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Many, many people have watched a bad movie and thought, "I can do better than that." But when it comes down to thinking of movie ideas, most people go blank. This isn't because most people aren't creative, however. It is because most people try and think of big, grand ideas instead of thinking of how movies work, then working backwards from there.
Method 1 of 2:Starting From Scratch
1Understand the essential parts of a movie idea. Most people get stuck because they want to come up with the entire movie at once, instead of starting with the necessities and building from there. Many movies are made up of simply mixing and matching three things --setting, character, and conflict -- until you get a new movie. Sometimes, if one of them is unique enough, this is all you need to start writing (Cabin in the Woods starts on a government-run horror movie factory, which is a unique enough idea to kick off the plot). No matter what type of movie you want to make, you'll be well on your way if you just come up the following:
- The Setting: Where does your movie take place in time and space. Do you envision a space epic or a medieval earth? Or is it simply in a small town somewhere?
- The Protagonist(s): Who is the main character? You don't need traits yet, just a vague outline of a person. Are they a space pilot? Are they a stable boy? A dental hygienist?
- The Conflict: What does your character want? Do they want to be a hero? Do they want to fall in love? Do they hate their job/boss? X Research source
2Make your movie idea out of these three simple elements. All movies, from the odd independents to the biggest blockbusters, are just a matching of these three concepts. Don't worry about the intricacies, subtlety, or finer points yet -- these come from writing the idea. You need a strong base idea to build upon.
- Space Epic + Pilot + Desire to be a Hero = Star Wars.
- Medieval + Stable Boy + Hero/Love = A Knight's Tale.
- Small Town + Dental Hygienist + Hate Job = Horrible Bosses.
- Juvenile Detention + Idealist Councilors + Kid Who Don't Want Counseling = Short Term 12.
3Set aside time to brainstorm. Ideas rarely, if ever, appear out of thin air. The reason why some people seem to come up with great movie ideas is because they take time to do it. This is as simple as grabbing a pen and paper, removing distractions, and taking some time to think. If you need help, give yourself some prompts. Most importantly, write everything down -- on the subway, at home, at work. These will be the building blocks of bigger ideas.
- "What if..." are the two most important words for brainstorming. Jurassic Park, for example, is the result of "What if people brought dinosaurs back to life?"
- "What would happen if two of my favorite movies collided?"
- Look up a news event that interests you. What would happen if you were there?
- Write about your interests -- any of them. Clerks was built out of nerdy passions and rooftop hockey, Superbad comes from a love of classic teen-party movies, Lincoln was written by people passionate about history. Nothing is off limits.
4Find inspiration in real life. In any major newspaper right now there are likely 5 stories that could be turned into good movies. Real life is often stranger than fiction, and you'll find that news stories are a great launching point for new stories. How did the person who just won the World Hotdog Eating Contest become a professional eater? Why is the local country club shutting down? What was it like for the cop in the police blotter to respond to a call about "missing bacon?"
- Use these things as jumping off points -- the starts of plots or ideas that your imagination can then take off with.
5Decide on a genre. Genre is the type of movie, and while many movies can be said to have multiple genres, most films fit closely in one or the other. Genres include Comedy, Romance, Sci-Fi, Action, Horror, Drama, or Documentary, but there are also many combinations, like Rom-Com, Dramedy, Action Horror, etc. The beauty of genre is that it helps you develop a movie plot -- giving you focus for brainstorming. For example:
- Do you love horror films? Then your movie idea must involve coming up with a good villain. Once you have the monster or bad guy, you have your movie idea.
- Do you love Rom-Coms? Then you need a girl and a guy who don't seem like they should fall in love (Republican and Democrat, one is married, one's an alien, etc).
- Do you love Sci-Fi? Think of an invention you wish existed, from time-travel, space ships, or teleportation to a device that builds new planets. Your story will be the repercussions of that invention.
6Tweak existing movies into something original. You will never come up with a completely original idea. Though that sounds harsh, it is actually incredibly liberating. No movie ever made didn't draw influence and ideas from movies and art before it, and yours will be no exception. How can you twist or change something you enjoy into something new? Ideas include:
- Austin Powers is simply a comedic twist on spy movies, particularly James Bond, that had dominated the theaters. The plot is the same, it just happens to have jokes instead of action scenes.
- O Brother Where Art Thou is a retelling, nearly scene for seen, of Homer's The Iliad, but it is set in the bluegrass soaked world of the rural South.
- Avatar is strikingly similar to Dances With Wolves, but by setting it in space James Cameron was able to get a brand new take on things.
- Warm Bodies has all the trappings of a Rom-Com, but one of the main characters is a zombie. This quick "mash-up" of movie types helped it stand out immensely.
7Come up with your log line to cement the idea. Log lines are quick, one sentence summaries of your script. Good log lines tell you three things: the hook (what makes the movie different), the conflict, and the characters/settings. To learn how to write good log lines, check out some famous examples.
- Back to the Future: A young man is transported to the past where he must reunite his parents before he and his future are gone forever. X Research source
- Jaws: A police chief with a phobia for open water battles a gigantic shark, in spite of a greedy town council who demands that the beach stay open.
- Ratatouille: A Parisian rat secretly teams up with an untalented chef to prove that anyone can cook, despite what the critics, and pest-control, might think.  X Research source
Method 2 of 2:Turning an Idea into a Movie Script
1Give your idea a film structure. There are a lot of structures out there, ranging from the basic 3-Act movie to the common "hero's journey." But they can all be distilled into 5 basic parts that are found in 99% of all movies, from action and drama to rom-coms and children's films. Take your idea and come up with these 5 crucial points and you will have a movie that stands a chance of getting made.
The Set-Up: Give the characters, the setting, and the world. This is the first 10% or less of your movie, and it introduces us to the movie. It should not be longer than 10 pages.
- In Star Wars, George Lucas introduces the premise of space warfare, the conflict ("Help me Obi-Wan, you're my only hope"), and many central characters (Luke, Leia, Darth Vader, R2-D2, and C3-P0).
The Change of Plans/Opportunity/Conflict: Something happens that sets your conflict in motion on page 9-10 -- Erin Brockovich gets a job, the school of Superbad throws a party, Neo is introduced to The Matrix, etc. The next 10-20 pages show your characters dealing with this change.
- In Star Wars, this is when Luke turns down Obi-Wan, but sees that his family has been killed. He agrees to go on the quest to save Leia.
The Point of No Return: Up until this point, the characters are working hard to make their goals a reality. But, at the halfway point of the movie, something happens to make it impossible to turn back. A Bond villain attacks again, the Gladiator arrives in Rome, Thelma and Louise rob their first store, etc.
- In Star Wars, they are trapped at the Death-Star halfway into the movie. They cannot make it to Alderaan as planned, and must fight their way out.
The Major Set-Back: Since the point of no return, the stakes have gotten higher. To the characters and audience, all hope seems lost. This is when the girl and guy break-up in every romantic comedy ever made when Ron Burgundy gets fired in Anchorman, and when John McClane is beaten and bloody in Die Hard. This comes at the 75% mark.
- In Star Wars, Obi-Wan has died and the Death Star is in motion. The only chance to win is a last-ditch effort to blow up the Death Star.
The Climax: The characters make one last, all-out push to reach their goals, culminating in their biggest challenge of all. This is the run through the airport moment, the final holes in Caddyshack, or the final showdown between hero and villain. Once resolved, the last 10% of the script ties up loose ends and shows the aftermath of the climax.
- In Star Wars, Luke makes his heroic final run on the Death Star, blowing it up despite all odds being against him.
- The Set-Up: Give the characters, the setting, and the world. This is the first 10% or less of your movie, and it introduces us to the movie. It should not be longer than 10 pages.
2Develop your characters. You want your characters to feel real, as if they are driving the story and not some writer on the other side of the world. Remember that good characters are the heart of a movie -- they are who the audience feels for, loves, and hates, and even great movie idea will fail with bad characters. This is easier said than done, but there a couple of tips that will make your characters fit into your movie idea seamlessly:
- Make sure your characters are round. This means that they have multiple facets, not just an "angry man," or "strong heroine." Round characters have strengths and weaknesses, which make them relatable to the audience.
- Give your characters a desire and a fear. Even if there is only one of each, a good character wants something but is unable to get it. Their ability or inability to get over their fear (of being poor, of being alone, of space aliens, of spiders, etc.) is what drives their conflict.
- Make sure your characters have agency. A good character is not moved around because your script needs them to go somewhere. A good character makes choices, and the plot follows. Sometimes this is one choice that drives everything else (Llewellyn, No Country for Old Men, Luke Skywalker joining Obi-Wan in Star Wars), sometimes there are a series of good/bad choices at every turn (every character in American Hustle). X Research source
3Personalize your idea by tweaking expectations. It may feel limiting to have such a rigid structure on your script, but it actually makes it easier to surprise the audience. How can you take 5-point structure and recognizable characters and make them your own? How can you make this movie original? The best way to do this -- break some rules:
- What happens if, instead of succeeding in the climax, the characters fail?
- What happens to your "round" character if they refuse to change? What happens if protagonist isn't really the main character, such as in Ferris Beuller's Day Off, where Ferris's friend Cameron is the real character showing growth?
4What happens if you change the setting up? A rom-com set in NYC is nothing new, but what about one set in rural Thailand? At a bowling alley? In a nursing home?
5Keep coming up with ideas. The most important thing to realize when coming up with ideas is that they come with practice. Your first 10, 20, or even 50 ideas may not be so good, but wading through the bad ideas will help you recognize the good. No one comes up with perfectly formed ideas every time, and you will not be the exception.
- Keep a notebook you fill up with ideas as you come up with them
- Try brainstorming with a friend to bounce ideas off each other twice as fast.
- Work through this process with each idea -- fleshing out a movie idea into the crucial parts is how you'll know if it is an idea worth pursuing.
- Remember to develop your backstory.
- Be patient, it will take time to think of a solid story.
- Ask your friends to suggest some ideas.
- Let your parents or friends read some of your scripts and see what they think of them.
- If you copy someone else's work you could be sued by other filmmakers. You can take inspiration, though, as all of the great filmmakers are inspired in some way by films that they have enjoyed.
- ↑ http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/finding-and-developing-ideas-for-your-screenplay.html
- ↑ http://www.indiewire.com/article/how-to-write-the-perfect-logline-and-why-its-as-important-as-your-screenplay?page=2
- ↑ http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/writing-good-log-lines.html
- ↑ http://www.storymastery.com/story/screenplay-structure-five-key-turning-points-successful-scripts/
- ↑ http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/01/13/25-things-a-great-character-needs/
About This Article
If you want to come up with your own movie idea, you’ll need to spend some time brainstorming. If you need inspiration, look up news events that interest you. Then, ask yourself "What if I was there" or "What if this event turned out differently?" You can also think of an invention you wish existed and develop a plot around it. Another way to come up with ideas is to toy with different “What if” scenarios, like "What if The Beatles had never had a hit song" or "What if Big Foot really existed and wandered into New York City." You can also use your favorite movie as a guideline and tweak the plot or meld it together with another favorite film. To learn how to turn your idea into a movie script, keep reading!
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