Great collaborations produce amazing ideas. When a group of creative people can successfully coalesce around a concept and use their collective thoughts to build a story, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. In order to achieve this creative bliss, producers and writers need to learn how to successfully brainstorm.
First and foremost, writers and producers need to find a creative fit. Before you start to drill down on an idea, you’ll need to agree that you are aligned on the macro elements of your concept. If you are, it makes sense to roll up your sleeves and dig into the details. If not, it’s best to keep looking for a partner that shares your vision.
Once you’ve found a partner that you’d like to work with, consider the following strategies to ensure that you’ll achieve your goals.
1. Create a safe space.
In order to find the best possible ideas, you’ll need to work through a lot of bad ones. Agree with your creative partner that no idea is a bad idea and allow yourselves to speak freely. Let the conversation flow and be open to speaking off the cuff with each other. Going into a brainstorming session, I know that many of my ideas won’t work. It’s about finding the couple of golden ideas that will propel your project forward into success.
Be free of judgment and always look to expand on each other’s thoughts. A great brainstorming session is often like an improv class. It’s very much a game of “Yes, and…” The only way this works is if you’ve built a level of trust with your partners so that everyone feels comfortable sharing all of their ideas.
2. Don’t be possessive of your ideas.
The best outcomes from a brainstorming session are normally collaborative ideas. Don’t get stuck on the fact that something has to work a certain way. It’s okay to passionately express your opinion, but allow your creative partner to expand on your ideas. They may see something that you don’t and you’ll likely be able to build on your initial thoughts together to turn them into something better.
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3. Be aware of your creative roles.
As a producer who often works with writers, I try to focus on macro ideas and arm my screenwriters with as many thoughts as I can. Ultimately, the creative voice of the script will come from the writer, so I try to help them to find their voice while also thinking about producing issues like marketability and cost. Directors are often more visual in nature and will also be thinking through the story from their own creative chair. Each team member brings a different and valuable perspective to the conversation. While it’s your collective ideas that will lead to the best outcomes, it is important to be clear and respectful as to who will handle what once the meeting concludes.
4. Take a walk.
When you meet up to tackle creative work, it’s often tempting to huddle around a computer looking to get right into brass tacks. This isn’t often the best setting for your brain to roam freely and find great ideas that are lodged in the subconscious. In order to help relax your mind and get your blood flowing, consider a walking meeting. It’s especially nice in Los Angeles where we mostly have sunny days.
As you walk and talk, be sure to make note of any brilliant ideas that you come up with. The voice recording tool on your smartphone is great for this. You can also start your meeting with a long walk and eventually wind up back at a computer where you can quickly write down the fruits of your labor before breaking off.
5. Grab a drink or meal.
Sitting in a bar or restaurant over a drink to discuss ideas naturally relaxes everyone. It makes your meeting seem less like work and more like fun and allows you to dig a little deeper into your thought process. Sharing a drink or a meal also helps to grow your relationship with your collaborators. Everyone knows it’s much better to work with folks that you consider as friends.
6. Keep the conversation going.
After you break from your in-person brainstorm session, be sure to keep the conversation going digitally. It’s important to continue the back and forth before you meet again to build momentum. I often have my best ideas driving home after a meeting and am quick to share them.
This is also a great time to get the individual work done that will be needed to bring the development process to the next level. I find that Google Docs are a great tool for this process. They allow you and your collaborators to write down physical notes from your brainstorming session and comment on each other’s work.
The most important thing about brainstorming is not to rush the process. In The Producer’s Brain, I write about the importance of undeniable ideas. The only way to find an undeniable idea is to work for it. The better your creative work is when you take it out into the marketplace, the better your chances of success will be, so be sure that you feel confident in the product you’ve created before you move forward.
If done well, brainstorming can be the most fun part of the creative process. I hope these tips will send you on your way to developing something amazing.
David Kaufmann is an independent film and television producer living in Los Angeles. He began his career as an NBC Page at Saturday Night Live. He spent over nine years handling film and television licensing and development at Major League Baseball where he helped create critically acclaimed films like Moneyball and 42. He has an undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Richmond and holds an MBA from NYU Stern with a focus on the media business and creative producing. He is an active member of the Producers Guild of America and is the author of the book The Producers Brain. For more on David, please visit his IMDB or LinkedIn.