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.


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.


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.


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.