Creatives Are Driven To Live

OklahomaBill Hybels, a legendary spiritual leader, once talked about a “holy discontentment” and how it drives the spiritual to continually look for ways to help others. Choreographer Martha Graham spoke of an artist’s “divine dissatisfaction” that drives all creative work.

Prose writer Rachel Carson also spoke of this unrest that leads to creative activity, “No writer can stand still. He continues to create or he perishes. Each task completed carries its own obligation to go on to something new.”

Dancer and choreographer Agnes De Mille, known for her original choreography in Oklahoma!, a musical that generated numerous awards including a record setting 2,212 performances, found herself struggling with her “fairly good work” when critics touted it as a “flamboyant success.”

De Mille received clarity concerning this disconnect in her life when she bumped into Graham and shared her sense of dissatisfaction. De Mille started the conversation with a confession that she had a burning desire to be excellent, but had no faith to achieve it.

Graham: “There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

De Mille: “But, when I see my work, I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

Graham: “No artist is pleased.”

De Mille: “But then there is no satisfaction?”

Graham: “No satisfaction whatever at any time, there is only queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Graham and Hybels had hit on something fascinating. Both saw the activity rising from creative discontentment as divinely inspired for the good of others. While artists long for satisfaction with their work, the blessed only receive a drive to move on to another work.

Julia Cameron, known as a artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, journalist and teacher, learned through her studies of the human condition that, “Art is a spiritual transaction. Artists are visionaries. We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance—often visible to us, but invisible to those around us.”

When I meditate on what I’ve observed, whether information from life or scripture, and many times the combination of both, I receive a divine awareness that helps me to understand a perspective that most have never considered. The excitement contained within the moment drives me to share it with others. But they don’t get it.

The only way for people to understand what I’ve seen is to create art that can demonstrate it or move a person to consider something outside of their reality. It therefore compels me to create art, always hoping it reaches the people it was intended to reach.

This continual drive that most of my friends label as passion, breathes life into me daily. It forces me to try and try again so everyone gets the gift of understanding that I received, but my attempts always fall short. The cycle begins again and again. While I can’t complain because of the life that stirs within me, I am always dissatisfied in my feeble ability to communicate such an important understanding.

And there lies the truth of an artist’s dilemma. Filled with life overflowing, always driven, but never arriving with any form of satisfaction. I’ll call this curse a blessing for it is who I am.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

 

 

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Mentors Breathe Inspiration into Creativity

Movie_Theatre

My Home Town Movie Theatre

When I mentor young filmmakers in how to develop their style and breathe life into their films, I often watch their eyes close me out from their thoughts. They are adamant about making sure the film is theirs and they don’t want anyone to give them a helping hand. This is problematic for a collaborative art form.

The idea of inspiring someone to a higher level of art can only come from words of encouragement, difficult moments of challenge, and the sharing of conceptual ideas. The word, “inspire,” means to “breathe into” or to “infuse with life by breathing.” That means someone has to do the breathing of new ideas to help the filmmaker get his mind cranking.

The creative process requires an environment of ideas, enthusiasm and energy. These are tools that help us gain experience from others and expose our minds to various styles and artistry. The shared wealth of history creates a powerful form of influence that brings the young filmmaker to a higher level of art than his or her counter parts ever achieve. Yet, Millennials seldom want to collaborate.

Inspiration of Mentors Stir Our Heartfelt Voice

The best thing that happens in a collaborative process is the deep sense that your own ideas demand to be heard. From deep within the gut comes this voice begging to resound. The inspiration of mentors draw out those deep ideas from within us and we suddenly find a way to express them. The inspiration brings our ideas to the surface so we can take action.

Unfortunately some people think that when you share a creative idea with the hopes of inspiring them, they think you want them to use your idea. But that is far from the truth. The mentor only wants to get the filmmaker thinking about something they never finished thinking about—that special something that resides deep within their heart.

I was mentoring one filmmaker who wanted to create a world that lacked water. The scarcity drove many to kill for a single cup of fresh water. The original script had a sign in it that made the idea of water scarce, but I suggested he find a way to demonstrate the rarity of water instead.

His latest cut of the film had the water sewn throughout the entire story as the key driver of all decisions made by every character. It became obvious that the liquid was such a rare commodity that everyone’s life changed in the presence of fresh water. Within that setting his protagonist could then mature and become a person who questioned his selfishness and chose to demonstrate love sacrificially.

While I gave him a handful of ideas that were plausible to demonstrate the scarcity of water, he was inspired enough to come up with his own unique ideas. Not one of my suggestions made it into the film, which was good, because my goal was to inspire his convictions and expressions. His choices worked.

The Journey of Understanding

Film is an emotional medium that comes from the heart. Those who hold to conservative standards make conservative films. Those who understand the liberal first and then make conservative films takes the audience on a journey that ends with a conservative view that makes sense to all, not just those with likeminded ideologies.

By finding inspiration from both sides of the political spectrum, a filmmaker becomes more powerful in the messages he can send to an audience that’s hungry for answers to the latest societal issues. But closed-minded conservatives who only focus on their views can present nothing of value to the liberal.

And what good is a film that only reaches the likeminded?

Film is not necessary when used as a tool of validation. It’s only necessary to help opposing viewpoints be understood. When film demonstrates the potential results of an idea, while touching the emotions of everyone watching, the audience is able to buy into the concepts and consider how they might apply within their own life.

For this reason I hangout with liberals and conservatives. I read both sides of every issue. And, I create paths through story that will take an audience to the life-breathing conclusion that cries out to be heard. These actions breathe creativity into each viewer so he or she is capable of altering their life with healthier choices.

© 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

2016 A Compelling Year

Cinematic Story TellingMillennials are now the audience that determines a filmmaker’s success. We all saw it coming, but didn’t realize it would get here so quickly due to the large Baby Boomer population (Generation X not being big enough to have made its own impact on the box office). The line has now been crossed and profitability is directly tied to whether or not a filmmaker is compelling in the eyes of the younger generation.

Compelling is defined as evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way. It also means inspiring conviction and not able to be resisted. To create compelling projects a filmmaker must first be relevant.

The content in faith-based films is the least relevant, as the market niche demands only stories that reflect their hope and not reality. This means that a faith-based film is not likely to ever show a protagonist in a cohabitation relationship – Known to Baby Boomers as fornication. The character will either be single and living alone or married.

However, USA Today published a recent article about those who call themselves Christian between the ages of 18 – 31. It turns out that in the national poll 65% of them were in cohabitation relationships. Since faith-based movies do not reflect the majority of the Millennials’ reality, the films are irrelevant and far from compelling.

It is therefore easy to project that faith-based films will disappear before generation Z influences the box office. The only caveat to the statement might come in the form of a new breed of filmmakers who shows cohabitation in its true light – Both the perceived good and the documented bad within the boundaries of spiritual conviction (Compelling = Inspiring Conviction). Not judgment, but conviction.

Not only is a compelling filmmaker required to be relevant in content, but he or she also must be relevant in platforms. During the Producers Guild of America’s “Producers on Producing” panel at the NAB, all four speakers shared on the importance of cross-platform strategy. Sesame Street Senior Producer Benjaming Lehmann said, “If you’re not on all the mobile devices, you’re not really compelling.”

Since platforms require different styles for success, the filmmaker has to become a great producer who can mold various parts of his product into a marketable story for various platforms. It’s no longer about making a great trailer, but making a connection with the audience.

Caitlin Burns, a producer and Vice Chair of the PGA’s New Media Council, shared on the changes in relationship between content creators and consumers. “There is a lot more understanding that you are going to be in dialogue with your audience,” she said. “We are seeing the audience less as an object and more as a subject.”

To be compelling in 2016 filmmakers must turn their film projects into conversations. The content must be truthful and relevant. Gone are the days of films built in a world of hope and dreams. They must now be first grounded in reality and then inspire the audience through compelling content to consider a better life for their future.

There is nothing wrong with convicting an audience on a topic when it’s based first in reality. Nor is there anything attractive about a future hope that doesn’t show the audience how to get there from their own reality. The key is to create a compelling story that is based in reality and inspires the audience to take a new action in their lives.

And, creating a series of related shorts (by branding) that work very differently than the film will allow the filmmaker to be compelling on various platforms. A cool trailer on YouTube promoting a film is no longer enough to generate an audience. To be compelling some form of the brand must be on all mobile devices and the top eight social sites. This requires eight different forms of branded content for success. Putting one short on eight platforms no longer works.

What are you doing this year to create compelling content?

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

Film Marketing Shifts to Becomers

CJ presents workshopLast weekend I taught a four-hour workshop on the 7 Secrets of Impacting a Film’s Story. The room had filmmakers from several genres present including far right Christian and far left LGBT. One of the Q&A topics that came up was all too familiar: Why are faith-based films so bad?

I gave the first obvious answer about how Christian filmmakers focus so much on the message that they leave out the story. I also defined story based on story structure standards:

Action + Emotion = Story

(By the way, to achieve action a film must have conflict, which faith-based filmmakers fear and avoid.)

Then I pointed out the second most obvious answer about how the message must be lightly salted into the B-plot rather than dumping massive doses into the A-plot, as Christian filmmakers love to do – Reducing their audience to a handful of religious Baby Boomers.

I also pointed out that Blue is the Warmest Color, a lesbian film, did a great job of lightly salting their message into the B-plot. The film received great acclaim and touched millions of Millennials internationally.

The filmmakers who know how to structure and salt their message within the story are the ones who will change the future of our planet. Those few, are also on top of the latest marketing trends, while most “Christian markets” are now 12 years behind the trends. It used to be ten years behind, but the latest marketing push for Christian films included 12-year-old techniques.

The “Becomers” are the fastest growing marketing segment within the Millennials. They are the ones now coming into power and will determine the fate of our planet over the next 20-40 years. I have yet to find a single Christian filmmaker who is addressing this group, yet the LGBT groups have been researching and seeking them for the past two years.

The Gen-Xers have dissipated from marketing models and were split. They either ended up lumped in with Baby Boomers or mixed into the Millennials. As a group, they were depowered and only had a short-term presence driving the business market. This resulted in shifting control to the Becomers.

The Becomers are the older Millennials who are currently positioned to change the marketplace in all industries. They are the ones who don’t attend church. They believe in truthful facts, but don’t care about it unless there is a narrative that guides their acceptance of the facts.

In other words, to get them into church required a very different approach that Baby Boomers wouldn’t fund or accept, as it would change their religious experiences. Some pastors created new churches aimed solely at Millennials and grew strong, but those congregations were mostly void of controlling Baby Boomers.

This dichotomy between church groups arises from marketplace conditions and decisions, which is the same issue now driving faith-based films. The Baby Boomers control the budgets, the Christian filmmakers are ignorant about the Becomers, and the combined groups are having fun creating films that don’t impact society. These new films have little ability to stand the test of time based on societal norms.

The trend is getting worse. Baby Boomers are now funding ten times more irrelevant films, while convincing themselves that they are making a difference in our culture. However, the LGBT groups continue to make a smaller quantity of films that make a significant impact in our culture. The differences are limited to how a message is crafted within a story: subtly or overtly.

The “how” can easily change if and when new Christian filmmakers, that understand story structure, step up to the plate. Unless, that is, current Christian filmmakers scare away the audience by promoting one thing, while delivering another – A new common and unethical, yet self-justified, practice.

The key is that the new breed of filmmakers must understand the Becomers and how to market to them. Then again, I have five screenplays written for Becomers and cant’ find any Baby Boomers to fund the projects, so maybe having understanding isn’t enough.

Of course, I’ve been told that if I change the stories to fit the faith-based market I’ll get funded, but then it would no longer attract the Becomers and sway their future to something more wholesome and moral. So, my scripts collect dust and I continually get told that I need to conform to the “right” way of writing screenplays, you know, the way it was done 12-15 years ago.

Wake up!

Those days are over and bringing back old strategies is foolish. Don’t you know the parable about the wineskins? It won’t work. Instead, learn from the LGBT producers who are succeeding at changing our world. They know exactly who the Becomers are and how to reach them. And most Christian filmmakers I’ve met don’t even know the Becomers exist or that they are being given control of the market’s future.

Okay, that’s enough. Let me know if you’re interested in funding a film written for Becomers that will introduce time proven morals into the lives of those coming into power.

The Coming Demise of Independent Filmmakers, or NOT

Short Films Require Set-Up by CJ PowersMega studios are teetering on the brink of collapse based on the ratio of mega hits versus losers they field. The industry is already projecting a downward trend of the comic and action/adventure franchises that generated the rebound for Hollywood over the past ten years.

For the consumer, the blame is focused on increased technologies reducing the price of a high quality theater experience at home compared to the rising ticket prices at theaters. For the artists, the blame falls upon the marketing and business people forcing the creatives to regurgitate franchise installments and sequels over and over again – Driving the creatives to independent projects and “television” (in its latest Internet form), where they can create something new and unique.

Within this setting is the rise of independent niche production companies including, and most notably, the faith-based and horror genres. Today there are tens of thousands of production companies due to easy access to less expensive technologies. Anyone with a wealthy friend can now make a feature length movie.

Unfortunately, this glut of material is turning major distributors away from purchasing independent films, as the vast majority of the films lack great techniques and story structure. The films that can’t get a viewing with a distributor and those that are rejected by distributors, are creating a massive transition to digital releases to niche markets, sabotaging the numbers within existing audience venues.

Since no independent filmmaker has enough fans to perpetuate his products, the need has grown for joint ventures within the independent marketplace. This is closely following the corporate trend of jobs being farmed out to boutique companies that pool their resources from one project to the next.

The companies that are attracting the pros and generating sustainable work, rather than just collecting points for backend payoffs that rarely occur due to creative financing, are expanding into macro studios. This enormous growth is being tracked by studios who plan to infiltrate and take advantage of the new production finance models.

While Orlando was first considered to be the east coast of Hollywood, it evaporated when the economy dropped. This was due to the fact that studios only sent overflow work to Orlando. However, the high risk ventures of big box office mega pictures created additional constraints and forced Hollywood to pick up as many titles as possible without the up front risks.

Everyone, filmmakers included, decided they were capable of making films and created a glut of bad movies. Last year, out of the 400+ horror films produced, less than 50 got distribution deals. Out of the 470+ faith-based and Christian films produced, about 200 were self-distributed and 19 received a major release. The glut of bad movies that distributors had to sort through was on the increase; causing distributors to focus only on companies they can trust.

In other words, the onslaught of amateur films in 2014 made it very difficult for professional companies to start off 2015 with any traction. This trend will continue, as Hollywood knows that only great production techniques coupled with great storytelling is paramount to wide distribution success.

The ramifications will force the professionals to create macro studios and joint ventures in order to consolidate audiences and accumulate enough revenue to cover better techniques and storytelling.

Thanks to a new stream of creative control in cable and Internet television, many macro studios are already in place and waiting for the transition to grow their businesses. Unfortunately, some smaller studios are still trying to make films for the dispersing markets instead of consolidating audiences with like-minded projects.

This shake up is as significant as the one that hit in the late 70’s with the introduction of home video. In the long run, the mom and pop shop studios that survived were the ones who shifted to digital production over film. The ones who held tight to film fell by the wayside.

Over the next three years, production companies that partner on bigger projects will see a great deal of growth, while those trying to keep everything within their full control and low budget will be forced to stay within their niche markets. Horror film companies will be sorted based on the categories of thriller versus blood and guts. Faith-based films will be most likely sorted by denomination.

The companies rising to the top will be limited to higher budgets, production values, great unique stories, and universal appeal. Amateur companies can’t fake these key elements, which is why it will become the differentiator within the world of motion picture production, regardless of release format.