Guest Article: Cinematography DeCal, CREATIVITY – Exploration and Reinterpretation

The Cinematography DeCal at UC BerkeleyLast week, Decal instructor Tobias Deml kicked off our fifth class discussion by asking us students how we would define creativity. The question excited a number of responses from students, who defined creativity as “non-discriminate brainstorming,” “altering another’s ideas,” and “active imagination.” While there is no one correct answer, creative ability is well worth the discussion as it plays a key role in cinematography and remains central to film making in general.

For over 110 years, filmmakers have exercised their imagination and creative abilities behind the camera. It is no wonder today that filmmakers are left racking their brain for that one story, that unforgettable scene, left unveiled over the course of so many years of film creation. Besides, unless you have had the opportunity to watch every film ever produced, how could you actually know if that idea of yours is truly original?

It is no surprise that in recent years we have witnessed a rise in the number cinematic projects that shamelessly reinterpret already well-established feature films and television series. This is due to the simple explanation that projects already proven successful among audiences—often with a pre-established fan base—are considered a financially safe bet for producers. While a number of ‘remake success’ stories do exist, a large majority of them result in utter failure and angry tweets.

The purpose of last week’s discussion, led by Tobias, was to provide substantial guidance on the many ways in which we may exercise creative thinking and avoid the unoriginal.

“Inventions come from needs, needs derive from experience.”  Tobias Deml

When it comes to ‘getting ideas’ for a future project, it is critical that one carries out in-depth research and development beforehand. Research requires complete immersion into your topic of choice, to understand what’s already been done before you. To assist your research, it is helpful to map out your ideas on paper (an exercise stressed throughout the course). Specifically, start an Idea Book or a Writer’s Journal and keep it with you at all times. This way, you can always record new ideas that often come from exposure to new experiences. In all, these resources offer a centralized source and collection of transient ideas and dreams. In the future, you will have access to an archive of past ideas that could provide inspiration toward variety of projects.

Why adventure? Reasons to change it up, point by point.

The people you meet are the characters you create.” Tobias Deml

A second approach to creativity involves development of the idea itself. This approach involves physical activity like meditation, or exercise. A good morning run or an outdoor hike can really get the creative juices flowing. What’s more, creative development will follow the practice of adventure. As Toby encourages, “be both fearless and rational as you explore unknown places, routes or districts.” Detour from your routine walk home from class, or venture through unexplored paths around campus. Try stepping outside of your social comfort zone and spend time with new people in new social settings. These new faces and personalities might just inspire the characters in your next story or become your good friends. In sum, the less you stay stuck in your ways, the more you will relate to others, enhancing your sense of social variety and ideas coming with it.

While there is always the option of waiting around for a good idea to just come to you (a.k.a. waiting for the Muse’s kiss), being adventurous and spending time in nature will reduce the monotonous flow of distraction we face every day and help inspire creative thinking.

Susan Stewart, choosing her artwork before the exercise.

Susan Stewart, choosing her artwork before the exercise.



Following the lecture, Tobias prepared an in-class exercise designed to get our creative juices flowing. At the start of class, we were asked to choose a photo from an assortment of artwork on the ground, each with a unique image (mainly classical paintings or concepts art for games and films). During our exercise, we were separated into small groups and asked to individually come up with a story inspired by and explanatory to our chosen illustration. Important was also that we wouldn’t choose an obvious storyline, but had to go as abstract as possible. This turned out to be pretty entertaining.

A few students were especially inspired by their illustrations, devising tales of underground sex slave prisons, struggles over the last library on earth, and even that of a daughter living with her body-collecting father in the woods.



A collection of artwork, mainly classical paintings and concept art for games and film.

A collection of artwork, mainly classical paintings and concept art for games and film

Julian Lee, presenting his story: featuring the last library in the world.

Julian Lee, presenting his story: featuring the last library in the world

This exercise was helpful in that if offered a simple example of how to stir the imagination by reinterpreting the works of others. This is an easy exercise we can practice everyday. Try dedicating time to watching highly regarded films in whichever genre fits your taste. But don’t ignore the classics along the way. Just because everybody knows about a particular film or moment in a film, doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from analyzing what contributed to its success.

One might say we already spend too much time consuming media, but we can be both audience members and critical artists simultaneously. Furthermore, if we diversify our consumption of media, our creative foundation will broaden as well, making room for new ideas as we reinterpret the work of others.

As homework from the lecture, Tobi insisted that we come with up and execute a “crazy” idea, or invent something cinematography related before our next meeting. This was a great assignment that the class interpreted in a variety of ways. A few students understood the assignment as a chance to stray from their strict routines and academic schedules. Take Simona Sborchia, who (during a crazy midterm week) got herself in the “YOLO” (you only live once) mindset and decided at last minute to attend a concert that she describes as life-changing. Other students, like Lev Marquis and Ryan Hoang, took the assignment as an opportunity to come up with a funny idea and produce a comedy-documentary. For Marquis and Hoang, this meant filming the process of asking several girls for their phone numbers around campus. Who knew such a simple idea could turn into such a great source of entertainment?

Simple projects like these continue to prove how creative and productive a small group of students—working together—can truly be. I know that I speak for the entire class when I say that I am so looking forward to our next assignment. So please, stay tuned in to the blog and witness the results of our work as we continue to realize our potential as artists and filmmakers.


Shelbie StrykersShelbie Strykers is an Undergraduate, studying Political Economy while pursuing a future in film, at the University of California, Berkeley.