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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College TV Ads Don't Have to Look the Same

Quick. Think about a school commercial. What does it look like? What do you see on screen? Do you see images like this?

Or this?

What about this?

Now, this isn't an indictment against videos that use these b-roll elements in their spots. I've used them myself on various projects.

Rather, I bring this up, 1) to acknowledge that a certain genre of video (like a school commercial) will, more often than not, contain common elements, and 2) to challenge all of us as video producers, advertisers, and marketers to find that which differentiates our clients from their competitors, and to create content that turns right, when everyone else is turns left. 

The problem with school videos that use similar visual elements, music, talking points, etc. is that there's nothing in the spot that differentiates one school from another. You could simply take the same spot and just replace the logo at the end. Always ask: what's unique about this client?

For some schools, the answer might be attitude. Consider this spot from the University of Oregon. It contains some of the same b-roll shots you see in other school videos, but the difference is in the scripting and in the edit. The piece has a definite edge, giving you the impression that the university has a distinct energy that's slightly rebellious; an energy that breaks the mold, blazes new trails, and impacts the world. It leaves you with the feeling that Oregon is a place that defies the norm.

The differentiator for another school might be results, like this spot from the University of Dayton. In essence this spot says, "Here's what we've done. Here's what our people are doing." Here's the impact we're making." They point to real-world results. And, if you look quickly, you will see some common elements from other school commercials, but they executed the spot with an animated, infographic look, which is eye-catching and different.

Or consider this spot from Georgia Tech. They chose to focus on their reputation as a well-respected engineering school. But instead of showing students working in labs, or manipulating some advanced 3D object on a computer screen, they opted for a more creative approach. The result? They still communicated their message and stayed true to their core differentiator, and the spot is distinctly Georgia Tech.

Or you could completely ignore all of the above and do something like this:

Why Cinematographers Should Be Using Pinterest

Image courtesy of  startbloggingonline.com

Image courtesy of startbloggingonline.com

We are inundated with content every moment of every day. It's important to have a system in place where you can collate, organize, archive, and retrieve that information with ease. Like other cinematographers, I come across compositions, color schemes, lighting setups, etc. regularly and I want to collect all of those inspirational images for later reference. Every shooter has his/her method for organizing look books and mood boards, but I really think Pinterest is an excellent way to keep all of these reference shots organized.

Since Pinterest allows you to create different boards for different interests, you can set up one board for compositions, another for lighting setups, and yet another for color palettes. Right now if you go to my Pinterest profile, you will see the following boards:

  • Blue Color Palettes
  • Compositions
  • Warm Color Palettes
  • Low-Key Lighting
  • Color Theory

I'm still in the process of adding more content, based on my current projects, but so far I've found Pinterest to be extremely convenient for organizing and accessing reference material.

What tools do you use for collecting inspirational images? Leave your tips in the Comments section. 

3 Ideas For Getting Your Script Off the Ground

Image from  JohnTrigonis.com

Image from JohnTrigonis.com

Staring at the cursor on a blank screen is frustrating. You want to write a short screenplay, but can't seem to come up with anything profound or meaningful. How can you jump start the writing process. Here are 3 ideas to jump start your creative engine.

  • Ideas can come from anywhere, so be open to inspiration. The initial spark that formed the basis of my short film Exodus Road came from an image I couldn't get out of my head: There's something buried in the ground and our main character risks his own safety to go back for it. Ideas may come from a dream you've had (maintain a dream journal), a song you've heard, a conversation with a friend, a painting, etc. Be observant. Take notes on what you see and hear. Maybe you can develop it into a script now or maybe you come back to it later. Maybe you don't write that script at all, but you use bits and pieces of the idea in another project. In 2004 I jotted down the premise for what I thought might be a good short film called One Mile. I left it in my notebook and didn't come back to it again until early 2006 when I started to expand the story, calling it Freeze Frame. This eventually became my short film Collection, which I completed in 2007.
  • Always be asking yourself "How?" "Why?" "What?" and "What if?" For Exodus Road, the idea started with an image, so naturally I asked myself "Why?" "Why is the main character going back for this item?" And that led me to ask, "What is it that the main character is going back for?" Which then led to, "What if this happens after he finds it?" Trace this journey. Allow it to splinter off in multiple directions. See where it leads you.
  • Collect pieces of dialogue. Listen to conversations. Take note of how people speak, how they choose their words, phrases they use, jokes they tell, slang they throw around. Write these bits and pieces down and start collecting them. They will become your reservoir from which you can draw as you write your script. This will provide your characters with authentic voices. 

I'll leave you with this quote:

Sometimes writing badly can eventually lead to something better. Not writing at all leads to nothing.
— Anna Quindlen

What writing prompts help you the most? Where do you find your inspiration? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below.