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Chapter 1: Yes and …

The exercise below is to help you to get a feel for how a positive approach to creative thinking can bring out the best ideas. This is a kind of improvisation exercise. In this exercise you shouldn’t be thinking about your own project – choose something completely unconnected.

Part One: Get into pairs and choose who will start the conversation. Imagine that you are planning a party (or anything else that springs to mind). In this part of the exercise each person will start every sentence with the words YES BUT…

For example:

  •  The first person makes a suggestion:

E.g. I think we should plan a party when the exams are over.

  • The second person responds. The first words he or she uses must be yes but ... then say whatever they want.

E.g. yes but we don’t really have a lot of time at the moment.

  • The first person responds again. The first words should be yes but …

E.g. yes but we have to start early if we want to get a good venue.

Carry on with this for about two minutes or until you have run out of steam, then write down how many ideas you have for your party and how far the plans have got.

Part Two: Swap partners and again choose who will start the conversation. Imagine you are planning the same party. This time the first words of any sentence you say will be YES AND ...

For example

  • The first person makes a suggestion:

E.g. I think we should plan a party when the exams are over.

  • The second person responds. The first words he or she uses must be Yes and …

E.g. Yes and we could make a list of all the people to invite.

  • The first person responds again

Yes and we could find somewhere really unusual to hold it

Carry on with this for about two minutes, and then write down how many ideas you have for your party and how far the plans have got. You should find that you are considerably more advanced with your party plans after the second conversation than the first. Some of your ideas may be a bit wild but you should have found that the whole conversation was a lot more enthusiastic and enjoyable.

Remember: Listen to all the ideas, try to build on an idea rather than knock it down.

Chapter 2: Creative thinking

Before you start:

  1. Decide how long you would like to run the session for. For the purpose of this example we will make it 30 minutes.
  2. Decide who will facilitate the session. This person will be responsible for asking the questions and keeping the session to time.
  3. Designate one person to write up notes. Ideally you should note down ideas on a large piece of paper or a board so everyone can see – if you can’t do this then just get a big notepad.
  4. Decide how to allocate your time – you need to allocate a time to each part of the session. You can allocate time in whatever way you would like but once you have decided try to stick to it.
  5. Make sure you keep your notes – however messy and scribbled, they could be an important part of any evaluation you may need to do.

Once you have all this in place, as a group you should go through the sections below. Remember the facilitator needs to keep everyone to time and remind the group which section they are considering.

Section One: What are your parameters? (3 mins)

The parameters are all the things you can’t change: the restrictions or rules you know you are going to have to work with. This shouldn’t take very long as everyone in the group should already know them. However, it’s worth starting the session by making a checklist of what you already know about what you have to do.

With a student project you will normally have been given some of these parameters given to you. You are likely to have been given the genre of the piece and who your piece is aimed at (your target audience). You may have been given other parameters as well. It’s worth stating what these are:

What is it?

What type of production does your brief require?

Who is the audience?

Age, sex etc.

How long does it have to be?

Minimum and maximum length

When does it have to be finished?

When does the final project have to be handed in?

How many days do you have to work it?

How much lesson time, how much time outside lessons?

What resources do you have?

Camera, edit facilities, people, sound

Section Two: Generate ideas (10 mins)

At this point anyone who wants to should suggest ideas. It doesn’t matter how wild or impractical the ideas are. The main thing is to come up with as many ideas as possible. The person taking the notes should start making a list of all the ideas that are mentioned.

IMPORTANT: At this point no ideas are bad. Use the ‘Yes and …’ technique. If a member of the group comes up with an idea, however impractical, you should add it to the list. At this point in the session no one should be raising objections to any ideas – just write them all down. Let each person speak about the idea and give the rest of the group a sense of how it might work.

Section Three: Narrowing the ideas (7 mins)

You should now have a list of different ideas for your project. You now need to go about the process of selecting which of the ideas is best for you. Depending on how many ideas you have you can begin by making a shortlist.

You should try to get down to a shortlist of about three ideas. If you don’t have that many to start with don’t worry, just go to the next stage. If you do have lots of ideas you need to find a way of narrowing them down. There are lots of ways of doing this but one way is to give each member of the group votes which they can give to one or more suggestions. After each person has voted, then take the ideas with the most votes. Try to get down to three suggestions.

Section Four: Check your criteria (2 mins)

You should now go back to the initial list you made yourself and check each of the ideas against the criteria you set out. How does each of the ideas match what you already know? Does it fit your brief? Will it appeal to your target audience?

NB Just because an idea doesn’t fit one of the criteria, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to drop it. It may be a good idea which just needs a bit of adjustment. However, you need to know this early on so you don’t start giving yourselves impossible tasks.

Section Five: Final selection (8 mins)

How you make the final decision is up to you. It may be that there is already one idea which really stands out. However, it may be that you want to work through each of the ideas a little more. If you have three ideas on the table then as a group you should go through each one and try to come up with ways of making each of them work. Or one person could speak for each idea. Give each idea time to get a fair hearing. Once all the ideas have been discussed you need to come to a final decision. One idea may already have the support of most of the group or you may have to vote again. Once you’ve made the decision do a final check against your parameters.

Chapter 3: Planning time

When do we have to deliver the project?




If we want to submit the final project by


We need to finish the fine cut/mix by


If we want to finish our fine cut/mix by


We need the viewing by


If we want to have a viewing by


We need to have our rough cut by


If we want to finish rough cut/rough mix


We need to start our edit by


If we want to start our edit


We need to finish shooting by


If we want to finish shooting/recording by


We need to start filming by


If we want to start shooting/recording by


We need to have our script/outline by


If we want to have our script by


We need to finish our research by


If we want to finish our research by


We need to start our research by


If we want to start our research by


We need to have chosen an idea by


Chapter 4: Story structure

Now you have a go. Think of the story of Cinderella. If you want you can print off a blank form from this page. Break the story down into its component parts.

Structure of Cinderella



The trigger


The challenge


The reversal






Narrative elements







The theme


The plot


Chapter 5: Cinderella trailer













Chapter 6: Depth of field

Line up seven books on a table, one behind the other but slightly staggered so that you can see them all. Make the middle book the focus of your shot. Frame up the shot so that you have all the books in the shot filling most of the frame, but make the middle book the focus of the framing

Take the shot twice. The first time put the camera as close to the books as possible and zoom out so you get all the books in the shot on wide angle. The second time keep the camera at the same level but stand further back and use the zoom to create the same size shot. Stand as far back as you can and still have the same framing.

If you have easy access to an edit suite then record these two bits of commentary below and lay the pictures on top of them. If you don’t have easy access to an edit suite you can just play back the two versions of the shot and read the commentary over it. It should be fairly easy to see which shot best matches which bit of commentary.


  1. On the table was a range of books but only one of those books really captured the imagination of the children.
  2. On the table was a range of books from the school library. The books covered a variety of different topics.

Chapter 7: Crossing the line

You can have a go at this yourself, if you want. You’ll need to have a camera and access to edit facilities if you want to try this out. Below is a short script. There’s also a list of shots and a diagram of where to take the shots from. If you take these shots and try to edit them together as a piece, then you will immediately understand the 180 degree rule.

Scene interior: A teenage girl and boy are relaxing in the social area of the college. They are sitting on opposite sides of a coffee table.

  1. GIRL

How’s it going then?

  1. BOY

Ok, I suppose.

  1. GIRL

Have you told her yet?

  1. BOY

No … but I’m going to.

  1. GIRL

You said that yesterday – why are you so scared, she isn’t going to mind.

  1. BOY

I will – I just haven’t had a chance.

  1. GIRL

Not had a chance, you were with her all of yesterday, of course you had a chance!

  1. BOY

I’m just waiting for the right moment.

  1. GIRL

Rubbish – you just haven’t got the bottle – I’m telling you she’s not going to care one way or the other but you need to tell her.

  1. BOY

Ok, ok don’t go on. I’m seeing her this dinnertime – I’ll tell her then.


1 x wide shot of the whole scene

1 x close-up of boy Speech 4–10

1 x close-up of girl Speech 3–10

CROSS THE LINE and then take

1 x close-up of boy Speech 4-10

1 x close-up of girl Speech 3-10

Once you have shot the piece start to edit it together. You can use any combination of shots you want. However, it should become immediately obvious that only certain combinations of shots will make sense.

Chapter 8: Lighting

To do this exercise you will need to have a basic lighting kit. You will need to set up in a fairly darkened room. You should have at least two of you doing the exercise or more if you want to. Choose a person or object to film and then find a shot you like, don’t make it a very wide shot. Arrange the lights as you have them in the diagram in the book. Don’t put your object by a wall. Make sure there is some distance between the object and the wall behind and if possible try to put something in the background. Take the shot in the following ways:

  • No lights
  • Key light only
  • Key light and filler
  • Key light, filler and backlight
  • Filler only
  • Filler and backlight
  • Backlight only
  • Backlight and key light.

Take the shots in any order; don’t stick to the order given here. Once you have all the shots you can start to compare the effect that each light has on the shot. Elsewhere on the website you can find links to sites which allow you to play with this type of lighting.


Chapter 9: White balance

You will need a camera which allows manual white balance. Take an object or a person and frame a shot. You should take exactly the same size and angle of shots in four different ways:

  1. Take the shot inside in a fairly dark room with the lights on. Do a white balance.
  2. Go outside and take the same shot. Do not alter the white balance.
  3. Take the same shot outside but do a white balance.
  4. Go inside and take the first shot again but don’t alter the white balance from the previous shot.

You should find that your first shot looks ok but the second shot looks very blue. The third shot will look ok but the fourth shot will look very orange.

Chapter 10: Blocking drama

Scene 1




There you are – what are you doing?

  1. JAKE:



 Are you coming?




  1. FLORENCE: What were you reading?
  1. JAKE: Nothing.
  1. FLORENCE: Show me?



 Oh my God – where did you get this?

  1. JAKE:

 Someone sent it to me.



  1. JAKE:

How should I know – it was just in my bag.


Jake, please, listen to me, you can’t let this sort of thing get to you. People who send letters like this – they are just ignorant.


But it does get to me – I can’t help it – it’s easy just to say to ignore it but if it was happening to you – you wouldn’t be able to ignore it.



It’s just crap – leave it – don’t think about it.



Come on, let’s go.


No – I’m going to stay here.


Suit yourself – but you’re an idiot if you let this kind of thing stop you doing the things you want to do.


Chapter 11: Taking a shot

If you want to get a feel for taking shots in this way then you can set up a fairly simple shoot and set yourselves a time limit to get your shots.

For example, here is a short scene with three people involved, a presenter and two contributors. The presenter is standing with a contributor on each side. S/he is going to introduce the two characters and ask them both two questions. You will need two props, a pair of boots or shoes and a small mat. You will need to be in a team of at least five people:

1 presenter, 2 contributors, 1 director, 1 camera

You could add others if you have enough people.

Here is the script, you can download this if you want to.



Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of Festival, the magazine programme that reports on the best of the festival season.

This week’s edition is concentrating on the problem of mud. Each year manufacturers produce new products to help fans deal with the problem of mud and today we are going to test two of the products. I have with me two willing volunteers.

First, Alex … Alex, how experienced are you with festival mud?



Well, I’ve been coming to festivals for about four years now and mud is a constant problem, it stops me moving around getting where I want to go and it causes chaos in tents.



So what are you testing for us today?



I’m going to be testing these self-cleaning boots, they have been specially coated with a new substance that means mud can’t stick to the boots – making it much easier to walk.



Great, thanks Alex, now over here I have Samantha, now Samantha, you are new to festivals?



Yes, that’s right, this is my first time, I’m not quite sure what to expect.



And what are you testing for us today?



I’m testing a tent doormat. The idea is that you place the mat in front of the tent and if it detects mud it will let off an alarm so the person knows to get rid of the mud before coming into the tent.



Great thanks, we’ll be finding out how they got along later in the show, so good luck to you both.

For the purposes of this exercise I want you to shoot the following:

  1. A WS of the whole script showing the presenter and both the contributors
  2. A MS of the whole script showing just the presenter – s/he should turn to the person s/he is talking to at the appropriate time.
  3. A MS of speeches 1–4 showing the presenter and Alex
  4. A MS of speeches 2–4 showing just Alex and the boots.
  5. A CU of the boots.
  6. A MS of speeches 5–9 showing the presenter and Samantha.
  7. A MS of speeches 5–9 showing just Samantha and the mat.
  8. A CU on the mat.

This means you are trying to get eight shots of this particular scene. You don’t need to go to lots of trouble finding the right location or lighting. Anywhere will do. If you can’t find a mat, just a big bit of paper will do or a scarf or something. For the purposes of this exercise you are trying to get the feel of setting up for different shots on an action sequence or piece to camera. The aim is just to get the shots efficiently.

Here is what to think about:

  • The order in which you are going to take the shots.
  • The composition of the shot.
  • The 180 degree rule.
  • Move the camera each time so that you get a different angle on the shot.
  • Go through the sequence of commands described above when you are actually taking the shot.

You can take turns at what task you are doing but once you have got your task you should stick with it. If you stick with the processes described you should get through it fairly quickly, if you don’t you’ll take much longer.

Web Exercise 1: Structure of film trailers Bridesmaids

We are going to look at three different film trailers to see how the filmmakers are trying to get you to see the film. Watch the trailers straight through first, then we’ll go through them in detail.


Bridesmaids (Director Paul Feig 2011) is a comedy; if you haven’t seen the film then here is the synopsis from the film maker:

Annie is a romantically unattached failed bakery owner who fears she's losing her best friend, Lillian, the best thing in her life, when Lillian announces she's gotten engaged. Annie's anxieties deepen as Lillian grows close to Helen, a wealthy and beautiful new friend who quickly assumes control of planning all the pre-wedding festivities. On top of the main storyline of a female friendship being torn apart, the movie adds a romantic storyline for Annie, who starts the film answering a booty call from the casually cruel yet undeniably handsome Ted, but develops a flirtation with an Irish cop named Rhodes after he pulls Annie over one night thinking she's driving drunk. As the low-self-esteem Annie sabotages this new possibility for love, she also feels the most important friendship in her life slipping away.

The film trailer tells us a number of things about some of the structural points in the film and something about the characters, setting and themes and genre.

Look at the first 20”

The trigger

In this section we hear that Annie’s friend is going to get married and that she wants Annie to be the maid of honour, we also get a sense of her attitude to being maid of honour.



We know it’s a comedy partly because of the style of acting and the script, and partly because of the music which has a very upbeat tempo.

Look at the next 30”

The challenge

We get a sense of some of the hurdles that Annie is going to deal with as she faces the challenge of being Maid of Honour.



In this section we are introduced to the characters that will be in the film.

Last section

The challenge

We see more of Annie struggling with the challenge of being Maid of Honour.



We get to see some comic moments in the film and the audience will be in no doubt that this is a comedy.



We also get a sense of the themes of friendship in the piece.

By using some of these key elements of story structure and elements of the narrative, the trailer is giving the audience a very good sense of what the film is about in a very short space of time. It’s also worth noting that the trailer doesn’t give you any information about the climax or the resolution to the film – they don’t want to spoil the ending!

Web Exercise 2: Structure of a film trailer – Avatar

Now look at this second trailer. It’s a very different type of film. As you go through start to think about all the component parts you can identify.

Avatar (Director James Cameron 2010)


Jake Sully is a paraplegic war veteran who is brought to the planet Pandora to participate in a program designed to help him walk again. The program introduces him to his avatar, a creature whose genetics are half human and half Na'vi, a sentient humanoid race who inhabit Pandora. In time, Jake will find himself in the middle of an escalating conflict between the two races.

Now have a look again using the grid below

Watch up to 1.00 into the trailer


We meet Jake, we find out he is a wounded soldier, we also find out he is in search of a cause worth fighting for.



We find out that this is a science fiction film but there are also lots of elements of an action thriller. We see shots of guns, soldiers, machinery and people running about. The music is urgent and tense, not soft and romantic.



Setting is critical to this film. We find out that we are on another planet, a strange place.



We also meet quite a number of characters in the film, firstly the main protagonist, then the hard man and presumably the villain who is antagonistic to the native people and lastly a scientist who may be a more sympathetic character.



We get a hint about the challenge; the hero has to help extract a valuable mineral.

Look at the next 40”.


Here we are introduced to the trigger, initiating incident. The hero has to take on the body of one of the natives of the planet Pandora. Since this is quite a complicated trigger, quite a lot of time is spent explaining it.

Look at the next 1.00


We get hints of the problems he is going to face; there are plenty of monsters and scary creatures. We            also get strong hints about the emotional journey and personal conflicts he is going to face, will he betray his own people? This tells the audience that the real challenge is not to get the mineral.

Last section 1.00


The last section tells us a bit more about the challenge and the conflict, hints at the romance and tells us a bit more about the emotional journey and conflicts of the main character.

Web Exercise 3: Structure of a film trailer – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Ok, now you have a go. You’ll see a link to a third. This is a very different type of film again, although still a big commercial film. See if you can have a go at breaking down the trailer into its component parts. If you haven’t seen it, here is the synopsis.

Set in the 1970s, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy finds George Smiley, a recently retired MI6 agent, doing his best to adjust to a life outside the secret service. However, when a disgraced agent reappears with information concerning a mole at the heart of the Circus, Smiley is drawn back into the murky field of espionage.

Tasked with investigating which of his trusted former colleagues has chosen to betray him and their country, Smiley narrows his search to four suspects — all experienced, urbane, successful agents — but past histories, rivalries and friendships make it far from easy to pinpoint the man who is eating away at the heart of the British establishment.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Director Tony Alfredson 2011)

Section 1





 Narrative elements


Section 2




 Narrative elements


Section 3




 Narrative elements


Section 4




 Narrative elements


Web Exercise 4: Opening sequences

Below you will see a number of links to opening sequences which can be broken down into component parts. When you watch you should start to think about what the film is trying to establish in terms of narrative elements and how they are conveyed. You should also look at the ways of setting up the status quo. What are they trying to establish about the character/s which you might need to know before the inciting incident?

Casino Royale (Director Martin Campbell 2006)


In this opening scene we are introduced to all the staples you would expect from a James Bond film. There is an exotic location, there is danger and there is a lot of action. We are also introduced to the main character, James Bond, who is clearly established as the hero; the other spy is shown as slightly incompetent.

We also establish the status quo. We know that James Bond is a secret agent. He is already a man used to dealing with danger and action. His new assignment will take him to new challenges.

Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino 1992)

In this piece the credits don’t come in for about 8 minutes into the film. The scene itself sets us up with a lot of information. We know that the film is going to be about gangsters and crime. But the scene also tells us a lot about the relationships between the characters. We can tell from their scene where the characters are in terms of the hierarchy; this is setting up the status quo. The opening scene establishes genre, introduces us to some of the main characters and tells us something about the status quo

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow Part 1 (Director David Yates 2010)

In this opening scene is a recap. This is the last in a long sequence of films and the narrative picks up from the previous film. We already know all the characters and the opening scene assumes that you already know who everyone is and what their relationship to one another is. We don’t need to have it explained to us. We know who the Dursleys are, we know that Hermione has Muggle parents, we know who the villain is. The scene is really reminding you where you got to at the end of the last film. The status quo here is well known to the audience, so the scene gets going with the plot quite quickly. Hermione is going to wipe her parents’ memory.

Opening scene exercise

If you follow the link below you can see some of the most famous opening scenes. Some are from films you will know, others you won’t. Look through and see if you can deconstruct them and find out what elements of narrative and story structure they are establishing.


How are the credits dealt with?


Which characters are introduced?


What are we told about the setting?


What are we told about the status quo?


Is there any trigger put in place?