Throwing a Story-Based Party

partyBack when my kids were little, my wife and I threw story-based parties for friends. The food and the decorations perfectly fit the period and we even invited our guests to come in costume based on the party’s storyline.

Our World War II party took place in what looked like a bunker. The Star Trek party appeared to be on another world with very colorful foods. And, our western party included a shootout with a cowboy stunt team – and yes, one guy was shot off of the roof.

This weekend my son is organizing a “room escape” party – the latest in entertainment events. Not only will it have a theme, but it will also be story-based. The goal of those “locked” in the room is to search and find clues, decipher the codes and follow them to the conclusion that reveals the key to get out.

All of the best parties that I’ve attended were story-based. Story events take a great deal of effort for the host to prepare, but everyone will remember the event for decades to come. I still bump into people who rave about my Christmas party from twenty-five years ago when Santa showed up with his real sleigh.

Here are the steps necessary to create a story-based party:

  1. Decide what story you want to tell. This is simply a way of determining the guest experience you want to create. The creation of a story or journey of sorts generates a form of movement within the party that keeps things alive and entertaining.
  2. Determine what the guests will do. By creating an plan, the guests will be physically and emotionally moved through a series of actions that generate surprise, awe and memorable ah-ha moments.
  3. Select where they will do it. The physical place or setting is always paramount to a good story. It sets the atmosphere and peaks the interest of all guests in attendance.
  4. Pick when the story will take place. The time period plays an important role in the setting. The period can be modern day, the future, or somewhere back in history. Creating designs that reflect the specific period you choose creates richness to the party that is not soon forgotten.
  5. Choose what the guests will say tomorrow. All story-based parties generate a buzz of conversation. Friends tell other friends all about their experience the day after the party. In fact, the better the party, the longer people talk about their experience. Therefore, determining the result or the emotional takeaway you’d like to instill in your guests is critical to the party’s follow up conversations.

After you’ve made a list of the above items, you can organize the event in an order that works best for the story. The flow of activities is essential for creating a seamless environment that engulfs your guests in a great experience.

By thinking through all aspects of the event and scripting out the throughline or the flow of the story, you can create a party worthy of a theme park. Then make a list of all the details that are significant to the storyline. I like to use a visual board that I can attach magazine clips, photos and note cards.

The next step is easy. Look through all the brainstorming work you’ve collected and pull it all together. I’ve always found that the visual collection of the ideas seems to always imply an obvious storyline that will flow naturally and be a great success.

I threw a Mother’s Day party that was a nostalgic look at the 1940’s during the summer. It included an award winning barbershop quartet, dancers recreating the charm of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and a delightful meal common for the period. There was also a lot of beautiful lace table clothes and freshly cut flowers throughout the room.

Story-based parties are significantly more spectacular than store bought themes. They have a movement and richness that can’t be purchased in a box. It requires the host to be creative and think carefully about how to entertain each guest. It might even be the ultimate in hospitality because of the tremendous care taken on behalf of the guests.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers


Abandon the Faith-Based Label

The Passion of the ChristThe Hollywood Reporter printed a guest column by Mark Joseph. The title was “’Faith-Based’ Is Not a Film Genre” and the column opened with a quote from the author. “I’ve come to the conclusion that the label is both untrue and unhelpful, and should be abandoned.”

Joseph is a marketing expert that has worked on the development and/or marketing of 40 films including, The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia, and, I Am David. His article opposes his success stories being lumped together with the myriad of bad Christian movies that, based on its significant volume, created the Faith-Based label.

I understand his concern, since in Hollywood the term “Faith-Based films” is synonymous with “bad Christian movies.” When a producer approaches a distributor and presents a Faith-Based movie for consideration, the distributor immediately tells him not to expect any revenue from the limited release. The shoddy contract supports the statement.

However, Joseph’s article fails to mention that marketing must label product in order to properly promote it. This is why most Oscar winning films are genre specific, which is easier to market. It’s not possible to market a film that is “sort of this and kinda like that, with a twist and biblical message.”

The real problem isn’t that the large number of Faith-Based films forced Hollywood to group the movies into a single label that preempts the audience with its consistently bad storytelling and lack of artistic prowess. The real problem is that those making Faith-Based films actually think what they’re making is high quality and they see no reason to improve their craft.

I’ve had several opportunities for funding that required us to add a handful of elements to satisfy the religious investor, which would destroy the storyline and artistic expression of the film. Having a history of making artistic story rich shows for most of the major networks, my integrity didn’t allow me to accept the terms and I  suffered the consequences of not being funded. Several fund worthy friends had similar experiences and we’ve all scratched our heads wondering why bad films are funded and great ones are not. This made me wonder if investors don’t truly understand how great story in film impacts society.

Some producers tried to re-label their Faith-Based films for a general release, but because the investor funded elements were present, the story was destroyed and the film received the unwanted label – Forcing the film’s failure in the marketplace. Not only did the films fail as predicted, but it also positioned the producers as liars.

Today, the only way to avoid the Faith-Based label, which alerts the audience that a film is bad, is to make a universal story picture for the general public. As for the biblical message, it can be lightly salted into the theme, where based on the art form, would have the greatest impact. This will also push the film to the largest number of people in each market, placing the message before millions worldwide.

Now, I understand that there is one other way to change the Faith-Based label to something meaningful that draws a new audience, but it requires those who participate in Christian films to judge and categorize each film’s actual level of quality. Bad films have to be called bad and compared to the good films, which must be called good. And, for those few great films, they too must be called great. Then, and only then, will marketers be able to clearly articulate the differences between Faith-Based films, recreating the meaning of the label.

Since most Christians don’t want to suggest that a film carrying a message from God is bad, this will probably never happen. Instead, the funds will eventually dry up and Faith-Based films will disappear until the next generation can find a way to make the films self-sustaining. I’d wager a guess that within the next ten years a new breed of filmmakers would step into the limelight and change the definition of Faith-Based films forever.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers