Where Do Your Ideas Come From?

by Jason Hellerman on September 17, 2014

This week Kevin Smith’s TUSK debuted at the Toronto Film Festival to rave reviews. While the idea of a man turning another man into a Walrus is intriguing in its own right what grabbed my attention was that this was one of the first movies we have ever been able to follow from inception to product. Kevin Smith took us from the seed of an idea to a feature length film. It is an incredible feat.

Smith came up with the idea for Tusk while recording Smodcast with his long time producing partner Scott Mosier. They were reading an article a man wrote advertising free rent in his home if you were willing to dress up like a walrus. Smith jokes, pauses, thinks about it. You can almost hear the metal hitting the flint. Spark. Fire!

You can hear the story click for Smith. It’s magical. There’s a different tone in his voice, an excitement that we get lucky to feel few times in our life.

Finding inspiration is no easy feat. We’ve all heard the platitude “Write what you know” but that’s easier said than done. It’s hard to immediately “know” anything.

So where should we go to be inspired? How can we jumpstart out imagination?

A good weird news story is a way to start but besides that I try to listen to a bunch of podcasts to grab ideas. Things like The American Life and The Moth are jam-packed with wonderful examples of human interaction, too weird to be true, and amazing characters. I listen with an open notebook, tracking things like emotions, names, locations, and even verbs used to describe actions.

One of the general complaints readers at Studios and Agencies have is that characters come off stiff, or unrealistic. Consuming articles, Podcasts, and being out in the real world will help you meet people you can turn into characters. Readers want to be able to identify with the people in the script, even if the story seems out of reach. Listening and reading about real people will help add details that make your characters relatable and could mean the difference between a Consider and a Pass.

An exercise that is wonderful is to take any kind of public transportation for an hour. Put on your headphones but don’t turn on music. See who sits/stands near you and listen to them. Observe their body language, the way they talk, you’ll pick up things you’ve never noticed before that can pump up your scripts to the next level. This is a fun way to get to know people you want in a script, to hear about different worlds, cultures, and experiences.

All in all it’s about putting yourself in a position to accept the story that comes to you. Never shut yourself off from an idea – no matter where it comes from. What’s so great about Smith is that he initially wanted to make fun of the story but you hear it wear on him, you hear it find emotional depth inside him because he chose not to cast it away. He leaves himself open and a year later he’s at Toronto showing the movie.

Challenge yourself to listen, you never know what you’ll find.



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