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
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
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?