Week 4 – Getting Started

“The imagination is a muscle that needs to be trained daily.”

Jean-Claude Carrière

This week we will be talking about flexing and training the imagination, i.e. stimulating the senses, learning as much as you can and documenting what you find. Furthermore we will talk about visualization – what does it mean and how we can use it.

In Michael J. Gelb’s book >How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci< he wants the reader to counter-check a list of self-assessments. This list could have been written for us:

  • I keep a journal or notebook to record my insights and questions.
  • I take adequate time for contemplation and reflexion.
  • I am always learning something new.
  • When I am faced with an important decision, I actively seek out different perspectives.
  • I love reading, I love learning.
  • I learn from little children.
  • I am skilled at identifying and solving problems.
  • My friends would describe me as open-minded and curious.
  • I know a lot about other cultures and am always learning more.

A perfect description for someone who’s into scriptwriting! It reminds me of an article I once read, where a scriptwriter was defined as a mixture of an archaeologist, a detective, a gardener, a reporter, a research analyst, a spy and a voyeur.

Pay attention to the world outside – awareness is the keyword!

Let’s go back to the beginning: “The imagination is a muscle that needs to be trained daily.” So how do we train this muscle?

First: We observe what is going on around us, with all our senses! Wherever, whenever, whatever. Be interested in everything; write the things you observe down in your notebook. Concentrate not only on what you see but also on sound, smell and touch. And always reflect on the notes you have taken in your journal.

“All creative work strives for simplicity, for perfectly simple expression; and this means reaching down into the furthest depths of the recreation of life.“ (Andrei Tarkovsky)

“A lot of my filmmaking hasn’t come from other films; it comes from life. The things that inspire me are things that I see every day. Sitting on the bus listening to a conversation, I start to invent stories about people’s lives.” (Andrea Arnold)

Fastcompany.com posted a list of 8 daily habits of people who always have great ideas and Carolyn Gregoire delivers 18 habits of highly creative people in The Huffington Post. Here are the most important ones:

  • They daydream.
  • They observe everything.
  • They take time for solitude.
  • They seek out new experiences and a diversity of experience.
  • They fail up (trial and error).
  • They are constantly curious, they are trying new things.
  • They take risks.
  • They follow their true passions.
  • They lose track of the time.
  • They connect the dots, they find connections between (seemingly unrelated) experiences.
  • They make time for mindfulness (e.g. meditation).
  • They look for inspiration in unexpected places.
  • They make slow decisions.
  • They find internal motivation.
  • They start from scratch.
  • They’re willing to take risks.
  • They’re open to magic.

Second: Begin flexing and training your imagination. How? There are many things you can do:

  • Do things, go to places you normally never go, you’ve never been – the secret of creativity is curiosity.
  • Attempt a crossword puzzle.
  • Frequent public spaces, take public transport: Look and listen and people-watch.
  • Listen to music.
  • Read, or watch the news (daily newspaper, public radio, evening news) – Start collecting interesting news items and evocative images.
  • Visit a library or a 2nd hand bookstore, look through scrapbooks.
  • Take up photography.
  • Travel.
  • Find inspiration in other fields than films.
  • Be playful like a child.
  • Visit museums.
  • Start a correspondence with a pen friend in a different country. Use Facebook.
  • Talk to people on the street, start a conversation, be open-minded.
  • Start collecting family stories.
  • We already have one notebook, but you can also have different journals for specific reasons: a dream journal, a daily journal, a journal for childhood stories, a journal just for dialogue, one for concepts and plots etc.
  • Go to the flea market and buy old postcards with something written on them.

How do we solve problems? Arthur Koestler (>On Creativity<) believes that we deal with them ”in accordance with the code of rules which enabled us to deal with similar problems in the past.“  When the conditions and the environment don’t change we probably will come to the same solution, to the same answers. We are driving our “train along fixed rails according to a fixed timetable.“ But when the conditions and the environment are variable we tend to create a flexible behavior, we adapt to the circumstances. But sometimes we are stuck in between, “thought runs around in circles in the blocked matrix like rats in a cage.“ Then we should apply two techniques:

  1. We must proceed from straight thinking to thinking aside.
  2. We have to practice absent-mindedness. Our “whole personality has become saturated with the problem, so that on some level of the mind it remains active, even while attention is occupied in a quite different field.“ I.e. we have to get away from our problem and play with the cat (for instance), so that our still active mind finds the solution by itself. Let your subconscious do the work!

Vary your mind tools. Express story using different means (words, speech, drawings, recording app, photos). Each problem has a tendency to require a specific language to be solved. Change the language, vary your mind processes.

Third: Find questions, not answers.

Play the “What-if …?“-game, by starting with a single image. The game refers to a set of hypothetical situations that you layer on top of your chosen image that spur it into action. There are actually three basic questions:

  • What if…?         
  • If only…
  • If this goes on …

Frame and reframe ideas, challenge assumptions. Copy – transform – combine. Link information and ideas together.

Fourth: Get into visualization.

“Visualization is the technique of imagining visual pictures. It closes off the left hemisphere of your brain and lets the right hemisphere express insights and inspirations without criticisms. Visualization also involves the exploration of pictures that come to your mind allowing you to experience a kind of waking dream.“ (Rachel Ballon)

You don’t need anything to get into visualization. Some yoga schools, many athletes and especially dancers use visualization techniques for practicing, performing and teaching. You visualize the movement, the posture or the practice before you actually do it physically (or when you can‘t do it physically).

So what has to be done? Just get comfortable, close your eyes and begin to relax by breathing deeply. After you feel totally relaxed, start visualizing. Imagine a scenario, a scene at a specific location, an event, yourself as a child – whatever. Just think of it as a daydream, but with your eyes closed. For instance remember the first time you’ve been in love with someone and you were about to imagine the first rendezvous, the first kiss, how it would be.

Now combine this technique with what we’ve been describing above (First). You’re sitting at a public place, for instance a coffee shop. And you observe what is going on around you. Find two characters sitting nearby. Now visualize them having an argument or the mother-in-law is arriving (which has consequences) or both of them having two children, who are a bit ‘difficult’. Or let the same situations be a comedy. – Visualize them!

Stephen King (>On Writing<) speaks in this context of a building filled with closed doors and that he had been given leave to open any he liked. To open these doors, i.e. to find ideas he introduces the notion of a ‘far-seeing place.‘ Anyone has to find or to create this place for him- or herself. In his case it is a basement place, but in the end it can be everywhere.

Finally a side note: Bas Kast on explaining creativity comes up with some interesting scientific findings, which can be useful for us:

  • If you are repeatedly confronted with situations that clearly go against the expectations of the brain then your thought patterns will be systematically loosened. The violations of the scheme are by necessity becoming less and less during our lifetime.
  • For a violation of the scheme there first of all has to be an activation of the scheme. The unexpected or absurd is not at all equated with complete idiocy. In this case the brain is not even seduced to try for its thought patterns. It must therefore be realistic, even more familiar. Then the brain operates with a working hypothesis, it looks for a meaning, because the matching drawers don’t fit.
  • Alcohol helps to be creative!
  • When it comes to multiple-choice tests, participants working at a computer in front of a red background performed better, than the ones in front of a blue background. Red is for precision, it is sharpening the attention. On the other side blue is for creativity, originality and fantasy.
  • The more stimuli from the outer world we perceive consciously, the more our fantasy is suppressed by exactly these stimulus.

For the group process counts: not the IQ of the individual members is decisive. Crucial is:

  • The number of women. The more women there are in a group, the more intelligent it becomes.
  • The social sensibility of the members.
  • The mutual interchange.

Your turn!

1. Go to AMAZON -> books -> literature & fiction. Type in a key word, such as forest, conspiracy, abandoned etc. Read the short summary of at least 10 books and be inspired.

2. Play the Japanese game Shiritori with a friend -> instructions

3. Invite some friends and play the game of the Surrealists called the exquisite corpse.

4. Do some experiments with another practice of the Surrealists -> automatic writing (écriture automatique): „Automatic writing was a popular game among the surrealists, as was automatic drawing. The surrealists would write as quickly as possible, attempting to remove conscious control or interest over what was being written. If a break in flow occurred, they would begin a new sentence with the same pre-determined letter. Once material was written, it was often manipulated and reinterpreted into further compositions.“

5. Do some experiments with the cut-up technique.

6. We’ve been talking about the ‘What if …?’ technique before. Make it a habit to ask you this question (and to visualize) wherever you are, whatever you perceive.

7. As soon as you wake up in the morning, try to remember your dreams. Keep a notebook by your bed and write down each dream while you remember it. Extract at least one idea for a film out of it. Max 3-5 sentences.

8. Learn something new -> World War I: A History in 100 Stories.

9. Now that you’ve bought your notebook, have it with you all the time and use it! Observe your surrounding, write down any visual and audible perception. Your notebook should be a repository for all the things you collect. It might include: General notes and ideas; things you have seen or heard, felt or read; facts that you want to remember; lines or phrases; images i.e. postcards, pictures, photographs that are in some way significant to you; descriptions or sketches of characters and places.

Films to watch

Nimrod Antal

  • Kontroll (2003) IMDB

Friðrik Þór Friðriksson

  • Cold Fever (1995) IMDB

Jim Jarmusch

  • Night on Earth (1991) IMDB

Bouli Lanners

  • Eldorado (2008) IMDB

Louis Malle

  • Black Moon (1975) IMDB

Nicholas Roeg

  • Walkabout (1971) IMDB

Francesco Rosi

  • Christ stopped at Eboli (1979) IMDB

Ken Russell

  • Altered States (1980) IMDB