Idea generation in video production

by Esme Johnson

Idea generation in video production: Why this process is so vital and yet so difficult


We all know the image of a lone filmmaker or writer sat in front of their typewriter or notepad or laptop, struggling to come up with an idea. Ideas are ephemeral beasts, flitting around in your head as strong visuals or suggestions and yet they sometimes never make it to the page or the screen as fully-formed concepts. To make matters worse, creating these ideas can be even more difficult than capturing them and making them a reality.

video production nottingham image of creativity

In the creative industries, this dilemma is perhaps more important than anything. If you don’t have ideas, you’ll have little to work with! Ideas are an essential part of the business so there needs to be a sustainable and practical approach to generating them. In order to be creative and innovative, ideas need to be fresh, but those ideas have to come from somewhere, right?


Methods for idea generation in video production range from person-to-person and can be more or less effective depending on who’s doing the thinking. Perhaps yoga and meditation help you get into the zone and think in ways you previously might not. Or maybe you have an avowed method for coming up with concepts; some swear by the oblique strategy popularised by musician Brian Eno, where flashcards with phrases written on them help to prompt thinking. Others will stake their reputation on logic, using reasoning to develop new ideas, while some will use the challenge method, which prompts a thinker to keep asking why? in order to get to a solution.

And that’s what idea generation is all about, at its core. Problem solving. You need to shoot an advert for a local business? Well, how are you going to get their message out to the local and wider populace? Your short film needs to effectively show a character moving from point A to point B? Well, what angles and cuts could you use to make that movement interesting and dynamic?


In the video production industries, idea generation is vitally important. This is especially true for smaller companies, like Simply Thrilled, who have a lot of competition to contend with. To get ahead in the industry, you need the confidence to trust in your own ability to think of something exciting and novel, as well as put that abstract idea into concrete action. By providing both the means to shoot, edit, and exhibit video as well as generate the very ideas needed to create a video in the first place, Simply Thrilled can offer a complete creative service. 

‘Generation’ can be defined as ‘the process of coming or bringing into being’,  prompting notions of development and originality. While the generation of ideas certainly is a process (more on that later), sometimes ideas aren’t always one hundred percent original. And there is nothing wrong with that! Isaac Newton himself said that his success was due to how he had ‘seen further’ by ‘standing on the shoulders of Giants’, and plenty will argue that creativity is ultimately a process of deriving ideas from what has come before. In fact, in the days of Shakespeare, innovation was not popular, and originality only became a Western ideal in the eighteenth century!

Think about your favourite film--unless it is from the days of early cinema, it is unlikely that you’ll be unable to find a moment that wasn’t inspired by a previous creative work, or which didn’t inspire later works, genres, and generations of creatives. Look at Blade Runner (1982); the visuals of that movie have defined the cyberpunk genre and its influence can be seen in countless films!


On the other hand, the word ‘ideation’ can have some negative connotations, but is ultimately about ‘the capacity for or the act of form or entertaining ideas’. So, as long as you are able to do that, you will be able to come up with a concept that is interesting and therefore worth exploring.


So what do other creatives do when they need to generate some cool and exciting ideas?

For a lot of people, it comes down to their work ethic. To return to Brian Eno, he has stated before that he values improvisation to make great music, and believes very strongly in collaboration. He rejects the idea of a lone, auteur genius, telling the Guardian that ‘genius is individual, scenius is communal’. South Korea’s leading media mogul Miky Lee cites her success as due to her qualities of both persistence and passion. By being able to develop ideas both on the business side of filmmaking and the creative side, she has helped lead a revolution in the world of Korean film.


Companies like Google and Nintendo are also known for having a strong work ethic which translates into creativity. Google creates the spaces, moments, and opportunities its employees need to come together. They are then able to present ideas and bounce concepts off one another. Instead of delegating tasks and enforcing guidelines, the company encourages, like Eno, collaboration and freedom of expression. Games giant Nintendo embraces risk taking and trying new things--even if they don’t always succeed--to create electrifying new games and products. Shinya Takahashi, the company’s GM of development, says that they don’t consciously try to innovate, but simply try ‘to find ways to make people happy’ which results in fun ideas.

These are all people and companies who have been wildly successful. And while idea generation isn’t the only reason for this, it is certainly a huge part of their approaches to business and creativity.


The psychology behind idea generation is complex and just goes to show how unique the process can be for different individuals. There are countless psychological theories which describe and attempt to quantify what is a very abstract process within the human mind, though there are a handful which are more widely known. 


For example, a commonly-used group technique for the generation of ideas is brainstorming, allowing individuals to freely contribute until a solution is reached. Psychologist Edward de Bono popularised the term lateral thinking, a method which opposes logic by using creativity to discover an answer. In contrast, socialist Graham Wallas gave his support to the notion of incubation, whereby a thinker takes a break from the active, focused process of trying to generate an idea in order to prevent fixation and allow for subconscious thought.

The psychology of it all can be very complex and goes to show how the creative process is an intricate one, which doesn’t help much when you rely on your ability to generate ideas on a professional level!


With all that in mind (pardon the pun), what lessons and tips can you take from this to improve how you view and approach the idea generation process?


Firstly, what is very clear is that the methods by which you seek ideas are not as important as trusting and believing in your creative ability. You can use all the flashcards you want, mediate for hours, and read how-to guides until you’re blue in the face, but if you are not in the right headspace, you will not only struggle to develop ideas you are passionate about, but fail to see their potential. Actor and producer Joseph Gordon-Levitt champions the notion that fuelling your creative wellness is essential to the creative process, arguing that creativity gives people happiness and meaning. Having the motivation to stretch your creative muscles is certainly an important part of generating ideas.

With your mental state primed for creativity, make sure you’re prepared. Of course, in some cases you won’t have the time for research, or will find that research slows you down and overwhelms you with information, but for others, it is vital to study the area you’re interested in. This process in itself can be a valuable source of inspiration and can prevent writer’s block and stop you from interrupting your creativity to Google something specific. In preparing to write and shoot The Lighthouse (2019), Robert Eggers used his research as a ‘constant flow of inspiration’ for his more creative moments.

Another part of the process of idea generation is where you are. Are you curled up in bed or sat at your desk? Are you in the shower or on the bus? Truthfully, ideas can pop into your head anytime, anywhere, and sometimes it can be at the least useful times! But making sure your physical space is conducive to creativity and hard work can be really beneficial. Bring in sources of inspiration, work with people who share the goal of thinking up a brilliant concept, and allow your physical space to reflect your drive. 


There has been plenty of research into how the space you are in can affect your ability to communicate. If you work in an office setting, you may find that sometimes privacy is needed in order for you think clearly and creativity, but offices and creative spaces in general are often designed in open-plan ways. So if you can find a way to find a closed, private space for you to concentrate, do so, but also know the value of collaboration.

Speaking of which, there is much debate about the pros and cons of collaborative work versus individualist work. In the video production industry, collaboration is often viewed as unavoidable, a fundamental part of the process in terms of developing, producing, and editing a video or indeed any piece of creative content. And this is true--it is much more difficult to shoot a video if there is only one person on the team!


You will know if you work better alone or as part of a team, and during the creative process each method of working can have variable results. Perhaps alone you feel you can focus and dedicate yourself to a single task. Or maybe you find that working alongside others is more effective as multiple points of view come together to solve a problem creatively.


The creative process changes from person to person and can be the most distracting and procrastination-enabling process you will come across, and yet it is highly important in the creative industries. Creativity is all about problem solving and, to use the well-known phrase, thinking outside the box.

Generating ideas for video production is important not only in the creative sense, but in the technical sense too. You need to have skills in both of these areas, driven by a passion for generating compelling and before unseen ideas, in order to succeed in what is a very competitive industry. Fortunately, there is a plethora of information out there about different methods for idea generation, meaning you will surely be able to find the one that works for you.

Here at Simply Thrilled, we’re fascinated by ideas: how you get them, how they work, where they come from, and where they go. That’s why we have our own tool, ViralPixel, which allows us to assess the qualitative data behind successful films and videos to figure out exactly how to entrance our viewers. The ideas we create through using social intelligence are what make our videos trustworthy, impactful, and unique. 


If you want to find out more about how we can generate ideas for you, just get in touch!


by Esme Johnson
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