The creative process is challenging and rewarding. If you’re creating content for a campaign, there are several ways to go about it. This article is going to look at the development of content (for my purposes, we’ll consider hypothetical movie campaign) and some of my views and good ways to jump-start and sustain creative ideation.

The project has been kicked off and you’ve read the movie campaign’s creative brief. What now?

The first thing is to open your brain up to all possibilities. Think about the film you’re working with. If you don’t know where to start, here are two fairly simple ways that tend to get the ball rolling for me.

The first is to think of what ideas and concepts work well with the property. For instance, let’s take a sci-fi picture. What comes to mind? If you’re me, you might think of all the campy alien B-flicks of the past or perhaps the American UFO conspiracy culture. Those blend well with the property and are good starting points for coming up with new content. They already have a rich history for you to draw on and plenty of inspiration for you to utilize or parody.

Alternatively, you might want to go the complete opposite direction by, well, looking at things that are completely opposite and clashing with the property. As an example, how would a film noir or musical setting feel with the settings and characters of a sci-fi film? What about the diary of a wayward explorer like Marco Polo utilizing the lore of the film? These ideas may at first seem ridiculous and, in truth, a lot of them are. But they’re good places to begin refining an initial thought into a focused concept.

How you get to these things is a complicated affair – I can’t tell you which synapses should be firing and when but I think that, as a starting point, this can help you at least to get off the ground. It helps to read often, watch varied television shows and movies, and keep up with culture in general. There really is no set prescription for what to follow, which is both a burden and a blessing in terms of what you’re going to come up with. In the end, I’m a firm believer that you have to “unhinge” the brain a little bit to get the best product. Loosening restrictions helps to bring in a wide variety of interesting ideas, although you have to be careful not to lose your focus.

If you’re working alone, you might want to get some outside opinions at this point. Similarly, if you’re working with other creatives, this is a good time to discuss with your colleagues about what you’ve come up with and what they’ve brought to the table as well. Are there any overlaps between ideas? Can any of them be combined? Get things down on to paper, make some simple mockups of what you’re thinking of. At this point, you should have a list of ideas. Some might be stronger, some might be weaker, but at least you have several to expand on and compare.

Let’s go back to our example of the sci-fi alien movie. You’ve got an idea about looking at the alien invasion from their perspective instead of the hero’s, perhaps looking at how an Earth invasion is politically perceived on the distant planet of Zargon-5 or something of that nature. Interesting idea, sure – but how is it going to be realized? Before you start looking at specific executions and considering the platforms and technologies you’re going to utilize, you need to consider the story you’re trying to tell. After all, when we develop content, we are telling a story.

So what is the story you’re trying to tell? Identify whether it’s complementary to the universe and story that the movie already has or whether it’s contradicting. If it’s complementary, try to define what it adds to an audience’s experience. Do we get a side-story, some extra background, or some trivia about the universe of the film? If it’s contradictory, look at how the contradiction works with the film. In this specific example, we’re getting a different perspective of the same story. However there are certainly many ways contradictions can work for a film. You could do a piece on the alien invasion had it happened 200 years earlier with UFOs battling against muskets and a “whiff of grapeshot.” The first is within the continuity of the film whereas the second significantly changes it. Both are valid as long as they expand the story and, ultimately, the user’s experience of the film.

In our example, what is the user’s experience going to be? Let’s say the story you’re telling is the remarkable alien political bipartisanship it took to come up with an Earth-invading budget. The user’s experience of the created narrative would hopefully be one of amusement (although when you create content, you can appeal to any range of emotions). You need to keep this in mind when you’re figuring out your execution, which I won’t go into in-depth in this post, and choosing your media. You should always consider the differences between written word, images, or video content and the effect each one will have on the person viewing it. In the initial stages, just think very simply about how your audience will feel about the content and, consequently, the film and how they will experience the media.

This article is just the beginning of a much larger discussion of the creative process and my thoughts on it. While this is a fairly rudimentary starting point for an incredibly expansive topic, I thought it would be good to share my thoughts on how I get to the places I do when I’m coming up with creative material. The discussion will continue in later posts but for now, if you have any thoughts of your own or tips to share feel free to let us know in the comments.