10 Tips on Creating Your Annual Theme

Inside the Producer’s Corner with Suzanne Lyons

This is a series of articles that film producer and best-selling author Suzanne Lyons (listen to her interview here) will be writing over the next 6 months. I personally asked Suzanne to share her knowledge, experience, and motivation with you the IFH Tribe. Whether you are a director, producer, cinematographer, screenwriter or editor I think you’ll get a ton out of this series. Check back every week for a new post that will help you on your journey as an indie filmmaker.


10 Tips on Creating Your Annual Theme

As I mentioned in my last article about ‘Creating 2018’ I promised to give you additional information and ideas on creating your Theme for the year.  In the past when I’ve shared my own story about my favorite theme, people asked me to put it in writing so others could benefit from it and get inspired to create their own theme.  I really hope my story will give you a sense of how much fun taking on a theme can be.

In this article you’re going to get my story as well as “10 Tips on Creating Your Annual Theme.”  I truly love the entire process of creating a theme and then spending the year watching it unfold and enjoying the magical impact it has on all aspects of life.

Creating a theme is something EVERYONE can take on, enjoy and benefit from.

Go back and look over my last blog and if you decide to take another look at your theme and make any changes to it be sure you are standing in the big picture of who you are.

I want to thank Heidi Wall, my business partner for many years and co-founder of the Flash Forward Institute.   Heidi created the ground-breaking, life-altering workshop Launching the Future which included designing a theme as an important aspect of the program.

1) GET INSPIRED: Sometimes it helps to hear what other people have taken on as their themes in the past to get you really thinking and inspired when creating your own theme.  Here is my story about my theme for the year 2000.  It was December, 1999 and my business partner, Heidi Wall, was leading the Flash Forward Institute workshop, Launching the Future that year and I had the privilege to be a participant.   We had just finished the session on completing the year and we were setting out (from a truly blank slate) to create and design the next year, 2000.  One of the exercises was to create our theme for the year.  My husband was with me in the workshop and when we looked at our past year (past few years in fact) we noticed that we had really become experts in going to the video store every weekend and renting movies, coming home and sitting on the couch.  If there was an award for mastering the art of inertia, we would have taken first place.

When we looked at the year that was only weeks away, 2000… a new decade in a new millennium, we thought why not do an entire 180.  We chose “Fun and Adventure” as our theme.  What a great start to the new year and new decade.  We took out our daytimer and started planning.  Here are just a few of the great “Fun and Adventurous” things that happened during that year as a result of taking on that theme.  We had just bought Martha Stewart’s book “Cocktails and Hor’dourves” and decided to spend a couple of evenings a month getting really dressed up and going to cocktail hour at our local hotels.  We did it the entire year and it was absolutely amazing.

While we were at the Four Seasons one evening we heard about their Tuesday night cooking class.  It was only $60.00 (including drinks!) and we got to sit by the pool and watch the chef cook and teach us while we sampled all the dishes.  Each class that year included mini cookbooks of that evening’s menu and a Four Seasons apron.  Guess what my family got for Christmas that year?  It was so much fun we ended up doing the classes the next year as well.

We’d been talking about going to the outdoor Ford Amphitheatre for years.  So we ordered their summer program and booked 12 evenings.  All of which were extraordinary and we’ve been going ever since.  We even tried the opera.  Okay, so that wasn’t our cup of tea.  But at least we gave it a try.  Something we never would have done otherwise.   We booked subscriptions to our local Toluca Lake Falcon theatre and to the North Hollywood El Portal theatre and saw amazing plays and concerts.   Since we didn’t have a lot of time or money for long vacations we decided to plan some amazing long weekends.  We had been talking about Napa Valley for years so we picked a weekend in May and booked it!  We even rented a red convertible for the trip.  It was magical.

San Diego had also been on our wish list and given our theme, we gave some thought as to how we could make that trip unique and adventurous.  So instead of booking a hotel we went

online and found “yacht and breakfast.”   Incredible!  We booked a 150 foot boat in the marina for the weekend.  It was actually cheaper than a hotel so we decided to hire a captain for 3 hours to take us out for a sail.

And of course, we had to do Vegas!  With our new theme of “Fun and Adventure” Las Vegas was a must.  We arrived at the Venetian Hotel and decided to gamble $20.00 each.  We wanted to get it out of the way and get on with the weekend.  I was someone who never won anything.  Well, once I won something when I was 12 years old and I was on my way to Montreal with my mom on the train.  We played bingo on the train and for the first and last time in my life I won.  It was a miniature screwdriver set.  I gave it to my dad for Christmas.  However, given my new theme, “Fun and Adventure,” anything was possible.  I had completely forgotten that I was someone who never wins anything.   It never even crossed my mind.

I had put around two dollars and fifty cents in quarters in the one armed bandit and all of sudden the arm on the machine wouldn’t work.   I was convinced I had broken it since it said to call the attendant.  My husband said we should wait until the attendant arrived so we could apologize for breaking the machine.  When she arrived, before I had a chance to say anything, she congratulated me for winning $1,250.00!!! While she did the paper work for me, my husband decided to continue on his machine to finish up his quarters but he didn’t get a chance because with his next quarter he won $250.00.  Between the two of us within around five minute we had won $1,500!!!  What a weekend… What a trip… What a year!

Those are just a few of the incredible things that happened as a result of our “Fun and Adventure” theme for the year 2000!  Your theme impacts every aspect of your life and for me it was no exception.  It’s no accident that my film partner and I were impacted by this theme of Fun and Adventure as well.  We had been struggling for nearly three years to get our first project off the ground and given I was taking on having fun, struggle was not part of the equation any longer.   Kate and I focused on our favorite project, of course, it was a comedy!  We booked our first lead in five days and then proceeded to package it, get partners and finance our first film “Undertaking Betty” within a year!

That’s my story about how my theme “Fun and Adventure” impacted and shaped my year.   What a ride.  What “FUN.”

2)  THERE’S NOTHING TO FIX: Nothing’s Wrong… Nothing’s broken.  While you’re creating your theme, keep in mind that it’s not about fixing anything.  Be careful here, you may automatically go in the direction of wanting to fix and improve on the past year.  It’s the way we’ve been trained in our culture, but like my coach used to say, “there ain’t no cheese down that tunnel.”

3)  NEW TERRAIN:  Your theme for the year is really more like an inquiry… the context in which you’ll hold the year… the glasses you’ll look through… the terrain you’ll explore.

4)  WHAT TURNS YOU ON? What Playground Would You Like to Visit?  What would you love to explore… for no reason other than the pure joy of the exploration?  What interests you?  What would get you excited as a possible arena to play in for the upcoming year?   It’s your candy store… it’s your playground.  You get to choose.

5)  MAP IT ON:  Life doesn’t occur in a vacuum, so your theme will naturally impact and influence all aspects of life… family, career, health, relationships, spirituality, etc.  So map it on to all areas.  For writer, Laura Brennan her theme “Party Girl” was something she brought to all areas of her life.  She’d been so busy being a mom, caregiver, wife, employee… she’d forgotten how to take time for fun for herself.

Here are some other examples of themes from participants of past Launching the Future workshops.

  • Allowing Abundance (this was one of mine)
  • Wild Abandon
  • Being Present
  • Social Butterfly
  • Health and Wealth
  • Romance
  • Partnership
  • Tranquility and Forgiveness
  • Playtime
  • Leadership
  • Trusting the Universe
  • Party Girl
  • Magic and Wonder
  • Fun
  • Ease and Grace

6) THAT’S NOT ME: Your theme may look like “that’s not me.”  That’s absolutely fine.  Remember it’s a new terrain you’ll be exploring so be open to the possibility of trying on something new.

7)  SHARE YOUR THEME WITH OTHERS:  Maybe do a theme exchange! In the workshop, after people created their theme, we would have them write it on a piece of paper and then exchange it with the person beside them.  Then we’d have them keep exchanging until they’d read tons of other people’s themes.  At least half the class would fall in love with another theme, it would go ‘clunk’ for them and even though it may have been at the complete other end of the spectrum, it worked.  Perhaps because there was no attachment, no history, no agenda.  It would be fun to try this exercise with a bunch of friends.

8)  POST IT ON YOUR VISION BOARD:  Keep it Visible.  Once it goes clunk and you say “yes, this is it, this is the theme that I’m taking on for the year,” type it up and pin it on your vision board and any place else you have a visual display.

9)  HOW WILL IT UNFOLD?  As you saw from my story, after we’d created our theme, my husband and I took out our daytimer and literally scheduled “Fun and Adventure” events.  We also stayed open to any and all other possible adventures and we shared our theme with friends to get suggestions on any ideas they might have for us to explore in the fun and adventure arena.  It impacted our lives in ways that we could never have imagined and now, nearly two decades later, the ripple effect from that “Fun and Adventure” theme is still a big part of our lives shaping our actions and conversations.  In fact, the cooking classes at the Four Season inspired us so much that years later we did a culinary tour of eight cities in Southern India!  How cool is that!

10)  HAVE FUN WITH YOUR THEME! Don’t think too long about this… don’t fret or stress about your theme.  Your gut response is no doubt the most accurate.  Have fun with it!   It’s supposed to be fun!  Sure, your theme will be transformational and life altering, but the process for creating it is a breeze!  So lighten up, chill out, relax and create your theme!

BONUS: Here are a few quotes from participants from past Launching the Future workshops.

“I realized I was all work and no play, so I set for my theme “Party Girl Year.”  I gave parties, I went to parties, and above all I made sure to build fun into my day – coffee with friends, dates with my hubby, adventures with my son.  Amid all this fun, I made vastly more money from writing this year than I did last year, most of it in partnership with friends.”  Laura Brennan, Writer, “Most Likely To Die”

“I used the theme “Make My Own Opportunities.”  I am a filmmaker – and had “waited” for years for somebody to give me a “green light” to direct a feature film.  When I focused on the idea that I would ake it happen myself, I also focused on the steps, the real and practical steps, to make it happen.  I wrote a feature I wanted to direct (8 months), I fund raised (4 months), and I pre-produced (6 weeks).  Just a little over a year after creating my theme – I was on location with a cast and crew, making “16 to Life,” which went on to win six “Best Feature” awards at festivals internationally, and opened theatrically in the U.S.”  Becky Smith, Writer, Director, Producer “16 to Life” “August in Berlin”

“One year in the Launching the Future class I took on the theme of “New Beginnings,” and I went on from earning $0 to $50,000 as a writer.  The next year my theme was “Prosperity,” and I more than doubled my income earning over $100,000 as a writer!”  Lauren Johnson,, Writer


Suzanne Lyons is President/Producer of Snowfall Films, Inc. having produced/exec produced 12 feature films to date. She co-founded the Flash Forward Institute which focused on teaching the tools of business needed to market oneself in the entertainment industry. She recently launched a game-changing online course called Indie Film Producing Masterclass with Suzanne Lyons. She’s the author of Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking published by Focal Press. She has also hosted over 125 informational videos on the film industry. When time permits she does private career and business coaching.  Suzanne is originally Canadian and lives with her husband in Los Angeles, CA.    

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