Many people have the ability to create beautiful, exciting, thought provoking or otherwise exemplary pieces of film. But, they simply do not know where to begin as they lack the “spark”. If I ever have that feeling, I resort to these tried and true methods.
The best ideas come when you are focused. Get some water, turn off your phone, shut your door and try these methods (except for #3)!
- Start with a character
This is simple, straightforward and especially helpful if the film is based on a standard plot type (i.e. Hero’s Journey). Before you even think a plot, setting or even consider the feasability of the shoot, establish a character. Figure out what he looks like by phsycially drawing the charatcer on a piece of paper. Once you materialize the mental picture, list his attributes, strengths and weaknesses.
As an example, I quickly scribbled out a cowboy named Billy Marcus
Terrible drawing, yes, but good enough for me, which is all that matters in this context. We have a few attributes; he is strong, resourceful and has a strong Texas accent. His weaknesses include his lack of technical understanding and a late 1800’s sociocultural mindset.
Now, looking at the character, think what scenario or location would get more interesting with this character involved in it. An easy way to do this (and with comedy especially) is to drop the character into the most obtuse, uncomfortable setting we could imagine for this character. For example, we could drop this cowboy into a modern city setting and make a comedy film around his bumbling antics in said city to function comfortably. If one wished to go the more serious route, scale back the timescale and drop him into the budding Industrial Revolution as the audience follows him and his family attempting to adjust to city and factory life.
This character development also works for villans. A simple way to makle a compelling villan is to make a character which 1. can capitalize on the main character’s strengths and 2. is supremely powerful in his own right.
2. Feel the music.
I have always found music is a great supplementaryThis method works especially well if you think in images rather than words. Sit back, close your eyes, and just listen to a song. Easy enough. Now, create a music video in your mind for the lyrics or instrumental notes you are hearing. Take parts of the mental music video you have imagined, a character, specific lyrics, a recurring beat pattern or even just the mood of the song which makes you think of something, and you write it down.
Listen to multiple songs. Take pieces of all of them and place them into a story framework.
3. Experience life
If you reach a brick wall that will not go away no matter what, it is best to put down the pen and return to life for a small while. Go do something exciting, go drive somewhere new or go meet some new people. Combine this step with #2 and take a long walk while listening to music. Bring your laptop to a coffee shop, a beach or a forest and write there instead of being cooped up your room. Leaving the writing room for breaks is essential to refresh your brain. By re-assessing the world, you re-assess your approach to materializing your ideas.
When it comes to ideas, going from 0 to 1 is always the hardest part. Once you get a concept, a character, a word or even a spark that makes you go “Let’s follow this!”, the pre-production process becomes an immensely pleasurable application of your mind’s greatest creative recesses.