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.

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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.



Reviews

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

I'm on fire to start my first film - I will do son on October 11 - and have it finished by 13th - horror marathon for a film festival. I'm drunk with ideas. Thanks you. Love you dearly. PS I want a mentor - if you're feeling like helping someone with leadership and integrity oozing from every cell in my body, then lets do it!

This is the first filmmaking one that I enjoyed because it had personal, relevant, and practical experience.

that masterclass was great! thank you very much!

Great insight into how she comes up with ideas for films and then refines and works it out until you get the story on film or on paper.


Comments

Chris

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.

Dan U.

I get this ‘big idea’ theme, this almost epiphany moment. Deniro’s taxi driver character had a pressing need to be a few things....a liberator, protector, a man of prominence and someone who was not going to be pushed around. He probably was lacking in many of not all of these categories and it ate him up alive. So one day or perhaps night he made his gun contraption that with the flick of a wrist he could mechanically summon his gun and assert his authority over some odious street thug that he could control and even kill. ‘You talking to me...motherfucker? Because I could could kill you.’ This is my perceived paraphrase but likely accurate. The taxi driver speaks for many men who feel completely castrated from life and anyone who did not get what the scene conveyed has rocks for brains.

Mia S.

"You definitely don't need to know the big idea of your film before you make it, even while you're making it. The thing that you need to know is that you love it, you're inspired by it, it keeps you up at night. I think that an obsession is a signifier for something that is worth exploring. It's through that exploration, very often through that conscious and unconscious exploration, that a director comes to understand that their movie represents them, that their movie is a part of their awakening and their becoming. My favorite exercise is going to a movie and reimagining it. You go into a film and you say, 'How could I have that so that it feels like me?' It's not better - not, 'How could I have made that movie better?' but 'How could I make that movie fit some of the things I want to say?' 'The Martian' - I would like to inhabit the point of view of that man, Matt Damon's character; so maybe the film starts when he wakes up, everybody's left him already and he wakes up on this planet, the red planet - so the point of view immediately is the point of view of somebody who's in that spacesuit, somebody who's in that module, somebody who's seeing things in a way that is confused. He doesn't know what's up or down, what's oxygenated, what isn't, and the camera, as he is - the point of view of the film is the point of view of a man in abject loneliness. The plants that he comes up with, we watch that - maybe there are reveries. In order to propel himself to live, he's going to go back to his past and say, 'Why did I leave that girlfriend? Why did I join the space program?' Maybe his memories are faulty, aren't true. Maybe in his memories are celebrities; maybe Johnny Depp appears in his memory, because they're not really memories, they're fantasies. You can change the rules because they're from his perspective, and he is somebody who's just trying to live, so maybe he's creating these thoughts and pondering his life in a way that he might not do if he was in a regular film with all sorts of other characters' points of view. That path or that journey of a singular person doing whatever it takes in order to stay alive - and the craziness and fantasies of musical numbers, who knows what might be happening in his psyche? The film itself might be very contained an inexpensive - an indie movie that is nonlinear, that happens in one area (this setup) but maybe this red planet that we shoot someplace inexpensive like Morocco, I don't know. And we let the fantasy sequences be the things that give us some scope. Reimagine it and embrace it as if this film had your signature."

Davide M.

Interesting perspective on life. I never saw you as a child prodigy. I saw you as a great actor. It was later I learned of your directing skills. To date, you put on one of the most believable characters I've ever seen. I'll leave it up to you decide which one. Thank you for sharing.

Mia S.

"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. 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 in the first place, but it may evolve over time, it may turn into something that you hadn't anticipated. The idea might change - you might realize that the thing you were fascinated with in the beginning has transformed, morphed into something different. In a way, the big idea is the vision. It's the inspirational one line that is the question, really, that keeps the filmmaker on this momentum, this ball of discovery. 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 that is really intentional that she says, '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, '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, 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 De Niro has where he improvised this wonderful line, 'Are you talking to me?' That's an idea that is elaborated through character. Scorsese didn't talk to him about symbolism or coming up with something, it was just something that happened because the actor was so in character. And in that moment, he had a gun, some guns strapped to him, and Scorsese just let him be free. I think he let him find a speech, or something - a movement or a gesture, a piece of language that said everything. For me, that moment is Robert De Niro looking in the mirror and asking himself - in character, pretending to be someone 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 talking to me?' That tells you everything about the character of 'Taxi Driver.' The big idea in 'Money Monster,' for me, has to do with men and failure and what men do in order to vanquish that feeling of failure. They tend to blame outwards, and in that particular movie, all of the male characters are surrounded by these strong women. In some ways, these strong women who they fear are disappointed by them. Kyle's scene where he is onstage and his girlfriend comes and everybody thinks that somehow she's going to be able to talk him off the ledge - his eight-month pregnant girlfriend - and in fact she, little by little, starts berating him and it becomes just this momentous, dark, rage-filled attack on Kyle (Jack O'Connell's character). This sort of fits in with the big idea of the movie about men and failure, about who men become in the face of this masculine disappointment in themselves."