Arts & Entertainment

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.

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Topics include: The Big Idea: Money Monster · Apply Your Signature to Other Films


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...

About the Instructor

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.

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Jodie Foster

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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