Mentors Breathe Inspiration into Creativity


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

Promoting without Purpose

CandyIt was a beautiful and warm day, perfect for long walks and meeting new people. I treaded carefully past the “No Solicitor” signs and came upon a business that flashed me back to my teen years. It was a detailing shop, which was all the rage back in my theater days, but are almost impossible to find today—well, at least quality shops.

The door was locked, so I moved to the next storefront to peddle my marketing pieces. But before I could open the door a little boy ran up to me and said, “We’re here. This is my shop.”

I must have had a perplexed look on my face because the six year old pointed to the door of the detailing shop.

“Your shop?” I questioned.

“It’s inside.”

The boy’s mother came up from behind him holding up a key. She wiped her hair away from her face to bring some semblance of order to her frazzled look. She worked hard to keep her family moving in the right direction.

“I’m sorry we’re late, we had to take care of some family matters,” she said.

The husband walked up with a baby bucket seat in one hand and reached his empty hand of welcome toward me.

“Please come in,” he said. “My son’s talking about his mini-business, just inside.”

“Okay,” I said as I followed everyone inside.

The front office looked more like a playroom than a waiting room for customers. The little boy grabbed nachos from his mother’s hand and sat down in front of the TV next to the curtain drawn display windows.

“You’ll have to excuse the mess,” the mom said. “This is a mom and pop shop and we don’t have anywhere else to take our kids.”

“No problem,” I said with a smile. “There’s nothing wrong with having a family business.”

The dad quickly interjected, ”It’s more like a nursery in here, but it gives our son more family time and we can keep an eye on the little one.”

“I used to have my son creating animations for my business back when he was in grade school,” I added. “Now he manages computer teams, speaks at conferences and makes the big bucks.”

“My son has become somewhat of an entrepreneur in his own right,” the father said. “This is his desk where he sells candy.”

The father pointed to a deep, black walnut desk with piles of boxed candy, cartoon business cards and handwritten receipts.

“He sells candy to help him understand the value of money,” said the proud dad. “He’s made $300 just this week and he’s going to give it all away to help others.”

“Wow, that sounds amazing,” I said. “Who is he helping?”

“We don’t know. He’s just selling right now.” The father paused, glanced out the door at a shop across the street. “Most of what he’s sold has been to a group of guys that work across the street. They come over here every day to buy his candy. They’re really great guys, and customers too.”

“They sound nice, to be able to help your son daily,” I said. “But, how exactly is your son learning the value of money?”

“Well, he’s giving it all away.”

“When I attempted to teach my kids the value of money, I had them take 10% out for charity, 10% out for savings, 5% out for vacation spending money, and so on,” I said. “I wanted them to learn how to manage money and learn of its value in the process.”

“No, he’s going to give it all away,” the father insisted.

“I’m sure there will be a lesson in the adventure for him.”

I turned to the little boy and asked, “Who do you plan on helping with the money you’ve raised?”

The little boy kept his eyes focused on the TV and shrugged his shoulders.

“Pay attention to the man,” demanded the father.

The little boy turned to me and said, “I don’t know.”

The mother chimed in, “He said he’d like to help the kids at a children’s hospital.”

“That would certainly be admirable,” I said.

“He wanted to give all the kids teddy bears, but then changed his mind,” said the father.

“I’m sure that whatever he does, it will be a blessing to the recipient.”

“Get over here,” said the father as he pointed his son to the desk.

The little boy ran around me and stood at his desk. He moved his hand across the candy like Vanna White revealing the Wheel of Fortune game board.

“It’s too bad I’m not a candy eater,” I said. “But it all looks good and the kids you help will certainly appreciate…”

Before I finished my sentence the boy ran back to the TV and flopped into his chair.

I’ve been know to purchase from kid’s sales stands and tables over the years. Sometimes I accepted the product and other times I pay for it and asked the seller to gift it to their next customer or someone in need. But, this candy table was different.

There was no purpose or intent behind the little boy’s candy sales that made it worth my support. Nor was I persuaded to think he was learning from the activity. And, aside from the generous men that worked across the street, I wasn’t convinced the kid even knew how to ask for the sale without his dad’s prompting.

I love to reach into my pocket and help young people who work hard for a cause, but when the moment is void of purpose, it feels pretentious and phony. I don’t like to support people that don’t have their heart in the matter. Show me a passionate person filled with specific intent and I’ll try to support them beyond what I should.

I walked out of the office wondering if I was the first person to withhold support from the father’s educational moment. After all, the cause appeared noble and the kid was cute. But when I turned back and saw the kid’s eyes still glued to the TV, I walked out of the building knowing that my money was going to be held for the next heartfelt project that’ll make a difference in the lives of real people.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

A Killer with Heart

people-men-fight-challengeYesterday, I took a shortcut through an alleyway. The buildings were covered in dirty paint from a few decades back. I stepped around a mangled grocery cart and stepped over a rotted bone that wild dogs didn’t even want. A broken down car suggested that the neighbors used the narrow road to discard items that were hard to place in the garbage.

I finally made my way to the open street and the bright sunlight. I felt like I had just stepped out of the arena of would-be muggers, only to find myself facing a fight club. Having never been to a fight club, I decided to put my alley courage to the test and entered the facility.

The dark room was decorated with various pieces of abused equipment and the dilapidated walls were covered with posters from previous fights. The one poster that held its shiny finish was for a fight scheduled later this month. Partially blocking my view of the fight cage was a glass cabinet that hadn’t been cleaned in years. Inside were several champion boxing belts and MMA trophies.

A short Asian man walked up to me and asked, “What you need?”

“I wanted to give your employees some discounted oil change coupons from Hi-Tech Addison Auto Repair,” I said as I handed him the coupons. “Do you train fighters here or have competitions?”

“We train,” he said. “I’ll give these to the guys.” He waved the coupons and then walked into the restroom.

Emerging from the hallway shadows was a bigger man wearing a hoody. The only part of his black face that I could see was his crooked nose uniquely shaped through multiple beatings. I glanced down at his hands and saw his red, calloused knuckles just below the baggy sleeves. The evidence suggested he was a fighter.

“We train killers,” the guy said as he stepped into the light. “The kinds of men that win fights live just on this side of crazy.”

I felt compelled to dribble out a few words of small talk and held my ground as the large framed trainer stepped closer. His knuckles turned white as he clenched and then relaxed his fists. His brown eyes tried to intimidate, but I could see too much depth and control through the windows of his soul.

“Is putting on a caged fight like putting on a concert?” I asked.

“It’s more complex,” he said with a furrowed brow. “Working with killers on the edge of crazy keeps you on your toes.”

“When I’m not working sales and marketing for a company, I’m making movies,” I said. “Some times actors need special attention, too.”

The man’s gangsta look suddenly shifted to that of a visitor at Disney World. He slipped his hoody back and his countenance became childlike. He told me a story of when he was interviewed for a documentary before a fight he coached. He loved the behind the scenes perspective and was in awe of how the final product looked on screen.

“Our dull surroundings came to life,” he said. “The music and the cutting back and forth of the images, I looked like a cool coach.”

“That’s one of the things I love about filmmaking,” I said. “Taking someone’s plain, ordinary day and turning it into a blast of entertainment and awe, as I reveal the heart of the story to an audience.”

“Heart, yeah, that’s it,” he confirmed. “When a boxer has heart, he can go longer in a fight than he thought was humanly possible. The crazy guys, they just try to kill everyone until someone puts them down.”

“There’s a lot of great boxers with skill, and as you say, some pretty crazy ones too,” I said. “But, the guys with heart rise above the moment and become more than the sum of their parts.”

“You’re right, they get a miracle,” he said with his eyes widening with revelation. “I’ve got to think more about this heart stuff. Because everyone has a story, but not every story is worth sharing.”

“Unless it has heart,” I added.

“You’ve got it,” he exclaimed.

“Hey thanks man … for sharing,” I said. “I’m going to take the lesson you’ve taught me and think about it—see if I can apply it to my life.”

“Oh yeah, me too.”

“Our paths just might cross again,” I said as I walked out the door.

“I’ll look forward to it,” he shouted as the door closed behind me.

What an amazing day. I had met a killer that became a coach of killers. The only thing that kept him away from crossing the line into crazy was his heart.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

The Creative Non-Linear Conversation


Last night I got together with a group of artists that all share a similar heart for the arts. The combined creativity of the group was enough to solve world hunger, had it been a topic of discussion. But conversational subject matters with a team of imagination filled brains rarely settles on a single subject long enough to make any significant changes in the world.

That’s not to say the group was made up of people who flit from one topic to another without understanding. Our conversations actually got quite deep, emotionally stimulating and were inspirational. The time was well spent with heartfelt information that’ll bond even the most skeptical.

The goal of the evening was not to solve humanities issues, nor was it to develop a life-changing story that would be pumped through the media to capture the attention of those hungry for life fulfilling adventures. The time was just a gathering of like-minded artists that wanted to share a meal, relate to the awkwardness of creatives trying to fit into society, and encourage each other through emotional and spiritual support.

I once read that 1 in 1,000 people use their creativity and 1 in 10,000 people live a creative lifestyle. That means there are thousands of people who find the creative a bit on the odd side. They love the creations, but find it weird relating to the creative.

Most of this comes from societal “norms” about what life should look like. Some of it comes down to a person’s fear of what they don’t understand. I even find most people wanting to change the creative to fit into our society, rather than allowing him to create the next renaissance.

One of the little things I enjoyed about last night was how rapid the conversation moved from topic to topic in a non-linear fashion, all while keeping everyone invested and focused. No one got lost in the conversation.

Had there been a more linear thinker in the room, I’m confident they would’ve been lost more than once. Not because they wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the subject matter and the rapid changes of topic, but because they might not have understood how the vast variety of conversation points all related to the emerging theme that rose from the group.

While we all had differing vantage points, we were all in agreement with the overall theme. Our choices in how to move forward were different, but we all held to the same goal to encourage each other to work through the things holding us back. Our differences were celebrated and encouraged; yet we were unified in the theme that held the ideas to task.

Each one of us agreed to continue the good fight in producing art that will touch someone’s life with hope. We also agreed to support each other by helping them be the best them they can be within the arts.

Unfortunately, conversations like this should be on Friday nights so we have the weekend to recover from the figurative stimulus pumping through our veins. Monday morning came too quickly for those of us whose minds were running at full pace into the wee hours of the night.

But it was fun.

By the way, if you’ve never had a chance to spend a complete evening with a bunch of crazy artistic types, you should invite yourself to their next get together and witness something that few have ever seen. There’s always too much passion and a lot of weird moments, like when the heart stirring video we watched was accompanied by the host’s dog snoring. Certainly a dog snoring loudly during a touching scene is humorous, but the reaction of creatives is far more entertaining.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

The Heart of an Artist

Artist DefinedThe Artist is a powerful creature who makes a difference in our lives. He creates for us beauty from ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness. He makes us laugh in spite of our dire circumstances and brings a tear to our eye when we need to be reminded of our humanity. The artist is a healer of our soul and one who inspires us to be our better selves.

I’m giving an inspirational talk tomorrow night to a group of business people on the topic of artistry. It’s my hope that those in the room who have mastered their craft or developed great business acumen will consider how they might bring heart into their workplace.

Revealing heart through one’s art is a risky venture, especially for those who have been abused in life. However, I can also tell you that being accepted for who you really are is far more valuable than being accepted for who you might pretend to be.

The opposite also rings true. To be rejected for who you pretend to be generates an unprecedented level of bitterness, while rejection based on who you actually are tears the heart, unless you’re confident in who you are – then it doesn’t matter.

The amount of power we find within ourselves when we fulfill who we were made to be is tremendous. It makes me wonder if those who fear the strong are the ones who program society with the hope of achieving some form of a safe haven, without any divergence. The fearful are rarely strong enough to be themselves and hide behind a cloak of societal pressures and political correctness.

It’s therefore the artist’s job to bring awareness to the masses in hopes that enlightenment might grip the heart, mind and soul of the downtrodden. To that end, all artists who choose motion pictures as their venue of choice must find new ways of expressing themselves to bring insight and hope to those around them.

Artistry isn’t black and white, but millions of colors. It takes on different forms and may even be misconstrued at times. I remember one person shared her feelings after reading one of my short stories. She was so spiritually touched that she suggested I become a pastor. A man told me after seeing one of my patriotic works that he’d vote for me if I ran for office. A teenager who felt empowered by one story suggested I become an advocate for women.

The great thing about art is that it opens minds to consider things of the heart. These people weren’t impressed by my stories and films, but by what already resided within their own heart. My art just helped them to see the one thing they held deep within themselves. It only took a spark to fan into flame their dormant passion.

The day will soon come when the people who watch or read my art will no longer suggest I become that thing stirring within their hearts, but instead will embrace their own passion to make the world a remarkable place. For its art that brings each of us to the place we need to be in order to make life-changing decisions that will touch our communities.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers