The more I write, the more I look for motivation outside of myself to get me to keep working. I'm always looking for that spark that gets my blood pumping and inspires me to create the best possible screenplay. 

Lately, I have been looking all over for that feeling, especially in non-narrative areas. 

Yes, to write narrative film and TV, I'm taking inspiration from non-narrative sources. Non-narrative films, or experimental films, have long been celebrated for their ability to challenge the conventions of cinema, presenting viewers with a unique visual experience that transcends the limitations of traditional storytelling.

As filmmakers, watching non-narrative films can inspire our own projects, encouraging us to think differently about the way we approach narrative and storytelling. 

So let's look at some practical tips for incorporating these ideas into your work.

Lessons we learned from experiemental documentaries'Koyaanisqatsi"Credit: Island Alive

How Can You Get Narrative Ideas From Watching Non-Narrative Films?

One of my fondest memories was watching my college professor string an 8mm experimental film onto a projector and show it to the class. It opened me up to a part of cinema that I never knew about or even got to interact with. 

As I look back, I can also look forward to seeing how the stuff I'm working on now could be inspired by those kinds of movies. 

What is a Non-Narrative Film?

A non-narrative film is a type of motion picture that does not tell a story or have a traditional plot structure. Instead, these films prioritize visual and auditory elements, often using abstract or experimental techniques to create a unique sensory experience for the viewer.

Non-narrative films can take many forms, including experimental shorts, documentaries, and feature-length films.

To better understand how non-narrative films can inspire your own narrative ideas, it's essential to explore some of the most iconic and influential works in the genre like: 

  1. Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov - 1929)
  2. Dog Star Man (Stan Brakhage - 1964)
  3. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio - 1982)
  4. Samsara (Ron Fricke - 2011)

Dziga-vertov'Man With a Movie Camera'

Themes and Motifs in Non-Narrative Films

Many non-narrative films explore themes and motifs that can be used as inspiration for your own narrative ideas. Some common themes found in non-narrative films include:

  • The human condition and the cycle of life
  • The impact of technology on society and the environment
  • Time, memory, and the subjective nature of perception
  • The relationship between humans and the natural world
  • The power of art and creativity to transform our understanding of the world

The History and Evolution of Non-Narrative Films

Non-narrative films have been around since the early days of cinema, with filmmakers like Dziga Vertov, Stan Brakhage, and Peter Greenaway pushing the boundaries of what cinema could be.

Over the years, non-narrative films have continued to evolve, incorporating new technologies and techniques to create groundbreaking works of art that challenge our assumptions about the medium.

How Non-Narrative Films Communicate Ideas

I know what you're thinking: "How can you possibly get any narrative lessons out of here?"

But you can! While non-narrative films may not have a traditional plot, they still have the power to communicate complex ideas and emotions through their use of visual and auditory elements.

They're moving you in different ways with different images and different colors. 

By focusing on the sensory aspects of the medium, non-narrative filmmakers can create a unique experience for the viewer, encouraging them to engage with the film on a deeper level and draw their own interpretations and conclusions.

Yeah, it sounds like hippie stuff. and it kind of is, but film's power is emoting through visuals. and when you feel it, it can activate part of your brain. 

Techniques for Visual Storytelling

There are many techniques that non-narrative filmmakers use to communicate their ideas, including:

  • Montage: The juxtaposition of images to create meaning or convey a message.
  • Symbolism: The use of visual symbols to represent abstract concepts or ideas.
  • Visual metaphor: The use of visual elements to represent a concept or idea that is not directly related to the image itself.
  • Abstract imagery: The use of non-representational images to create a sensory experience for the viewer.
  • Slow-motion and time-lapse: Manipulating time to create a unique visual experience or emphasize certain aspects of the film.

What is Imagery in Poetry & Literature'Tree of Life'Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Strategies for Incorporating Non-Narrative Elements into Your Work

As you explore the world of non-narrative films, you may find yourself inspired to incorporate some of these techniques and ideas into your work. Here are some strategies for incorporating non-narrative elements into your storytelling:

  • Experiment with visual and auditory techniques to create a unique sensory experience for your viewers.
  • Use symbols and visual metaphors to convey complex ideas and emotions.
  • Focus on creating a strong atmosphere or mood rather than a traditional plot structure.
  • Play with time and pacing to create a sense of tension or to emphasize certain aspects of your story.
  • Use abstraction and non-representational imagery to encourage viewers to engage with your work on a deeper level.

Challenges and Pitfalls to Avoid

While incorporating non-narrative elements into your work can be a rewarding and creatively fulfilling process, there are also some challenges and pitfalls to be aware of.

Be mindful of the balance between narrative and non-narrative elements. Too much abstraction can make it difficult for viewers to engage with your work or understand your message.

Ensure that your use of non-narrative techniques serves a purpose and contributes to the overall meaning or impact of your work. Avoid using experimental techniques for their own sake.

Be prepared for some viewers to be resistant to non-traditional storytelling. Not everyone will appreciate or understand your artistic choices, and that's okay.

You are doing this for yourself, never forget that! 

Stanley Kubrick explains the ending of '2001: A Space Odyssey''2001: A Space Odyssey'Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

The Role of Technology in Non-Narrative Films

We're always trying to bring you the latest in tech. Mostly because we want you to try to do things you may not have thought possible. 

Technology has played a significant role in the evolution of non-narrative films, allowing filmmakers to experiment with new techniques and approaches to visual storytelling. From the early days of cinema to the rise of digital technologies, technological advancements have consistently pushed the boundaries of what is possible in the world of non-narrative filmmaking.

Exploring New Mediums and Technologies

As a filmmaker, it's essential to stay curious and open to new technologies and mediums that can help you expand your artistic horizons. So try to challenge yourself and work outside your comfort zone. 

  • Incorporate digital animation, virtual reality, or other cutting-edge technologies into your work
  • Experiment with different types of cameras, lenses, and lighting techniques to create unique visual effects
  • Explore the possibilities of interactive storytelling and non-linear narratives

Finding Inspiration in Non-Narrative Films

As you watch and analyze non-narrative films, take note of the techniques and ideas that resonate with you the most. Use these insights as a starting point for developing your unique style and approach to narrative filmmaking.

Developing a distinctive voice and style as a filmmaker takes time and experimentation. Here are some tips to help you cultivate your unique voice in your work:

  • Always be curious and open to new ideas, techniques, and perspectives
  • Challenge yourself to experiment with different styles and approaches to filmmaking
  • Learn from the work of other filmmakers, but avoid copying or imitating their style
  • Be true to your own vision and artistic sensibilities
  • Embrace the process of trial and error, and learn from your mistakes and successes

The Influence of Non-Narrative Films on Mainstream Cinema

While non-narrative films may be considered a niche genre, their influence on mainstream cinema is undeniable. Many contemporary filmmakers, including auteurs like David Lynch, Terrence Malick, and Lars von Trier, have incorporated non-narrative elements into their work, pushing the boundaries of cinematic storytelling and inspiring a new generation of filmmakers.

The Future of Non-Narrative Films

As technology continues to evolve and the world of cinema becomes increasingly diverse and global, non-narrative films will likely continue to play a significant role in shaping the future of the medium.

By challenging conventional storytelling techniques and embracing the unique potential of the visual and auditory aspects of cinema, non-narrative filmmakers can help to expand our understanding of what is possible in the world of film.

Twin_peaks_-_the_red_room'Twin Peaks'

Where Can I Watch These Movies? 

If you're interested in watching more experimental films, you need to check out RE: Voir. In addition to publishing these films on VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray since 1995, they have launched thier own app for phones and tablets.

It can be found easily on App Store or Google Play by searching for "Revoir Online" -- the download is free, and it contains a database of hundreds of films by Brakhage, Deren, Mekas, Lye and many others.

Clips can always be watched for free. Full films can be viewed by subscribing (first 30 days free, then $8/month). The content is exclusively experimental film, but ranging a century from 1921 to today and from North America to Europe to Asia. 

They're also very active in the No Film School community, so I wanted to give them a shoutout here. 

Summing Up How Can You Get Narrative Ideas From Watching Non-Narrative Films?

Now that we've explored the world of non-narrative films and examined how they can inspire your own narrative ideas, it's time to take the next steps in your creative journey. Whether you're a seasoned filmmaker or just starting, consider experimenting with non-narrative techniques and approaches in your own work.

By pushing the boundaries of conventional storytelling and embracing the unique potential of visual and auditory elements, you can create unforgettable cinematic experiences that challenge, inspire, and captivate your audience.

Let the inspiration come.