I started out as a graphic designer; specifically in brand and web design. It’s a skill I still use today. As a filmmaker, I find myself using many of the same thought processes and creative techniques I employ when working on design. I thought I’d share these in hopes that it might help further your own filmmaking creativity.
1. Find The (hidden) Message. When I design a brand for a client, I put effort into understanding their background before I ever put pen to paper.
What do they do? What makes them different? What is their style? What does their brand mean? What do they stand for? These are just some of the questions I hash out with clients to get an understanding for what makes them, them. Once I firmly grasp what and who they are, I know the message they are trying to convey. In order to make a brand stick however, I need create it in a way that makes my audience believe what the brand stands for. That’s where the hidden message lies. Everything from color choices to font selection matters when making something that lasts. The same should be applied in the world of filmmaking.
Create depth. Don’t set your audience on a linear ride that they can pick apart at every turn. You need to find the story within the story. It comes in many forms. Our characters, casting, music, script, lighting, and set design all contribute to the depth of a scene. If every detail isn’t thought through, the audience won’t fully buy into our story. The difference between student-level work and professional Hollywood cinema can be boiled down to the depth of the message. Find the hidden message.
2. Say It Without Words. I know this sounds redundant to filmmakers. “Show, don’t tell.” “Use exposition only as a last resort.” These are things that get pounded into the heads of any film student. Let me explain what I mean.
There are many types of logos and brands. The two main camps fall into image based branding or text-based branding. Think Coca-Cola vs Nike. Whether designing an icon or creating a typeface, one thing is true; the brand tells the outside world a lot about the company it represents.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, than a single second of film is worth twenty three thousand, nine hundred and seventy-six of them. Use it. Frame each shot like it was a piece of art. Cast actors that fulfill and contribute to the story. Use body language where dialogue can be replaced. Light your scenes with emotion in mind. Make the camera move and dance like a character in the story. Create music and sonic atmosphere that embraces your audience. Make your film as if words do not exist. If you do that, you’ll blow them away with each sentence left on the page.
3. The Feels. To make a truly inspirational and unique brand, it has to resonate in some way with the people who engage with it. It can’t simply make a statement. It needs to convince you that the statement it’s making is worth getting behind. When choosing a between two identical products in the store, nine times out of ten the decision is made based on the brand that resonates best with you. The feels are important for both design and film.
“When an audience watches my film, I want them to feel ________.” This is hands-down the hardest yet most important question filmmakers can ask themselves. Words like: scared, happy, sad, or angry do NOT answer this question. The feels are much more detailed than that. There’s a huge difference between “feeling happy” and “feeling fulfilled with the knowledge that you’ve overcome a seemingly unbeatable situation”. See the difference? Early on in preproduction, filmmakers must ask themselves this question. If they can’t answer it with clarity, dig deeper. If you don’t know what you want your audience to feel when making a film, they won’t know what to feel when seeing the film. They will walk away from your film apathetic to the story you tried to tell. Give them the feels.
I’m sure you can see that all of these ideas have a great deal of overlap. That’s the point. They are all different sides of the same box. If you can make a story that has a deeper story hidden within it, which tells more without words than with, and makes people feel what you want them to, you’ve won. That is what makes filmmaking so powerful. That’s what makes it so fun.
This is brain food. This is something for you to take into your next pre-pro meeting. This is something to help give your talent wings. Hope it helps.