Coming Up with a Great Movie Idea!
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.
- Michael Adams
Re you last post: I thought I’d share an idea generator I devised and use.
Go to a random number generator, such as the one found here:
Set the parameters to 1 and 500 and submit.
You’ll end up with a list of random numbers, such as this:
Now apply those numbers to the imdb’s top 500 hundred movies, found here:
So, in this instance we get
11 Star Wars meets
331 The Kid meets
36 Taxi Driver
350 The Right Stuff
278 The Grand Illusion
370 Close Encounters
343 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
142 Run Lola Run
228 The Searchers
… and so on.
As you can see, most of the combinations don’t work but you’ll be surprised how frequently they spark a “hey, that’s not too bad”.
Personally, I’m now off to write that comedy spec about a wise-cracking teen who plays truant and meets benevolent aliens. Kidding!
Anyway, it’s a fun game that doesn’t waste too much time and the loglines generated can always be stored for future mulling.
Using the imdb’s genre lists also let you be more specific, but the method can be applied to any movie list.
BTW, I enjoyed Save The Cat! and return to it frequently.
All the best,
- James Van Leer
For me, the issue is not getting the ideas, it’s committing to the idea for the duration of the project. I put it through William Goldman’s little test: “Do I love it?” and “Can I make it play?” I’m acutely aware that I’m going to be thrashing this idea for months, so I’d better be in love with it.
Speaking of titles: There are some great movies with atrocious titles, or at least titles that evoke a completely difference experience to the one it delivers. “Sexy Beast” is one. “The Spanish Prisoner” is another. “Ronin” isn’t particularly helpful. And I must admit, I thought “Minority Report” was going to be some sort of documentary on immigration …
- Shrunken Head
Great, all I needed to put me off any productive work for the next few days!
223 Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
103 The Elephant Man
In Victorian London, four surgeons with a gambling problem and a cynical attitude towards the sick and deseased pool their money to put one in a high stakes card game, but things go wrong and they end up owning a heavily disfigured man, and owing half a million pounds to a local crime boss who gives them one week to come up with the cash. Originally disgusted with the man they nickname Elephant Man, the four surgeons slowly discover the intelligence and sensitivity hidden behind his monstrous facade, and together they take on the London underworld.
- Shrunken Head
Star Wars meets The Grapes of Wrath
A family of poor space farmers is forced off their home planet. They move to the California system where they team up with others suffering under the evil Empire, save a princess from the clutches of the dark Lord Vader, and finally blow up a giant space grape which helps them feed the galaxy.
Saving Private Ryan meets The Gold Rush
Thawing Private Ryan
The Tramp goes to Alaska in search of gold and ends up saving Ryan, whose two older brothers have already frozen to death in the ice.
- gurpreet narang
here is one idea I am toying with for writing on spec…
90 year old hunk comedy
A 90 year old professor who hasnt enjoyed his youth, invents a pill that makes him an attractive young boytemporarily, everytime he takes it.He enjoys his ‘new’ life by enrolling in the college as a student and lives a double life. His life is turned upside down when he falls in love with his classmate.
your feedback,suggestions are welcome …
let’s start with you Blake!
- Blake Snyder
Star Wars meets Grapes of Wrath!! I love this!! Thawing Private Ryan — Great!
- Shrunken Head
Thanks, I had fun coming up with these! Although the Steibeck in space was perhaps a bit too close to the original Star Wars…
Thanks must go to Michael Adams for coming up with this log line game. I think it is not only great fun, but can be very useful for practising log line creation. Maybe you could write a book of writing exercises? (Or maybe there is space in the second book?) Or maybe not.
I enjoyed your book, by the way. One of the best on writing in my far too large collection. (There’s nothing for killing time that should be spent writing than reading about writing!) So, thanks for writing that.
Anyway, I just did another set, and the combinations are insane. I don’t want to clutter up this thread, but they will pop up on my blog during the next few days.
Gurpreet Narang, sorry to push to the front of the line. Just a few brief things on the 90 year old hunk comedy. I’m sure I won’t be the last.
To me, it sounds an awful lot like a reworking of The Nutty Professor. Or rather: The Nutty Professor meets Cocoon (or Hawthorne’s “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”).
Now, this means only that, as we all know, there’s nothing new under the sun. Even this realization isn’t new. But you’ll have to be aware of at least some of the earlier stories so yours can bring something fresh to the table and doesn’t just retread the old territory. (And if I stuff one more metaphor into that single sentence I’ll probably be disqualified.)
And maybe you’ll have to fiddle with the concept to make the log line sound a bit fresher? Dunno…
Gurpreet Narang–your 90 year old hunk comedy sounds a lot like The Nutty Professor. Or rather, The Nutty Professor meets Cocoon. (Or Hawthorne’s “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” meets Stevenson’s “Jekyll and Hyde.”)
Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun. (Even this statement just restates a point that has been made again and again.) But you should be aware of all the stories similarly to yours that have already been told, and you should make sure yours explores new territory.
As long as you don’t do what all the others have done, you should be fine. Perhaps you could formulate a log line that emphasizes what you will do differently from those that have gone before.
Of course, that’s just my opinion…
- Michael Adams
Glad you’re digging them. They are a lot of fun. Look forward to seeing how the combos came up on your blog.
I have to say I’ve made a few hundred combinations, usually just as a distraction/free association exercise and for a laugh.
But from those, I’ve come up with three seriously good ideas that I intend to write at some point when I’ve worked my way through my more organically devised concepts.
true, the whole exercise offers distraction and is great fun, but I think of it as a sort of limbering up of the brain. I mean, the whole thing is so ridiculous it cannot possibly be take as serious work, so you drop your guard and sometimes something genuinely useful slips through.
I’ve put a few more up on my blog: Arsenic and Old Lace meets The Matrix (probably a Fool Triumphant story), 12 Angry Men meets The Great Escape (Golden Fleece, I suppose), The Graduate meets The Terminator (definitely Buddy Love), and The Lord of the Rings meets Taxi Driver (Dude with a Problem, no doubt).
Thanks again for this wonderful addition to Blake’s creativity jump starting games (p.18/19). Incidentally, you can also use random numbers to determine which film to use for game a and b, which environment to use for game c, which occupation for d. If you find lists of occupations or personality types anywhere on the web (and why shouldn’t you), you can also randomize e and f. (If anyone has useful links for such lists…)
I think the random element is good, because I suspect your subconscious always selects films for these exercises where there already is a certain potential. The random element forces your brain to deal with something where you cannot see the potential yet. You have to work. As I say, exercise for the brain.
As a further step, you might even want to come up with the 15 beats. I think Star Grapes suggests a final image right away, while Ryan is more difficult.
And if somebody can suggest a title for my elephant man, I think that one has potential. :)
Sorry, sorry, sorry.
I absolutely have to post these two, and then I promise never to even mention the whole log line thing again. Ever. Honestly.
But these two . . .
The Lord of the Rings meets Ghostbusters II
Some years after their last great adventure, our heroes have dispersed and have fallen from glory. Bilbo does a late night talk show, Gandalf does children’s parties. Both Gollum and the relatives of Smaog have filed lawsuits for theft, and the once blooming enterprise of Thorin and his dwarfs is bancrupt. But then an ancient evil rears its head again in the east, and the ring which had been all but forgotten in all those years acquires an ominous life of its own. Now Bilbo’s nephew Frodo (the ringkeeper) must gather a new band of heroes and face orks, trolls, the ring wraiths, the dark lord Sauron (the ringmaster) and a subterranean river of ectoplasmic slime bubbling underneath the land of Mordor in a climactic battle for the future of Middle Earth.
Troy meets The Nutty Professor
Paris, the Prince of Troy, falls madly in love with Helen, Queen of Sparta, but is to shy to even talk to her. He prays to the Gods, who turn him into a lecherous playboy called Buddy Love. He uses his newfound sexual energy to convince Helen to leave her husband Menelaus and sail with him back to Troy. This provokes the Greeks around the Kings Menelaus and Agamemmnon into war and they sail against Troy. Now young Paris must defend his city against the Greek army, his love against an enraged husband, and his sanity against his increasingly manic alter ego Buddy Love.
But Blake, you asked way back when what would be good things to have on this site. How about a forum of some sorts where we can play with log lines, come up with beat sheets fro them and so on, just have fun and practise plotting at the same time?
Just a thought.
- Michael Adams
Schrumkopf, I love the fun you’re having with this! And the fact that you’re actually taking the time to come up with loglines for the most outlandish combos. I tend to do an instant yes/no on them, only really further considering the ones that would make some sort of sense. And I also usually just take the gist of the story as opposed to the characters and situations.
So The Nutty Professor meets Troy could simply be about a hero who’s considered the only hope of a civilization — a civilization that doesn’t know he’s actually a fool temporarily transformed by a magical elixir.
12 Angry Men meets The Great Escape — a group of POWs hold a trial of one of their own whose possibly perfidy has ruined their elaborate escape plan.
Anyhew, it’s not something I do that often, just as a distraction (generally I’m pretty disciplined with work, but like, everyone a bit of net surfing/playing frees up the mind). I do like the suggestions for adding further lists. Next time I’m surfing I might see if I can find some (perhaps most/least trustworthy professions; favourite holiday destinations) to add to the mix.
I can imagine the Creative Screenwriting interview now: “So, where did the idea for the film come from?” “Well, here’s the logarithm devised…”
Hi Blake, just a quick check in.
I’m really beginning to feel that THE TROPHY WIFE is a R.O.P. comedy as opposed to fish out of water.
I see THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN in the same light, b/c our protag has a clearly defined character arc; he also makes significant changes to self, etc during his journey – ridding himself of the toy collection, exploring the emotional initimacies of his relationship. He must change in order to be able to acheive what he wants in life, which is love.
My girl must also make her own changes, going from finding depth within the wallet to depth within self.
That being said, both VIRGIN and TROPHY contain Fish out of Water elements, as when Andy begins his adventure in bootie-land (picking up the girl who vomits, the speed dating sequence, even poker with the guys). It seems to me that these elements are dead on, and necessary to the story; however, I wonder if the “Fish” elements during Fun and Games work against the genre of “R.O.P” and wanted to hear your thoughts on this ~ best, anne
“I also usually just take the gist of the story as opposed to the characters and situations.”
Yes, what I do makes for funnier results, but I think what we actually mean when we say X meets Y is that characters like those in X are put in a situation like that in Y. Or something like that.
“12 Angry Men meets The Great Escape â€” a group of POWs hold a trial of one of their own whose possibly perfidy has ruined their elaborate escape plan.”
Isn’t that Hart’s War?
so, basically the question is:
Is Back to the Future a rite of passage story (both for Marty and his father), or is it a fish out of water story?
In Writing the Comedy Film, Voytilla and Petri quite helpfully explain how the fish often has a special talent with which he or she can help heal the special world he or she is dropped into, but that the fish also often has a wound which the special world can help heal.
Marty is thrown into a strange environment, he helps his father change, and the experience helps him change.
The way I see it, there is often an external fish out of water plot going on, while we find an internal rite of passage plot.
I may of course have it all wrong . . .
I had forgotten re: special talent, which of course reminds me to now call FOW “Fool Triumphant” ~ the two are somehow linked are they not? Good call, thanks.
While this has little to do with screenwriting; it does have to do with filmmaking. I found a sweet link that kept me busy for sometime.
The marketing Mensas behind SNAKES ON A PLANE have released this bit of internet silliness:
Power of the internet. That electronic superhighway which now has the power to not only grant the elusive greenlight, but to take a canned project, ressurect it, and make it into the biggest pop culture phenomenon since Michael Jackson’s single glove.
And yes. I sent many many cards.
My Link disappeared. That is most disappointing:
on the similarity between different plot types, story types, genres and the like. A rant. Sorry. Skip if bored…
To a certain degree, all stories are the same. They are all about somebody who deals with something producing some result. Just as basically all mammals are four-legged creatures who are born, spend theirn lives eating and excreteing and inhaling and exhaling.
To a certain degree all stories are different, just as every individual mammal is different from every other one.
Developing groupings in between is a fiddly affair (as indicated by academics in genre criticism who try to nail down definitions for different genres). You always end up with categories which are similar, and sometimes with two genres which could be argued to be variations of one larger one. It is important to focus on what makes them different.
Such systems are interesting, and very helful for writers, because genres are fundamentally defined by what people expect, and what you do not want to do is disappoint the expectations of the audience. You want to surprise them, but not disappoint them.
No doubt, much will be said on this, and much clarification will ensue, once Blake gives us his next book, illustrating each category with a bunch of examples.
…end of long rant. May contain pieces of my mind. Or nuts…
Christopher Lockhart has a post that mentions a board game which “creates trivia questions by combining loglines from two movies starring the same actor.” I just thought I ought to mention it in the context of what has gone before. (See the post here.)
- Mike Bryan
Movie titles: go to the museum. Take a pad and pen and write down the titles of paintings which catch your fancy.
Saves me every time.
- David Meis
“Ace Ventura Meets The Adams Family”
The services of a mentally disturbed yet lovable pet detective are
called upon by an even more disturbed family of ghoulish oddballs.
His mission: to find their missing giant brown recluse spider hiding
somewhere in the spooky Adams mansion.
Who is more nutty? Ace or the Adams? The contest begins!
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few minutes ago I`ve been finished the book
“about” the Cat. My script perfectly matches the
structure of SC2… to the midpoint.
My midpoint is on the 47th page!
The rest is OK, but there`s a lot of work.
And yes, I have a great idea, too.
You`ll hear it, soon.
Wanna say, the book is great. I love it!