I get asked often how I come up with story ideas. My way is pretty much the same as how other storytellers – including those much more accomplished than me – work.
So, this is what you do not want to do – you do not want to close yourself off in a room and start thinking of a brilliant idea. You will most likely end up frustrated, going in circles.
Better approach is to keep your eyes and ears open and whenever you see or hear something interesting – something that intrigues you, makes your curious – you write it down. Even if it is a small nugget of an idea, write it down. If you can right away write a whole scene or an outline, that’s even better. If not, no problem. Just make sure you revisit your notes often and spend the time to develop them further.
Of course not every idea will be worth pursuing and you will have to make a judgement call how to invest your time.
I think everybody can come up with cool and interesting ideas – it comes naturally. But the much bigger challenge is turning these ideas into complete scripts – whether of feature or short length. I think most people fail at this stage. As soon as challenges occur with the story structure, character development, dialogue etc., people’s original enthusiasm for the story quickly disappears and they conclude that the idea was not that good after all.
When should you ditch an idea and when should you double your efforts to finish or rewrite the script? I can’t really give you an answer as I myself am trying to develop a better judgement in these situations. But it’s not a bad idea to get the opinions of others. And I imagine that the more you go through this process, the better you get at it. So, I’m just going to keep working at it. That’s my plan.
Here’s a few examples just to show you how different ideas come to me from completely different places.
For the film “Killing Love” I came up with the idea after seeing a beautiful young girl arguing with her boyfriend in a mall. She was pretty and I automatically assumed that her boyfriend is the bad guy. After all, how can a pretty girl like this be bad. Very quickly though, I started listening to what she was saying (or more like yelling) to her boyfriend and I realized she wasn’t all there 🙂 Then I thought to myself… what if that same girl was WAY more crazy, and her boyfriend instead of trying to put some sense into her, was so blinded by love that he would do anything for her? How far could a couple like that go? Then all I had to do was start writing!
For the film “Dinner Date” I came up with the idea after I heard a joke from a friend. I thought it was hilarious. So I took the joke and thought of the best way to visualy show it. Now the problem with jokes is that they are usually only funny at the end… or when the punch line is heard. So when adapting a joke into a film, I knew right away that I can’t just show two regular dates and then hope the audience will sit around watching until the end of the film. When you tell someone a joke it works because they usually know you’re gonna tell them something funny. So they’re automatically waiting for the punch line. In a film you gotta first set it up so the audience knows it’s a comedy. Then you gotta deliver the jokes throughout the film, until the biggest joke comes at the end.
Last example is the film “NWO – United We Stand”. For this film the idea came to me after looking at some crazy conspiracy theories on a forum. I saw someone make a claim that they have secret documents from the CIA that outline an evil plan. This secrete is that USA military will fake alien attacks and that all the UFO sightings around the world are real sightings of secret USA military technology. Except the person who made this claim never gave the reason why they thought such an elaborate plan was hatched. So then I thought to myself, if I wanted to convince someone that this conspiracy theory is in fact true? I would need to provide a good reason for doing it. Something that the people behind this big cover-up would gain. But the longer I thought of what could someone gain from faking an alien invasion and killing innocent people, the more I thought about 9/11 and what was the one good thing that came out of that tragedy. After that, writing the script was easy.