnegie method of preparation. Carnegie was a leader who felt it was important to be constantly learning and growing, so as to always be prepared for any opportunity to speak. Carnegie had a large reservoir of information he could draw from at any point in time to give a great talk.

Chris prepared by gathering known information from within his own reservoir, organized it and personalized it for his audience. While it only took a few days to “create” his talk, Chris had taken months in preparing the information – A task he takes for granted.

I wanted to learn how the talk went so I asked him a few questions. Chris immediately suggested that his talk was successful for three reasons. It just so happens that he listed the same three Easter eggs of success that inspiring leaders take time to develop.

1. DEVELOP TRUST

Inspiring leaders are authentic. They address their employees from a point of reality, even when casting a vision for the company’s future. This creates a level of hope within each employee, as they comprehend how things could work and understand their role in making it happen. To support this new hope, inspiring leaders invite participation from every employee.

The results are products and services that each employee thinks and feels is in place because of their part in the process, yet no one is able to separate out their portion from the whole. The item also becomes a symbol of trust that each employee placed in the inspiring leader to see the vision come to fruition.

2. DEVELOP PERFORMANCE

Building trust is simplified when the inspiring leader sells the benefit of the process to each employee. The newly agreed upon benefit also drives the employees to higher levels of performance. This is especially true when the atmosphere is one of curiosity and play, rather than pressure and deadlines.

The strong inspiring leader is able to navigate a course of action based on quick but calculated decisions, the established process being an adventure for the team to explore together, and a playful time of creative exercise. All of which raises the bar of outstanding performance among peers.

3. DEVELOP EMPLOYEES

Developing employees over time is the most practical of activities that inspiring leaders engage in. The reinforcing of the employee’s optimism is critical to the company’s long-term success. Related by perspective is the opportunity to turn all failures into educational experiences, especially when coupled with a focus on igniting the enthusiastic potential within each worker.

This emphasis on individuals encourages confidence of character and voice. Self-assurance becomes the very driver that turns standard employees into the gifted. Without the employees, the company has no future potential and will eventually be overtaken by the next big thing.

Inspiring leaders build trust by focusing on their resources. They also work to refine their abilities and seek to promote the best in others. When evaluating the gifts, skills and talents of their team, they work hard to draw out a higher level of performance than what the worker thought was innately possible.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers