Thursday, July 5, 2012

You Have No Idea

Ideas for movies are easy to come up with, aren't they?  I mean, so many people have an idea for a screenplay.  But only some people ever even write the idea down.  Less ideas are ever written into screenplays, even less are finished screenplays, and even less ideas go into production .  Even worse, of the very few that are finished and released in theaters, a very small percentage are good and/or original enough to be liked.  I think we're all well aware this world is out of truly original stories, characters, locations, and whatever else.  It's not about having to be completely original.  It's about taking the familiar and making it as unique as possible.  I suppose every once in a while something truly different and original comes out, but when you actually break it down, it's really just a different take on something that's already been done.  It's usually the way in which we present these ideas that are original.  For example, the ultimate cliche plot for a romantic film is boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back (or doesn't).  We just can't get enough of that story (although at this point I think I have).  That's okay... everyone should write one in their lifetime.  Just make it different.

Okay, so how do we start to come up with a good, original idea?  This is the key part of writing anything.  The idea must really be awesome to yourself.  If it isn't, you're wasting a lot of time.  I believe only a handful of really, truly great ideas come in a lifetime, and that's if you're lucky.  But let's start with one.  There are many ways to come up with a good idea.

1) Fantasizing and what ifs: Going back to the first stuff I ever wrote, mostly as a kid, the earliest ideas I can remember are ones of fantasy, or in some cases "what if" scenarios.  I don't want to be in the fourth grade, I want to be a superhero fighting crime!  This is a very typical fantasy of a 10 year old boy.  Okay, maybe I just want to be the best athlete in school.  What if I was able to get that girl I've had a crush on?  Maybe I can have an imaginary perfect friend I can travel with on adventures.  I wish I could travel into space.  What if I was pulled into the video game I was playing!  I know these were some of the first ideas I ever came up with, and I really did write all of these ideas at, well, literally at the age of 10.  Maybe not the most unique of ideas, but written correctly, they can be very original.  What do you fantasize about now?  Write it down and turn it into something interesting.  My current film Trust Us fits into this category.  What if I could go back in time and change things?  Would I?  Should I?  Can I?  Although I'd like to think this is interesting, I'd be pretty foolish to say nothing like this has never, ever been done.  That's not the point.  I can promise it's never been done this way.  That's where all the originality can come in.  Without Flash Gordon and The Hidden Fortress there may have never been a Star Wars, but Star Wars is very, very original.  No one knew what a Jedi was before those movies... but we've all heard of samurai and knights!  Without James Bond, there may never have been an Indiana Jones (and I'm not saying that just because Sean Connery is Indy's father).  Without the Time Machine, there may have never been a Back to the Future.  That movie's very original, but it surely wasn't the first time machine story ever.  We can go on and on, but this is a blog meant to keep you awake.  I really don't believe anything was made up completely on its own... one thing always affects another.

2) Real Life: Everyone has had monumental things happen in their lives: the good, the bad, and the really unusual. Of course, some have lived more interesting lives than others.  But, if you meet someone who doesn't have an interesting story, no matter how trivial, that person just isn't looking hard enough.  Even a great day out with your friends, a crazy ex-girlfriend, a vacation, something from when you were a kid, or even an ill loved one are all enough to create a story if... here it comes... you write it in an interesting way.  Okay, so maybe some stuff is too personal, right?  Shake it off, change the names, and go to town!  If you know some people who, when reading it, catch on to your personal story... deny, deny deny!  If there's no denying... don't let them read it!  They can see the movie when it's out, and by then, who cares, you made a freakin' movie already!  I find these stories really can be a fun emotional release too.

3) Dreams and Nightmares: I can't begin to tell you how many dreams or nightmares have made awesome stories to write.  From short scary scripts, to full length features, there's some real golden nuggets in our own subconscious.  Okay, there are two problems with literally dreaming up ideas.  One, if you don't write that crap down ASAP, you're going to forget most of it, so hurry up no matter how tired you are in the morning/middle of the night.  Two, sometimes a great idea when you wake up becomes a "what the hell was I thinking" bunch of nonsense!  Hey, it happens... but when I wake up from a dream that I feel could actually make a good story, 25% of the time I'm right!  Suddenly I can form a story about something that's usually pretty weird.  Another strange thing when dreaming up ideas is I tend to go through a crazy thought process; I feel like I didn't even consciously come up with the idea.  Then again, the idea came from my subconscious.  My conscious and subconscious are me.  Therefore, I came up with the idea.  Hmm, guess I did think of it.  Oops!  Weird, right?  Anyway, some of my best stuff came from nightmares, including my short film, Escape from the Night, which is about... you guessed it... a guy tormented by nightmares!

4) Pick a Genre and Go Nuts: I've said it before and I'll say it again... there aren't too many genres I don't want to explore as a writer/director.  Because of this, I'll take a look at which genres I've never done before and try use that as a backdrop to spark a new idea.  Sub-sub-genres are the best.  You may want to write a whodunnit, a movie about con-men, a serial killer, an amnesia movie... these more obscure kind of sub-sub-genres are really fun to explore, and you may find you come up with a thousand ideas already.  My time travel movie is an example of this... it's a genre within the science fiction genre.  Maybe think about the movies you've liked over the years, think about why, then tackle something like that.

5) You Met This Really Interesting Dude: Not only can you exploit your own life, but what about someone else's?  I'm kidding, don't do that.  But, at the very least, remember that weird guy you spoke to on the street who was looking for his lost dog who had three legs?  Okay, this may be the start of a bad movie, but you know what I'm getting at.  One little event in your life or someone else;'s could jump-start a crazy idea that just may work for a script!  Maybe there's someone at work who you just can't believe does what he or she does, and you're ready to try your own psychological evaluation of them.  You may be making it all up, but these kinds of "characters" in your everyday life can really get the fingers typing.

6) The News: It's the oldest trick in the book.  The news, current or historic, has some damn good stories in there.  Whether you go for fiction or "based on a true story," the news (or newspaper, internet, etc.) is a great place to find ideas for stories.  Maybe Octo-Mom sounds like a great movie to you.  It doesn't to me, but you know.  Crimes, war, scandals, politics, underdog sport stories, conspiracy theories... all of these could make good stories... if (you guessed it) it's all written in an interesting way.

7) Obsessed: When I was in high school, we used to get nailed every year with a something called an "I-Search."  It was a huge report we could do on anything.  We would research the heck out of it and then do a huge presentation.  What sounded pretty awful ended up actually being quite fun.  Some people did theirs on pollution, energy saving, baseball... I did my four (one each year) on hypnotism, dreaming, space exploration, and George Lucas.  Hu-hey, folks!  I guess I wasn't your everyday kid.  Anyway... fun topics, right?  At the time I could have written a script after what I learned doing this research.  In fact, I probably have written something that touched on all these topics (minus George Lucas).  Get obsessed with something and go to town: Why do people lust?  What was pirate life really like?  What do we know about alien abduction?  Neanderthals interest me.  I am obsessed with the history of Paris... all these make great obsessions for movies.  It could be more specific things: love of shoe-making, ant farms, insane asylums, Voodoo, clowns, weddings... the list goes on forever and ever.  Not all of these may seem like good ideas to you... but whatever... if written well... you know the rest!

8) Remakes:  Duh-duh-duhhhh!  I tread very lightly here.  First and foremost, try not to do another remake.  We're all so sick of these... ask anyone.  Come up with something original, for you and us.  With that said, I admit it, I'd like to do it once.  I have one franchise I'd love to do up my sleeve, but I'm not telling!  Seriously, if you go here, at least have an idea what you can bring that's different while also respectful to the original material.  To me that's so key.  Bad remakes don't resemble the original while good remakes do, while adding something else to it.  Tie everything together better, maybe make longer material more concise, and maybe also modernize it for a new generation.   But please, don't insult the fans.  You were handed the reigns, so don't disappoint them or the original creators.

Good ideas are tough to find, but they are also everywhere.  Try to find something that you're passionate about and that interests you, otherwise writing really is impossible.  So reflect on life, have a dream, get obsessed, read the news, or wonder "what if" so you're through having no idea!  Get the idea?