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Maps, Lights, Camera and Action! Brainstorming Film Ideas with Mindjet

A little over six months ago I decided to embark on an adventure into the world of acting.

There were many reasons why I chose to take an acting class, but chief among them was to explore, enrich, and deepen my emotional life. (And yes, I also harbored a now-not-so-secret fantasy of being on TV or in films.) Because of that, my two friends who are professional actors in LA and Vancouver both recommended that I pursue the Meisner Technique.

With a leap of faith and some courage, I successfully interviewed and was accepted into the two-year intensive acting program at the Meisner Technique Studio, which is located in the San Francisco Film Center building in the beautiful Presidio. Jim Jarrett, the school’s founder, spent the first four years of his career with the legendary Sanford Meisner – two in his professional, private class, and two more working privately with Mr. Meisner – both as an actor and teacher-in-training. In 1991, he emerged as Sanford Meisner’s last teaching protégé.

It wasn’t long after I started my class that I realized that I loved the work — the honesty, the authenticity, the deep connection with the other students while learning how to “be truthful in imaginary circumstances”. My teachers Jim and Melissa hold such beautiful integrity for the work, for Sanford Meisner, and the craft of acting. It’s rare and I’m so appreciative.

Time to Get Serious

Last weekend, I participated in the school’s fifth 24-hour film festival. It was time to step up and put myself out there! I recruited a fellow Mindjet employee, Christina Choate, to help out with the filming and editing. With two other students in my class and one other friend, we joined twelve other teams in the challenge of writing, filming and editing a five minute film in just 24 hours.

That may sound like a lot of time but trust me, we needed every minute!

At 5:59 PM on Friday night at the Mindjet office, we received an email with the criteria for the film. OMG, it seemed insane. Our group had to make a drama with the following criteria:

The opening line must be:  “Isn’t that illegal?”

Other required lines:

  • “Take the damn picture already.”
  • “You seriously need to calm down.”
  • “Stop laughing, that’s not funny.”
  • “Whoa, you have the worst breath ever.”

Required Props:

  • A bus
  • A live bird
  • An outrageous Halloween Costume
  • A cast member in a hotel hot tub or swimming pool
  • A Christmas tree

Required Characters:

  • High-five guy
  • Someone who breaks into a well-known song at least 5 times — it must be triggered by the previous spoken word or line

I immediately built a map of the competition’s rules and our criteria:


Then, as a team, we started brainstorming and I captured our ideas in the map. We had access to a church in San Francisco along with Priest and Nun outfits so we were ready to do something like Vampire Nuns Gone Wild but that didn’t really fit with the Drama that we were told to produce.

So, we brainstormed. And we brainstormed some more.


Once we had an idea that we all liked, we mapped out the basic plot and then started to drag and drop the different criteria into the storyline. Did we have all the characters? The lines? The songs?


With our criteria met and basic plot outlined, the next task was tackled beautifully by the talented Peter Overstreet as he drew a storyboard for the whole film and drafted the script.

Screen Shot 2013-06-27 at 10.52.02 AM

We worked until roughly 2am with some of the team members taking early naps along the way.


The next day we shot our film at the Palace of Fine Arts and returned to Mindjet by 1pm to edit and create some music to accompany some of the scenes.

At the screening, I was completely beside myself. All the other students produced some amazing films and I started to become self-critical. What if no one likes it, I asked myself. What if everyone is dead quiet? Blah, blah, blah! It did a number on me. And you know what? It’s OK. Confronting my inner-critic is one of the lessons for me to learn and overcome. It’s another example of how to find the benefit and potential growth opportunities from all that we endeavor to take on.

They showed our film. My first film. And guess what? We won! We won the award for best drama! I was shocked and grateful for the opportunity to learn, to grow, to experience the ups and downs in the last 24 hours and the 6 months in the program.

Screen Shot 2013-06-27 at 10.56.14 AM

Here’s our film, “The Bench”:

The Bench – Winner of The 2013 Meisner Technique Studio’s 24 Hour Film Festival for Best Drama from Michael Deutch on Vimeo.

Winners Use Maps!

here’s how I was able to use Mindjet and mapping for the win:

  1. See the big picture
  2. Ensure that we stuck to the ground rules
  3. Brainstorm ideas for the story
  4. Organize our thoughts
  5. Brainstorm songs that fit the story
  6. Ensure we met the criteria for the film
  7. Refine the story so that the flow made sense

In the end, we all had a blast, learned a lot about making a film and more importantly, learned about ourselves in the process!

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