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Define and Start your Original Film Project

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

A blank canvas can paralyze original projects even before they get started.

Tutorials Versus Original Projects

One of the benefits of tutorials is that they are "self contained." Tutorial = no creative loose ends to be decided before you can start.

But, eventually you will want to to do an original project. Original Project = an infinite number of possibilities. Infinite possibilities can = creative paralysis.

A few approaches to avoid...that can make creativity harder

Don't try too hard to be profound. Student films are often trying too hard to be deep and meaningful. Simple human situations and interactions can be the most moving; a lost child, a guy trying to get a girl's attention, or anyone trying to sneak anywhere...

Don't try to say too much. For this kind of practice, you don't need a whole story. Just try to portray a situation or problem. Think - Tim Allen try to eat and drink after his face has been frozen by a botox treatment.

Don't worry about how original your idea is. The point is to practice filmmaking. The originality of your project may present itself as you work on it, through some twist or variation you discover. But, it's better to be a little unoriginal than not to start at all.

Defining the parameters on an original project

This is a first draft of a series of questions to help you move from creative paralysis to creative action.

For short film projects or scenes

Is this a solo or team project?

Is your project a Documentary or Narrative Film?

What Genre?

Action, Adventure, Romance, Comedy, Drama, Sport, Fantasy, Crime, Disaster, Family, Sci Fi, Thriller, Musical, Mystery, Horror?

Note: You may not know the answer to some of these questions right away. Sometimes defining your story is a process of discovery. Many authors create characters, then ask what the characters would do in such and such a situation...leading to the end of the story.

How long is it? You can likely achieve higher production levels on shorter projects.

What elements do you have available? What locations? What actors?

Are there any visual ideas that have captured your imagination? A few years ago, my son Matt (who thinks like a DP) was riding no handed and started imagining someone reading a book while riding no handed. From there, he imagined a close up shot of a man reading a book outside where the camera pulled back to reveal the man was reading while riding. That scene raises a lot of questions about the rider's character and why he's doing what he's doing. Is he cramming for a test, an out of touch book worm, or an efficiency crazed multitasker? And what happens next; an accident...or a meet-cute?

Are there any stories or scenes you could adapt? Our short film Rocket Sled is a simple adaptation of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon.

That little project required prop building, VFX (lighting things on fire!). We had great fun and learned a lot!

Some of the best films in the world are adaptations.

Is there a conflict to be resolved? Is there a unique way to resolve it? My son Matt was directing a student film. The original script was quite serious with a mom and daughter brooding over image and identity while the mom painted her daughter's portrait. Barbara (wife to me, mom to Matt) has a...shall we beat sense of humor. She suggested a sort of Laurel and Hardy "resolution." (It's not that we don't ever like serious movies, but we "dearly love to laugh.")


  • Setting

  • Challenge or obstacle

  • Resolution

A man having a drink before dinner - not a story

A man having a drink, but one of the three glass is poisoned...That has the makings of an interesting situation.

A man mowing the grass - no story

A man moving the grass where his son's favorite stuffed animal bunny is laying hidden from view - hmm

Stuck? We get it. If these ideas haven't helped you move forward, reach out and we can talk more about it.

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