By: Hudson Phillips.
How much does the “right idea” matter?
If you’re writing a script with the goal of attracting a manager, producer, actor, or anyone in Hollywood, I would say it matters A LOT. Maybe even more than the quality of the writing (but not much more – you still have to pull that concept off). But Hollywood is looking for “poster-ready” or “high-concept” ideas. That is, you can pitch it in two sentences, and whoever hears it already imagines the poster (and the trailer and the star and the box office returns).
Yesterday I read about a film that was announced called The Out-Laws about a bank teller who meets his fiancé’s parents for the first time and starts to believe that they are the masked thieves who robbed his bank. Now, you may think that’s a lame idea, but you can see the poster right? And the trailer? And start to predict the gags? Meet the Parents meets Point Break!
I eat this kind of stuff up because those are the kinds of films I want to write. But maybe you’re writing a drama. Does the same thing apply? Let’s look at a couple of recent Oscar-nominated films and see how they did at “high-concept” drama.
Still pretty high-concept right? A little more “execution dependent,” but each sets up a clear dilemma that is going to be explored throughout the film. You can imagine some of the issues these characters are going to have to face. You can even relate to them just from a one-sentence description!
Coming up with a memorable idea is both necessary and REALLY HARD.
Terry Rossio, the writer of Pirates of the Caribbean (among many of your childhood favorites) says, “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.”
Writer and blogger Scott Myers says “If you write a spec script based upon the first story idea that comes into your mind, that script likely won’t sell. Why? Because almost assuredly, it is not a strong story concept. I believe the story concept may represent up to half of the value of a screenplay to a potential buyer.”
And I think he’s right. Half of your job is to come up with a great concept and the other half of your job is to turn that concept into a great screenplay. So how do you do it?
Now, what we’re not talking about is chasing current fads or writing simply to sell something. That just leads to stale scripts that lack passion or personality. But, I also know that you need to do everything you can to stack the deck on your script if you want a chance at making a living at this.
One last exercise. Before you decide on your next screenplay concept, come up with 100 other ideas. I know that sounds like a lot, but spread them out. 10 ideas each day for 10 days or 3 ideas a day for a month. You’ll surprise yourself with how quickly they’ll come to you. Here are some brainstorming techniques:
You don’t want to spend years developing a script only to find that it’s un-pitchable (or the dreaded “execution dependent.”)! The “right idea” however, is like a skeleton key designed to open the doors of Hollywood gatekeepers. The writing journey is too long and painful to spend on the wrong idea.
Hudson Phillips is a screenwriter, producer, and founder of ScriptBlast.com.
His new book, Writing Unforgettable Characters: How to Write a Character-Driven Screenplay that Connects Emotionally with your Audience, is now available on Amazon.
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