Playing With Ideas: Part I

I guess lately I’m in the zone, because I feel like every time I talk with someone I end up giggling like an idiot and saying, “Hey, that would make a great starting concept for a movie.” Of course, I don’t generally point this out to other writers. Well, sometimes. But, non-writers usually tilt their head and look at me like I’m a little off. Which, I suppose, in all fairness, one could legitimately make that case. I do spend an ungodly amount of time talking to myself inside my own head.

I’ve had a number of teachers recommend over the years to spend some time every day brainstorming possible film ideas. This is to keep the mind facile but also because ideas are everywhere. You never know when you might collect a bit here, a piece there, and then a couple of months – or years – later, things suddenly pop into place. The movie starts to take shape in your mind.

It’s a great practice, like a daily meditation, to keep the mind consciously oriented on collecting elements for story. I do look at it as collecting, not unlike someone who collects stamps or coins. I just collect interesting fragments of life. As I’m collecting them, I can’t know in the moment how they might be applied – maybe even years later – toward a project I will write. But, nonetheless, some things just haunt me for years on end, and I know these things will find their way into something eventually.

Because movies are intended for millions of viewers, it’s always good to think about the most basic of human experiences – something that the average person undergoes throughout his/her life experience – but then tweak it in an unusual way for dramatic resonance. In this way, a lot of high-concept projects are sort of like everyday life but tweaked so they’re not exactly. I think it’s good to practice brainstorming ideas in this way on a daily basis.

I’ve now trained my mind to stay as open as possible to any story seed that might find me. Any compelling element, no matter where it comes from – something I see on the street, on the news, a story from a friend, a magazine, online – I keep in a folder. I keep notes about everything. Any interesting character trait goes into my little idea file. Any element that might be used within a story finds its way there.

Now that I’ve been reading so many scripts, I see that there are basic filmic concepts everywhere I look – however, it’s our job as the writer to take the mundane of life and make it larger than life. That’s why the seeds may rest within everything we do, everywhere we go, but it’s really up to us to grow those seeds into something extraordinary, dramatic and cinematic.

I was so inspired by The Hangover that I came out of that movie with a handful of weighty thoughts that I’ll get to work on. I usually find seeing other films very inspiring, especially when I’m seeing movies within my genre that offer me specific inspiration to a project I’m outlining, researching or writing.

Exercise
I was at a workshop last summer and our teacher got out the newspaper and assigned each of us a page. She told us to pick one article or element from that page and create a movie idea from it and pitch the idea. I got the sports section, and quite frankly, I’m not a sports person, but in the very corner of the page was a small ad for a Palm Springs resort nudist colony, and I pitched a broad comedy based on a family relationship within this nudist colony.

See? Ideas are everywhere.

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