Often, screenwriters will push one script they wrote and try everything in their power to get it into production. While that’s a great thing, you want to always remember to present yourself as an idea machine, versus a writer with one great project.
One of the best pieces of advice I got when I started in Hollywood was to always have more than one project in development and to always approach producers and managers as a storyteller with more than one story to tell.
Treat your brain like a muscle, the more you exercise your creativity, the easier it will be for you to come up with new ideas (even on the spot while in creative meetings).
But, where do you find ideas? How can you become this “idea machine” that can come up with new content for film or television?
Real life experience, books and news stories, public domain stories, participating in forums or time spent in nature are all great ways to get inspired with new ideas.
Real Life Experience
It’s always an interesting thing to look at experiences you have gone through that might inspire a captivating movie or TV show. While I don’t necessarily agree with “write what you know”, I do agree that writing something that you went through personally will make the writing feel real, since… Well, it is (at least in some ways).
There are several ways you can write about your real life experience: either by making your story close to what happened and use “based on true events” as a way to hook the audience in or take parts of your life that were interesting/thrilling/funny and create an entire new story from that real life element.
I like to call that the “what if” – example: “remember when I drove home one night and felt like my car was winking at me? – Hah! What if it did?” There you have the real life experience’s “what if” that could have very well become the movie “The Love Bug” (1997)
Reading the news daily is a great way to gather ideas for a movie or TV show. There’s so much happening in the world that you really don’t need to look further than the news to find your next jaw dropping story.
Now, the main issue with this is that thousands of other writers are doing the exact same thing… meaning that you might dedicate a lot of time to a story that will be told by someone else, maybe sooner than you’ll have time to tell yours.
In order to lower the chances of spending time on a story that many others are probably writing too since it’s based on a big news story, I would recommend looking at news outlets from other countries as well, since that might be a little less read by US based writers who, just like you, are working hard to make it in Hollywood.
A news story can inspire you for your next script but keep in mind that if you write a script based on a news article, you will need to get the rights from whoever wrote or owns the article.
Public Domain Stories
Public Domain stories are the ones that are not protected by Intellectual Property (IP) anymore. They do not belong to anyone anymore and anyone can write about them.
I use the word anymore because most of the time, stories that are in the public domain are stories that have rights that expired.
How can you know if the story you’re looking at is in the Public Domain? An easy way to remember is that the copyright on a story expires 70 years after the author’s death.
If you look at anything before 1923, you can consider those stories to have no more copyright. Therefore, if you’d like to pursue a story from the Public Domain, you might want to look at stories that are that old. Sounds boring? Well, why not bring a new refreshing modern spin on a very old story? Sounds like something I’d be interested in watching!
Non-fiction books or fiction books can be a great way to get new ideas. Many writers express that reading helps them get more creative in their own writing.
When reading, your brain has fun by being pushed to be creative and gets to learn to visualize better. Ultimately, reading books might help you become a better storyteller yourself.
But, be aware that it’s different to read books, get inspired and write your own original work, and write a story based on the book you read.
That would be called an adaptation and adapting books into films or television is a fantastic way to sell a script today in Hollywood since it’s based on IP. If that’s something that interests you, make sure that you get in touch with the author of the book to let them know that you wish to adapt their story into a movie and to sign the rights to do so.
What I mean by topical stories is stories based on a specific topic that means something to you or that might be a topic that people are talking or fighting about a lot in the news currently.
What are things that matter to you? What is your opinion on matters that are highly discussed such as politics, abortion laws, diversity, and so on.
Use your voice to say something relevant and make art out of it. Art is always a great place to put your hopes, dreams and anger too. Say what you have to say in a script and see how people listen when it’s in the form of a movie, versus in the form of an argument.
I mostly think of forums such as Reddit. Reddit has entire writing communities where people write prompts for others to develop a story around. It’s a great place to get creative and exchange with others. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this community for a start.
Take A Walk In The Nature
An assignment I once got when in a writing class was to go to three different places in my city, and walk for about an hour or so. The goal was to get creative with what I see.
I chose to go to a few places, one of them being the Hollywood Reservoir.
While on my walk, I realized that for over 90% of the walk, I didn’t have any phone signal. That was a surprise to me since I don’t usually hike or walk around there. While I was walking, I let my imagination run and really looked at everything with attention. Naturally, I created the story of a group of teenagers who decide to spend the night camping at a reservoir, despite it being forbidden.
As it is true around the Reservoir, none of them could use their phone since there isn’t any signal and as things start to happen at night that none of them can explain, they’re soon faced with the horrible truth that the reservoir was built over a city, trapping hundreds of souls and that dark forces are now trying to get revenge.
While on my hike, I also got two other ideas (one for a buddy comedy) and another that, frankly, I don’t remember anymore.
But, what I learned from that assignment is that by spending time outside, seeing things and letting my brain have fun, I could come up with a bunch of stories.
The goal ultimately was to have fun without the pressure of writing pages. It’s difficult to get ideas when facing a blank page. It can be quite frustrating. So, never underestimate the power of a good walk, fresh air and a new perspective on things.
Remember That You Are An Audience Member Too
As Tarantino has said before “What movie do you want to see? Make that movie.”
We all would LOVE to see one specific movie happen, right? Why don’t you write that movie?
Ultimately, right now is an amazing time in your career because you get to write absolutely anything that you want.
As your career takes off, it will become more difficult to find the time to write exactly what you want. You will find yourself working on Open Writing Assignments (OWA’s) or staffed on a show, and ultimately will find it more difficult to find the time to write anything on spec.
So… that movie you would love to see, be the one to write it!
Listen To Music
Art understands Art. When trying to come up with ideas for written stories, why not listen to another form of art? Music.
Music and Films both work with emotions. Emotion is key to the success of a movie and key to the success of a song.
Listening to music is not only a great way to get ideas, but also something many writers do when writing their screenplay.
Focus On Theme First
Sometimes, starting an idea based on a specific theme can help you create a movie. Sounds confusing? Let’s take a look at some examples:
If you were interested in the theme of love conquering everything, even societal norms and natural disasters you would be looking at the first glimpse of what the “Titanic” (1997) became.
If the theme of Good versus Evil interests you, this would be a theme that could’ve gone on to become the franchise “Star Wars.”
If the theme that interests you is capitalism versus communism, that theme might have ended up becoming the movie “Jaws” (1975), since the true villain of the movie isn’t the shark, but the Mayor who decides to keep the beach open in the summer for monetary reasons, despite the many lives that will pay for it.
Sometimes, focusing on a theme that interests you can be a great way to build a story around it supporting that theme.
These were the 10 ways that you can get ideas for movie or television scripts that I believe work well for every creative out there.
Hope this was helpful and can’t wait to see where your next idea brings you!