The Love Triangle (or Box)

Love TriangleYoung filmmakers rarely use a love triangle within their movies. They miss the tremendous amount of conflict and story development that rises naturally from the mix. Their eyes are closed to the internal stories tumbling within the souls of each character and how it externally manifests itself in humor and drama.

Relationship triangles in life happen more times than we admit. But, I’ve experienced the dreaded relationship “box” and found the experience stranger than fiction. However, the true elements from within the experience make great tools for interesting movies.

I spent a couple summers in high school and college at my family cottage on beautiful Bughs Lake. It was a small lake that perfectly reflected its surroundings until the ducks flew in, putting ripples in the water just before dinner.

There were four of us that hung out together. Sue was the most beautiful, the smartest and most charismatic. She had the artistically sculpted legs of a dancer and a personality that could keep people entertained for hours. Her cousin Lori was also hot with well-toned muscles and a deep tan. She was the most energetic of the group and pumped life into every room she entered.

David lived one lake over and joined us numerous times for whatever the day’s activity would bring. He was a jock that looked like a California surfer and turned every head. We had a blast water skiing together and cruising around trying to figure out how we could win the hearts of Sue and Lori.

When the four of us hit the nightlife together, we were the most fun group in town. This was partly due to the group dynamics and we simply had lots of fun, which was contagious. But there was one other factor that stimulated interest. No one knew who might someday have the chance to date whom. It was like being in a lover’s triangle of sorts. But I’ll call it a four-cornered box to make my point to filmmakers.

I wanted to spend as much time with Sue as possible. Although our time together was limited to practicing dance for clubbing and planning how we could connect her with David. I wanted Sue to be happy, so I did everything possible to persuade him, but David was fixated on Lori. And yet, I was the one Lori invited to her prom – Forming a box.

I’m not sure if Sue ever dated David, or if he ever dated Lori, but I was pulled out of the mix. In fact, my family situation escalated with one crisis after another until it culminated in the selling of the cottage. With all the emotional turmoil I faced and the overwhelming responsibilities dumped in my lap, I lost touch of everyone. My last memory of Lori was when I totally messed up her after prom swimming event and never had the guts to apologize.

I never reconnected with David. And as for Sue, I eventually noticed her on stage during a performance my wife and I attended. She and her husband were professional dancers that traveled with the show. I took my wife backstage so we could reminisce for five minutes in between Sue’s performances. My wife felt a bit awkward since Sue was far more gorgeous than I had ever described. But it was okay because Sue and I were never more than summer friends and dance partners.

Love triangles, whether real or only perceived by a character, fuels internal struggles that launch external actions. Some are filled with humor and others drama, but in either case an audience is captivated until the end of the story.

In addition, the director can take turns revealing something first to the audience, while keeping the character in the dark, or vice a versa. This shifting of patterns also creates great interest in seeing the story to its conclusion.

For instance, let’s say our relationship box only existed from the perspective of my character, which is probably true in real life as well. Maybe Lori never liked me enough to date, but couldn’t stand the kids at her school. Because of our group friendship she trusted me enough to escort her to prom. In other words, she was just drawing from our friendship with nothing more in mind.

If the audience knows her request was just one of friendship, but my character was convinced she liked him, he’d find himself in awkward moments – Trying to avoid getting too close for fear of losing focus on Sue. Or, maybe she really likes him and uses the friendship to leverage an opportunity, but he’s so blinded by his false hope for Sue that he misses his opportunity with Lori.

Now, keeping the triangle/box idea in play, we can see that the only person that stands a chance at winning is David. He could realize what Sue has to offer and change his focus, or he could finally get Lori to slow down enough for him to win her heart. The audience then feels sorry for my character, as he slowly walks off into the sunset alone.

The reason love triangles work in movies is because they force the storyteller to reveal things about each character to a depth that stirs the audience. The viewers learn to care about the characters and want to see how things work out. The triangle technique develops the characters beyond the two dimensional stereotypes that reveals both internal and external circumstances.

Multi-dimensional characters always draw an audience and build the fan base for a sequel. The simple interaction between each character’s goals is enough to drive interest for a 90-minute stretch of story.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

10 Directing Techniques that Raise a Film’s Quality (Part 1)

There are over 100 documented techniques that directors develop to master their craft. Independent filmmakers have little patience to develop the skills that delay gratification. This lack of preparation causes poorly managed shoots, fewer artistic choices, bad acting and less coverage.

To avoid the nightmare that generates lower quality films, every filmmaker can improve his preparation by practicing ten directing techniques.

1. Search for Great Stories

There are seven steps to determine if a script is worth shooting. All seven are a part of analyzing the story. By reading a lot of scripts and working through the process of determining which ones are great stories, the director will be able to quickly spot flaws in the next script handed to him for consideration. He will also be able to determine if the flaw can be fixed or if the story should be pitched.

I read and conduct a partial to full analysis on 2-3 stories a month to keep my chops up. This means I read 2-3 stories a week to find the ones worth analyzing. It doesn’t take more than 3-10 pages of reading to know if the story is worth finishing. Those that are worth a full read are considered for analysis.

2. Breakdown Set Pieces

FlashdanceSet pieces are scenes that are designed to have an obvious imposing effect on the audience. They are iconic to the story and many times become culturally iconic. The mere mention of fire trails or light sabers reminds us of Back to the Future and Star Wars. Or, for those who don’t like sci-fi, think about the horse head in bed and a dancer being doused with water, which reminds us of The Godfather and Flashdance.

By finding the 3-8 set pieces in the story, a director can use those scenes to practice the remaining skills. When I first started breaking down set pieces, it took me 45-60 minutes per scene to understand what made those scenes pop. Now, I can find the iconic building blocks within a few minutes per scene.

3. Mark Story Beats

Every script has story beats. Some beats are obvious and some are clouded by subplots or old beats that were never taken out of a previous draft. Some systems recommend 7 beats, others 8, 12, 14, 16, 17, 23, 28, and 32. Each genre tends to have its own rules of beat placement and writing systems. For instance, both the myth and hero processes place varying emotional levels of beats into the story structure.

Marking all the story structure beats within the script gives the director a clear understanding of the story structure, pace, and distortions. Every year I download all Oscar nominated screenplays and search for the beat structure within each story. Patterns within genres and between screenwriters become evident and increase my speed and ability to spot key story elements that must be treated with high importance during a shoot.

4. Mark Entrances, Exits and Power Changes

Well-written screenplays have a shift in power between characters several times within any given scene. Marking each character’s entrances/exits and power shifts, breaks the scene into manageable parts. It also gives the director insight into segmenting the shoot for the greatest on screen emotional impact.

I’ve found that by marking scenes according to the exchange of power, I can instantly tell if the scene will entertain or fall flat. I’ve also found that most scenes that belong in a story, yet are flat, typically have a central element that will play better if the scene is rewritten using subtext. And, those flat scenes that are empty I cut from the story.

5. Notate Verbs for Motivation

With every power shift within a scene the talent needs a new motivation for her character. The best way to inspire the talent is to have a verb ready to suggest the motivation. The verb can be written on the script page with a stronger and weaker verb for back up.

When I’ve suggested to the talent that her character needs to “influence,” I can turn to my back up verbs if she plays it too big or small. For instance, if she plays “influence” too big I can suggest her character needs to “urge,” or if she plays it too small I can suggest she needs to “incite.” By listing all three words on the page, I have immediate tools available for altering a performance should I need it.

To be continued in (Part 2)

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers

The 8 Powerful Techniques that Influence Your Future

CapturedI was sucked in. I couldn’t break free from the moment. It was alarming to me. After all, I understood the techniques used by the media to manipulate those who didn’t take time for conscious consideration of their media intake. It actually snuck up on me last Saturday morning.

I lounged in bed reading numerous Internet articles on my iPad. The sun had already lit up my room, the birds were singing and I was comfy enough to stay put. I easily jumped from article to article, some humorous and others curiously addicting. After about an hour, I couldn’t help but notice that I continually was captured by one particular publication.

The ezine grabbed my attention from numerous locations. It didn’t matter if I started on Facebook, Flipbook or Instagram. Every time one of their articles was shared, I felt compelled to read it. I had been captured by my own curiosity and leveraged by the marketers who published the blog entries.

The answer to being influenced suddenly popped up in an article titled The Anatomy of a Perfect Blog Post. Author Kevin Lee wrote about the sciences used in capturing readers and generating shares. Social Media had matured to the point of using science to influence its readers.

The techniques were simple enough and had proven effective in my life until I gave careful consideration to what I was actually reading. It was only then that I regained control of the amount of impact the influential articles could make in my life. Here are the main categories I learned about.

How to Write the Perfect Headline

The science of testing and retesting a reader’s response to headlines shows that people scan the first three words and the last three words. This suggests that a six-word headline gets perfect readership. Since this is close to impossible to achieve with many blog entries, marketers tested other aspects of headline readership and came up with the ultimate headline formula.

Number + Adjective + Keyword + Rationale + Promise = The Ultimate Headline

Start Your Post with Storytelling

StoriesBlogs that start with a story obtain about 300% more readership than a post without a story. Blogs sharing a story in the beginning of the article keep their readers 520% longer than those without a story. This makes sense to me, as by nature our society loves to hear or read a good story.

Reduce Characters Per Line by Using Images

The fewer number of characters used on a page shortens the eye movement and increases the reader’s comprehension. In other words, its better to use a picture that takes up half the column and reduces the number of words running across the page than it is to use a full column width.

Use Lots of Subheadings

The use of subheadings allows the blog article to be easily scanned. This scan ability gives the reader a quick understanding about what elements of your thoughts shared might be important to them. It also lays out your ideas in an easy way to understand much like a book or speech outline – Adding to the readers comprehension and consideration of your ideas.

Write the Perfect Length of Content

Blog posts of 1,500 words receive more shares than shorter articles. My guess is that it’s long enough to provide substantial content that’s worth sharing. This also puts the time of readership around seven minutes, which is just under the 8-12 minute window we can handle watching on TV – That’s why commercials interrupt your show every 8-12 minutes.

Add Tweetables When Possible

By making your post quotable, people will Tweet your comments. This is now done by placing a “Tweet This” or “Share This” link alongside the text. The old fashion way is to manually code a Tweet link.

Time Your Post for the Weekend

5 Steps to Take an Idea to ScriptSaturdays and Sundays get far more readership of blogs than any other day. This is due mostly to the lack of blogs published on weekends. Less competition means more readership, not to mention that weekends provide more time for people lounging in bed with their iPads.

A Call to Action

Topping off the list of techniques is a call to action. Suggesting that people do something about what they read inspires them to embrace what you’ve shared, especially if it is actionable, relatable, urgent, visual, solution-based, entertaining and definitive.

So, there you have it. The 8 techniques that caught me off guard. The only way I found to counter its effect, was to give the articles I read my conscious consideration, which put me back into the drivers seat and slowed my compulsory reading.

I hope you’ve found this information interesting and that you add these tools into your readership tool belt so you know when someone is trying to influence you. It’s only then that you can purposely take time to consider if you’ll receive and embrace the message to improve your life or discard it to protect it.