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Finding film ideas

Finding Ideas

Ideas are all around. Get started Brainstorming.

Movie idea brainstorming can be done by the filmmaker alone but try it with one or two creative friends. Most television shows are written by teams of writers. Most screenplay development today includes brainstorming sessions between the writers, director and producers.

The Movie's Hook

The first thing you are looking for is a really good "hook" idea. That memorable one-liner that everyone will tell their friends the next day after seeing your movie.

Get paper and a pencil. Here are some ways to find hooks.

  • Keep a journal. Most writers keep journals of their thoughts and ideas. Over time you will develop a rich storehouse of ideas that you can go back to again and again.
  • Practice. You may not have exercised your "idea muscle" for years. The more you try to come up with ideas the more ideas you will come up with.
  • Write down the first thing that comes into your mind. Do it right now. Then keep writing. Give it at least five minutes, and write something. Most people give up much too quickly ... or never get started.
  • The daily newspaper. There are at least five good ideas in every single daily issue of any big city newspaper.
  • Read obituaries. Newspapers try to include the occasional obituary of people who weren't famous but lived amazing or at least interesting lives.
  • Look at cartoons. I think the New Yorker is especially good. Their cartoons often have a delicious blend of irony, naivety and sophistication that can spark new ideas.
  • Listen to your family. Those funny and embarrassing old family stories might start you on your way to a funny family comedy.
  • Listen to your friends. One person's problems, issues, solutions and triumphs are interesting to all people.
  • Go for a walk. You might see something funny or ironic, along the way and just the act of getting out of the house may open your eyes to new things.
  • Take a shower. Relaxing in the shower or a bath is a great way to open the channels to your subconscious.
  • Turn off your inner critic. Your goal is to come up with lots of ideas and most of them won't be very good but if you start trying to sort out the good from the bad at this point you'll block all new ideas.
  • Find a time and place. If you set aside a time and place for writing your subconscious will start to automatically go into creative mode. You have the power to control some part of your time. Take the phone off the hook. Get up earlier. Stay up later. Explain to your children and spouse that you need some time to yourself. Stop doing something that isn't really important.
  • Turn off the television. You do not need to see the latest installment of whatever is your favorite TV show at the moment. Most people have been brainwashed into being compulsive consumers of entertainment. Time to shift gears into being a creator of entertainment.
  • Write words. Any words. The next word that pops into your head ... write it down. Keep doing it for a while then stop and look for patterns and themes.
  • Read the classics. Project Gutenberg has 17,000 literary works that are generally out of copyright and free to use. How many time has Romeo and Juliet been rewritten into a new book or movie? If you can't come up with an original idea, copy an old idea. It's done all the time.
  • Watch an old movie. You may not be able to get permission to remake the entire film, but ideas aren't protected. You can incorporate a few plot devices, concepts, character types and many other things from other works into yours. Just do it in an original way.
  • List the ten most important events in your life. What changed you? What made you the person you are? Pick the most interesting one.
  • Remember someone you hurt. Maybe you did it on purpose or maybe it was accidental. Put yourself in their shoes. What would you have done.
  • Think about someone you hate. This should be the most despicable human being you have ever run against. Make up a story of how they got to be that way.
  • Write what you know. Your world may seem pretty dull to you but it may seem very exotic to the rest of the world, especially if you can find offbeat characters and situations.

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Story research

"Write what you know" is good advice but you may find you need to add to your knowledge from time to time. The INTERNET is often a good source of bits of knowledge that can spark new ideas and can add a touch of reality to your stories. The Google search engine should become your writing partner.

Once you've got a good collection of clever and original hooks it's time to move on to your movie's premise.

The Movie's Premise

Jack Warner is credited as having said "If you want to send a message, call Western Union". People primarily go to movies for entertainment and escape from their boring lives, but in the process they learn useful truths about life from a good film. The fact is that every movie should be about something as well as being entertaining.

All great stories, regardless of the media, speak to some basic truths of the human condition. I'm not talking about creating a major moral for your story. People don't like movies that preach to them, but they do like to see how in life situations that are believable people's choices lead to predictable results. A good story lets you live someone else's life and learn from their mistakes.

Shakespeare's Macbeth is about the destructive power of ambition. Paul Hagis' Crash shows the many facets of prejudice.

Romeo and Juliet shows how a blind rush of passion can defy death in a forbidden love. Brokeback Mountain shows what happens when two partners try to deny an equally powerful and forbidden romance and how it destroys their spirit and happiness in the process.

The human condition is very complex and often times complete opposites are true. For example "absence make the heart grow fonder" is just as true as "out of site, out of mind".

Generally, the more aspects of a premise you can illustrate, the better your story. In The Hours three stories of three different women are told all centered on the destructive nature of trying to live an unfulfilled life of obeying other's expectations.

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The more subtly but profoundly you illustrate your premise, the better.

Spend time working on ideas for your movie's premise.

  • What are lessons you've learned about how to live life and how did you learn them?
  • What are moral issues you've always felt strongly about.
  • What foolish things do you see other people do that really bugs you?
  • What foolish things do you do over and over that really bugs you?
  • Think of a person you really admire. What is it about how they lived their life that you like?
  • What do you wish you had understood when you were much younger.
  • What mistakes do you see young people making over and over.
  • How have people's expectations and behavior changed since you were young.

Good screenplay writers are extremely honest about their own feelings and shortcomings. One of the hardest things for many beginning writers is to start coming clean about what really goes on inside their own minds. Trust that you aren't the only person who is battling these demons. Your experience, told as an interesting story, will be of great help to others who find themselves in a similar situation.

Live an interesting and daring life of your own. Young writers usually don't write very interesting stories because they simply haven't had enough life experiences to have anything interesting to write about. Travel, meet people, try new things just because they're new, fall in love, get your heart broken. It will all become material for your stories. Good writers can't be cowards.

Got a general idea for a premise? Don't worry if you don't have it fully thought out at this point. It will change as you write your story, anyway. Sometime the best premise for a story doesn't come out until far into the development process. Any story can be changed to make different points.

Some screenplay writers don't even bother to try to find a premise until the story has been outlined or partially written. Eventually the right premise will show its face.

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Screenplay development

Take as long as it takes to get some good ideas. Spend several months if necessary, and always be on the lookout for new ideas. Carry a small notebook and pencil at all times. When you're ready, move on to story development.

Never give up! Happy Filmmaking!

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