Coming up with movie ideas is not easy. Whether you're battling writer's block or just need to start a new screenplay, the journey to inspiration is treacherous. So we came up with twenty ways to get your mind moving!
The process of breaking into screenwriting in Hollywood involves constantly generating new ideas. You and your reps will want to be sending out a new screenplay every few months until one hits. That means you need to constantly be thinking of new loglines and stories so you know what you're writing next.
But where do these ideas come from? Should you just sit around and wait for inspiration to strike or is there a more active way?
I've always been a fan of John August's Writer Emergency cards. That's totally an unpaid plug. I love them. But I also love doing something when I can't figure out a movie idea.
Today, we're going to go over 20 ways to inspire new movie ideas and to break you out of the funk.
Let's get inspired.
1. Take a walk
I have a dog. I go on walks seven times a day, so I kind of am the authority on walking inspiration. Walks allow you to see the world, get fresh air, hear other people talk, and concentrate on anything besides your writing. Many of the things on this list will be items that are meant to distract or trick the latent parts of your brain to get working. Walking is the best one because, if you're like me and sit on your ass ten hours a day, you need the exercise.
2. Read the Newspaper
Current events are great jumping off points for characters. We want our ideas to be relevant in the world. What's more relevant than what's happening right now. Also, you can get inspired to tell a true story about something ripped from the headlines as well. It's not all about the front page either. Maybe the ads or comics can help you develop a character or write a situation. Then go from there.
3. Watch a movie and kill the protagonist off right away
I like to scroll through Netflix or Amazon, pick a random movie, and watch it. Then, about 20 minutes in, I think about what would happen if the protagonist just died. What happens in Raiders if Indy is squished by the rock? What if Elle Woods drowns in that pool instead of getting into Harvard? Who would take up their mantle? What's the story that would follow? Use that to come up with a new logline and write that story.
4. What's going on in your life?
Writing is catharsis. I talked a lot about how my career changed when I wrote about my own happiness. What's going on in your life that you need to work out? A breakup? A death? A new romance? Take your problems and put them on the page. Work them out with characters and suddenly you'll have a new screenplay.
5. Steal from the classics
One of my favorite exercises is to think about all the books I had to read in school and decide how to adapt them in another era. What does Treasure Island look like if it was set in Manhattan? Can Tom Sawyer do his thing on the moon? Or what does Pride and Prejudice look like at Fraternities and Sororities in the south now? The point is, most of the classics are fair to use, so set your Shakespeare inspiration underwater and see what happens.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nrj8EZm9ca8
6. Mine the public domain
It's not just about the classics, the public domain is a great place to get inspired. I mean, Disney is out here doing every fairy tale and legend. There's a whole Bible full of stories ready to adapt. Waste no time, dig deep and find that precious intellectual property you want to adapt.
7. Start at the end of one of your old screenplays
What happens after you type Fade Out? Can you get a new story about the aftermath? When I wrote Shovel Buddies, I seriously considered following it up with a road movie about characters trying to sneak back into their homes after an insane party. I wound up writing a treatment and not chasing it, but it was a good way to look for the next story. What would happen to a different set of people if they had just gone through what happened in your last movie?
8. What happens in one location?
Here's a classic way to come up with an idea. From Reservoir Dogs to Buried to The Wall, what can you say about characters trapped in one place? Or what story can you tell that's both low budget and high concept? I am always a fan of taking your big ideas and making them small. So shrink it down and see what this movie idea can do for you.
9. What can you shoot?
Here's the real question: if you want to be an indie filmmaker, what can you make? What do you have access to? What locations or actors or set pieces can you actually accommodate? Write the movie that fits into that mode. One of my favorite movies of all time, Your Sister's Sister, was made because the filmmaker had a cabin and some time on her hands.
10. Tap into history
History is in the public domain. It's full of events people talk about all the time. You don't even need to use real people. You can just set up real events and work around them. What parts of history make you excited? What parts reflect today? Try to capture those and use them to craft your screenplay.
11. Tell me about your favorite holiday
Every holiday comes from something. From Christmas to Flag Day, there's a story behind why we have these days off or celebrate them. Got a St. Patrick biopic in you? Look at the calendar, do your research, and see if there's a story there.
12. Spoof it
We always have massive franchises ruling the big screen. Can you steal from them and make fun of them at the same time? Spoof movies are always fun. You can also try to subvert the typical expectations and make the "anti" version of those projects. Think about how Game of Thrones shook up everything we knew or had preconceived notions about in fantasy. What can you add to the conversation?
13. Explore a local legend
Maybe this occurs when you're on a walk or reading the paper, but let what's around you inspire your work. Was there a witch that lived in the village? Does your town have a monster or serial killer? Alien sighting abound? What can you glean from the day to day that can inspire more work for you?
14. See what's trending
One of the best ways to procrastinate is on social media. In fact, it took me an hour longer than usual to write this post because my Instagram was blowing up. (I lied. It wasn't.) In an era where everyone is posting and conversing online, maybe it's good to look at random posts and photos. You never know when a shared article or pic will inspire something to click.
15. Pick a public figure
This directly aligns with the public domain and holiday. Biopics are in, and people in the public spotlight are fair game. The 2018 Black List featured screenplays about Matt Drudge and Evan Spiegel among others. Every day, a person makes the news. Can you dramatize their story? I mean, there are TWO Steve Jobs movies.
16. Put your parents into a logline
What would your parents do? I like movies like Date Night and Game Night. My favorite part of brainstorming is taking average people and putting them into an above average situation. So what would your parents do if they were trapped inside Independence Day? Or forced to take part in The Hunger Games? This can be a fun way to shake up an idea or overused tropes.
17. What if you were 10 years old?
Think about your audience. What would you go see if you were ten years old? What's the movie that would get your butt in those seats? Then write it. Try making a huge list of things and whittling it down from there. Or combine them into a much more zany affair. Think about what Robert Rodriquez did with Shark Boy and Lava Girl and Spy Kids. He used his childrens' ideas and made some huge sales giving an audience the movie they wanted.
18. Tell the story behind a joke
What's your favorite joke? Maybe it's the Aristocrats or it's about people who walk into a bar. Is there the start to a movie there? What happens after the chicken crosses the road? Write the story of the joke or the story leading up to the punchline. Like, what if white men CAN jump?
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19. Take the villain's point of view
Here's a popular take in recent years. With success stories like Despicable Me, Megamind, and Maleficent, tell me what the story looks like from the villain's point of view. Maybe that's the way to breathe life into your noodling. We are so used to following the hero, but let's follow the baddies or anti-villains a little more.
20. Genre switch on page 50
One of the greatest screenplays ever, Alien, takes us from a space trucker drama to confined thriller right in the middle of the movie. It's an epic switch that pulls the rug out from under you and keeps the pages turning. What's a fun genre switch you can pull? Think about a logline that can convey that idea as well. What can you do to throw us off the accepted norms and present a story that's exciting and new?
What's next? What can The Sopranos teach us about Screenwriting?
When The Sopranos debuted on January 10, 1999, the world was a different place. Mobsters were tough guys with flaws, other than hubris, that we seldom saw on the big or small screen. Then Tony Soprano walked into therapy and the rest is history. Throughout the run of the show, David Chase was able to always keep the audience guessing. He developed characters, had them arc, and combined archetypes to give us a new look and feel for the modern gangster.
Click the link to learn more!