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Eenny, Meeny, Miney, Mo…



Eenny, Meeny, Miney, Mo…

How do you decide what to write next?

It’s the single most important decision you will ever make as a writer.

Faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall building in a single bound, a great idea is the most powerful thing in the film business.  A terrific idea can catapult you from “the outside looking in” straight into the center of the film industry.  Possibly one of the toughest occupations to break into, you need a lot of leverage just to get your to toe in the door.  A great film concept Coin Toss? How do you decide the right idea to write next?is the best crowbar imaginable.  Ideas are the key to breaking into the business.

How important are ideas?  Don’t take my word for it.  According to George Lucas, a guy whose understanding of powerful movie ideas has left an indelible mark on our culture, “A movie is a success or failure from the minute you solidify the concept.  Execution is 50 percent.  It is the primal attachment to the concept that makes the movie work or not work.”

But hey, let’s not take George’s word for it.  Try this one by Terry Rossio who with writing partner Ted Elliot wrote ALADDIN, SHREK, and the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN FRANCHISE.  That includes a couple of number one world wide box office hits and an Academy Award®:

“The very first decision you make as a writer – ‘what is my film about’ – will define your creative instincts in the eyes of the industry.  As a screenwriter, your choice of film premise is your calling card.  Not your witty dialog, not your clever descriptions.  Not your knowledge of structure and subplot and subtext…  You must – you MUST – choose well.
 Most aspiring screenwriters simply don’t spend enough time choosing their concept.  It’s by far the most common mistake I see in spec scripts.  The writer has lost the race right from the gate.  Months – sometimes years – are lost trying to elevate a film idea that by its nature probably had no hope of ever becoming a movie.”

A great idea for a movie is the most powerful thing in the film business.  I call these story concepts “Hooky Ideas.”

A Hooky Idea immediately intrigues our minds.  It makes you want to know more, gets you hooked and sticks with you.  When it comes to story, human brains, developed over millions of years of telling stories, love to be surprised by something we never saw coming.  We adore clever twists, and our minds are turned on by a completely new spin on something we’ve seen before.

A Hooky Idea puts images, feelings, tone into your mind in just a very few words.  When you hear a hooky idea, you know what the movie will FEEL LIKE.  And you can tell who the audience is.  You immediately know if this is a movie that you want to see.  Or not.  But you can tell right off the bat.

So how to you target the right idea to write next?  Here’s an essential check list for determining if you might have for a Hooky Idea.

THE LITMUS TEST:  A hero we can ROOT for trying to achieve a tangible goal (LOVE, SUCCESS, POWER, SURVIVAL, THWARTING ALIEN INVASION…) despite OBSTACLES (I.E. CONFLICT) that stand in their way.

CONFLICT IS KEY:  It’s what makes movies.  It drives the story forward.  If you aren’t sure if a short story or an article in the newspaper has the potential to become a movie – this is the surest test.  Without conflict you not only don’t have a Hooky Idea, you might not have a movie idea at all.

EVERY GOOD STORY HAS STAKES:  Without something meaningful to be gained or lost, who cares?  Not the audience.

THE “COOL” TEST:  Is it new, clever, fun, a unique twist on something we’ve seen before, give us something new, something fresh even uniquely derivative?

Is it VISCERAL?  Movies should move us.  We go to the movies to have a visceral experience.  Horror movies better be scary.  Comedies should make us bust a gut.  Mystery should be filled with twists and reveals that astonish and amaze.

TIMELY OR TIMELESS?  Hooky ideas have a timeless quality to them, whereas, other ideas may be timely, these films are viewed again and again by subsequent generations.  THE THREE MUSKETEERS has been filmed at least twice every single decade since the invention of the medium.  Beware of timely ideas about current events or issues, as they limit you and may not speak to a large audience.

IS THERE A PROTOTYPE?  Can you think of a successful film in your genre?  A strong prototype film exemplifies their genre. Their big structure beats will be the same no matter what details are original to you.

AUDIENCE:  Will anyone else feel the way you do about your idea?  Don’t be afraid to pitch it.  Pitch it to your friends, your partner, your kids.  Strangers, someone you’ve met on a blind date.  Do they want to know more?  Would they go see this movie?  If it’s only of interest to you and your mom then there’s no audience for the movie.

IS IT PITCHABLE?  Your best chance for success is with a high concept, pitchable idea.  If you choose an Execution Dependent idea, the charm, the appeal, the deliciousness, and the ultimate success of the film is in the details not the concept making it nearly impossible to get industry attention from a query or pitch.

THE PASSION TEST:  Are you passionate about making this movie?  You’d better be – you’re going to spend years of your life on it.  Is this idea worth spending years of your life on?  And what doesn’t excite you, can’t possibly turn someone else on.

More powerful than a locomotive, a Hooky Idea is best way to muscle your way into the industry!

 

 

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6 Responses to “Eenny, Meeny, Miney, Mo…”

  1. Annie Macdonald March 23, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    Thanks Barri, for the tips.

    Do you have concrete examples of hooky ideas that did all that and made it to the screen?

    Cheers,
    Annie

    • bevins March 23, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

      Hi Annie! I have a list that I’ve been working on for my talk and e-book on loglines, synopses and queries that I like as well as some that were recent spec sales that could make it to the screen. Maybe I’ll make it the topic of a future blog entry…

  2. Annie Macdonald March 24, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    thanks, I’d like very much to see it.

  3. bevins March 24, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    I may make it part of my upcoming e-book. Will keep you posted!

  4. Johnnye Gerhardt March 28, 2013 at 5:14 am #

    Interesting. Everything I’ve ever learned and everything I’ve ever heard from producers, agents, etc., speaks to the contrary. Ideas are a dime a dozen and everybody’s got one. If you’ve finished a screenplay, you’re already ahead of fifty percent of the writing population. Of that fifty percent a miniscule number of writers have actually studied the craft and know what they’re doing. Take another itty bitty chunk from that slice of cake and you’ve got those who relate their idea well enough to keep the interest of the script readers. A few of them make it to “consider.” If you doubt this, approach a producer, a real live accomplished working recognizable producer, and say, “I’ve got a great idea.” You should get a response like “So what” or something that translates to same. Don’t give them bones when they’re hungry for meat. Isn’t it Ponti’s list of 36 that makes just an “idea” redundant? By the way, what a film is about is not the same as an “idea.” A mystery “astonish and amaze?” Don’t you mean “intrigue and keep the audience guessing?” As for being wary of “timely ideas about current events or issues” limiting you and not speaking to a larger audience, have any of you seen “Up in the Air,” “About Schmidt,” “Avatar?” All those addressed current events. How about the one that dealt with the bomb squad in Iraq? Or torture at Guantanimo? Current events are always a hot topic. Maybe you can put a different perspective on them. Audiences love to learn. Just don’t let them know you’re teaching them. And enough. Let’s agree to disagree. I’m just another POV.

    • bevins April 2, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

      Thanks for your comments Johnnye. Always happy to hear a different POV. I believe the choice of an idea – what to write next – is the single most important choice a writer ever makes, so I devote a lot of attention to the process of choosing what to write hoping to give new writers decision making tools that improve their odds of breaking in. Ideas may be a “dime a dozen” but great ideas are rare. Do you have to back it up with a terrific story and a well written script? Absolutely. But as a producer, if you came up to me with a great idea, I’d listen to it. And if after you pitched it, if I thought it was a strong concept for a movie that I could get passionate about, I’d definitely want to read the script. My caution about current events is that they will be difficult for a new writer to get off the ground and issue scripts are often personal ones with a first script and might lack perspective.

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