Finding Ideas

October 16th, 2010 by Ron
The Script Blogger

Ideas can come to us all at unexpected moments of time and can be generated from the slightest glimmer of a distant light that may never be seen again. Often when we are in the most unlikely of places to be creative.

Regardless of inventing a new gadget that every housewife will have to have in her kitchen or the latest design of a video game that will entice millions of school children to forego homework in preference of reaching the next level of the game, or creating a spec screenplay, the process has a similarity.

An idea just happens. You cannot see its birth or put your finger on the moment of inception, it just sort of appears in your brain.

The similarity with nearly all ideas is when they first reach a place of consciousness they are incomplete. The creator or inventor has to work on the idea to make the idea work.

I am sure ideas for a story to be written as a screenplay and hopefully produced as a movie, are no different, and their initial concept just forms as if by magic in the subconscious but the more the idea is considered the more you realise how incomplete it is.

Taking an idea from being an idea to a finished project needs many stages of care in its nurturing and with an idea for a movie a major stage is transforming that glimmer of a concept into a screenplay.

Most screenplays are pitched in a one-liner and in that one-liner you have to sum up your script, in one sentence or in as few a words as possible.


A young hero goes it alone to change the world he lives in and wins the day, the unusually thing is, he’s a pig.


Amity Island had everything. Clear skies. Gentle surf. Warm water. People flocked there every summer. It was the perfect feeding ground.

L.A. Confidential

Everything is suspect; everyone’s for sale and nothing is what it seems.

[This was so good it was used in the opening dialogue]

Rob Roy

Honour made him a man, courage made him a hero and history made him a legend.

Can your good idea be summed up in a one-liner.

A script I’ve been working on for some time, entitled, ‘The Forgotten King’.

He kills a King, steals a Queen and rules a Nation, but nobody remembers his name.

That’s my pitch, the logline, considered way before I begun the script.

Why am I writing about the pitch when this is about ‘Finding Ideas’?

It’s simple really; does your idea break down to a one-liner? Can you sum it up, before you’ve written it, in one sentence?

If not; you haven’t considered your idea fully and in reality it may not be that good, because before starting the journey of your screenplay it might pay you to consider what the destination of the story is.

OK, let’s get back to finding ideas, because that’s the seed, which you, as the writer have to germinate to be able to write your one-liner that sums up your idea.

It this age of constant news coverage, the Internet and sloppy TV series you are being bombarded with ideas every day. It’s recognising them that is important.

How many watched the terrible news of the Virginia Campus shooting in April 2007 and thought there’s a film there.

But what film? The news presented so many individual stories at once.

Students surviving by playing dead, hiding beneath a desk, not going into class because a girlfriend was visiting, Professors locking the door and allowing students time to get out of the window.

The there is the police and their lack of initial response. The confusion of some individuals unable to handle the situation, or what about the killer, his parents, his psychologist or the girls he stalked.

Going further, how many other sick individuals watched the news and thought, yeah, that’s what I’ll do!  A Sci-Fi opportunity for a police state in the future where only they carry guns, or everyone carries guns.

From one incident there are thousands of variations that could be developed into a story for a film.

The news is a constant source to feed the fertile mind with ideas for films. It doesn’t have to be a big event on the scale of Virginia; hundreds of small news items are prime targets.

Recently, they have discovered a new planet, similar to earth, on UK TV they showed an orphaned bear being raised by a dog, covered the death of a famous soccer player and a secretary who sued her boss for sexual harassment that resulted in her being charged with blackmail.

In your daily life you see small sometimes comical, sometimes tragic and sometimes emotional events without them registering, everyone is a source for an idea.

People you meet are a source, old movies, a TV series, books, or go to a game, get pissed in a bar or see someone else make a fool of themselves. Everyone and everything is an opportunity for a seed of an idea.

One problem with today’s writers, according to Michael Leeson, (writer of War of the Roses) is today’s generation has been weakened by watching movies, so now they just recycle them. They lack originality.

I couldn’t agree more. Just having an idea is not enough, it has to be fresh, really different, outstanding original and something others will want to read and eventually see. Something others will want to share in.

Having said that is anything really original when you look at all the stories ever written, told or filmed.

I believe there are only three stories to tell:

About a place.

About a person or people

About an event.

Picking a place, a person or an event and telling the story in a way no one has heard before, is the originality.

And for originality, Homer, Shakespeare and writers like Wells, Verne and James, together with ancient scribes got there first.

How many Biblical stories are retold differently; Samson and Delilah became Romeo and Juliet which became West Side Story.

The important thing about ideas is seeing them through. Planting the seed, watering it and watching it grow into a story and from the story, a script and from the script, a film.

Be observant, the next great idea could be right in front of you – make sure you see it and when you do, note it.

I often hear new writers say that sat for hours in front of a blank sheet of paper, or now days, a flickering screen. Stuck for an idea.

Every idea you have, great, stupid, funny, sad, done before, no one would film that, whatever it is, write it down.

It may not stand the test of time to become a script in its own right but it may form part of another.

Now there’s an idea – merge ideas.

What if? One plus one, equals three.

Probably the greatest source of ideas – ever, finding a way to achieve the impossible.

But an idea alone is not a story, it maybe a hook, a scene, even a snatch of dialogue. For it to become a story it has to have a direction, a structure and an outcome. You need a premise.

The premise of a film or screenplay is the fundamental concept that drives the plot and can be expressed very simply. As suggested many films can be identified simply from a short sentence describing the premise.

A lonely boy is befriended by an alien.

A small town is terrorized by a shark.

A young boy sees dead people.

The Full Monty had a very simple premise:

A group of unemployed male steel workers decide to become strippers.

Ideas are like light bulbs; you have to turn them on to see what is in the room.

4 responses to “Finding Ideas”

  1. Wayne Joseph says:

    Interesting read, Ron. At least somebody knows what they’re talking about.
    Screenwriting to me is all about creativity. Everyone must learn about coming up new ideas. Create from your mind, write from the heart. That’s always been the motto.
    Keep up the good work!

  2. Gregory Coleman Jr says:

    Thanks Ron I can feel the Creativity Flowing down
    upon me now. Thanks for this valuable information very useful…

  3. Garvin says:

    This is the perfect post and may be one that is followed up to see what the results are

    A close friend sent this link the other day and I will be excitedly looking for your next piece of writing. Carry on on the brilliant work.

  4. Mark Gilvary says:

    Nice One Ron!


    Mark G