Redemptive Films Change Society

RedemptiveMany have asked me to clarify why I’m passionate about creating redemptive stories. The answer rises from the depths of my soul, which I find myself contemplating time and again. The contemplation is not a form of second-guessing, as I’m firm on my position, but it’s about distinguishing the gap between the two.

I’m adamant about society being challenged by story to consider who they are verses who they truly want to be. United Kingdom writer Jeanette Winterson wrote, “True art, when it happens to us, challenges the ‘I’ that we are.”

Great motion pictures always start with a character living their normal life, which gets turned upside down and explored from a new vantage point in the second act that fuels contemplation. The audience gets to watch the character explore how he or she faces life and its circumstances.

Writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag said, “All great art contains at its center contemplation, a dynamic contemplation.”

The character is eventually forced into an emotional corner that requires a life-changing decision. Prior to the final moment, we see the character test out a few possible outcomes, but to no prevail. However, by the end of the third act, the character has chosen to live a new normal life going forward.

Art’s ability to force contemplation and change our viewpoint is of great value to society. Being able to create such media empowers the filmmaker to alter how people perceive society and how the people fit within that new world he presents. It’s no wonder those in power seek to master the media.

Frederick_DouglassFrederick Douglass, in his Pictures and Progress essay wrote, “Poets, prophets, and reformers are all picture-makers—and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements. They see what ought to be by the reflection of what is, and endeavor to remove the contradiction.”

But why are pictures, or more specifically motion pictures, so moving?

Douglass further wrote, “To the eye and spirit, pictures are just what poetry and music are to the ear and heart.”

In other words, there is an innate power within pictures to demonstrate what a better life can look like and how to embrace it from where a person currently stands on any given issue. That is why films start with the character’s normal life, moves him or her into an exploration of the roadblocks in life that force contemplation, and finally resolves with the character choosing a new normal life.

I would venture to say that a motion picture that doesn’t move the audience emotionally from their current place in life to a better one is void of art. The idea that art forces contemplation is an important one, as our society must learn how to change for the better, not to its detriment.

Pulitzer-winning poet Robert Penn Warren said, “Art is the process by which, in imagining itself and the relation of individuals to one another and to it, society comes to understand itself, and by understanding, discover its possibilities of growth.”

Filmmakers, the best of our picture-making community, have been ordained to inspire society’s growth. There are no other animals around who can hold a torch to this appointed responsibility.

In fact, Douglass said, “Man is the only picture-making animal in the world. He alone of all the inhabitants of earth has the capacity and passion for pictures.”

Redemptive stories are created for society. Its movies start with the character’s normal life, moves them through demonstrable roadblocks, and forces him or her to make a life altering decision that brings the character into a new normal life, which adds to society’s growth.

Creating stories that make a direct impact on society is what I’m all about. That is where my artistic appetite thrives and that is why I’m passionate about making redemptive films.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Grandma’s Empty Story Chair

Grandma's Empty Story ChairMy favorite chair sits empty today, crowded in by boxes of stuff I collected over the years. Some of it will see its demise in the dumpster out back, while the more contemporary pieces will be given a home thanks to a local mission or charity.

When I left this world, I was freed from the days I spent in darkness. Having perfect sight again makes this new life extraordinary. My skin is silky smooth and my new body has no stretch marks from the excess weight I once carried on earth. I wish my great grandkids could see me this way.

I can barely remember the fear in the little one’s eyes as she reached out to touch my aged, wrinkled skin. The discoloration from medication gave my arm an eerie and deathly bluish shade. The texture alone was enough to startle any three year old, but I was glad she screwed her courage to the sticking place.

My heart raced with joy when her soft fingers touched my fragile skin. Caution was quickly voiced from my kids for my skin could be too easily torn—but I needed my great granddaughter’s touch regardless of the risk. Her loving, yet hesitant touch, gently slipped away and I fell back into my distant prison of old age. Always feeling alive, while trapped in a decaying body that no longer responded as I willed.

Now, glancing at my empty chair brings a subtle note of joy. I was glad for the opportunities I had, although few, to share stories from a time long ago. My son listened attentively to each tale and responded with questions that taxed my memory, as he searched for enough detail to remember my younger years going forward.

My daughter was also eager to learn more about my life including the love interest I had before meeting her father. She was the most empathetic person that listened to my stories and understood the value of each object I amassed over the years. The symbols were reminiscent of several life-impacting stories that I lived out and my daughter could retell most of them just by looking at the piece collected.

But today the boxes are being tossed because the grandkids and great grandkids see no value in any of it. My stories are fading as each representation rusts away or turns to dust. My empty story chair will soon be pitched, as its worn-torn look no longer matches the decorative styles of the day. And with it, I’m afraid family members will no longer cherish my remarkable stories.

Oh, my daughter will continue to share several stories, and my son will even share a few, too. But even he will one day contemplate the waning interest by his children and their kids. His time will become finite and he will have to choose between sharing one of my wonderful stories or making sure his grandkids listen to one of his. I would never wish that frustration on him.

Instead, if I could encourage him right now, I’d say…

Grandma’s story chair is empty and the artifacts surrounding it no longer speak of the thrilling life I led, so say goodbye to me once again, not fearing that I’ll permanently fade from your memories, and speak into the lives of your kids, grandkids and their kids. For you are of great value to me and I want your stories to resound with compassion and wisdom that will bless our family for generations to come.

NOTE: The sketch illustration was created by CJ in an attempt to make his story feel real. While not an illustration artist, CJ used his Bamboo drawing tablet to sketch elements from his mother’s living room.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

7 Common Mistakes of New Filmmakers

Shaky Camera TechniqueI’ve spent time with three filmmakers over the past two years coaching them on their freshman projects. They all had very different working attitudes, but they all made the same mistakes that are common among first time filmmakers.

Here are the 7 Common mistakes consistently made by newbies:

1. Lack of Preparation.

Every new filmmaker is so excited about shooting what’s in his or her head that they dive into production without the proper preparation. They don’t know that by the time shooting starts, seasoned directors have seen their film in their mind’s eye more than 100 times, working out every little detail. This lack of preparation is typically revealed by a lack of footage being shot that’s necessary to tell the story properly.

2. Bad or No Sound Design.

Audiences are used to full soundtracks, which young filmmakers forget to take into consideration until after their first film sounds thin or tinny. Even then, most newbies use 4 to 8 tracks for sound compared to 16, 32, or even 64 tracks of sound layering done by professionals. New filmmakers also have thin sound effects in their first shows.

3. Underdeveloped Story.

Beginners typically start with a cool scene idea that pops into their head and build a story over a handful of weeks. For most rookie filmmakers the development stage is the shortest. The pros take much longer developing the story. In fact, professional story development typically takes longer than preproduction, production and post-production combined.

4. Poor Casting Choices.

This is when beginners hire their friends and anyone that they owe a favor. People typically get cast based on their ability to “do business” on camera rather than being selected for their character development skills and performance. More experienced casting starts with a list of physical and behavioral attributes. The person’s ability to follow direction and draw an audience to the theater is also considered.

5. Bad Dialog.

Newbies tend to write their own scripts in a way that makes every character sound the same. Rarely are rookie filmmakers taught how to give different voices to their characters. Many times the pros will use specialists to make sure the dialog drives conflict and gives a unique voice to each character.

6. Use of Clichés.

The shorter the film the more likely a young filmmaker will use clichés and stereotypes in the creation of his or her story. The reason is based on their lack of development experience, the ease of shooting the obvious, and the lack of screen time available to explore the conflict. Pros avoid clichés like the plague.

7. Sporadic Collaboration.

Young filmmakers struggle with how to paint their vision to the cast and crew without compromise, while teaming through the cinematic collaboration process that puts excellence on screen. New filmmakers tend to find themself over controlling a project, which kills the artistry, or giving in all too often, which waters down the story. Experienced professionals know how to draw the best out of their associates through collaboration and then pick the best recommendation that’s in keeping with the vision, that is, if it’s better than the preplanned direction.

The apprenticeship process has been used for over a hundred years to raise up strong filmmakers, yet newbies continue to side step the process. For some reason most first timers desire to shoot their own film before they know how to make films, something that will continue for the next 100 years. A few survive that find mentors or get sucked into the system and climb up through the ranks. Those are the ones who learn how to avoid the common mistakes.