Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Where do you get ideas for a movie?

Finally back on the blog, week-end holiday messed up a lot of work for me, and I took off a day or so.

Having said that, I get a lot of people who ask me where my ideas come from so here goes.

In the beginning, as they say, I had really bad ideas. My first screenplay was about a guy going to a film school and having conflicts with his father. This was pretty much based on my summer at the Banff School of Fine Arts in the magnificent Canadian Rockies way back in 1972. 

It was a really bad script.

I still have it and take it out now and then to see how far I've gone, although some might say not very far. Anyways, I have managed to do a fair amount of work, that being 20 feature-length movies of which half were my originals and the other half were rewrites.

Let me explain the rewrites; it's where I came into a project almost ready to film but for some reason didn't want to use the original writer. This is quite common and in most of the rewrite jobs, it was a "Page One", meaning that I basically rewrote the complete screenplay. One screenplay called Riddler's Moon went through about 25 rewrites, some minor, some huge. 

The huge rewrite was due to the fact that the movie was set in Nebraska, I think, and we were filming in Luxembourg in Europe. We had a town with barren fields but when we came to Luxembourg, the fields were green and yellow and flourishing. What did I do? The only thing that I could think of is to make the lush green fields poison. Sounds simple but it worked.

But back to my ideas; I have written a few movies based on old movies I saw as a kid, changing characters and ideas. Once I wrote a screenplay called Dream House which was based on another movie I wrote years before called The Tower

Both movies used the same idea; a computer that ran an office tower and went berserk and a house computer went berserk. Nobody noticed.

Early in my writing I used a formula found in screenwriting books wherein you "create the characters" by inventing them using age, type, etc. But these never really felt real. 

This changed when I wrote a script called Secrets of the Salmon and based it on a real character I knew, an executive who had drug and alcohol problems. I added some of my characteristics (not drugs or alcohol) as well as a few other people I knew.
From then on I would look for real people and base the character I would write loosely on them and it worked. Salmon worked so well that Jody Foster's company, Smart Egg, wanted to meet me because they didn't believe a man wrote it. It was later optioned by ABC.

I used this formula from then until now and I still use it. Creating a character may work for some writers but I'd rather steal characteristics than make them up, they're always better because they're real.

This worked well especially for women characters and I'm not the only one who works this way. 

What other ideas?

I read a lot of magazines and newspapers and find good ideas; some of them that I have on file include:

- A true story about a small town where women decided to close the town down from men and have a "night without men". 

- A baseball star who won the world series but died in combat before he got recognized.

- Mars - I have been trying to do a story on Mars and just haven't found the right thing yet. It'll probably be a copy of a classic book or old movie... or maybe original.

I have little notebooks in every room and always carry a notebook with me because I know that if I don't I probably won't ever remember the idea I lost.

So, if you are looking for an idea here's a few things to consider and don't get all wrapped up about stealing an idea; every idea has been made and I always say that each time I come up with a great idea, 4 other writers have also, two thinking of writing, one has it written and one is in post-production. So don't worry if you have a similar idea:

Funny thing is, for me at that certain age where nobody wants you, it seems I get more ideas than I ever did. And I think it's just from reading books and newspapers and almost everything. 

And I also watch people, I'm not a writer who tries to write in Starbucks, I watch people and what they do. Real people will give you more than whatever you can create.

It always brings back that common expression when you hear someone describe an event or meet a strange thing that happens, someone will always say these words; 

"A writer couldn't have written that".

Actually, writers could have written that and probably more than once.



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