Every great film begins with a big idea. Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom is about an adventure loving archeologist that chases after the greatest historical finds in the world, fighting off evil doers along the way. Harry Potter is about a young adolescent growing up in a fantasy world of wizards and magic while on an epic journey to discover the truth about himself and fulfill his destiny as an extraordinary wizard with perfectly ordinary ambitions and human desires. Saving Private Ryan is about an English teacher on a mission to save another soldier and survive World War II so he can return home to his wife and family. The film explores the horror of war and the inability to escape the outcome that helps wake up the audience not only to the horrors of war, but to the compelling humanity revealed on the battlefield. These movies, indeed, all movies, share one thing in common. They all have a big idea that defines what they are about, one that captures our imaginations and pulls us into their world. They move us, the make us feel something powerful, and they reveal the truth about what it means to be a human being, living in a world that can be both kind and frightening. Great movies lift us up and make us feel good or terrify us and leave us feeling excited to have escaped back into our own lives, and sometimes, they reveal truths about life that make us better people for having seen what we might otherwise ignore.
There is no single formula for writing a good story but here is another secret about storytelling that you probably haven’t thought about. You have already been doing it all your life. Anytime you stop in a hallway and share an experience with your friends, or tell someone about something you did, you are practicing the art of storytelling. You have been a student of it all your life. While you are sitting in class, taking your second algebra course, or in a company workshop, learning about compliance protocols, you may be learning something brand new, but when it comes to filmmaking, you have been studying it since you were old enough to watch your first Disney movie. Think about what this means. For your entire life, you have been watching the masters of filmmaking practice their art, right before your eyes.
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