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

 

 

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The Mastery Cycle

Slide1I led a master class and several workshops at a conference last week. My goal was to take the students through the mastery cycle without them knowing it. The outcome was eye opening during the debriefing stage of the conference – The time when reality revealed where on the master craftsman scales each person landed.

The mastery cycle has four parts to it: attitude, knowledge, practice, and skill. The attitude step is all about adjusting one’s dreams to a reality check without draining their vision. Increasing their knowledge is the second step that requires a certain amount of entertainment in order to retain the information. The third step is practicing with a coach who can guide and correct each step of the way. The fourth step is the development of a specific skill that can shine during the process.

Once the process concludes, it’s always useful to debrief the participants and find out what they achieved or learned. Everyone gains a new skill (or part of one) or learns how to avoid a disaster going forward. Both are needed for the master craftsman’s utility belt regardless of their occupation.

ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT
My classes were filled with beginning filmmakers and semi-professional amateurs. Both groups typically have a great aptitude for filmmaking, but greatly lack the skills needed to climb to a higher level of quality. Since its impossible to get to the next level until you first understand what you don’t know, adjusting the attitudes of the participants is critical to their growth.

I opened with an example of a finely crafted short story that an amateur would shoot for less than $10,000 and a professional would shoot for no less than $265,000. By explaining the difference in quality, story, skill levels, etc., I helped many of the students correct their vision and desire more skills.

INCREASED KNOWLEDGE
The next class was about how to develop a story using a simple logline as a blueprint. Loglines are one to two sentences that clearly articulate the overall story. Any variation due to overzealous creativity in the process weakens the story and hinders the film’s success.

The class developed the beats of the story based on the logline and then wrote a script to be shot the next day. Everyone in class got caught trying to take the story down a rabbit hole, but the team maintained focus thanks to the agreed upon logline – a safety net to make sure the chosen topic is adhered to.

PRACTICE WITH COACH
The day of the shoot was guided by the experienced training the inexperienced. We had hoped for a professional team coaching an amateur team, but circumstances didn’t come together as planned. Still, the experienced were able to help and encourage those with less experience. Three scenes were shot and then debriefed the following morning.

We reviewed the dailies and discussed the pros and cons that came from the shoot. And yes, there were more cons, but I prefer to say there were more learning opportunities. As long as the person learns from his or her mistakes, they are another step closer to mastering their craft.

During the shoot the director is in charge. He must hold true to the logline, the script breakdown, his notebook, and all the other tools he has in delivering the final story based on its original intent as expressed in the script. Unfortunately, the director was so busy trying to keep his cast and crew moving that he forgot to refer back to his notes.

The outcome was some really good shots and acting that had nothing to do with the story. During our review, I pointed out as many of the errors that added to the destruction of the story and why each person failed. I also pointed out that with film being a collaborative art form everyone must stay on task, rather than offering up things that don’t move the story forward.

SKILL DEVELOPMENT
Each participant got a taste of a new skill they need to develop. The director learned how to breakdown the beats of the story to make sure they are filmed. The actors learned the importance of becoming the character instead of changing the character to be like them. The writers learned that creatives can make things up all day long, but must only keep what fulfills the logline. And on it went.

The process that led to the beginning development of a new skill can now be cycled again to lift that skill to another level. The repetition will eventually see the person master the skill and others for his utility belt, which will eventually lead to the mastering of the craft.

The person who embraces the mastery cycle will eventually become the master and be able to properly break the rules in order to move the art forward. They are also the ones who are passionate about the art. They are the perfect type of people worth having on any set and in any workshop.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Embarrassment or Creativity

© IvicaNS - Fotolia.comCreativity is the one thing that brings everyone happiness. It founded our world and it created what many call the “happiest place on earth”—Walt Disney World. Unlike joy, which is eternal, happiness is fleeting at best. It comes and goes in the moment and can seldom be reenacted with the same level of enthusiasm that it originates.

For the creative soul, or the creator, the release of art is more precarious than most would think. Stepping out fully vulnerable with a creative performance, concept, or product can cause the recipient of a mediocre response to feel embarrassed. The newfound boldness of the audience can bring great praise or a debilitating embarrassment capable of shutting down a vulnerable heart.

Creatives need to protect their heart, yet remain open for their creativity to be successful. While that notion sounds like an oxymoron, creatives will always find someone to hate their work. They will also find someone who admires it. This makes the protection of the heart difficult.

The only way for a creative to protect his heart is to learn from the experts. While this is true in all fields, the entertainment industry seldom employs experts to help a creative get to the next level. All too often the creative person is seen as an end unto themselves and not as one key factor among others who collaborate in a successful product launch.

I was fortunate to have a professional actor as a next door neighbor when I was growing up. We produced numerous plays in his garage for families living on the block. While it seemed to be a hobby for the girls, every guy that participated in the plays went professional later in life.

My good fortune continued in high school when I had great phone conversations about directing with Ken Burns and Ron Howard. I also had a theatre coach that developed shows during the summer at Disney in Orlando. He took me under his wings and taught me a lot about the collaborative process. I was thrilled to be mentored by a pro.

Those who submit themselves to a mentoring process find their skills excel beyond the average creative. The most important reason is the additional confidence created from the relationship. However, for those who can’t seek out a mentor, there are four steps that can be taken to instill a similar affect of growth and confidence building.

STEP 1: Find the current expert in the field that can supply a solution to the creative problem. If we are confident that a particular person has what it takes to solve the dilemma, by researching that person and the steps they took to arrive as a master, it’s possible to shift our perspective in parallel to brainstorm solutions.

STEP 2: Mimic the master. Learning from a master includes the understanding of his perspective, style and panache. By trying these behaviors on, our mindset will change and give us ample opportunity to see things from a new perspective and energize our creativity.

STEP 3: Follow the expert’s methodology. All professional creatives have a process they follow for the sake of speed and profitability. The standards were proven and later developed into a process over time. By reenacting the process or using a version of it, the creative can open his mind to new opportunities and solutions.

STEP 4: Seek the risky solution. Creativity is at its best when we’re on the edge of what we’re comfortable producing. During the times we stretch ourselves to be competitive with the expert, we force ourselves to a higher level of performance. These moments that balance on the proverbial fence between creativity and embarrassment drive success to an all time new high.

The key to learning from others is realizing the difference between a great idea and one that was polished by a pro. Those who must hold fast to their ideas and won’t consider other perspectives are doomed to a short creative lifestyle. But those who consider various pieces offered by other professional creatives can polish off the bulk of their idea with experience, which will be evident in the final product.

No creative wants another to change his idea, but the good ones will allow the pro to improve his idea. Sometimes a simple sentence from a mentor can change the entire tone of a product to something more suitable for a different generation. The comraderie alone is of great value, but the output of the relationship will be impressive—Giving rise to confidence, not embarrassment.

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