The Creativity Hopper

The first time I was ever moved to tell a story was after watching the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was five years old and visiting my

grandmother in Alexandria, Virginia. Immediately after seeing the film I had an idea for a sequel. I tried writing down my story as it formed in my imagination… but I found the words coming faster than I could write. I gave a pencil and paper to my father and asked him to take dictation. The thing I was writing, I explained to him, was a sequel to the Indiana Jones movie. It would star a girl, of course. I don’t remember exactly how my story went but it was definitely not anything like Temple of Doom.

From that first creative impulse as a child until now, movies have been a huge source of inspiration for me. My creativity hopper (in my mind, I picture this as one of those kid’s popcorn popper toys) is full of kernels of ideas.

Some of these come from memories or dreams, some from current events that I read about in the news, and many come from movies I’ve watched. These kernels of ideas are images and emotions that get jostled around in the hopper, bumping into each other and bringing about a feeling of mystery and excitement that ultimately fuels my own projects. Allowing these unrelated ideas to bump into each other leads to questions like ‘What if?’ and ‘Wouldn’t it be weird…?’ which are the type of questions that spur on my creative process. As an artist I have to be receptive all the time as well as productive. This is why it’s important to me to be sympathetic and open minded. Hopefully by keeping an open and non-judgmental mind I can be open to receiving the ideas that power my creative output.

The less mystical explanation for why watching movies helps me write is simply that it helps me gain familiarity with storytelling techniques. If I find a movie that resonates with me I watch it several times in order to appreciate every detail and study how the narrative was structured. When watching a movie for storytelling insight, I ask myself a few questions such as: ‘In what order are the facts revealed? What does each character know and when? What does each character want?’ and ‘How does the action of each scene cause the next scene to take place?’ These types of questions help me understand why a story works. I
believe that those storytelling truths are equally applicable to movies or the written word.

Muriel is the creator of 'Documinutes: 60 second documentaries' and a contributor to the podcast 'This Manic Mama.'

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