The inexistent magic formula to getting an idea

How the story for “Here’s the plan” was born

Sketches exploring Kat & Dougs relationship. Photo by Carolina Burgos.

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When you first start getting into any creative endeavor, “creativity” and “ideas” seem to be a mystery, something reserved only for people enlightened by “inspiration”. This whole deal may seem intimidating and can lead to just freeze and not do anything. But the truth is, there’s no right answer when it comes to the process of creating something, and how we find ideas to do it.

In my case, for personal projects, it usually starts with characters. And a healthy mix of anger & fear, but we’ll talk about that later.

It goes like this:

  • Once in awhile I draw a character that I’ll feel connected to and start obsessing over it. I start drawing it multiple times until I think “I should do something with this”.
  • Then, I try to create a story around it, something related with what I’m thinking or feeling at the time. I like to tell character driven stories, so creating a plot isn’t too exciting for me in itself.
  • The first thing I start to think after creating the character is the theme of the story and what I want to say with it.
  • Next comes finding the actual plot, but I usually go back to rewriting the theme, since I start scratching the surface and start finding more depth and complexity. The same happens with the written process of the characters, where I start digging into their motivations, fears and weaknesses.

So, yeah, it’s not linear at all and it’s a messy process. Therefore, this post will be messy, but I’ll try talking about the succession of events that lead me to create the story for “Here’s the plan”:

David OReilly’s work (2012?)

“Please say something” — David Oreilly. 2008.

I first saw “Please say something” when it premiered online in early 2009 and it blew my mind. I thought “I want to make something like that someday” and felt very connected to the story since I was in a bad relationship at the time.

I rewatched it once in awhile, and years later, when I was in a healthy relationship, I still loved the film but didn’t felt connected to it anymore. It made me think about how I hadn’t seen my current happy relationship reflected anywhere at the time.

A T-shirt design (February 2013)

The first sketch of Kat & Doug, without knowing it would evolve in a 18 minute short film.

A couple of years ago I was obsessed into trying to have a design selected in Threadless. Spoilers: I was never able to. But among various failed attempts there was a sketch that featured a couple between a very stylish cat and a messy dog. The concept was “Opposites Attract” and it was cute, but I never was able to get the design of the dog right so I never finished it. Nonetheless, the idea was stuck in my head, because it reminded of my relationship with my boyfriend Glenn and we usually joked about it.

Cat lovers shirt. Don’t know the artist but it was sold at HeyChickadee.com

Also, I don’t rember if this was before of after the sketch, but I may have been inspired by an existing t-shirt design, “Cat lovers”, and for some reason it really struck a chord on me. The description said that they loved each other very much and I found that terribly endearing and that I would love to see more of that. Sadly it was just a tshirt (that Glenn got me later ❤) and there wasn’t more story to it.

Analyzing the representation of couples in the media (Early 2013)

I started watching Parks & Recreation, a great sitcom, and loved it very much. But it wasn’t until Leslie and Ben’s relationship arc, that I realized something. For the first time I was watching a couple that was stable and happy together, worked as a team, and made each other better. And at the same time, I could look back at my own relationship and see the same thing.

Aren’t they the best?

By seeing this, I was able to see clearly all the tropes and cliches in the portrayal of couples in the media. It’s a weird thing, because everything is romantic while pursuing the love interest, but once things are settled, being in a relationship seems to be the worst and a punishment.

All we see is married couples rolling their eyes at each other all the time, domestic and gendered cliche fights like the husband that leaves the toilet seat up and the woman that spends too much on shoes. The nagging wife that’s no fun, the husband that has to lie in order to have a good time. The woman is hysteric and controlling, the man is dumb and useless manchild.

These kind of images perpetuate gender stereotypes that leak into real life. Isn’t that sad? Well, yes, but it also made me very angry.

And I think anger is very useful in getting yourself to take action and start making a change.

A “relationship” story

The first concept, made around September 2013. No clear story yet.

So, all that set me into the mission of telling a love story, or more like the story of a relationship between a happy couple, that would came to be Kat & Doug. Not the honeymoon/conquest stage, but the daily life kind of stuff. A couple that was more similar to the ones I knew in real life or my own: Different but complementary, not fed up of each other, respectful and not overly corny or melodramatic.

Also that they wouldn’t represent the traditional gender roles. In “Here’s the plan”, even if they have goals in common, Kat is the driving force of ambition of the relationship and Doug is the supporting one.

The problem was that all this sounds nice and happy, but a story needs conflict.

How to tell this story?

Having two protagonists is too complicated for a short film, so I thought of seeing them as a single character and having an external conflict that eventually complicated their relationship.

Another very early concept.

I’m deeply connected to my work, so I decided from the beginning that they should have a passion they shared together. I thought making them musicians would be cool, but that would have depended too heavily on original music and at the time, I didn’t knew if I was able to have budget for it. Then maybe visual artists, but that would have been too meta and literal. So I settled for them to be bakers, since it’s also a visually beautiful art and something to be very passionate about.

I think these were the first sketches I made of them interacting.

Usually, the first rule to making a short film is: keep it short and simple, tell a story of a single moment. Well, I threw that by the window, since the story would comprise a very long period of time. How would I condense years of a relationship without it being a giant montage? Months passed until I got the idea that maybe the story would only show moments through the years were they would make plans, or change them. And always starting with saying “So here’s the plan”. That gave me a structure to start writing.

Concept made in December 2013

Finding depth in fear

I had been with Glenn for a few years, and I was (and still am ❤) very happy. So happy, that of course I started thinking about worst case scenarios were everything would end. But none of the typical ones made sense, so I started to think what I feared that could happen that could separate us. And the answer I found was, probably it would be not being true to ourselves and the goals we may have together.

Me, Glenn & Simona

Looking inward, I realized that I’m not scared of being ambitious, or see it as something negative, but I do fear that my ambition is misguided. That I lose sight of what’s important and get carried away by traditional standards of success, harming myself and my relationship with my partner or family along the way, only to get something I thought I needed but I don’t.

That realization helped me shape the story and characters and gave a new depth to the story, trying to make it genuine.

In conclusion, what lead me to write this story was the need to see the representation of a couple as a team. Partners not rivals. Equals with value, not one superior to the other. Helping each other to be their better selves.

At least, that’s what I want to strive for.

Of course, in order to shape that motivation into a coherent story, it went through tons of rewriting, thumbnailing, storyboarding, feedback sessions & re-boarding, and I’ll share that in another post.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

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