The Story Behind NASA's Legendary Logo Design

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Whenever I come across interesting articles on the creative industry (filmmaking, video production & post, advertising, design, etc.), I clip them and send them out in a weekly e-newsletter.

A few weeks ago I read this article on the famous NASA logo, which traces its history and its legacy. I encourage you to read the story if you work in a creative field, even if it isn't design. I'm sure you can find applications to your own work.

Here are a few things that stood out to me as I read the story:

  • Establish consistency and continuity. Whether it's setting design standards, or any other creative endeavor, make sure that everyone (managers, employees, vendors, etc.) are working together and understand the parameters. 
  • Think minimal. The original NASA logo was intricate, hard to reproduce, and busy. The redesigned logo was clean, minimal, easy to reproduce, legible from distances, and could easily be placed on everything from ID badges to vehicles.
  • Stay true to your vision. Anyone who has worked in a creative field knows that some clients will push back on a proposed idea. A client's objection might not be because of your idea. It may be because the client doesn't quite understand your vision. It might take some convincing on your part. Be prepared to defend your choices and know how to answer a client's questions.
  • Things don't always end well. Even after all the time and energy invested in a creative project, a client may just decide to move in a different direction. There have been moments in my career when I've been very proud of the videos I've produced, only to see the client pivot at the last minute and go in a different direction. I know I'm not the only one.

What do you think? What other lessons can be learned from this story? Leave your thoughts in the Comments.

30 Ways to Brainstorm Short Film Ideas

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I always like to start off the New Year by sharing content designed to inspire your next film project. To get started, feel free to review these articles that I've posted over the past couple of years:

Recently while browsing through my Twitter feed, I came across this handy resource from Studio Binder that gives you 30 ideas for brainstorming film ideas. They have a printable version available on their website.

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How To Find Great Ideas For Your Next Script

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Where do you get your ideas?

This is a question filmmakers are often asked. And it's a valid one. If audiences see a film that moves or inspires them in some way, they want to know the backstory. They want to pull back the curtain on the process to learn something about the filmmaker, about the process in general, and maybe a little bit about themselves and humanity.

Answering the question can be difficult, however, because inspiration comes in many different ways and takes on many different forms. When it comes to tackling the question, I can only speak for what has worked for me on my own short film projects. So, if you're interested in writing a screenplay, whether for a short or feature, here are a few tips on how to get the creative juices flowing.

Inspiration is everywhere. You have to be open to it.

This is a mindset you have to develop if you want to do anything creative - writing, painting, photography, etc. You have to be observant to the world around you. Get outside of your own personal circle. Put down your smartphone. Learn to watch, listen, and observe everything that doesn't directly affect you. Got it? Good. Next...

Keep a notebook for jotting down anything. 

Moleskine notebooks are my preference, but whatever you select, maintain some kind of creator's notebook where you can jot down anything like bits of dialogue, scenes, situations, random thoughts, etc.  I've written before about the importance of keeping a notebook, even if you don't use those ideas right away. It quickly becomes a repository that you can visit later, reviewing old ones and perhaps re-mixing them with something new. There's great value in physically writing things down, but if you need something digital, use Evernote. It's a great tool for getting your ideas organized. It also syncs across all your devices and everything you enter becomes searchable, making retrieval of old ideas quick and easy.

Write from your own experiences.

Everyone has a story. Think back on your own life experiences. Is there anything that happened to you that might be a good jumping off point for a script?

Keep a dream journal.

Dreams can be absolutely crazy and non-sensical, but they may be a good source for material. "But I never remember my dreams!" Try this: After waking up, but before getting out of bed, relax and let your mind wander for a few minutes. You'll be surprised to find out that you can remember more about your dreams than you first thought. When you're up and getting ready for the day, your brain is focused on those tasks, not on the dreams. That's when you tend to forget them.

Watch other films.

What genres do you like? What type of story would you like to tell? With these answers in mind, start watching other films that fit within that mold. See what works well and what doesn't. Are there any themes found within these works that you would like to expand upon? Any narrative structure you would like to try? When you're first starting out, you will often imitate what you know. The more you develop your skills you will take these ideas from other sources and re-mix them and make them into something completely different.

Listen.

Listen to people as they talk with each other. What kinds of stories do they tell? How do the listeners respond? People that know how to tell a good story are engaging and fun to be around. Why? Use these moments as inspiration for your own plots and story structures. 

Also, listen to music. Sometimes a certain melody will spark an emotion. Sometimes a specific lyric will make you think of a time or a place, or maybe a relationship or a conflict. 

Exercise.

Whether it's jogging, hiking, cycling, or something else entirely, physical activity is a great way to generate ideas. 

Don't Sleep.

This one comes from an article I read a few years ago in which Lorne Michaels talks about how the grueling and tiring schedule at Saturday Night Live actually helps the writers come up with great ideas. And there's scientific research to back up the claim. Go read it for yourself. It's very interesting. 

Finally, just start writing.

Discipline yourself to spend 15-20 minutes just writing things down in your notebook. It doesn't matter what it is. Talk about your day, your anxieties, what makes you happy or sad, your fears, your relationships, anything. The point is this: put pen to paper and put it all on the page.

Hopefully these ideas will help you as you try to find the next big idea for a great new screenplay. If you have anything to add, please share it in the Comments section.

A Helpful Method for Structuring Your Script

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Structure is so important when writing a screenplay. Every beat has to tell us something about character and story. Set-ups established in act 1 have to pay off in act 3. The challenge, however, is reigning in all of those ideas and making them fit into a proper structure.

Every writer has his/her methods for crafting a screenplay, whether it's writing an outline, or writing each scene on index cards. The point of these methods is to help the writer get a bird's eye view of the entire story and to know exactly where he/she has been and where he/she is going.

One of the methods I learned years ago at a screenwriter's workshop is the Grid Method. It's very simple to set up and use and it might help on your next screenplay project as you work on mapping out the entire story.

  1. Take a regular piece of notebook paper and turn it sideways so you're working with a landscape view, not a portrait view. This will give you more room to write.
  2. Create four columns across the page. Label the first column Act 1, the second Act 2A, the third Act 2B, and the fourth Act 3.
  3. At the bottom of your first column write, "Inciting Incident," at the bottom of the second column write "Midpoint," and at the bottom of the third column write "The Fall." If you're unfamiliar with these terms, here are some definitions:
    1. The Inciting Incident is the singular moment in the film that starts the hero off onto his/her journey. It usually occurs in the first 10-15 minutes of the film.
    2. The Midpoint is the moment during Act 2 when there's no turning back. The Hero is fully invested now. He/She has to keep moving deeper into the cave in order to find his/her way out. 
    3. The Fall is the point at the end of Act 2 when everything seems lost and the Hero is down for the count. 
  4. As you move down each column (using a numerical or bulleted) list, write down every major story beat for each act in your screenplay. Make sure that each beat is logically leading you up to the Inciting Incident, Midpoint, and Fall. Note that you are just writing down plot points. Don't worry about dialogue, character traits, motivations, goals, etc. The purpose of this exercise is to give the plot of your screenplay structure.

When finished, you will have the entire story arc spread out on a single page for easy reference. You can see which moments in Act 3 were set up in Act 1. You can see if you've raised the stakes high enough for your Hero in Act 2. It's a great system for evaluating story and determining what works and what doesn't.  

This system may work for you, but you may find some other technique that works better. Here's another system I found a few months ago that looks incredibly useful for structuring story. It's called the Storyclock Notebook. Be sure to check it out. The important thing is that you find a system right for you. 

What are your writing habits? What technique works best for you? Be sure to leave your tips in the Comments section.