I just got off the phone talking to a writer I am working with, a very talented guy who is looking to come up with a brand new movie idea.
How, he asked, can this be done? Like me, he has a bunch of ideas he has been working on, but none have that spark that makes us anxious to pitch to anyone.
We all know that the killer title (Snakes on a Plane, 40 Year Old Virgin) plus the killer concept equals the one-two punch we are all looking for. But how do we generate these?
Here are some exercises I suggested and ones I use when I am coming up with new ideas:
1. The Movie Star Game. Though you won’t get these actors to star in your movie, think of the next movie that Tom Cruise needs to do. What about Meg Ryan? Reese Witherspoon? Brad Pitt? If you were managing the careers of these actors, or any others you can think of, what movie would you write for them? And while you’re at it, why not make that idea outrageous? Think outside the five-sided trapezoid. And at the end of this brainstorming, when you remove the star from the actual logline, what you may have is a movie that suits many leading actors.
2. Mix and Match. Heard a great pitch in the seminar we held here in LA two weekends ago. It’s a movie that’s already produced and ready to be released, so I won’t be hurting the writer’s chance of selling it by mentioning it: Grumpy Old Men meets Road Trip. That was the pitch — and I get it immediately. It strikes me that going through a movie listing book like Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and mixing and matching outrageous combinations might be a great way to springboard something new. I know I have tried this, and again, you’d be surprised at the great ideas that result.
3. The T-bar Method. I’ve talked about this before. Draw a T on a piece of paper, on one side make a list of protaganists, on the other a matching list of antagonists who might be in direct opposition to your heroes. Example: A recently divorced local preacher is the protaganist, the antaganist the female owner of a massage parlor that’s just moved to town. Keep adding to the list, keep giving the oppostion the most conflict you can, and see what story develops from it. Try a different t-bar for different styles of movies. It’s particularly good if you’re trying to come up with a romantic comedy and looking for new types of male and female leads in conflict.
4. Title First. Finally, when it comes to finding a killer title, maybe start with one that already exists and figure out a story to match? This is how I got going on Nuclear Family. I began with the title, then figured out an ironic twist that made the title that much better. You might even search the Internet for interesting new jargon and unusual terms. What kind of story follows? You already have the title.
Point of all this is: Don’t be so logical. Try to break out from the ordinary and get free of beating on the same old loglines you’ve been working on that just don’t pop. Stand on your head, figuratively speaking, and see it all in a new way.