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How To Create Movie Ideas That’ll Get Your Script Noticed

Using The Three-Way Triangle Of Conflict


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July 9, 2015 4 comments
movie ideas

How do you separate average movie ideas for a screenplay from GREAT movie ideas? Movie ideas that will get your screenplay picked up by an agent or manager?

Here are several key steps you should follow when creating a logline to make sure your script idea is bullet-proof.

Create Movie Ideas That Are Beautifully Simple

The best film ideas are always the ones you go “Why didn’t I think of that?!” when you hear them. There’s something wonderful about a simple, concise movie idea, and you know you’ve got one when other people light up when you tell it to them.

But what makes them seem so beautifully simple?

As you probably know, it needs to be crystal clear within your script ideas as to who the protagonist is and what they want. And who the antagonist is and what they want. You can achieve that great feeling of simplicity within your movie ideas by following the following rules…

1. Give Your Protagonist a Thumbnail Sketch

In order to help your script concept achieve this make sure you include a thumbnail sketch of just who your protagonist is. Sum up the essence of your hero is a short, vivid description.

Don’t just write “an FBI agent,” write “a burnt out FBI agent,” or “a paranoid FBI agent.” Don’t just write “a soccer mom,” write “a suicidal soccer mom,” or “a flirtatious soccer mom.”

Then do the same for your antagonist.

2. Make It Clear What’s At Stake For Your Protagonist

In other words, what’s the worst thing that will happen if the protagonist doesn’t achieve their goal? The failure to create a goal for the hero that generates a gripping conflict with an antagonist that has high stakes attached, is probably the primary reason people spec screenplays fail.

All great movie ideas have high stakes attached—usually because they are in some way about death.

We call them “death stakes.”

i.e. the protagonist risks either literal death, or figurative death in the story. Literal death is pretty self-explanatory—the protagonist or someone they love dies. Figurative death stakes can mean anything from the death of a relationship to the “death” of the protagonist’s inner self.

This conflict between protagonist and antagonist, then, should be over a stakes character (or thing) forming a three-way triangle of conflict with literal or figurative “death stakes” attached.

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3. Create A “Three-Way Triangle of Conflict”

Here are some examples of three-way triangles of conflict in movie ideas to show you what we mean:

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Protagonist: Indiana Jones
Antagonist: the Nazis
Stakes Character(s): Marion
What’s at stake: Indy and Marion’s life and the fate of the whole world
Death Stakes: Literal

Annie Hall
Protagonist: Alvy
Antagonist: Annie
Stakes character: Annie
What’s at stake: Alvy’s chance at love/fulfillment in life
Death Stakes: Figurative

The Blair Witch Project
Protagonist: Heather
Antagonist: The Witch
Stakes character(s): Heather, Josh and Mike
What’s at stake: Their lives and the lives of anyone who goes into the woods
Death Stakes: Literal

The Truman Show
Protagonist: Truman
Antagonist: Christof
Stakes Character: Sylvia
What’s at stake: Truman’s chance at love AND at living a normal life
Death Stakes: Figurative

In short, you should usually be able to distill your film ideas down to this simple three-way triangle of conflict.

If you can’t, then there’s a good chance you’re having trouble distilling them down to a one or two sentence logline that sells your screenplay.

And if you can’t sum up what the conflict’s about in a couple of lines, chances are its conflict isn’t clear enough.

4. Answer These Four Questions About Your Movie Idea 

1. Who’s your protagonist?
2. Who (or what) is your antagonist?
3. Who’s your stakes character, and what’s at stake?
4. What are the literal or figurative “death stakes”?

If you have answers to these four questions, your movie ideas are probably on the right track toward forming a solid logline.

(There are exceptions of course, if you’re writing a Mumblecore or Arthouse movie that you intend to shoot yourself. But on the whole, pitching to managers, producers and the industry in general requires this kind of three-way triangle of conflict.)

You can read about this process in more detail in our post on Talentville: The Definitive 3 Step Guide To Nailing Your Concept

movie ideas

Create Film Ideas That Are ORIGINAL

No script ideas are ever going to be completely original, but there has to be something about the conflict within yours that marks it out as different in some way.

Before The Hangover, had you ever seen a comedy about three guys who wake up from a crazy bachelor party to discover they have no memory of the night before and the groom’s gone missing?

The Hangover was a spec script, and the primary reason it got bought and got made is the originality of the concept.

Here are three questions to ask yourself when coming up with movie ideas:

  1. “Is this an idea that’s never been done before?”
  2. “Have I taken a well worn genre and added a different spin on it?”
  3. “What’s fresh and exciting about this idea?”

A client of ours recently had us do some script coverage on their comedy about a woman who lives with a foul-mouthed talking Sindy doll. When we pointed out the similarities between her script and the movie Ted, she wrote back with “Okay, but imagine Ted hadn’t been made. How would my story stand up then?”

But the point is, Ted has already been made. Audiences have already seen the whole thing with a grown up talking to a childhood toy, and so her movie idea just didn’t cut it in the originality stakes.

Overall, if your scrip idea is cliched, or is very similar to an idea that’s been done before, you’ll need to rethink the premise, because spec scripts with fresh movie ideas stand a far better chance of getting noticed than ones that don’t.


How do you come up with loglines and movie ideas for your projects? What do you think of our analysis? Don’t forget you can get some #1 Rated coverage on your script by clicking the banner below.

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  1. Gina Gina says:

    A man wakes up to realize his whole life has been a dream and now he must fight to get back awake before it becomes a nightmare.

    1. Loressa says:

      Who is the man? Read that first section about thumbnails and describe him. Why does the dream become a nightmare? So, if he ‘wakes up’, then why does he have to get back awake? Also, this logline needs irony.

    2. Script Reader Pro says:

      Hi Gina, as Loressa says we need much more information here about who this man is, where he’s come from and what the source of antagonism is.

  2. Geof Spalding says:

    A fickle woman miraculously survives a fire only to discover that her fiancé never existed. Things get worse when a deranged detective believes she is a terrorist. She must work with a psychologist, with his own issues, if she wants to discover the truth.

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