The Misunderstood Creative (pt. 2)

part2(Click Here To Read Part One)

The creative is misunderstood no matter how hard they try to temporarily fit into society. Some think its because they live 5-10 years ahead of everyone else. Others think it’s their unique wiring that gets them in trouble with the logical ones in life. Regardless of the arguments, its better to learn how to understand the creative rather than pointing out their differences as being weird.

Here are some insights that would help the cause of understanding.

6. They Feel Deeply. It’s not possible to create something of great meaning without first experience the depths of the idea to an even greater depth than would be expected. The creative feels everything more deeply than others so they can feel and understand the emotional tug that must be placed within their art.

Many creative people have well intact memories of their deepest experiences that can be drawn from. Those writing about despair are capable of reliving their darkest moments in order to get the flavor of the experience onto paper. The same is true for the highest of highs. The mere thought of a joyful moment will cause a smile to bust open on the writer’s face.

When the average person watches the writer relive a terrifying moment from their life, it’s all too easy for them to consider dropping the subject. But, the writer embraces the moment to capture the right emotions for his creative work. The unpleasant experience is justified in the final emotionally driven story.

7. Give Long Explanations. When you ask a creative a question, he gives a long-ish story in response. The average person would prefer a short concise answer, but for the artist, the point isn’t the answer, but the journey of the experience. The creative will answer in story form so the person asking the question gets a feeling for everything that led up to the answer.

When I was a kid my family ate dinner together almost every night. My mom would always start off the conversation with any information we’d need for later. Once we had been briefed, my mom would ask dad a question about work. In his artistic storytelling fashion, we’d then experience the life of a cop as he told numerous stories of the day’s events. He was never capable of answering her question in a few sentences. Instead, we all went on a journey as junior cops exploring his day through story.

8. They are Their Work. Artistry is a very personal work that every creative does from his or her heart. They are not capable of separating their art from who they are. The voice of the critic makes life a struggle since each critique is a commentary of their self-worth—validated or condemned. When all goes well, the artist shines all the more, but when things turn south the artist must fight for their emotional survival.

I’ll never forget the premiere of “The Ragman.” It was one of my earlier films made on a micro budget. I had to set up the food tables, collect tickets and then put my tux on in the men’s restroom. A critic caught me dressing and wrote his column on my hole-in-the-wall production company instead of the movie. The film flopped in the U.S. and broke even overseas. I was humiliated—a feeling that resided in me for years. As a result, I can now write tear-jerking stories.

9. Off-the-Hook Intuitive. Creatives intuitively know how to flow within their art form, while the average person can’t even understand the how and whys of artistry. Science has tried to create robot art numerous times, but continues to fail at capturing the essence of the imagery. This is due largely to the intuitive nature of tweaking art based on the artistic imperfections of the human condition—something that must be experienced and can’t be faked by algorithms.

I remember teaching a photography class on composition. The lesson was on the golden section versus the rule of thirds. I ran a quick competition with the students. They would shoot their best work using the rule of thirds and I was to shoot my work using the golden section. We showed the great pictures to numerous students outside of class and the golden section pictures won every time. Okay, I probably should’ve mentioned to the students that I was a national award-winning photographer in both Kodak and Polaroid competitions that year, but I wanted them to emotionally buy into the golden section, not just learn its measurements.

10. Love to Play. Life is about movement, action and adventure. Creatives are always learning and exploring anything that raises their curiosity. Research to an artist is a game that’s fun to play and filled with lots of observations. They toss out the stodgy idea of a methodical program and instead plunge into a more interesting way of capturing the essence of what they’ve set out to learn.

I can’t help but notice that during family birthdays a couple people always find ways of acting goofy. The childlike behaviors invigorate the group with life and joy. The artists in the family seem to get younger every year and some of the more logical folks find themselves sitting in chairs and conversing about the goofy ones rolling around on the floor with the little ones. I’ll admit that at birthday parties I’ve flown trips to the moon, gone on deep sea diving excursions and have piloted an airplane in and out of volcanoes just before they’ve erupted—all while sitting underneath the cake table with happy kids.

I hope these thoughts help you to better understand the creative soul. I also hope its stirred your own heart to bring your creative streak back to the forefront of your life with enthusiasm. Life for a creative is always full of play and that very choice leads to a young energetic life.

(Click Here To Read Part One)

© 2017 by CJ Powers
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The 3 A’s of Story Movement

When I was a child, my dad told me that a motion picture was about movement. I said, “dah!” But later I realized he was profoundly right. I’ve seen too many films that were not about movement. I’m not talking about the physical motion you see on screen where either the camera is moving or the actor moves, although that is present in film.

I’m speaking about story movement.

Every great story has the triple A’s of story movement: Anticipation, Action, and Aftermath. It is no different than the beginning, middle and end, except for one small factor: It’s about building a question in the mind of a viewer that must be quenched by watching more of the show.

ANTICIPATION

The “what” of a story is typically known by the audience before watching the film. The key is to make sure the audience doesn’t presume the “how” of the story before it unfolds. However, to create story movement the director must build anticipation in the audience to see if things play out in the expected way. While the ending might turn out close to expectations, how the story unfolds must be new and unique.

Blog_AAA-1My picture of a character reaching for a flower is symbolic of anticipation. It causes the audience to wonder if the character will caress the flower and smell it, or pick it. Both possibilities have been seen before, so how it’s done tells a new story worth watching. Not knowing how things will play out causes the audience to anticipate several possibilities. The audience is compelled to continue watching to see the outcome.

ACTION

Blog_AAA-2The flower being picked confirms the anticipated event to be new or what was expected, but done in a fresh way. It also raises another question. The audience now wants to know what will happen to the flower. The action drives the viewer to seek the end of the scene. They need to know if the character will hand the flower to someone, put it in a vase, toss it over the neighbors fence, or maybe realize that picking it killed the poor thing and grieve. The possibilities are endless.

AFTERMATH

Blog_AAA-3The aftermath isn’t always negative, but many times it is, except for the midpoint and climax of the film. But it’s always emotional so the audience shares the experience and desires to know more about what will happen in the next scene. Many writers speak about this moment being critical to moving a story forward using a consequence or conflict.

Every scene must have the three A’s to drive the audience’s desire for more story. Without it, the film falls apart. The magic of the three A’s is that it works every time, keeping the story moving and raises questions in the audience’s mind about what comes next. Great stories compel the audience to watch every subsequent scene until the film’s resolving climax and epilog.

© 2016 by CJ Powers

Learning Leaders Commit to 3 Ideas

Plumber Attention © jokatoonsIt was a night of terrible storms that sent hundreds with flooding basements to local hardware stores for new sump pumps. The plumbing aisle was packed with eager customers, where I witnessed a leadership opportunity. The situation was volatile for the lone employee trying to respond to dozens of desperate people crowding in.

The employee (I’ll call him Bob) was a professional plumber that tried to make a few extra bucks selling supplies at night. He asked his manager to help twice, but received no help. An employee (I’ll call her Anne) from another department saw the crowd and started to help Bob. Within minutes the shelves were empty.

Bob climbed the ladder to the overstock area and passed sump pumps down to Anne. The eager crowd grabbed the sump pumps before she could set them down. Another wave of people entered the plumbing aisle and Anne called the manager for help, but wasn’t able to convince him to participate.

A continuous onslaught of people bombarded the two workers. Anne asked Bob what she should do to help and Bob quickly subdivided their workload. He sold the sump pumps, connectors and pipes, while Anne sold immersible utility pumps and hoses.

Another surge of people overwhelmed Bob with foolish questions. Their urgent agenda didn’t allow time for listening to Bob’s expert advice in solving their crisis. He acquiesced to their foolish demands, knowing they’d return within the hour.

Anne knew the ramifications and called the manager. She demanded that he help in the plumbing aisle or send two employees in his place. She hung up, to help another handful of people, before he could respond. Anne shifted over to yet another group needing help and noticed that the manager stepped into the far end of the aisle, helped one person and then left.

A short lull hit the aisle for a few minutes. During that time the manager returned and pulled Anne for other duties. He had her move cleaning supplies to the front of the store for the people’s anticipated return after their projects were finished.

Anne started setting up a display and noticed more people headed to the plumbing aisle. She immediately headed back to plumbing and the manager asked where she was going. She replied, “The aisle is filled with customers and I have to help Bob.” The manager responded in a shocked tone, ”Really?” As Anne disappeared into the aisle, the manager shouted out, “I’ll support that.”

Bob and Anne continued handing out various pumps until the shelves and overstock areas were empty – fifteen minutes past the store’s closing time.

I walked slowly toward checkout and heard the manager start to chum around with the two workers, as if he had participated in the workload. Then he exclaimed, “I can’t understand why hardly any of the pumps from the palette I put up front sold.”

“What?” shrieked Bob. “We told customers that we were out. Why would you take them up front?”

“To save them a trip to the plumbing aisle,” said the manager.

Bob countered, “But they’d have to come to plumbing anyway for the connectors.”

The next day, I purchased cleaning supplies and bumped into Bob and suggested the night before was kind of crazy.

Bob Responded, “Yeah, we sold close to a years worth of sump pumps in one night.”

“It’s a good thing you had help,” I reminded him.

“You’re not kidding,” he said. “I had just made the decision to quit and walk out, but I stopped when Anne started helping me. She was a godsend.”

“That wouldn’t have been too good of an idea, would it?” I questioned.

“What else could I do,” Bob exclaimed. “I was going crazy and my supervisor refused to help. I don’t need this kind of pressure in my life with what little I get paid. Besides, I learned this morning that there were several employees last night sitting on their hands because their departments didn’t have any customers.”

I felt for Bob and Anne. They would‘ve benefited from a Learning Leader – A leader who commits to three ideas in supporting their employees.

THE PERSON IN NEED DEFINES WHAT SUPPORT LOOKS LIKE

A Learning Leader seeks the advice of the expert in order to streamline workflow and avert crisis. Bob was the only expert that could determine the best way to handle the unexpected demand brought on by the flood. Taking advantage of the moment to learn what things should and should not happen during a future crisis will make the Learning Leader invaluable.

Bob was also the only one who could assign tasks to get everyone through the crisis. When Anne volunteered, he quickly assigned her something simple based on her background or lack thereof. Bob knew what items required Q&A to determine the best solution and what items could be supplied with little information. He was the only one in a position to define what help looked like for a volunteer.

DOING YOUR OWN THING TO HELP IS NO HELP AT ALL

The manager had no idea that he hindered sales by moving sump pumps to the front of the store – Out of sight for those making a beeline to the plumbing aisle. His idea to help the customer avoid the crowds was illogical because of the needed connectors. Had he first asked Bob, “What can I do to help?” Bob would’ve told him to hunt for every pump in the overheads and loading dock, and bring it to the middle of the aisle for customers.

The Learning Leader would’ve gained the knowledge that in a crisis everyone heads to where the answer resides, not where the product is stored. The vast majority of people headed to the expert to learn what they needed from the shelf. A Learning Leader would’ve realized that his expert was important to the customer looking for a solution, which could then be pulled from the shelf by any volunteer.

GIVE KUDOS TO EMPLOYEES FOR AVERTING (NOT SURVIVING) A CRISIS

Comraderie is common after a crisis especially if the employees commiserate together. However, its more profitable for the manager to encourage everything the employees did in advance that prevented a greater crisis. These elements can be easily picked up by a manager willing to listen to what could’ve been done better or what was averted because of Bob’s common practices.

A Learning Leader would immediately follow up a crisis with questions about what worked well and what daily preparation diminished the crisis. This is the opposite of the manager looking for attention. He would rather speak of how he and his team put out a fire – The sexy thing to do when vying for a promotion.

Only leaders that are willing to learn from their people know how to manage during a crisis. They learn what helps and doesn’t hinder. They also gain wisdom for next year’s crisis.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers

Finding Your Style

Social media requires branding to successfully promote a product (film) or person (director). The packaging of the brand comes from the artist’s style, which he or she might not understand. Style is the essence of who the person is professionally as displayed over the long haul of a career (or season, in the case of those who rebrand or reinvent themselves).

Last Friday, I bumped into two young people who were talking about their future from a sterile vantage point. The black man talked about rising above his blue-collar job to management and the white woman shared how she positioned herself with her B.S. and Masters degree to become a social worker.

It was as if two stereotypes sat in front of me, so I asked a few questions and was amazed at the answers. There was one specific truth that I learned in those shared minutes that continued to echo in my head every day since: Artists can find their style by participating in three part impromptu sharing sessions.

SHARE WORKS IN PROGRESS

The man revealed his real interest wasn’t in management, but in music. While he wasn’t classically trained, he was confident that his music rose from his soul and could touch the heart of others. I asked him to sing a sample and we were all amazed at the tone and quality of his voice.

My eyes saw an hourly wageworker trying to make ends meet, while my ears heard a professional singer waiting for his magical break. More importantly, it became very clear that he had a new style that hadn’t yet been exploited within the entertainment industry and it was worth the listen.

He didn’t realize that he had a style, but it was clear to all those who gathered around as his voice attracted passers by. Can you picture the tone of a Sinatra mixed with the passion of a JLo? His style broke all stereotypes and was refreshing.

CREATE OFF THE CUFF MATERIAL

I asked the man if he could create something on the fly. He asked me to give him an example. Not being a singer, I asked if I could share a story. He shared his love for stories and asked me to proceed. After getting from him who the main character was and where the story took place, I started the story.

It was more fun watching the growing audience’s expressions than it was making up a story on the fly. The man was so amazed that he participated with emotional responses, as the main character experienced various conflicts. The audience also started to gasp and cheer appropriately.

I’ll never forget the disappointment on the man’s face when my story was cut off due to the circumstance at hand. He wanted more and I learned a lot about myself in those few minutes, as I got a glimpse of the style in which I shared the adventure.

DISCUSS EVIDENT STYLES

The audience and the woman witnessed two men with two distinct styles emerge in a short conversation. While time didn’t allow for it, each person was capable of sharing and discussing the styles that were evident in the presentations. That type of feedback helps an artist to focus on whatever rises from their heart for a future performance.

Discussing the styles also helps the artist let go of preconceived misconceptions, which I’ve personally struggled with. But I’ve learned that it’s not the style that makes the artist, but the artist that gives rise to a style. In other words, I firmly believe that depending on where we are in life, our style will shift and sway to reveal our heart whenever we create or perform.

My experience last week proved that artists can find their style by participating in impromptu sharing sessions that are broken into the following three parts: Share works in progress; Create off the cuff material; and, Discuss evident styles. The acknowledgement of what comes from the experience drives the artists to find his or her personal style.

Copyright © 2015 CJ Powers

12 Essentials of Directing Actors

Movie director.In watching and chatting with numerous actors and directors over the years, I’ve learned a few things that directors do poorly and several they do well. During this time frame the ideals have changed within the production world, so I’m writing only those key points that relate to actors giving a truthful performance. I hope directors will find these recommendations helpful.

  1. TAKE AN ACTING CLASS. Actors are vulnerable and sensitive people who need encouragement and an understanding director.  The best way to inspire great performances is by understanding the acting process. To keep up with the latest trends, I take acting or an improvisational class every so often.
  2. MAKE A CONNECTION. An actor’s job is intense and exposed, which can cause them to feel overly sensitive or vulnerable. The director needs to come along side of them as a trusted advisor. Actors rarely need to be challenged or have an authority figure bear down on them, as most self-critique or compare themselves to their own detriment.
  3. KILL CRITICAL SPEAK. The director owns the set and must stop any cast or crew from saying anything negative to actors. Direction must only come from the director who fully understands the vision and can give proper and affirming recognition. If anyone on the set feels a need to make suggestions or confer with the director about someone’s performance, it must be done in private, if at all. The director MUST protect the actors.
  4. ASK QUESTIONS. The last thing an actor needs on set is an authoritarian or a director that bellows out commands or instructions. Each actor is an expert at her character and because the director is focused on everything, the professional actor will maintain that expert status. It’s therefore prudent for the director to change the actor’s performance inductively by asking questions. By drawing the actor into the thinking process, she is able to discover for herself what the character needs to do. This activity strengthens the actor’s ownership of the character and enhances her performance.
  5. TREAT ACTORS EQUALLY. An actor’s emotions can take its toll throughout the shooting day. Great directors try to keep an eye on each actor’s emotional status and take specific time to remind her that she is liked and respected. The director is a powerful leader that must share this treatment equally with all actors to maintain a mutually warm environment from which the actors can safely perform.  Leaving an actor out of this personalized attention can send her reeling out of control.
  6. BE COURTEOUS. Directors can raise the performance bar by being courteous and avoid the common mistake of telling an actor how she blew it. By saying, “What was that? You can’t bellow out your lines. Let’s do another take and give me less,” the director increases the actor’s fear and stiffens her next take. Instead, a director might consider saying, “I’d like to try something a little different on this next take. I wonder if you could maintain your emotional intensity and drench the other character with a dangerous calm.” This gives the actor more to work with and inspires creativity and performance.
  7. AVOID COMMON ACTING PROBLEMS. Acting is self-conscious and self-judgmental, which many times can cause an actor to act from her head instead of her heart. The director must work with the actor to make sure she is focused on the character and not herself. This approach will avoid numerous problems that typically rise during any given shooting day and help to draw out an honest or truthful performance.
  8. PROMOTE RELAXATION AND FOCUS. Relaxation is important to make sure the actor doesn’t project her voice as if on a stage. It will also impact the way she carries herself. When a scene calls for tension, it will naturally grow from the relaxed state and appear in her hands, walk, voice and face. Anytime anxiety creeps in, the actor becomes stilted in her performance. A director can improve the performance by reminding the actor of what she’s done well. Even redirecting her focus off of her feelings and back onto the character will reduce the temporary lack in confidence.
  9. CLARIFY SUBTEXT. Reviewing subtext during rehearsal will help an actor focus on each line, glance or action. Every element of her performance must lead to her character’s super objective or what she is fighting for. The subtext can be clarified with a verb to be played, a character she plays to, and an intended effect that her character wants as the outcome.
  10. KILL ANTICIPATION. It is difficult for a director to have an actor play a part “naturally” in a specific way, as the mere mention of doing it naturally makes the performance stilted. Within that moment the actor gets trapped in her head and starts to anticipate a line or action. She might also purposely hold back in an attempt to be more natural, which creates an awkward lag and reveals that the actor has done this moment several before in rehearsal. One of the best ways to avoid this conundrum is to walk the actor through the character’s thinking process, while salting in moment-by-moment clues as the performance unfolds – Just like in real life.
  11. KILL INDICATING. It’s common for an actor to increase the visible size of her performance in hopes of reaching the audience or allowing them to see her character’s personality. Unfortunately, the lens is only kind to subtle performance and the actor finds herself overworking and destroying her character in the process. Having the actor think about a secret or some internal struggle during the performance, allows the audience to see that there is more depth to the character without an over-the-top performance. Giving direction to the actor as if you’re speaking to the character also generates this subtle secrecy effect.
  12. SPEAK IN VERBS. Many actors memorize certain actions to help them “do business” during their scene and it weakens their performance because it doesn’t naturally flow from the character. Instead of having an actor pull something out of her bag of tricks, the director can share verbs that stimulate creative ideas that develop new actions based solely on the character. An example might come from a script line like, “She keeps up with her dodging in and out of shadows.” The immediate thought an actor might come up with is moving from tree to tree peering around as she tries to keep up with the other character. However, the director can bring to bear an arsenal of variations on this movement by asking the actor to “trail” the other character. Or, he can step up the intensity with each word suggested: follow, track, pursue, hunt, stalk, or chase. Each verb intensifying the action and giving a new mental picture for the actor to perform.

If I were to add a “don’t” to the list for amateur directors, I’d have to recommend NOT ever demonstrating how you’d like something played. This act instantly reduces the director’s credibility to zero and he doesn’t get what he’s asks for, as his performance never plays out the way it was in his head. It is also insulting to the actor who is the expert on her character, who would never do things like the director demonstrated. This is not to take away from the director showing an actor their blocking, as he walks the actor down the path, while discussing the character’s motivation.

The key is to remember that the actor is an expert at her character and the director can’t be due to his high level of knowledge on the entire picture. However, the director will know what works and what doesn’t and must use questions to help the actor create variations of performance until the director gets what will work best on screen – Something the actor trusts the director to accomplish.

Copyright © 2013 by CJ Powers
Illustration © shambulin – Fotolia.com