“Some movies tell a story and leave you with a feeling.
Some tell a story and leave you with a feeling and give you an idea.
Some tell a story, leave you with a feeling, give you an idea, and reveal something about yourself and others.“Sidney Lumet
Sometimes the easiest way to get an idea for a film is watching another film. This could be a feature film, a documentary, an animation film, a commercial, a teaser, a trailer or whatever stupid little YouTube film. And sometimes the worse the film is, the better it is for your creativity.
Watch as many films as you can, especially non Hollywood films, early film history, experimental films, documentaries. Is there an art film house, a cinematheque in your city? Go there as often as you can, become a member! Reflect on the films you see: Story, structure, editing, locations, the way the story is told etc. Make abstract diagrams of the structure, the form that you later on can fill up with your own content.
Think of a story line that takes a different direction at a certain moment. What major element(s) could you easily change (genre, locations, time etc.) to come up with a total different idea for a film?
Watch teasers and trailers, try to fill in the gaps, i.e. imagine the rest of the film. Check out Tellyads – it is an amazing website, an archive of ads and commercials. Furthermore think about mixing films and genres: take the beginning of one film, the middle of another one and the end of even another one.
Train your imagination by watching films without seeing the image; just listen to the audio track. Then do it the other way around: watch films without having the sound. You can record and remix a new audio track that changes everything!
Go to the IMDB. Start with having a look at >The 250 Top Rated Movies<. Just read the one-liners and get inspired. For instance:
A filmmaker recalls his childhood, when he fell in love with the movies at his village’s theater and formed a deep friendship with the theater’s projectionist. (Cinema Paradiso)
A guide leads two men through an area known as the Zone to find a room that grants wishes. (Stalker)
In a decrepit South American village, four men are hired to transport an urgent nitroglycerine shipment without the equipment that would make it safe. (The Wages of Fear)
1. Watch old TV ads and write down the storyline. Keep it short. Are there any ideas for films hidden in these ads? -> Tellyads
2. Take whatever film you want. Think about a story line that takes a different direction at a certain moment (in the beginning, in the middle, in the end).
3. Mixing films and genres: take the beginning of one, the middle of another and the end of another.
4. Exercise: take and watch three films. Make of each film a structure diagram. Afterwards keep only the structure but erase the content / description. Now fill the structure again with new actions, characters, settings, locations …
5. Watch a film and turn off the sound, imagine a new one. Other way around: only listen to the sound and try to imagine the images.
6. Watch trailers of films you’ve never seen. What is the basic idea? Fill in the gaps!
7. Youtube is an amazing source for finding ideas for films. Type in keywords like love scene or ideas etc. to get inspired.
Films to watch
- Bad Blood (1986) IMDB
- El Sur (1983) IMDB
- Two Lane Backtop (1971) IMDB
- Boat People (1982) IMDB
- Lovers of the Arctic Circle (1998) IMDB
- Mademoiselle (1966) IMDB
- Dog Days (2001) IMDB
- Baby (2002) IMDB
- Vigil (1984) IMDB