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Script Ideas: 5 Proven Ways To Unlock Original Movie Ideas

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by Script Reader Pro in How To Write A Screenplay
August 6, 2018 6 comments
How to write comedy scripts

Script Ideas: 5 Proven Ways To Unlock Original Movie Ideas

Are you the kind of writer who has notepads full of script ideas that you don’t have enough time to write? Or do you spend hours staring at your computer screen waiting for “inspiration to strike?”

Unfortunately, we’re not all Woody Allen—gifted with the ability to come up with good movie ideas at the drop of a hat. So how do you do it? How do you write a script for a feature or short film if you don’t have any characters, plot or solid idea of what you want to write about at all.

In this post, we’re going to show you the best way to brainstorm and come up with great movie ideas that you can turn into great scripts.

How To Come Up With Script Ideas Step #1: Turn Off Your Phone & Get Outside

script ideas

This first step is one of the very best ways of coming up with great film ideas. Turn off your computer, phone, iPad, TV and any other electrical hardware you own and make a commitment they’re going to stay off for X amount of hours.

Within this timeframe, get out the house and do some activities that give you the opportunity to let your mind wander: go for a hike, or surfing, or sit in Starbucks and listen to other people’s conversations.

Or simply walk down a city street. Look up, take in your surroundings and interact with people and the world. You’re missing out on a million potential screenplay ideas when your head’s buried in your phone.

We recommend unplugging from technology for at least twenty-four hours, say, on a Saturday or Sunday to really free the mind and reconnect with the present moment. You may be thinking all this sounds too simplistic, but giving your mind some time off from technology will give it the chance to roam.

Remember: Newton didn’t come up with the theory of gravity while scribbling equations on a blackboard. He was in his garden noticing an apple fall…

How To Come Up With Script Ideas Step #2: Study Other Writers’ Loglines

script ideas
Here’s a perhaps more “screenwritery” method. One of the best ways to generate movie plot ideas is by riffing on existing ones. This will get your creative juices flowing enabling you to think more creatively about your own loglines.

Study aspiring writers’ loglines

Here’s a list from 2017’s annual Blacklist. Make notes. Combine elements from different loglines. Add your own protagonist to someone else’s plot, or your own plot to someone else’s protagonist.

Also be sure to listen to Pilar Alessandra’s yearly logline contest—which is a great place to hear plot ideas and absorb as much as you can from them.

In our post on the 10 Best Screenwriting Podcasts For Savvy Screenwriters, we’ve included links to some of these logline contests for you to check out.

The benefit of listening rather than reading is that you get to hear how the logline sounds when read out loud, giving you a better sense of rhythm. Play around with all the different scenarios generated by the hundreds of loglines and you’ll find it impossible to not come away with a few really promising new film ideas.

Study professional writers’ loglines

It’s important to study loglines of produced movies too when you’re trying to come up with original plot ideas. Go to IMDb and gather together some loglines from movies in your chosen genre.

Study them. Have a think about what makes them good movie ideas. What makes you want to watch them (or not) purely from the logline alone? Try it with these examples below:

Drama script ideas

Flight. A seasoned airline pilot who miraculously crash lands his plane after a mid-air catastrophe, saving nearly every soul on board, is hailed as a hero. But then questions arise as to who or what was really at fault and what really happened on the plane.

Whiplash. A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.

Wild. After the dissolution of her marriage, death of her mother, and years of destructive behavior, a woman decides—with absolutely no experience—to hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, alone.

Comedy script ideas

Bullets Over Broadway. In New York in 1928, a struggling playwright is forced to cast a mobster’s talentless girlfriend in his latest drama in order to get it produced.

Game Night. A group of friends who meet regularly for game nights find themselves entangled in a real-life mystery when the shady brother of one of them is seemingly kidnapped by dangerous gangsters.

The Intern. When a seventy-year-old widower discovers that retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, he seizes an opportunity to get back in the game by becoming a senior intern at an online fashion site.

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Action movie ideas

Baby Driver. A talented, young getaway driver relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. But after being coerced into working for a crime boss, he must face the music when a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.

Blood Father. An ex-con reunites with his estranged wayward 17-year old daughter to protect her from drug dealers who are trying to kill her.

Jack Reacher. A homicide investigator digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims.

Thriller movie ideas

10 Cloverfield Lane. After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter with two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack.

Blue Ruin. A mysterious outsider’s quiet life is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family.

Get Out. A young African-American visits his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend, where a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he could have never imagined.

Horror movie ideas

The Blair Witch Project. Three film students vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind.

Don’t Breathe. Hoping to walk away with a massive fortune, a trio of young thieves break into the house of an old blind man who isn’t as helpless as he seems.

Oculus. A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

As in the previous section, reading other people’s loglines should inspire you to come up with better film ideas yourself.

How To Come Up With Script Ideas Step #3: Plunder Real Life

script ideas
There’s often no real reason to bang your head against a wall trying to come up with movie ideas from scratch. Instead, plunder real life…

(500) Days of Summer. Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber wrote down every bad relationship experience they’d ever had on index cards and turned them into the screenplay for this downbeat Comedy.

Alpha Dog. Nick Cassavetes based the script to this film on the real-life kidnapping of a fifteen-year-old kid by his older brother’s drug dealer.

Zodiac. James Vanderbilt and Robert Graysmith based their script on the lives of the journalists and investigators involved in the real-life serial killer case: the Zodiac Killer.

Keep up with the news. Keep a notepad with you at all times and jot down interesting screenplay ideas from local newspapers and the national TV news. Subscribe to a news channel on Facebook to get daily updates.

Watch documentaries in the genre you want to write a screenplay in. Get into the habit of hitting “Random Article” on Wikipedia and seeing what comes up.

Also, listen to the Script Notes podcast. John August and Craig Mazin often include a section in which they take some real incidents and see how they could be developed as good movie ideas.

Finally, have a think about your own life. Has something happened to you or to someone you know that’d make a good story? Or maybe you could loosely base some of your characters on actual people in your life. This is an effective way of helping them feel “real.”

How To Come Up With Script Ideas Step #4: Focus On What Moves You

script ideas
Are you passionate about skateboarding? Or astrophysics? Or wiener dogs? What puts a fire in your belly? What subject would you really love basing the plot or theme of your script around?

Often this is a great way to come up with movie script ideas because you’re starting from a point of passion. And this will come across in your writing and bring a level of authenticity to your work that’s lacking in many aspiring writers’ specs.

Have a think about some of your favorite protagonists. What are they passionate about? What skills do they have? What knowledge do they impart to the audience?

For example, in Sideways, we’re impressed by Miles’ expert knowledge of wine. It makes him relatable and believable. In Everest, we really feel the climbers’ passion for mountaineering. In Whiplash, Andrew’s love of drumming is palpable.

In each case, the writer has simply injected their own passion for wine, mountaineering and music into their protagonists. And you can do the same.

How To Come Up With Script Ideas Step #5: Forget “What If?” & Relax

script ideas

You may have heard the advice that when trying to come up with good movie ideas you should ask yourself “what if?” The theory goes that you come up with a character or a situation ask “what if?” and then “see what happens.”

  • What if a guy was walking to work and suddenly gets kidnapped?
  • What if all the food in the world ran out?
  • What if a chauvinist could hear women’s thoughts?

The problem here is that essentially there’s not much difference between asking “what if” and just brainstorming trying coming up with a logline. You have to think “what could happen next?” when you’re thinking about screenplay ideas anyway and this often leads to a build of pressure and writer’s block.

A better way to come up with movie script ideas is to take the pressure off as much as possible. Rather than sitting there in front of a blank page take a leaf out of Hitchcock’s working method.

As relayed by one of his cowriters:

“When we came up against a block and our discussions became very heated and intense, he would stop suddenly and tell a story that had nothing to do with the work at hand. At first, I was almost outraged, and then I discovered that he did this intentionally. He mistrusted working under pressure, and he would say, ‘We’re pressing, we’re pressing, we’re working too hard. Relax, it will come.’ And of course if finally always did.”

So if your plot ideas aren’t flowing as well as you’d like, the first thing to do is to take a step back. Relax. Don’t beat yourself if things aren’t panning out as you’d like right now. They probably will.

A Few FAQs When It Comes To Script Writing Ideas

script ideas

Below you’ll find answers to some commonly asked questions we get at Script Reader Pro about creating good movie ideas.

Can I use a movie idea generator?

Firstly you may be asking “what is a movie idea generator?” (Also known as a “film idea generator” or “script idea generator.”)

These are websites which generally consist of a single form that asks you to choose different responses to various questions in a drop-down menu. For example, is your protagonist a retired cop or a circus performer? Is their goal to infiltrate a drug smuggling ring or rescue a pet hamster? Is the movie like The Shining or Ratatouille?

As you can imagine, using a film ideas generator is pretty limiting and we don’t really recommend it if you want to come up with compelling plot ideas for feature or short scripts. Rather than spending time on a movie idea generator, follow the methods we’ve outlined in this post and you should do just fine.

Do I have to copyright my script ideas?

No, it’s impossible to copyright an idea for a movie. The truth is, an idea is just an idea. It’s the execution of that idea—in a spec screenplay or in a film—that holds value. Not the initial idea itself.

Are producers looking for movie ideas?

Unfortunately no. There’s nowhere to submit movie ideas and producers aren’t looking for movie ideas in themselves. What they’re looking for is the finished article: a feature screenplay or short script based on a great movie idea.

Can I get paid for movie ideas?

If you Google “how to sell a movie idea” and find yourself on a website that claims it’s possible to do so, get out of there as quickly as possible. At the risk of sounding repetitive, there’s no real market for selling just film ideas. You’ll need to write a spec yourself or collaborate with another writer and then try and sell it.

So why do you advise we write film ideas as loglines?

This is a great exercise in order to make sure your concept is rock solid before you start writing the script—potentially saving months of rewrites. It’s also handy to have a logline of your script ready as an elevator pitch or to add to a query letter. Here’s the step-by-step guide on How To Write a Logline.

How To Come Up With Script Ideas: Conclusion

script ideas

We hope this post will help you generate some great script ideas. However, it’s not enough to just come up with script ideas, they have to be original. Ultimately, there has to be something within the conflict of your story that marks it out as different in some way.

We recently produced some script coverage on a writer’s script about a middle-aged woman who lives with a foul-mouthed talking Sindy doll. When we pointed out the similarities between her script and the movie Ted, she replied, “Okay, but imagine Ted hadn’t been made. How would my story stand up then?”

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

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

Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s script was a spec, and one of the primary reasons it got bought and got made is the originality of the concept. This is key to coming up with plot ideas that get turned into effective features and short films.

Overall, if your film ideas are cliched, or very similar to ideas that have already been done before, you’ll need to rethink them. Our post How To Write a Logline: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide will give you a full breakdown on how to tighten up your concept and make sure it’s ready to be written.

Turn off your phone and get outside. Read other writers’ script ideas. Check your plot ideas against those on IMDb. Plunder real life for movie ideas and focus on what you’re most passionate about. But most important of all: be original.

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How do you come up with loglines and script ideas for your projects? What do you think of our suggestions? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

script ideas

More posts on how to write a screenplay…

script ideasHOW TO WRITE A SCREENPLAY FOR A MOVIE: A PRACTICAL STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE

 

script ideasHOW TO WRITE COMEDY SCRIPTS
WITH LOL DIALOGUE

 

script ideasHOW TO WRITE A LOGLINE:
THE ULTIMATE STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE

 

6 Comments
  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.

  3. Aaron says:

    Thanks for suggesting new ways to finding good script ideas. I’ve been thinking about new ideas for my next screenplay for months and it’s driving me crazy. I will definitely take a no technology weekend, go offline and let my creativity flow. Hopefully that helps! 🙂

  4. Paul Carroll says:

    I’m not a writer, but I would like to see someone do a remake of George Orwell’s, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, incorporating modern technology (cell phones, home computers, social media, etc.) to accomplish the state’s objective to continuously monitor its citizens conversations, movements and even their thoughts. “Big Brother” could be similar to a cult-like president who was “elected” by the easily swayed under-educated rabble. The persuasive power of “the party”, which is actually an elite group that controls both major political parties would illicit the services of the “thought police”, taking action against “subversives” in the form of convincing the public of the dangers of independent thinking. This effort would be reinforced by the puppet talk show hosts, shaming subversives into submission. The protagonist, Winston Smith, would enter a forbidden relationship with a woman of another race or perhaps even a Muslim. The state, claiming that she is a terrorist and a danger to public safety, would begin hunting them down.

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