8 Tools and Tips to See Past the First Solution to Solve Creative Problems
In Conceptual Blockbusting, James L. Adams explains how we all have unique biases, which define how we approach and solve problems. That means we may limit the potential of solutions. In fact, we usually stop at the first solution we find and move on. This really is far from ideal, as the first solution rarely is the best. It may even be the source of other, new problems.
The goal here is to learn a set of tools or habits, that make it easier to change your mind and explore ideas. Because as filmmaker the circumstances will impose you to, you may as well get good at it so you can come up with new ideas quickly. The more you get used to visualise new options, the easier it will be. This should help you in all stages of the film creation: from writing to shooting and editing.
#1- Let Your Subconscious Do the Work
Maslow, from the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
, called the subconscious the first creativity. This is the one that does the most of the work for you. So feed it and let it surprise you. You surely had ideas come to you while you were falling asleep, taking a shower or doing the dishes. That’s because your subconscious had room to wander.
- How to Apply This: Prepare your mind before sleep. Think about the problem you are trying to solve. Not too hard or this will keep you awake. Keep it relaxing. Maybe visualize the scene you are writing. Or the character you are creating. You may then dream about it and possibly remember new ideas as you wake up. And don’t forget to have a pen and a paper close by to write them down, early morning ideas can be very volatile!
#2- Vary Tools
You might be used to write your ideas on paper and then on a computer. Are you using mostly words or drawings? Try to use more of the technique you use less. Or maybe use speech. Talk your problem through, first to a recording app, then to a friend. That might not require your friend’s full attention, the goal is only for you to articulate and brainstorm it differently. Or maybe use painting. Maybe draw in the sand. Or mimic how your character would act. Express your story using different means.
- How to Apply This: Have each tool ready. Have a comfortable desk for the cozy days. Have a couple of notebooks and several pens ready. Install a recording app on your phone with a shortcut on the first page. Get some post-its. Make sure you know where they are at all times so you don’t have to think about it when an idea comes, or it may disappear. And make it easy to jump from one tool to the other.
#3- Vary Language
Each problem has a tendency to require a specific language to be solved. Does that problem involve number? It may require math skills. If you are describing the shape of an object you may find it easier to draw it rather than talk about it.
The same goes for film language. Do you have a scene that is dialog heavy? How would you stage it if one or all of your characters were mute? or blind? or locked in a different room with only sound to communicate? Do you have an action scene? What if your protagonist was much older? How would he get away? Picking up a fight wouldn’t be his first move.
- How to Apply This: Take the scene with the most dialogues and make the most talkative character mute. How would he behave? There would surely be more movement, which you may be interested in incorporating in your story.
#4- Vary Senses
You heard that one before but here’s another reason why you should consider it. For the same reason why you should vary language, you should vary what your mind processes. You will be in a different mood and react differently whether your environment is familiar or unknown, noisy or calm, dim or bright, gray or colorful.
Try and vary where you will design your story. It can be for 10 minutes, 2 hours, a whole day or a week.
- How to Apply This: Put some shoes on. Possibly a smile too, but that’s optional. Pick a place or jump from one to the other. Be as light as possible. A small notebook should be enough. For the brave only, keep your phone at home. Or if it’s a rainy day, that’s fine, stay at home, don’t always sit in the same chair. Using a laptop? Change room, orientation, position, wallpaper, anything that’s easy to change. Trade your pajama for a suit, just for a day.
#5- Vary Your Tastes
Ok, that’s a tough one so we’ll just play pretend on this one. Pretend you like a film genre that you actually don’t. You don’t like sci-fi and are currently writing a drama? Pretend for a second that you are making a sci-fi film. How does that affect your protagonist story? Add a spice of scientists, aliens or time travel. The goal is not to write a different story but to shuffle its elements. See how your protagonist would react. Would she deny the events? Enjoy them? Hate them? Just this will allow you to know her a bit more and find ways to add depth.
- How to Apply This: Find the genre you like the least. Watch at least one film (pick a good one or you will fall asleep – but that’s actually not too bad as we saw in #1)
#6- Add Humor
Make fun of your characters, of your story structure (dare I say of yourself?). Think about your protagonist in ways that don’t immediately feed into your story. For instance, what would Bruce Willis in Die Hard do on a lazy Sunday? Watch football with beers or kill time on Chatroulette? Does he get along with his neighbors or does he get mad when they haven’t invited him to a barbecue? Imagine another character in an unusual situation. Let’s take the Terminator, would he get along with Siri or terminate it?
- How to Apply This: Imagine your characters are at a party, how would they behave? Invite other famous characters if they would only watch TV. Are you already doing a comedy? Then try to imagine what situation would make your protagonist NOT laugh at all?
#7- Find Inspiration in Other Fields
Don’t just find your inspiration from other films. Architecture, Web design, Photography are full of good ideas you can use. Read a lot. fiction, non-fiction. Learn how scientists make breakthroughs. They actually make the best progress by looking outside of their field, such as nature.
- How to Apply This: Have friends who work in a different field? Offer them a glass of wine and ask them what type of problems keep them up at night. Learn how long it takes them to solve them. Those problems can be directly related to their craft but also related to communication with clients. And as a bonus, if they are also curious about your problems, you will all learn and grow from each other.
#8- Be Playful Like a Child
Kids are so creative. And we lose that as we grow up. We stop drawing, making up stories, enjoying our wild imagination. That’s just part of growing up and learning how to be responsible.
But that’s not the only reason. It’s also because we have failed more times and we want to avoid that. This discourages us from exploring ideas. But it is very important to fight this. We should stop viewing failure as a painful ending, but instead as a necessary step for progress.
- How to Apply This: Don’t judge yourself. Go wild on your ideas. Getting feedback might be difficult but you are not at this stage yet. You are only at the exploration stage. Do not limit the range of ideas you can put in your story. The thought “what will they think” or “that’s a little extreme” should be banned at this stage.
Don’t worry about polishing any of those ideas. You need to be in exploration mode. Explore variations of your initial ideal. Explore variations of variations. And most importantly, have fun.
About the Author of this Post
Gui Fradin is a filmmaker working on his first feature film, after his last short film Seeds, which was BAFTA eligible. He also founded the creativity app for filmmakers MediaTag.io.
Header Photo Credit: Ashley Batz