Dreams & Nightmares: Inspirations

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This year’s theme for the Summer Shoots movie making camps is: The Stuff of Dreams & Nightmares! 


It’ll be a fun and fantastical look into the young movie makers’ wildest imaginations! 

We’ll be looking at lots of techniques and inspirations associated with the idea of dreams/nightmares. We’ll explore how to build dream sequences and how to world build. We’ll look at how to make films about the edges of reality – how to show surrealist visions on the screen. 

Recently we’ve been joined by the wonderful Charlotte and Sophie from Francis Holland School for work experience. They’ve researched and written about this amazing list of films that deal with dreams, sharing their insights. See if they’ve found any of your favourites! 

We’ll use some examples from each of these films while planning out activities and exercises for the Summer Shoots. It may be that we look at how a particular scene has been crafted, or how filmmakers have used a particular technique to achieve an effect.  

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Harry has many recurring dreams in the Harry Potter series but in this film, Harry has a nightmare where Arthur Weasley warns him that Voldemort will be coming back to get something that he didn’t manage to get last time. We assume that this is Harry because Voldemort didn’t manage to kill him. We see Harry tossing and turning during the nightmare as he sees flashes of light and images of Voldemort and Arthur Weasley, in his dream. During the dream there is also the typical hissing sounds that come from the thought of Voldemort, making the dream scary and dramatic.

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Vertigo (1958)

In this movie, an ex-police officer who suffers from an intense fear of heights is hired to prevent an old friend’s wife from committing suicide, but events change throughout the film. In his dream the main character, ‘Scottie’, dreams that he is falling and is going to die. There are lots of flashing images and bright colours which intensify the drama. Although no one is speaking, Scottie sees himself in his nightmare, going towards a grave that is waiting for him. Scottie is also afraid of heights and at the end of his dream, he sees himself falling and there is very dramatic and loud music which creates a terrifying atmosphere and causes him to wake up.

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Dumbo (1941)

In the dream sequence of Dumbo, there is no coherent action and the dream feels playful and absurd. Similarly, to Vertigo, Dumbo’s dream has many bright colours. All of the animals (mostly elephants) in his dream are outlined using vibrant colours and are dancing or playing instruments like trumpets. The background of the dream is always black which makes it obvious that it is not real and that it is a dream. There is no speech but loud and playful music which makes the dream crazy and out of the ordinary.

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Spellbound (1945)

In this dream sequence, the main character recalls an event where he met someone. The whole film is in black and white. In the dream, the narrator describes a weird place that he is in, where there are large eyes painted on all the curtains and that they are being cut into by a man, holding scissors. This weird scene makes it clear that the dream is not reality and shows the main character’s confusion when he is speaking of his dream. There is also high-pitch spooky music to show the change in time as the main character is thinking back to certain events in his dream.

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Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

There are a total of four dream sequences throughout the movie and each one tells us a little more about Ivan’s childhood and his innocence. In each of his dreams, we see scenes from when he was younger. These scenes come in flashes and are in black and white to show that they come from the past and are like flash-backs. There is no speech but there is slightly dramatic classical music that makes the dream quite peaceful but also mournful for the times when Ivan was younger and his life was peaceful.

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The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The Wizard of Oz is a musical fantasy film, and was one of the first films to have colour! It follows the story of Dorothy, who runs away from home, only to enter the magical land of Oz when a tornado strikes. She is told by Glinda the Good Witch that in order to get home she must follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City and ask the Wizard of Oz for help. Dorothy meets companions on her way also seeking the Wizard’s help and despite the Wicked Witch’s attempts to stop them, they reach Emerald City. When she gets there, she and her friends are told that what they were looking for was  always within them. Dorothy gets home by tapping her heels together and repeating “There’s no place like home”. Dorothy realises how important home is, and promises to never run away again. Everyone around her dismisses her adventure as a dream, but she insists it was real.

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Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll has had many film versions, the most notable being an animation in 2010, directed by Tim Burton (the man behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride and Coraline).  In this remake, Alice is confronted with an unwanted marriage proposal and, not knowing what to do, follows a rabbit into a strange dreamworld. Here, she faces meets many peculiar characters and faces numerous challenges before deciding to return to the real world and face her problems. Instead of marrying Lord Ascot, she becomes his apprentice, and as the story closes she prepares to set off on a trading ship.

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Inception (2010)

Inception is a 2010 sci-fi action film, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (other works include Interstellar, The Dark Knight and Dunkirk). Arthur is a so-called ‘extractor’- he steals valuable information from his targets’ subconscious through a shared dream. He offers Cobb, a professional thief (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) a chance to erase his criminal history if he places  an idea into the subconscious of their target Robert, ‘inception’. He does this by entering Robert’s ‘dream within a dream’ and implanting the idea deep within his subconscious. Every time they enter a new dream, there is a new intricate landscape, and new protectors they must overcome in order to plant the idea.

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The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (2005)

The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of films based on the novels by C.S Lewis. The first film, ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ is about four siblings who are sent to the countryside, when they discover a wardrobe that leads to the fantasy world of Narnia. There, they team up with the lion Aslan against the White Witch, who has placed Narnia in an eternal winter. There is debate about whether Narnia is an actual alternate world or merely a dream they shared.

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Coraline (2009)

Coraline is a stop-motion animated fantasy/horror film. Our protagonist Coraline has just moved house to the Pink Palace Apartments, meeting her eccentric neighbours. Exasperated by her parents’ seemingly mean treatment of her, she follows a mouse through a door to the Other World, where she meets her lovely Other Mother, Father and neighbours, all perfect look-alikes with buttons for eyes. Her Other Mother asks her to stay forever. She refuses and tries to escape, only to find all the exits blocked! She goes on a long journey that eventually results in her returning home, grateful to be back with her real parents.


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