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Film & TV

Exploring the Big Idea in Film

Jodie Foster

Lesson time 08:48 min

Jodie breaks down the concept of the “big idea” in film. You’ll discover how you can use it as a tool to hone your storytelling skills.

Jodie Foster
Teaches Filmmaking
In her first-ever online class, Jodie Foster teaches you how to bring stories from page to screen with emotion and confidence.
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So what is the big idea? The big idea isn't the plot. It is the story. It's what you're trying to say. It-- it-- the big idea is something that encapsulates the vision of your film in a very simple way-- the reason that you are fascinated. Now, this idea may be the reason that you got involved in the film the first place. But it may evolve over time, and it may turn into-- it may turn into something that you hadn't anticipated. The idea might change. You might realize that the thing that you were fascinated with in the beginning has transformed and morphed into something different. In a way, the big idea is the vision. It's the inspirational one line that keeps-- is the question, really, that keeps the filmmaker on this momentum, this ball of discovery. So it's always interesting as an exercise to define what the big idea is in the movies that you see. What is that one thing that is sort of life changing or life shaking about that film? Sometimes you can discover that big idea intentionally-- the way Jane Campion does in "The Piano," for example, where she really-- that is-- that is really intentional that she says-- this character, in-- in order to finally say, I want to live-- that she cuts the rope at the end of the movie and takes this big gasp. That's a very intentional moment. If you look at a film like a Martin Scorsese movie, like "Taxi Driver," for example, there is a scene in that movie that is the seminal moment in the movie that everybody always remembers, where Robert De Niro says, "You talking to me"? That scene, for me, is very emblematic-- is a signpost for what the big idea of the movie is. The big idea for me is that-- the 1970s, you know, there is a lost man who came back from war and didn't know where he belonged. He wasn't an American. He wasn't a soldier. He was just an anonymous ghost in the middle of a big city. And all he wants-- his motivation in this film is to be something. That is really articulated in the scene that Robert De Niro has, where he improvised this, you know, this wonderful line, "Are you talking to me"? That's an-- an idea that is elaborated through character. Martin Scorsese didn't talk to him about you know symbolism or coming up with something. It was just something that happened because the actor was so in character. And in that moment, you know, he had a gun, he had some guns strapped to him. And Martin Scorsese he just let him be free. And I think he let him find a-- a speech, or something, or a movement, or a gesture-- a piece of language that said everything. And for me, that moment is Robert De Niro looking in the mirror and-- and asking himself, you know, in character, pretending to be somebody who's bigger and more important than he is, and looking at a stranger and pretending that that stranger is looking back at him, and asking him very cockily, you know, "You talking to me"? That tells you everything about the character of "Taxi Driver." The big idea in M...

Storytelling in action

Go behind the scenes with two-time Oscar-winner Jodie Foster, star of Silence of the Lambs and director of Little Man Tate. In her first online film class, she’ll teach you how to bring your vision to life. Jodie discusses her experience on both sides of the camera to guide you through every step of the filmmaking process, from storyboarding to casting and camera coverage. Everyone has a story. Learn how to tell yours.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Refreshingly honest and direct information. Each lesson has direct application. Jodie offers a rich bounty of expertise and a call to action.

I'm simply a fan of Jodie Foster. I wanted to hear the back story of her process of acting and directing. She's a master communicator and I admire her even more after taking this class.

There was good technical info shared. Ms. Foster seems very cerebral. When she talked acting & demoed her Nell character I saw more creativity.

Jodie's was the first I watched, it was the one that made me decide to buy the pass. Knowing that she is such a bright woman, such a great actress, so well spoken and intelligent in her words and on top of that both an actress and a director, I knew I'd get a lot out of it and I did.


Sarah W.

I've only watched the first lesson and I immediately know I'm going to enjoy this one. What an engaging, intelligent and generous woman and teacher - love her!

Rose M.

Jodie explains the Big idea from an actor's point of view and director's. Robert De Niro love him in Taxi Driver. Yes a big idea is unconscious also.

William P.

Jodie, At 77 years old I wrote my 1st Indie movie... Thank you for sharing your teaching of the "Big Idea" It helps me to hone my story as I share it with others.

William P.

Amazing. I just wrote my 1st small Indie script and I am surprised that Jodie's guidelines and my mindset are alike... Shocked and overwhelming. Truly Blessed for my 1st time writing... Thank you Jodie for helping me find my place as my foundation of Sand is being rebuild with structure.


I love Jodie and I'm loving this course so far! As a filmmaker, the obsession that she talks about, it's real. Such a great insight.

Roberta Artemisia C.

fantastic! I love this woman - she is so expressive and she has so much to say to give! I'll watch Money Monster - btw found it on Netflix - and reimagine it... I'll try it in my context Switzerland Italy ... and the man on Mars... I've seen it a while back and got me to daydreaming - would a lonely woman do things differently in that situation? hormones and all, it could almost become a comedy. thank you

Steph F.

I love how she shares her thoughts - it seems like you are getting to have a one on one conversation with her

Frank T.

Very inspiring and informative. Gaining some understanding into hell a real filmmaker approaches to work from a conceptual point of view

Al H.

I love Jodie's enthusiasm for the medium. It is contagious. I may never be a Scorsese but I will certainly watch this class all the way through. I feel ensnared by enthusiasm.

Steve H.

Jodie's idea to start "The Martian" when Matt Damon wakes up is fascinating because that's the way the film was written and that's the way that the film was originally edited for many months. It wasn't until many months into the post-production that what was supposed to be a flashback - the storm on Mars and leaving Matt's character behind - was moved to the BEGINNING of the film. I interviewed Pietro Scalia, who edited the movie, and he told me this story in my series on editing called "Art of the Cut." It's one of my favorite stories of structural change during post. The audience wasn't connecting to the other characters in the movie because they felt like they'd just abandoned him and were heartless. By moving the storm to the beginning, the audience got to see HOW BAD the rest of the team struggled with leaving him behind.