How to Generate Awesome (and Original) Feature Film Ideas
Coming up with film ideas is hard. You know the struggle, don't you? The sleepless nights, the many meaningless showers and strolls you've taken in the hopes of getting your creative juices flowing. Sometimes, though, creative thinking requires a process.
When you're trying to think of the next big, exciting idea for a screenplay, there are tactics you can apply to get there. Be warned, not every tactic will work every time — you have to expect a few roadblocks here and there as a creator. But, the trick is finding ways to start writing more regularly, because the more often and consistently you write, the more opportunities you give yourself to produce new ideas.
These idea-generating techniques might help you do just that.
“This Meets That”
One of the most common ways people explain a movie premise is by saying it's like "this meets that." You've heard it before. Sharknado is one idea that fits easily into this tactic: "It's like Jaws meets Twister." Or what about Stranger Things: it's The Goonies meets Alien. 500 Days of Summer has been described as How I Met Your Mother meets Garden State.
Some people will use this to describe the feel of a movie, while others use it to talk about the main concepts of a movie. Either way, if you’re looking to create something new, you can definitely start off with “this meets that.” It’ll send you down some interesting roads, especially if you’re writing a story like Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets The Office. Actually, never mind, you can’t have that idea. I’m calling dibs.
As simple as it sounds, your mind is the best place to look for seeds to an idea. In many cases, you come up with interesting, sometimes crazy, and very original ideas from the dreams you have.
Whether your dreams are grounded ot feel like crack-fueled nightmares, you should write them down. Some of the coolest concepts have had their start in a dream or dream-like experience. Get into the habit of journaling your dreams. Many creatives do this and refer back to them when they want inspiration.
As a writer, you can choose to take these dreams literally as the basis for a new story, or you can use them as a metaphor for other story ideas. Either way, having them written down on paper will help you remember them and refer to them when you’re ready to start writing a new feature!
Art and Music
You don’t have to base your script on a novel in order to be inspired by something that already exists. Every time you visit a museum or listen to your favorite album, you’re getting a chance to come up with ideas.
What songs put an image in your mind? Is it a broken love song that makes you think up a drama plot? What pieces of art give you an idea for a story? Is there a painted landscape that makes you imagine a fantasy world?
As long as you’re not basing the story on the music or art, you can make something truly original. And because you’re building this from inspirations that moved you personally, the story you write will also be full of your raw thoughts and emotions. If you’re trying to make a moving feature film, this is a great way to start!
There are so many ways to get ideas in your head or on paper other than dream journaling and listening to music. Watch movies. Read scripts. Play games. Talk to strangers. Ideas can sprout out of the most mundane things. But every story eventually becomes a “this meets that," so don’t underestimate the power of bringing two ideas together to bring you something uniquely different.
However you decide to generate your ideas, don’t forget that you might be able to get more creative juices flowing if you have fellow creatives working with you. A brainstorming session or two can make things a lot easier in the long run when you're looking to bring more ideas to the table. Whatever you decide, you’ll eventually find your flow. Just don’t forget to write it all down when you’re done thinking!
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David Wayne Young is an independent film producer and screenwriter with years of experience in story analysis, even providing coverage for multiple international screenwriting competitions. David's obsessions include weird fiction and cosmic horror, and he's formally trained in the art of tasting and preparing gourmet coffee in various worldly traditions, from Turkish coffee to hand-tamped espresso — all enjoyed while writing, of course.