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6527212 March 11, 2010

Movie Magic: Caesar Augustus

"Having the end result in mind has brought my best results."

I'm always amazed at the blend of creativity and project management needed to direct and produce films. A keen ability to visualize the big picture and the details while also bringing people, plans, and ideas together to meet deadlines and follow a budget can seem overwhelming to folks--both on the left and the right--of the brain, that is. No wonder they call it Movie Magic. My guest today, Director/Producer Caesar Augustus provides a great example of this amazing mental fusion, which he intends to take all the way to the top.

As I was growing up, I got the whole right brain, left brain scenario stuck in my head. As a highly creative person and an interior designer, I knew my mother primarily used her right brain, and as a high school administrator, my dad exercised his left. I thought it was an either/or situation.

Little did I know.

Here's a refresher:

Right Brain
  • Responds to demonstrated instructions
  • Problem solves with hunches, looking for patterns and configurations
  • Looks at similarities
  • Is fluid and spontaneous
  • Prefers elusive, uncertain information
  • Prefers drawing and manipulating objects
  • Prefers open ended questions
  • Free with feelings
  • Prefers collegial authority structures
Left Brain
  • Responds to verbal instructions
  • Problem solves by logically and sequentially looking at the parts of things
  • Looks at differences
  • Is planned and structured
  • Prefers established, certain information
  • Prefers talking and writing
  • Prefers multiple choice tests
  • Controls feelings
  • Prefers ranked authority structures
Unfortunately, for many years I essentially ignored my left brain (or it ignored me). Then to emotionally survive, I swung far to the left. With the help of my left brain, I built a life for myself and managed a relationship after multiple failures. What eventually happened is a whole other story, but needless to say, because my right is truly dominate, the two ultimately collided in an explosion that took quite a bit of time and effort to sort out.

With that said, I've learned that accomplishing creative projects often heavily depends on left-brain capabilities. For example, I doubt I could have completed a novel back when I was emerged in my right brain, running around like a maniac. I believe it took my left to say, "Hey, sit your a-- down now! Here's how you're going to make this idea a reality."

In my recent interviews focusing on creativity, I've asked why so many people start creative projects yet never finish. In many cases, I believe it has a lot to do with an inability to tap into the more project management-related skill sets, and apply them to what the creative side visualizes. I've certainly learned how important it is to plan my progress with the end result in mind.

Ironically, this week I've set out to paint a picture with no plan in mind. It's an experiment that has me feeling a bit uncomfortable. It's made me realize how much security I get from the planning process. I find that first creating a road map that takes me from point A to point B is a powerful process/tool. The issue is that sometimes a map can bring insidious inflexibility. It can cause the left brain to overpower the right, perhaps squealing amazing creative spark or emotional content. This is what I'm trying to better understand in terms of my own creative process and ability.

Free mapping it isn't so tough standing in front of a blank canvas, or perhaps sitting in front of a computer. Directing and producing a film is yet another story. There are bigger elements to be orchestrated, and planning seems to be essential. Orchestrating words, color, and lines is one thing, but creating movie magic is another.

I often wonder if most highly creative people are born knowing what they want to do. Have you always wanted to be involved in film making, or was it a specific creative interest that evolved over time?

I believe everyone is creative to a certain degree. Like most great things, my creativity developed and evolved over time. Nothing is better then hands on experience and working with others to expand on anything you do.

Growing up, I always had the family camera at hand. Like many young people, I struggled to figure out what I wanted to do as a career. As a Junior, I transferred to a new high school. Starting a new school, I only knew a handful of people. The guidance councilor suggested a good way to get involved at the school was to join WCHS-TV, a student operated television station servicing Coatesville Area Senior High School. The program ran every other day during advisory period and produced a show featuring school news, sports, features, and birthday segments coordinated by two co-hosts. We learned the basic aspects of television production, including reporting, writing, filming, editing and producing. Here is where I consider my creative career as a filmmaker found me.

I didn’t want to go to a new high school but for some reason life brought me there.

Do you have other creative interests, and if so, what are they?

I am also a graphic designer and an editor. I design all my material and edit all my projects. Here's our latest project that is currently on MTV:

There is a stereotype that creative people are "different," which can be a positive or a negative at times. What are your thoughts on this?

I have come across into many different and unique individuals in my industry. Different is absolutely needed in our field. It allows us all to create in a unique way.

The best part of what I do is work with all sort of different creative people. All units coming together to form one masterpiece is really one of my joys of being a Director/Producer.

Do you believe being creative has caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

I think both.

Being creative and focused, my goals have absolutely helped me deal with life’s aberrations. Since my career has a lot to do with being creative, it has helped me stay on course, always building, learning with each and every project and experience.

Building a good brand has always been my main focus. It has allowed me to experience both good and bad parts of the business but never has it been a set back.

On another side, I think you need to loose yourself within-in order to find your creativity. Sometimes that is where the best material is found. Wherever life brings you … good or bad ... it's all for a reason. We are the sum of all are experiences.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I have surrounded myself with people who believe in me, my work, and the vision that drives me creatively. If there is ever a question, I just look at how far we have come in a short amount of time, knowing that anything can be accomplished with the right determination, attitude and persistence.

I often wonder, "Am I truly creative or do I just think I am?" Have you ever wondered about this? In a world filled with creative people and people who think they're creative, how have you been able to distinguish yourself and your talent, despite any doubts along the way?

I think everyone is creative, whether you're baking a cake or creating a feature film. You're starting from scratch and adding your own touch.

I personally create from within. I find myself almost in a deep meditative state when I write, edit, or do anything creative. I feel the help of my guides come in when I really get into what I am doing.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. How did (or do) you cope with disappointments? What motivated you to keep going, to not give up?

At an early age I understood that there will be lots of ups and downs in anything you do. It's how you work through them that determines the outcome. You are a success the minute you attempt to achieve your goal. If you fall … you get up and continue where you left off.

It's all a building process.

I often wonder about the similarities and differences creative people have in terms of thought processes. How would you describe your creative process? How does your mind work?

I always have the Beginning, Middle and End laid out before I begin most of my projects. Having the end result in mind has brought my best results.

My development process varies from project to project. It all depends on the length of the script, the actors, the set, and the crew your working with, as well as the budget. All this drawn together allows me to figure out which way I will be developing and orchestrating the production.

What are the top three characteristics of a highly creative person, in your opinion?

1. Attitude
2. Passion
3. Discipline

It can vary depending of on what creative field you're in. It's all about what you visually see before you can create anything.

Many creative people have tons of ideas but never follow through. I'm not sure if it's because they lack drive, organization, or focus. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

Some people don’t see themselves as what they wish to become. Since that first high school production, I've always seen myself doing what I do. Directing a BIG motion picture is my dream, and my end result. However, even when I get there, I'll adjust and have a whole new set of goals and dreams lined up.

Most people fail to see that discipline in mastering your craft, your drive, and putting this all together into working action is what's needed to truly achieve any goal. The bigger the dream and expectations, the more individual effort is needed to pull through.

You determine your outcome. See yourself there ... and I guarantee you WILL get there.

Learn more about Augustus Films on their site, Facebook, and MySpace.

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6527212 October 24, 2008

Burning Down the House: An Aberration Story

"From this aberration; this single traumatic event in my life, I can draw a line to the present and all the blessings I have today."

If you're anything like me, you probably have a plethora of stupid choices, ridiculous, risky behaviors, and negative outcomes stuffed into a chest that sits in the back of your mind. Some of what we keep there is easily forgotten, written off as youthful indiscretion. However, for many of us, there is one or more pivotal events or choices that shaped our early lives. If we're lucky, the resulting shape is something positive and meaningful, and that shaping comes naturally. But regardless of the shape we end up in, it's never too late to re-evaluate the past, to find meaning and direction in the poor choices of the past.

Don, Phillies fan, father of four, writer, and author of A Field Guide for the Rookie Coach, has joined the Aberration Nation. Since 1992, Don has coached numerous boys & girls’ basketball, softball and baseball teams, and sat multiple terms on the Board of the Academy Sabres Youth Athletics Organization. Don remains active in the Philadelphia area youth athletics community conducting seminars that help new coaches (and not so new coaches) develop and refine the skills that keep kids having fun and coming back year after year. So what does this Philly community role model have in his chest of youthful indiscretions? Here's a peak.

You are sharing what I call a situational aberration. Can you first explain what happened?

I burned my family’s house down when I was 18 years old. It was an accident. I’d had too much to drink and decided to cook myself a midnight snack. By the time my father awakened me from my drunken stupor, flames had consumed the kitchen and were billowing along the ceiling of the living room where I’d passed out on the couch while reading the paper. He, my mother and I made it out of the house. My two brothers were sleeping out that night so in the end, no one was hurt. We rebounded from this tragic loss, and as you can imagine, learned a lot along the way. From this aberration; this single traumatic event in my life, I can draw a line to the present and all the blessings I have today. This disruption in my life provided me with the impetus I needed to leave behind the things I knew best and embrace the unknown. To stop clutching and clawing at a future I thought was my destiny, and to let go and allow my destiny find me. I've been lucky.

At 18, how did you cope with knowing you were responsible for such a devastating situation?

In the context of my 18-year-old life, I wasn't all that devastated by it. I thought, "No one was hurt and most of the family keepsakes, photos, scrap books, etc, weren't burned."

My family had grown complacent, taking each other and everything for granted. This event served to jar us all into a closer, more appreciative relationship. Now a parent myself, I realize my own parents' perspective on the experience is probably very different, but in the immediate wake of the fire, I went through a pretty fast transition from feeling very bad to feeling lucky.

How long did it take for you to overcome the guilt, and what was that process like?
Scarily quick--like 48 hours. My recovery was directly related to the loss, but the overall context of the event is important.

I'd been an overachiever my whole life in a family of underachievers. I never had to study to get top grades. I was a good looking kid and had an engaging personality. I had a girlfriend and the future looked bright. But it wasn't MY future, it was the future my parents wanted for me.

I was a freshman in college at the time of the fire, enrolled in a premed program and doing well, as usual. But I hated it. I wanted to travel. I wanted real adventure and risk in my life that had been, up until then, pretty darn mundane. My girlfriend was smothering me at a time when girls were falling out of trees. In the midst of my inability to break out of this rut, I became hospitalized with an ulcer at 18.

During my stay in the hospital I had two visitors that, to this day, I credit with shaping the life I now lead:

1) A teacher came to visit and gave me Kerouac's On The Road to read. He could see through to my discontent and I found out, some years later, that he'd decided to see if throwing that grenade into my psyche would spark me to take charge of my life. He had no idea how much it would.

2) The other visitor wasn't technically a visitor, but rather the doctor attending to me. He closed the door as he came into my room on the day I was discharged (after being there a week), and essentially urged me to let go of everything I was hanging onto. To cut all ties with everything weighing on my mind. He said that I should take a year or two to follow my heart.

Are you thankful now that you had that experience? Although it was certainly a negative one, did you come to see value in it and fate at hand?

The most valuable thing that came out of it was the display of overwhelming kindness and charity that followed. It came from everywhere, even from very unexpected places.

I'm not so sure how I view the event in terms of fate, because I've always considered myself abundantly blessed when compared to the pain and suffering of so many people. Remember, it was just a house; just some stuff, nobody was hurt, so in my opinion, it was a fortunate inconvenience which eventually became the first in a series of dominoes whose falling led to my escape from the life I was so bored with.

Most teenagers and young adults take risks and assume nothing bad will ever happen. Is there any way to combat this belief in teenagers, or is there no way around it? The ability to take risks is important for long-term success in life so how can we hold that in check while instilling the positive aspects of it?

By being honest about it. By being honest about your own youth. I know I sound like a broken record but context cannot be ignored in this either. When I say to be honest, I mean age appropriately honesty. For example, I wouldn't tell my eight year old I smoked pot when I was younger, but I would tell my fourteen year old who might be faced with making decisions about using marijuana on a daily basis. If I'm able to explain the risk from a perspective of experience, it makes a whole lot more sense than telling them to "Just say no."

I'm also a proponent of letting my kids take age appropriate risks while providing them with a safe environment to discuss their experience--as long as it's age appropriate (can't stress that enough).

I have four kids, ranging from age 14 to 21. Every one of them was faced with going to a keg party in the woods when they became freshmen in high school and every one of them asked me if they could go. Imagine asking your dad if you could go to a keg party when you were 14. I let them go with the stipulation that I wasn't giving them permission to drink alcohol, just hang out with their friends and check out the scene. I knew this was a time when paths would diverge; when some friends would gravitate to partying and others not. My kids felt empowered and trusted and they found out the keg parties in the woods were muddy, dirty, bug infested affairs with a lot of sloppy, stupid behavior. If I hadn't let them go, they may have glamorized it based on the stories they heard later. As it was, they knew the stories were glamorized because they'd actually seen the events.

In every case, my kids parted ways with some of their grammar school friends and went on to make new friends in their bigger high school environment. They gravitated toward kids with similar interests and values, having made their own decisions to move away from the inappropriately risky behavior of their other friends.

I've been burned by this philosophy too, so it doesn't always have a rosy outcome, but the underlying foundation of self respect I give my kids by trusting them with the truth about my own behavior when I was their ages, and my willingness to let them fall on their face, gives us a safe place to talk it out when all is said and done.

I also take the time to watch and read everything my kids do, and find ways to discuss the risky behavior and poor choices illustrated in popular media and literature. I make a point to emphasize when something is "Hollywood" or when risky behavior is glamorized into something romantic. I've also taken my kids to volunteer at soup kitchens so they can see the impact of substance abuse on otherwise good people and they have relatives who are examples of taking risky behavior to unhealthy extremes.

What advice do you have for anyone struggling with poor decisions and choices made in the past?

I'm big on self forgiveness. If I wasn't, I'd have hung myself in the closet a long time ago.

Don't hinge your happiness on the approval of others. Accept responsibility for your own occasional lack of good judgment when you screw up, try hard to learn from it, and move on. It's bound to happen again, so come up with a process for dealing with your own mistakes that enables you to move forward cleansed by the experience, not just tarnished by it.

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