Need help with idea for student film



I'm not sure which forum to post this in, but I thought all you directors could help me with an idea for a short 5 minute student film.

I'll be shooting the film with a Bolex on tri-x film. And recording sound with a TCD5M cassette recorder. Also the editing will be done on on a Steenbeck. Yea, my film school uses some old equipement, but I kinda like that.

Anyways, just wanted to let you know what i'll be working with. The film has to be 4-5 minutes in length and I'm kinda stumped on what I want to film this semester. Was hoping that some of you who've gone through film school might be able to toss up some suggestions. My film school (the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) is more avant-garde than most, and prefers that we follow a more artistic route. So a narrative film isn't out of the question, its just frowned upon slightly.

So, any ideas?

Joseph Boyd

New member
Re: Need help with idea for student film

Rauros said:
My film school (the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) is more avant-garde than most, and prefers that we follow a more artistic route. So a narrative film isn't out of the question, its just frowned upon slightly.
Hehe, right there that screams to me "make a damn good narrative."

I've found its hard to get ideas in this medium, my best ideas have come from sitting around with my writing buddies (usually over a couple pitchers at McMenamins) and going over our various scripts, shorts, ideas, etc. The best of ideas don't come during that time, but on the train ride home, after the creative juices have been flowing for awhile and I'm alone.

Without knowing you personally, your writing and styles its hard to be much help coming up with an idea. But my advice would be to go with what your gut says, convention, tradition and institution be damned.


New member
Let me ask this:

If you are spending money on an education in film production, and assuming you want to actually make money in the future, why would you spend your time practicing a cinematic art form that nobody pays to see?

Now, don't get offended. This is simply a rhetorical question. Avant garde and "artsy" are fine. But remember: the avant garde comes out in the storytelling, which is different from the writing. There are a lot of well-written movies in the world that don't have a story. Such as Slacker and Waking Life. But, the artistic implementation (the new form of animation in Waking Life) serves only to increase the depth of writing, not to compensate for it.

On this note, I would suggest a narrative film. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is considered an art film, but it was the story and the writing that were avant garde. It was shot simply. Same for "Punch Drunk Love" and "Lost In Translation."

On that note, here's how you come up with an "artsy" narrative. This is a story that I have been working on. I'm open with it, but for the record, I do have it copyrighted.

Take a theme: Secrets

What are some secrets a person might have from someone? A person has a special ability to read people. Not to read their mind, but knowing how a person will react. For instance, you have that one friend who everytime you go to a party, you know he's going to pick a fight with someone.

Now, put a spin on it.

The whole movie, people are talking about how this guy can tell what people are going to do. His friend and him go to a party. His best buddy gets mad at him for never telling him about this secret, especially when it could have saved his ex from breaking up with him. The buddy hits the guy. When the guy comes back, the buddy says "I have a secret, too." The guy hits the buddy and hurts his hand. The buddy is untouched. The buddy lifts his shirt and says "I'm a robot." Sure enough, there's metal underneath.

The point is, the whole movie as an argument between these two because the guy has a secret, and his friend gets hurt (by the ex). Secrets hurt people. This becomes even more relevant when the buddy's secret does physical damage.

So, follow the formula. It's there for a reason. And don't be afraid of the commercial and narrative. Sometimes people get too high and mighty about "independent" film. Those are the people who sit around talking about their favorite films that OTHER people make.


New member
My two cents says to try and find something universal and human to convey in your chosen visual medium.

As you you have a limited time frame to work with, try and pick something simple, but something that truly resonates with you. Think in terms of what emotion looks like, and more importantly, what does emotion look like to you. If you focus on honest, simple, human emotional interaction with the world, you almost can't help but be good.

You should look to yourself and the things that you feel and deal with to find inspiration. Show people what is honestly going on inside of you, without self-consciousness or abashment. Put a real face on something that scares you, or makes you happy or makes you cry even, but be honest about it. It doesn't have to be complicated or contrived to be effective. In fact, I feel the opposite is true more often than not.

Be bold and take risks! What was really going on emotionally when you broke up with a significant other? How did you really feel at the loss of a friend, parent, grandparent or pet? What quirky thing makes you giggle or gleeful? How do you feel when you look at a sibling or a loved one?

The trick here is to translate those emotions into something that will resonate visually and be interesting to watch. This is where your creativity as a visual artist will get to be explored and being in film school is a wonderful time to do just that. There is tremendous power in visual images of raw, human emotion. A firefighter carrying a small child out of a burning building, a soldier consoling a comrade, a child exploring a sunny field and seeing a butterfly for the first time are all simple examples that spring to mind. If you can capture the truth of what those moments really look and more importantly, what they FEEL like, you are going to be on to something, I guarantee it.

The deeper you truly understand the emotion involved, the better you will be able to convey it to someone else, so I say 'use what you know.' And, right now, what you know best is what you've lived. Your life is a wealth of emotion that you know intimately. If you share it with the world honestly and in an interesting way, you literally can't do any better than that.

I hope this helps! Best of Luck on your project!


New member
I would keep in mind that filmschool isn't just about making money in the future, but finding your voice and style. David Lynch started his career making extremely avant-garde short films. Would they ever make money? Not really. But they led to the creation of many masterworks (i.e. Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Blue Velvet), which has now established him as a master of world cinema.

Most people going to film school have probobly made a narrative film, or at least attempted it or thought about it. Fewer people have thought in a more abstract sense about filmmaking. All I'm saying is that there isn't anything wrong with a narrative film if you have a good idea, but it might be nice to experiment with a different style of filmmaking while you still have the opprotunity and aren't in the real world where you in actuality couldn't probobly make a decent living off of avant-gardes...

So, getting back to your original question in a roundabout way, ideas are always hard to come up with. And its even harder for someone else to tell you what to make a movie about. I'd think about things that matter to you. Ask the big questions. And if at the end of this search for a story you see it in you mind as an avant-garde masterpiece, then make it so, and if you see it as a narrative than make a narrative. Make sure you don't try to mold the way you see your film into something that... well... Isn't the way you see it. [/quote]


Actually I just finished my own rather "avant-garde" type film you may get ideas from.

Let me know what you think of it. But the idea was thought up while I was just drawing random pictures in my notebook during a class. The general idea I first had was someone getting increasingly paranoia of other students while doing intense writing/drawing/ect. The theme I later thought of and finally used was having the students stand as a metaphor for many American's unjustified fears that Mexicans immigrating to the US are "stealing" their jobs.

One thing I believe about experimental film though, is that you have to find something personal in it to relate to. It's possible to shot a narrative film neutrally and still have it understood well. In order to experiment a lot, you really need to relate to the material. Like I wouldn't consider myself racist by any means, but I do know about paranoia and nerves going through the roof for no reason while taking a test (no quite sure why that sometimes happens, but I used it anyway).

Good luck.