Want to write a movie or series but don’t know where to start? Having a hard time turning on the creativity faucet in your head?
Coming up with a great idea for a movie is not as easy as it seems. Sure, sometimes the imagination can quickly generate an idea with the help of some alone time, silence, or the almighty shower. But that imagination won’t work for you unless your brain has recorded something from which you can draw from.
In this article, I will be showing five common and easy ways to turn the creativity light bulb on and get that “Eureka!” moment from which you can build a story for the screen.
- DRAW FROM YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES
Let’s not get too far off and start with the easiest. You’re living, ain’t you? And with that life comes years of experiences, stories, anecdotes and moments, happy and sad, funny and tragic, serious and silly.
You can lift directly from your life and write a sort-of biopic about yourself, like what Cameron Crowe did for Almost Famous. You can write about the place where you grew up with and your experiences during adolescence. Or you can pick something from your life and use it as a starting point for an original story or the themes that you want to express.
Went through a tough heartbreak? Start from there! What lessons did you pick up from it? What types of characters do you feel will express those lessons in a way that will make you watch? Throw a “What If” at it! In fact, throw a lot of “What Ifs” at it and see what sticks. What if you remained together? Is there a story there?
Or try telling it through another genre. You’ll be surprised at the kind of movie you can come up with if you keep playing around with your own experiences.
- DRAW FROM SOMEONE ELSE’S STORIES
Don’t feel like turning your own experiences into a movie? Turn to the world around you! Go outside, interact with family, friends or even strangers. Those are lots of deep wells from which you can draw out a boatload of story ideas.
Listen to the stories of others and start from those. Or, combine the stories and experiences of many people into one. Heck, combine your own experiences with that of others! See what you can come up with!
Again, throw “What Ifs” at those stories. A friend of yours came across a mugging in an alley one night? What if the one being mugged was a VIP and your friend is the only witness? Or what if the victim was an alien in disguise who succumbed to his injuries, and now the other aliens want revenge on humans, and your friend who saw the mugging is the only one who can save the world? Sounds silly, yeah, but you get the point.
- FISH FROM OUTSIDE SOURCES (NEWSPAPERS, MAGAZINES, INTERNET, ETC.)
World events both past and present, magazine articles, internet blogs, celebrity gossip, or even memes… all these can serve as the germ for your idea that you can eventually develop into a story, if not be the stories for your screenplay themselves. There are many ready stories in these sources, and all you have to do is throw a few wrenches at them to make them your own.
All The President’s Men, The Bling Ring and 2012 are examples of movies that were influenced by outside sources. These films were based on the Watergate Scandal, a Vanity Fair article, and the Mayan prediction regarding the apocalypse, respectively.
- SCOUT THE PUBLIC DOMAIN
If you’re looking to lift stories as they are from outside sources for your movie, you’re going to have a hard time paying for all the rights and necessary clearances. Fortunately for you, there’s the public domain, where multitudes of stories are easily within your reach. This is where can find your biblical tales, mythologies and folk stories.
You can stay faithful to the stories and characters here, or you can give them any twist you want, and you won’t be required to pay a penny. Aside from that, it’s also a great way to stretch your creative muscles! Just look at some of the most unique twists to biblical stories or icons. Legion, Gabriel, Bruce Almighty, Dogma and the TV series Lucifer are great examples of this. And let’s not forget the string of hits that Disney produced during the Disney Renaissance, most of which were based on stories from the public domain! (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Hercules)
- GET INSPIRATION FROM OTHER MOVIES
Before The Wachowskis came up with The Matrix, they first saw Ghost In The Shell. Before found-footage horror was a thing, The Blair Witch Project did it first. And you can practically see traces of movies of the past in every Tarantino flick.
Try watching your favorite movies, then throw What Ifs at them and see what you can come up with. What if The Matrix was a horror movie? What would it look like? What if Rush Hour was a political thriller? What if you took the world of The Godfather and applied comedy to it?
Take a look at your favorite movies and try changing some of its aspects. Change the main character. Change the genre. Change the setting. See how playful you can get, and eventually you’ll get an idea out of it.
If you don’t have time to watch these movies, you can check out their loglines or premises, and toy with them. Change a few details and see what happens. Example, Die Hard was “A lone, unarmed police officer must save his wife and others from a group of thieves who have taken over a massive skyscraper” (not an official logline or premise statement, by the way.) Some people changed the skyscraper to a bus, the group of thieves to a bomb, and added in that the bomb explodes if the bus goes below 50mph… ting! Now it’s Speed.
So there you have it: 5 ways to unlock great ideas for a movie! Use either one of them or combine any of them, and your brain will eventually turn into a fountain of ideas that you can use.
One last very important thing though: know that despite the relative difficulty of coming up with ideas, they can easily pass you by! Yes, the brain can produce ideas, but it can’t store too many of them on its own. Which is why, one of the most important things I would advice is that you ALWAYS BRING PEN AND PAPER! Once an idea hits you, bring out that pen and paper and write that idea down! Because if you don’t, that idea’s just gonna move on and you’re gonna have a hard time recapturing it.
So write it down and hold on to it as tight as you can! You’ll never know the opportunities that await you from that one fine idea that you have on your notepad.