How to Generate Ideas

This morning in my web multimedia class a student was having a difficult time coming up with an idea for the next class project: to tell a story with a main character, a beginning, a middle, and an end. While the objective of the project was firmly set and relatively straightforward, the initial process of ideation (generating ideas) was the main difficulty. As the student asked, where do I start? Here are three places to start with generating ideas.

Place #1: Analyze the Objectives

For most of my class projects, I try to have enough information in the project objectives to hint at the project workflow. For this project, the storytelling component of the project was the crucial element, so let’s start with analyzing the different sequences of the storytelling process.

The beginning sequence introduces the character and the situation (s)he is in. Alternately, the beginning sequence shows what the character wants, but doesn’t have yet. The middle sequence is when the character goes after what (s)he wants or attempts to change the situation (s)he is in. The ending sequence is the resolution of the conflict the character experiences throughout the process of attaining what (s)he wants. A very basic outline of a story thanks to Steve Stockman’s informative book, How To Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck.

How about an example?

Beginning sequence: An overweight man is sitting at his desk and sees a magazine cover of a man with six-pack abs. The man realizes that he wants six pack abs, so he gets up and leaves his desk.

Middle sequence: The overweight man begins the exercise process. He tries to run, but stops after one second. He tries to lift weights, but cannot get the bar off the floor. He struggles.

End sequence: The overweight man returns to his desk and throws the magazine cover into the trash and continues on with his day.

Breaking down this process even further, the consistent element in each of the storytelling sequences is a character. But how do you choose who your character will be?

Place #2: Analyze Yourself

Ask yourself questions. What do you like to do? Is there a specific genre that you like to read or watch on TV? Do you like aliens, astronauts, cowboys, swimmers, dolphins, fish, lobsters, or hula dancers? What about action? Are you active? Do you run, swim, hike, or sit in front of the computer all day? Are you adventurous? What do you dream to accomplish one day?

As you answer these questions and mine your personal preferences, you can start to develop and build a story around that character.

How about another example?

Beginning sequence: Several lobsters are in a water tank in a restaurant.

Middle sequence: The lobster next to the main lobster is selected and cooked. All of the lobsters are panicking. How do we save ourselves?

Ending sequence: The main lobster pretends to be Spartacus and liberates the remaining lobsters by breaking free from the water tank and crawling to safety.

Place #3: Build a Library

Finally, a great place to generate ideas is by building a library of knowledge you can pull from and mash together. Collect books and movies, memorize moments in pop culture, read magazines, and watch YouTube videos. It is easy to build a collection of knowledge in today’s digital world using Pinterest and Evernote. You can also clip photos and typography from magazines.

The secret is having enough information in order to connect one idea to another. For example, applying the story of Spartacus to the world of restaurant lobsters.

How do you know you have enough information and when to stop collecting? You’ll never have enough. Just keep filing what you come across into your library. The more, the merrier. You never know when you’ll be able to use something as silly or serious as what you have just found.

There are a million ways to generate ideas and these are three simple places to start when it comes to the storytelling process. What has helped you in the ideation process?





6.5 Ways To Start And Finish A Documentary Film Project

Post originally appeared on (6.5 Ways To Start And Finish A Documentary Film)

For the past year, I have been working on an online documentary video series called Innovators of Vancouver that documents leaders of vision, passion and action throughout my hometown of Vancouver, WA. Each episode is 5-10 minutes and combines a filmed interview with B-roll of the Innovator doing the work that inspired me to choose their story for the project. I have finished six episodes, currently working on the seventh episode, and because of my work on this project, I often get asked by aspiring documentary filmmakers what they need to know to get started making their own documentary projects. Among everything that one could know about making documentary films, here are six and a half things that any aspiring documentary filmmaker needs to know about starting and finishing a documentary film project.

1) Know What Interests You

A lot of people don’t know where to start when it comes to making a documentary and it is important to start with what interests you. It could be something serious that you have personally struggled with such as depression or cancer. It could be the story of your grandparents coming to America. It could be a visual blog post about your addiction to gator meat or your love affair with coffee and doughnuts.

2) Start In Your Own Backyard

You don’t need to travel the world in search of experts or subject matter for your documentary film. What you are interested in and what you end up making a film about can be filmed in your own community, all it takes is finding the people that share the same affinities that you have. Start with your friends, family, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse or kids. Ask them their thoughts on your subject, this is formally known as conducting a pre-interview. It helps you to develop a report with your subject off-camera, ensuring that you know exactly what they bring to your documentary film. It also helps you with step three.

3) Learn How To Ask Great Questions

Essential to great documentary film production is the ability to ask great questions that are open-ended and specific to your interviewee’s experience with your subject. By pre-interviewing people you learn about the depth of their experience, their passion or dispassion for your subject, and helps you to craft a series of questions that go beyond who, what, when, where, why and how. With that said, the best place to start is:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • What are your feelings on [subject]?
  • When did you first experience [subject]?
  • Where can people learn more about [subject]?
  • Why does [subject] matter to you?
  • How can [subject] affect others?

These aren’t the best questions, but they are a starting point, but you will only get to the ending point if you…

4) Shut Up And Listen

Don’t be like newsanchors and pundits that interrupt to get their agenda and point across, shut up and listen to what the person is saying. Nod your head in agreement, emote with body language, empathize when necessary. If you think of something to ask as a follow-up, write it down and wait until they are done talking before asking the question. Learn how to make people feel comfortable by looking them in the eye and giving them 100% of your attention.

5) Adding Images And Video To Further Tell The Story

Now that your interview is recorded, find photos and film B-roll that will help visually tell the story. Childhood photos go well with stories from your grandparents. Film volunteers serving in the community, follow your subject as they go about their business during the day, and don’t forget to get multiple angles, wide-shots, close-ups and everything in between.

6) Edit Everything To Tell A Broader Story

Open your favorite video editor: Final Cut Pro X, Premiere Pro, iMovie, Windows Movie Maker and start watching the interviews. Clip what stands out, forget the rest. Start adding the B-roll on top of the interviews. Keep building without worrying about the length of the project. Once you have a strong beginning, middle and end, eliminate the fluff. Fine-tune the edits. Level your audio so that all of your interviews are at the same volume. Add some background music, but don’t break copyright laws: use royalty free music or find a local musician that will let you use their music in return for free advertising.

Now that you have a finished documentary film, here is the final tip:

6 1/2) Do it again

Don’t just check “Make Documentary Film” off your bucket list, do it again with a different subject. You’ll learn better ways to do specific techniques, your editing will tighten, you’ll learn what to shoot and what not to shoot, and you’ll become more comfortable reaching out to subject matter experts that bring depth and credibility to your finished film.

With that, get out there and start your next documentary film. Most importantly, finish it, upload it to YouTube or Vimeo, and share it in the comments of this post.

Make Better Videos, Part 3: Remember The Passionate Beginning

Post originally appeared on (Make Better Videos, Part 3: Remember The Passionate Beginning)

Ask any working filmmaker a simple question: “what movie would you make if you could, right now?” After a second or two, you will most likely hear an accurate and intricate description of the movie that plays in his or her mind. A glimmering glow slowly erupting from the depths of forgotten passion, showering you with excitement and energy, capturing a glimpse of the original desire to make movies. Somewhere along the way, filmmakers inevitably forget about their specific origin of filmmaking passion. They get caught up in the professional pursuits of their career and over time lose their excitement. Regardless, as long as filmmakers desire to learn, grow and make better videos, they must continually remember the passionate beginning of their movie-making career.

Taking Your Pulse: Where Are You At Today?

Filmmaking is demanding, time-consuming and expensive. Creatively speaking, it’s hard to keep the juices flowing day after day, year after year. The little experiments that once brought tremendous joy, gave way to minimized risk, lessened satisfaction, and a deep-seated desire to escape the burdens of professional filmmaking. This is a critical part of the unfortunate, yet necessary, journey of the artist (yes, filmmakers are artists). If you can make it through the severe times of drought and doubt, you will become a stronger and more devoted filmmaker.

So, where are you at on your journey? For myself, I have been making videos for about ten years and I am coming to a point where I need to empty myself of all that I have learned, so that I can reconnect with why I initially wanted to make videos: To tell stories that matter.

Over the years, I have grown in my technical abilities, but I daily struggle with maintaining my passion and excitement. The stories became less about subjects that mattered and more about making sure that bills were paid and obligations maintained. Not the greatest ingredients for filmmaking success. So, how do you rediscover your initial enthusiasm for filmmaking?

How Far Away Are You From When You Began?

The first step in connecting with your passionate beginning—–why you make videos—–is identifying where you are at. This will help you to identify and strip away all of the baggage that has piled upon your foundations of passion and desire, things like:

  • Comparing ourselves to other filmmakers.
  • Lusting after the latest and greatest equipment.
  • Arguing about editing software changes.
  • Wishing that we were better at our craft.

As you purge these distractions and de-motivators from your creative process, you will actually see that you are closer to your passion than you realize.

Recapturing The Creativity And Passion Of The Early Years

The next step in recapturing the passionate beginnings of your filmmaking career is to make the film you want to make. Here are a few things that you can do:

  • Make a one to five minute short film about whatever you want regardless of budget, equipment and talent. Break out your cell phone, your home video camera or your professional gear and experiment with new styles that you normally wouldn’t think to utilize. If you are a fan of structure, play with cinema verite or non-linear storytelling. If you don’t like structure, try to be as structured and specific as possible. Essentially do the exact opposite of what you would normally do.
  • Return to the “lab” and experiment with the tricks of the trade. Rent a super wide-angle lens, go handheld, try a dolly-zoom horror/suspense effect, play with focus and composition. There are unlimited tools at your disposal, have fun.
  • Feed your creative soul by reading, watching movies and connecting with others. Need some suggestions? Read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud or Story by Robert McKee. Watch something funny like Monty Python and The Meaning of Life, a classic like Citizen Kane, something you normally wouldn’t watch like The English Patient or your favorite movie, mine is Time Bandits by Terry Gilliam. If all else fails, call up a friend and have coffee and listen to them talk about their job in cubicle world, that alone might just trigger an amazing surge of creativity and desire to make better films.

By letting the naïve filmmaker within emerge and run free, you might just make better videos that surprise even the internal critic. But in order to do that, you must never forget the passionate beginning to your movie-making career.

Video Tip: Don’t Cut Off Your Action!

A few weeks ago, I was handed some DVD’s with video clips for a project I was hired to edit. As I worked my way through the footage, I came across several clips that were shortened by the videographer prematurely stopping the camera before the scene ended.

Which brings me to a video tip that I need to remember as much as the videographer that gave me the footage:  Don’t cut off your action!

  1. Start recording
  2. Wait 3-5 seconds (This is called pre-roll)
  3. Say “Action”
  4. Your subject will now talk or the scene will proceed as planned
  5. Say “Cut”
  6. Wait 3-5 seconds (This is called post-roll)
  7. Stop recording

That’s it! Seven easy steps to not cutting off your action.

Happy filmmaking!

Creativity Is Getting Lost To Be Found

Growing up, I remember being fascinated with maps, globes, and road atlases. I would stare at the different countries, trace how far they were from Washington, dreaming of one day making the real-life journey to those distant lands.

I read the atlas like others would a novel, fascinated with imaginary journeys and people, intrigued by the lay of the land. When my family went to the store, I wanted to know which store we were going to, the roads we would drive on, the proximity to major freeways, and the minor roads that connected at different spots. Long before the days of GPS and Google Maps, I used this knowledge to give concise directions from Seattle to our home in Hockinson.

To this day, I don’t like to get lost, preferring to always know where I am and where I am going. However, this desire to always know where I am, never wanting to be lost, has been adapted in how I use and express my creativity.

Creativity Is Knowing Where You Are…

The funny thing about creativity is that you consistently need to take stock of what you have and where you are. You can’t blindly drive down the road expecting to arrive safely and timely to your destination. Your eyes must be open, destination known. But once those two aspects are known, you have freedom to define the journey in an infinite number of possibilities. Projects typically have parameters and goals that need to be met (your destination). You then take your skills and abilities (where you are currently at) and plot a course and plan of action for the completion of the project.

The danger is when you always begin a journey in the same place, never seeking another way to get to your destination. When you never take a chance and risk getting lost, everything looks, tastes, sounds, and feels the same. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

…So That You Can Get Lost

The joy of living a creative life is found in getting lost, eventually arriving at your destination in new and exciting ways. Not only that, but there are additional benefits to getting lost. You stop at unexpected places. You meet people you otherwise would not have met. You see new things and realize that there is more to our lives than what we daily experience.

All of this fuels our creativity. We change the way we speak and write, what we photograph or paint diversifies, our lives grow beyond the borders of our past assumptions, and most importantly, the starting point for our next journey has shifted.

We are not the same.

We will never be the same.

That is what is so frightening and exciting about getting lost. We not only find new ways, but ourselves as well.

I can’t wait to get lost. In fact, I think I’ll go for a drive right now.

Creativity Is Action

The people that I consider my heroes all have the same character traits: they not only dream big dreams, but they act upon those dreams and bring them to life.

Heroes Of Action

In 2008, I traveled to The Gambia, Africa to produce a documentary on the construction of a school building for an organization called Shared Blessings. The founders of the organization are two of my heroes because they not only inspire me to act upon my dreams, but they are shining examples of what it means to be creative in what they do, and in the pursuit of completing the daily tasks that compose their dreams.

They realized that their dreams wouldn’t become a reality by just dreaming. They had to act. They had to work hard. They had to sacrifice and save, spending wisely. They had to bring others on-board that could do things that they couldn’t do, and they had to be open to what happens when you act upon a vision for a better future: change.

Popular Slogans Aside, Creativity Is About Action

Creativity is all about doing and acting upon what I want to see, witness or communicate to myself or others. I often tell myself that I’m not “feeling creative” or “inspired” and choose to do something else regardless of timelines or deadlines. This wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t a habit. What I have learned by escaping the present reality of being proactive in the pursuit of my goals is that I become lazy by not working hard through the feelings of non-creativity.

By allowing procrastination to become a habit, I dream smaller dreams, knowing that I can handle them. My actions become sporadic and less structured. I spend more money on reference materials, searching for a new idea or path, even though I never gave up on the path I’m currently on. I have become the hare, cocky and self-assured that I can still win the race regardless of resting and then running at double-speed to catch up. But the tortoise will always beat me if I have that mentality.

Act, Then Rest

Creativity, much like life, is more fruitful and beautiful when you work hard to the point of exhaustion, followed by a period rest and relaxation. This is the cycle of creative regeneration that is not talked about much.

I often hear that in order to grow your creativity you need to feed it, but that is only half the picture. Yes, you need to feed your creativity, but you also need to spend your creativity, to empty your storage tanks so that you can fill them up again. I have a yard debris bin and when I forget to empty it, it starts to smell because the grass clippings and weeds decompose. This is exactly what happens to our creativity if we don’t spend what we have stored. We become mushy and we smell.

Creativity becomes active and alive when we daily pursue big dreams that take more than what we have to offer. This pursuit pushes us to the edge of what is known, shoving us into the realm of the unknown, giving us a glimpse of eternity that is only found in a creative, expressive spirit.


Creativity Is Education

To Whom It May Concern:

You may not remember me, but I’m your creativity. I died when you stopped learning about new techniques and technologies, relying solely upon your past experience. It was a slow death because at first you had something to prove, so you needed to back up your bravado and ego with results. But as your accomplishments increased, your bravado lessened, your ego exploded, and the desire to investigate and learn was the first casualty.

In time, as I died, you started to look at work itself as the source of the problem. You changed focuses and mediums, sacrificed art for supposed craft, and ran around the office like a chicken staring down the farmer’s axe. Never wondering, even once, if the solution to the problem was to learn something new about what you do. Instead you bemoaned the loss of me, your creativity, wondering where I went.

Where did I go?  The truth is that I didn’t go anywhere. I am sitting on the bookshelves that surround you each day. I live in the source code and design of the websites you visit, in the composition and textures of the photographs you look at, and in the story and artistry of the movies you watch.  I exist in the work of your friends and colleagues. I am the expression of acquired knowledge and assumptions, the communication of reflections and inflections, the conversation of questions and answers, and the collective pursuit of learning how to better do all those things. I am living for today and for tomorrow. And you are still living in the past.

The good news? I am not dead forever. I can be revived. It just takes time and a desire to learn and grow. To travel beyond the existing borders of what is known. Admitting that you need me and that you let your arrogance and laziness get in the way of living a creative life.

Most importantly, you need to realize that while it may be true that there is nothing new under the sun, you might just find the secrets of the future, buried in the wisdom of the past.

This is the promise of a fully-alive, creative spirit.

I know this is what you want. I’m telling you that this is what you need.


Your Creativity

Creativity Is Experimentation

Want to know the secret to having more creativity and feeling fulfilled in your creative pursuits? Try something new. Put on a lab coat, spike your hair like the evil mad scientist you know you are deep down inside, and step into your creative laboratory. It’s time to experiment!

Start In The Sandbox Before Going To The Beach

I am amazed with the architectural genius of people that build amazing sandcastles. As someone that makes really bad sandcastles—think towers of plastic bucket-shaped mounds of sand—I look at what is created and sculpted by the pros and think that I am not good enough, so I don’t even try. But I need to realize that the pro sandcastle builders started somewhere, and it was probably not at the beach. They probably had a sandbox at home where they could learn and practice the different techniques of sandcastle building without performing for the general public. Eventually, their confidence and abilities were ready for the big time, and they went to the beach.

In regards to technology, we should develop sandbox environments that allow us to try new ideas without first facing the scrutiny of the public. When implementing new code or programming ideas, it is never a good idea to edit live code without first testing the changes. That is why most programming environments actually have an area called sandboxes for developers to test code.

Safe Places To Fail

Adopting sandbox environments create safe places to fail. Without failure, we cannot learn about what worked and what didn’t. We also cannot learn new things unless we embrace failure and try new things.

Common lore says that Thomas Edison discovered 999 ways to make a lightbulb, not that he failed 999 times. That is a very optimistic view of failure and necessary for us to emulate when experimenting with new creative ideas.

But how do these safe places fit in to your business model? Do you allow your employees time to grow and learn without fear that they could lose their job if they fail?

Knowing that jobs are secure in the pursuit of new ideas is the only way to foster creative innovation. But that is a risk that management is going to need to take. It might even be a risk that creatives of the future might have to make regardless, in order to set themselves apart from all of the others in the over-saturated markets.

Have Fun

Experiments are meant to be fun. Smile. Giggle. Get messy. Remember what it was like to be a kid again and try something new.

There will always be structured time, devoted to productivity and profit, but it is a challenge to justify—to ourselves, let alone bosses, spouses and co-workers—that time for creative experiments is vital and necessary to a thriving and expanding creative world that unveils daily treasures of art and beauty.

Creativity Is Imagination

Have you ever caught yourself dreaming? Of places you’ve never seen before? About combinations of existing objects that would create the unknown and new? Or the unlimited variety of mediums on your magical palette of sounds, images, words, textures and tastes? About the possibilities of life? The endless bounds of technology and progress? About a perfect world free from the confines of disease, poverty, sickness, or even death?

All of these imaginations, whether real or in your mind, are beautiful examples of creativity.

Imagined In Your Mind

Creativity is a two-way street of imagination and creation: imagining in your mind what potentially could be and figuring out how to bring it into being. I often make excuses that I’m not creative enough. We are all guilty of saying that at some point in our lives, but is it because we spend too much time on sustaining what has already been made, and not enough time on what could be?

In 2008, Mike Wallace edited and released a collection of essays called The Way We Will Be 50 Years From Today: 60 of the World’s Greatest Minds Share Their Visions of the Next Half-Century. It is a book filled with raw and pure imagination from scientists, philosophers, inventors, economists, world leaders, and many others thinking about a world free from disease, war, addiction to oil, and even robots.

In Tim Mack’s essay, “Snapshot of a World with the New Nation of California,” a vision of a world filled with non-humanoid robots is laid out in a thought-provoking manner. Mack talks about how much artificial intelligence will have learned in 50 years, yet still have much to learn from the minds of humanity because of their lack of innovation, imagination and curiosity.

This is the beauty of creativity and imagination: the sole expression of an individual’s humanity. Creativity is what makes us human and sets apart from machines and animals. Mack sums it up succinctly, “The ability of the human mind to go beyond the status quo and believe in dreams has proved a cornerstone of our humanity.”

An Unlimited Playground Of What Could Be

Do you remember what life was like when you were a kid? I remember playing with my Star Wars action figures, pretending that I was on Tatooine, saving Princess Leia from the evil Jabba the Hut. I could travel at warp speeds between reality and make-believe. It was an unlimited playground of not only being someplace else, but imagining what could be.

As I grew older, the cynicism of adulthood got the better of me, abandoning me to a bar stool in the mental bar of Mos Eisley, drunk on the spoiled wine of a wasted youth, wishing that my broken-down spaceship could even get out of port, let alone, half way to my imagination.

But eventually, I got off the bar stool and realized something: creativity is not only imagination, but also creation. Creativity implies a sense of intentional and purposeful action.

Created By Your Actions

Imagination without action is just day-dreaming. It won’t bring about what could be. It just reminds of us how miserably discontent we are. We get mad, get drunk, and then forget about what could be until we repeat the cycle the next day.

Creativity becomes alive and meaningful when we act upon our imagination, our dreams. You never know what could be, if you never try to change what is, and that is why creativity is best not to stay imagined in your mind alone. It needs to be shared with the world.

If that intimidates you or you think you aren’t good enough, start with expressing your creativity to yourself. Belief in yourself is a great place to start, but too many end there becoming arrogant. The only way to avoid the trappings of ego is to share creativity with another person, followed by groups of others, allowing them to shape and morph what could be, into what is.

Are you imagining big and exciting things? Are you sharing those dreams with others? Or are you just sitting on the sidelines moping and bemoaning that you are good enough and should be playing in the big game with the rest of us?

Consider this your wake-up call to get in the game. Act on your dreams and express your humanity. If not for yourself, for the sake of the world.

Creativity Is Fascination

It’s funny what runs through your mind when going through the daily morning routines. Standing beneath the stream of water in the shower, I started to think about creativity. What is creativity? How can I be more creative? What can I learn from the people on FastCompany‘s list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business (June 2011)? Is there a model for long-term sustainable creativity or am I destined to burnout, eventually being stripped of the “creative” label?

Focused Obsession

Creativity is fascination, a focused obsession, with people, places and objects. It’s looking at them with a sense of wonder and amazement, pondering the very methodologies and systems at work in the core of their being.

Focused obsession takes time: sitting, observing, interviewing, questioning, testing, experimenting. One can never know just how much time to devote to creativity because focused obsession could unveil unlimited creative connections in the first minute of your day, or could come after an arduous battle one year later.

Unfocused Time

An absence of rush, putting aside time restrictions in order to get to the core of creative connections is imperative. It helps your mind to wander in and out of different observations, ponder symbolism (existing or non-existant), typography, colors, emotions, form and function.

If you told yourself you had 15 minutes to be creative, could you do it? Chances are you would feel frustrated and be thinking about the impossibility of the task at hand. Compare that to having an hour or even a whole day. The freedom of unfocused time is brilliant and necessary in the initial stages of creativity.

Feeding Your Unlimited Fascination

The funny thing about creativity is that it feeds upon your existing knowledge base in order to make connections between the known and the unknown. If you are writer, do you read? If you are an artist or designer, do you draw? Studying the basics of your craft, be it words, form and perspective, or even scales will give you that much more to draw from.

However the basics are not enough to sustain a creative fascination. You need to go beyond the basics and enter a world that you find intriguing and fascinating. For me, I am intrigued by politics, story, art, photography, mythology, science, religion, people and a whole host of subjects that feed my creative pursuits.

The more that I dive into my underlying fascinations of life, the more creative I am.

The more that I allow my mind unfocused time to be obsessively focused, the more creative my work is.

The more that I stop trying to envision the end-result from the start of a project allowing it to unfold naturally, the more fulfilling, creative and sustainable my life and work becomes.

What do you find fascinating? How does this feed your creativity each day?