Coming up with movie ideas is not easy, but Rian Johnson has gotten pretty good at it. He's the creative mind behind such movies as Knives Out, Brick, Looper, and The Last Jedi. Johnson is known for his incredible characters, twists, turns, and for playing with genre.
When it comes to learning about storytelling, I think it's highly effective to listen to the great ones talking about their process. Lucky for us, Johnson has recorded a new podcast with Spark and Fire that takes us through how he comes up with his ideas and how he draws on experiences throughout his life to tell a story.
Check it out, and let's talk after.
One of my favorite parts of this podcast was how it focuses on the initial spark that inspired it all. I think a lot of us get into writing because we love entertaining people, but I loved hearing Johnson's palpable sense of wonder, pulling from memories and magical feelings that make his vision sizzle on the screen.
While not all of us may have a memory of watching Agatha Christie movies in our grandparents' old house, we all grew up with distinct events that shaped our lives and the way we view the world. I loved seeing how mystery structure got so embedded in Johnson's brain that he was able to flip different things on their head to make the audience question every moment.
Of course, that required making a list of story beats first.
I also enjoyed hearing how Knives Out lived in his head and became the story that his subconscious demanded he tell. But it was still not that easy. Johnson had to beat the whole thing out and build the characters. He knew writing a mystery was not easy.
His process starts with the germ of an idea and then writing down what works and what didn't work inside the genre. By knowing the expectations and tropes so well, he sat down and fabricated the plot in a way that better suited a movie. Then he added the mechanics of a thriller, to make sure the audience would be involved in the story, but still, get that detective payoff in the end. The whodunit was allowed to hide underneath the thriller the whole time.
Like all of us, Johnson had to get these ideas onto the page. So he left Los Angeles and went to a cabin. There he was able to crank out pages and finish a first draft he could perfect as he went. Then it was all about rewriting.
As a fun tidbit, Johnson likes to listen to music, but only music he has heard before so he doesn't need to concentrate on it. Shout out to LCD Soundsystem for carrying him through writing Knives Out.
What was your favorite part of the podcast?
Let us know in the comments.