The-Master-Joaquin-Phoenix

The biggest mistake screenwriters make in screenwriting is starting with a bad idea. Actually, “bad” isn’t the right word. Another ‘b’ word is more appropriate. “Benign.” There’s nothing to the idea. It’s empty, uninspired, boring. And yet, 90% of the submissions I get continue to be lame and lifeless. What sucks about this is your script is doomed before you’ve even written word. And I’ve watched that play out too many times, with writers rearranging words, scenes, sentences, sequences, characters, loglines, all in the hope that their “idea” will all of a sudden work.

So what is a good idea? Well, there’s some subjectivity involved, of course. But generally speaking, people know when they’ve been pitched a good idea. Good ideas feel inspired, original, and bursting with potential. On the flip side, bad ideas feel cliched, uninspired, and half-baked. That isn’t a lot to go on as those descriptors are fairly nebulous. But don’t worry, cause I’m going to give you ten tips you can use to finally start coming up with good movie ideas. Are you ready? Let’s get started.

1) Try – This may sound like stupid advice. It isn’t. I’d say that half the ideas I’m pitched are bad simply because the writer isn’t trying. You can tell they came up with the idea quickly and haven’t thought it through. An idea has to be battle-tested. It should be pitted against at least ten other ideas you’ve been working through and emerge as the clear winner. Every time you come up with an idea, ask yourself, is this an inspired idea or is it similar to other ideas out there? Movie idea generation is the most competitive arena there is. EVERYBODY thinks they have a great movie idea, which means you’re competing against billions (with a ‘b’) of ideas. If you’re not trying your hardest, I guarantee you your idea’s bad. Here’s an example of a really well thought-out idea.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – After their relationship fails, a couple undergoes a procedure to have the memories of each other erased, only to realize halfway through that they made a mistake. They then must race through every memory in their relationship to avoid losing each other forever.

2) A fresh angle/take – One of the easiest ways for me to identify a seasoned screenwriter over a newbie is a fresh take on an old premise. Newbies are still in that mindset where they’re re-writing the movies they grew up on. Veterans realize that to make an impression, they must find a new way into the movies they grew up on. One of the best examples of this is Memento, which took the old noir investigative thriller and turned it on its head.

Memento – A man with short-term memory loss utilizes a system of tattooing the clues of his wife’s murder on his body to find the man who killed her.

3) Clarity – A good idea is one where all the elements come together clearly and harmoniously. The idea is simple to understand and you’re able to imagine the movie immediately. I read a lot of ideas where the writer is throwing numerous pieces of the puzzle at us, but the pieces don’t fit together. I’ll give you two romantic comedy ideas to explain what I mean, one with a clear and powerful idea, the other with a murky and cluttered one.

Pretty Woman – A buttoned-up businessman in town for the biggest deal of his life hires an unrefined prostitute to pose as his girlfriend for the week, sparking an unexpected romance.

Aloha – An Air Force pilot returns to Hawaii to oversee the launch of a top secret military satellite while attempting to reconnect with his newly engaged ex-girlfriend as well as exploring a romance with the company woman who’s been assigned to keep tabs on him.

4) A complex/interesting main character – “I’m not interested in super hero movies or high concept stuff, Carson. Does that mean I’m screwed?” No. You’re not screwed. But, if you don’t have a highly marketable idea, you better have a compelling complex-as-shit main or key supporting character. That’s because your character will now become your pitch. Therefore, if they don’t sound interesting, that means you’re not giving us a great idea or a great character. What else is left? Are you going to wow us with your deft ability to hide exposition? Nightcrawler is a good example of this.

Nightcrawler – Louis Bloom, an unpleasant sociopathic loner with a gift for salesmanship, revolutionizes the practice of nightcrawling – taping violent accidents and selling them to news shows – by risking death every night to be the best in the field.

5) Irony – Another way for you guys who hate Hollywood movies to come up with a great idea is to utilize irony. The most basic form of movie irony is to make your hero the exact opposite of what’s required of him. So you wouldn’t write a story about an atheist who starts his own atheism support group. You’d write a story about an atheist who takes a job as a Christian preacher to make ends meet. Because irony is such a powerful element in making ideas pop, it’s another easy way to separate seasoned writers from newbies.

The Social Network – An antisocial Harvard freshman with no friends ends up creating the single largest friend network in the history of the world.

6) Strange Attractor – One of you had the perfect reaction to a recent Amateur Offerings idea. The commenter, assessing an idea that sounded like every action movie ever, said that the logline was the equivalent of “beige wallpaper.” And I thought that was perfect. You want to avoid the “beige wallpaper” version of movie ideas. One way to do this is to include a “strange attractor,” which is a unique element that stands out like a red rose in a desert. Even if your idea isn’t perfect, the strange attractor will get a reader’s attention. Say you want to write a survival movie. You can write about a man stuck on a life raft after his boat sinks, which has no strange attractor. Or you can go with something like this…

Life of Pi – When a ship transferring zoo animals to a new country sinks, a young boy is stuck on a lifeboat with a dangerous tiger.

7) Ill-equipped main character – One of the easiest ways to make your idea more interesting is to include a main character who is extremely ill-equipped for the mission at hand. This will make the character an UNDERDOG, which is one of the most salable elements in idea creation. And really, this gets to the heart of what makes any story good, which is that the journey must be difficult. What better way to make the journey difficult than to make the main character as ill-equipped for that journey as possible?

The King’s Speech – The King of England, a rampant stutterer, must overcome his speech impediment to give the most important speech in history, one that inspires the world to stop Adolf Hitler.

8) A Primary Source of Conflict – Remember guys, that a screenplay is broken down into three acts. Act 1 is SETUP. Act 3 is RESOLUTION. That leaves us with one act left. Which act is that? It’s the act of CONFLICT. A movie idea without conflict isn’t a movie idea. It’s the beginning of a movie idea. One of the reasons Hancock was so forgettable was because it only ever figured out the beginning of its idea – a drunk superhero. It needed a strong conflict to turn it into a fully-fleshed out idea.

Murder on the Orient Express – When a murder occurs on an extended lavish train ride, a detective must find the killer amongst 13 suspects before the murderer strikes again. (the conflict is the detective’s investigation – that’s what will take up the second act).

9) Genre-Mixing – This is one of the oldest tricks in coming up with fresh ideas. You simply take one genre and mix it up with another one. Since most writers tend to stay in one genre lane, the Frankensteinien results of genre mixing give way to some interesting ideas. Some of the more common genres that are mixed are horror and sci-fi, comedy and sci-fi, thrillers and horror. But don’t stop there. Get weird if you want. Mix a musical with a western. Mix adventure and film noir. At the very least, you’ll have an idea that stands apart from all that cliche garbage everyone else is coming up with. And here’s a bonus tip: The less the two genres go together, the more unique the idea will be. Mixing the romance and serial killer genres, for example.

Westworld (mixes Western and Science-Fiction genres) – A robot malfunction creates havoc at a futuristic amusement park that allows its participants to live in an artificially constructed Old West.

10) Relatively High Stakes – There’s a reason I used the word “relatively” here. That’s because not every movie is about saving the universe, nor should it be. However, the importance of your hero’s journey must contain consequences relative to that journey. Otherwise your idea sounds unimportant. One of the reasons the movie “Wild” didn’t catch on was because there were no clear stakes. A girl hikes a trail to find herself. What happens if she doesn’t find herself? Err… she’s upset? The relative stakes in that movie are non-existent. The Sweet Hereafter, another character-driven indie film, was dripping in stakes.

The Sweet Hereafter – A teenage girl who survived the most horrific school bus crash in history is the key witness in a class action suit against the state, but isn’t sure she wants to tell the truth about what happened that day.

There you have it, guys! The road map to all your future movie ideas. I encourage you to practice these tips and share the results in the comments section. The readers of this site are good at explaining why loglines or concepts aren’t working. So this is as good of an opportunity as you’re going to get at practicing idea generation and receiving valuable feedback.

If you want to get my personal opinion, I charge $25 for 200 words of feedback on loglines. I also charge $75 for a pack of 5 loglines. E-mail me at carsonreeves1@gmail.com with the subject line: “LOGLINE” to sign up. You can also hire me to consult on feature screenplays and pilots. I’ll give you $50 off with the subject header: “CONSULTATION 50.” Hope to hear from you soon!

  • Justin

    Cool.

    • Scott Crawford

      There’s a LOT to be said for just wanting to write SOMETHING. There are two types of writer, broadly speaking, at least for this comment… those who write a lot and those who don’t.

      Those who write a lot KNOW that a lot of what they write might not be any good, but some of it will be and that’s great.

      Those who don’t write a lot (guilty!) and instead think very hard (too hard? Probably) about what to write and what it’s going to be like produce LESS but more of it is usable.

      You take your chances, I guess. There are lots of writers, I particularly think of Scott Frazier and Craig Zahler, who CHURN out stuff… and not all of it works. But they take the misses (Embassy, Breaking the Empire State), the specs that don’t sell and don’t make any lists, and just MOVE on. So they probably have a long list of ideas they have yet to write, maybe keeping a SHOEBOX full of ideas and dropping a note in whenever they get an idea BUT NOT STOPPING WRITING WHAT THEY ARE CURRENTLY WRITING. But they know when they’re finished with THIS ONE they have another to go to.

      So it’s really a question of balance between writing and coming up with… in this case MARKETABLE ideas.

      • Sal Ayala

        It’s curious that you dont write alot because you obviously have a lot to say and an apettite for communication.

        I dont write alot either, but that’s cause im super deliberate about what i write. Sometimes way to measured and calculating for my own good.

        I think what you said about BALANCE is the key. You have to put a lot of time into thinking. About everything. And alway’s be STORMING disparate ideas in your BRAIN. All in hopes of a euereka moment.

        What i try to do is always listen to what it is that i want to say, what’s personal to me, my outlook on things, and marry it to characters and concept that appeal to me.

        Like i hinted at above, that requires a lot of naval gazing, aswell as both thinking about — and doing — different thing’s.

        The intersection of the three, when i find it, is where my favorite ideas come from.

        Only after do i worry about whether it’s a movie or not. And really, If an innuit script can make the black list then who the hell care’s about what’s “Marketable?”

        • klmn

          “And really, If an innuit script can make the black list then who the hell care’s about what’s “Marketable?”

          Someone who wants to see his work produced.

  • klmn

    And yet…

    • Scott Crawford

      klmn… is that you? You’re so… colorful!

    • BMCHB

      There’s an opening with a hook!

      And yet what, klmn?

      • klmn

        …there is something lacking from the article. Marketability.

        For a script to be made, there has to be a buyer for it. Carson’s article only addresses the supply side of the market.

        What about the demand side? How do you come up with an idea that will interest the producers/studios?

        • Scott Crawford

          Take an old idea and make the hero or heroes female. Weekend at Bernies becomes Rough Night. Atomic Blonde is John a Wick without a dick, if you’ll excuse me being crude.

          Always compare your idea with a CURRENT success. A female John Wick. Avengers with PD characters like Biggles and Bulldog Drummond.

          Imagine (or create if you can) the poster. If you can’t, it’s not marketable. At all.

        • BMCHB

          “What about the demand side?”

          There’s an article there, for sure.

          Though, I’m always reminded of The Jam : “The Public Wants What The Public Gets”… Going Underground

          • Scott Crawford

            I can’t think of an example of audiences, en masse, flocking to something they DIDN’T want. Maybe word of mouth might get people interested but…

  • Scott Crawford

    Tip 11: Although I talked about it the other day… do MORE than just watch movies, TV (especially the same movies and TV that EVERYONE has seen) and read scripts, important though that all is.

    In order to come up with more interesting, fresh, less benign ideas, you need to watch old movies, documentaries, watch the news, keep up on current affairs, look at the latest news in technology and science, read books – both fiction and non-fiction – magazines, study history, travel to new places, visit museums, go to a play, talk to strangers, live a life, fall in love, take a few risks (like eating a REALLY hot chilli NOT playing Russian Roulette)… and probably many, many, many more things than I could list here.

    The ALTERNATIVE is to constantly recycle the same ideas that EVERYONE has seen and EVERYONE is doing: Aliens, Die Hard, The Matrix, The Bourne Identity and half of all horror movies (but not Get Out). Nothing wrong with doing something like one of those movies, but you’ve got to have your own unique take. And THAT comes from the stuff you do AWAY from Fade In and Final Draft.

    • andyjaxfl

      Hi Scott, do you have PANDORA by Karl Gajdusek per chance?

      • Scott Crawford

        Yes. Mr.scottcrawford@hotmail.com

        Do you have Pandora, the million dollar 90s spec that almost became Under Siege 3?

        • andyjaxfl

          I do not, but now I am intrigued. I’ll check with some of my buddies and see if they have it and will follow up with you once I hear back from them…

          • Scott Crawford

            So many 90s Die Hard type scripts – Ground Zero, High Roller, Supertanker, Fast Track, Stealth, Trackdown, The French Teacher, Blast Off. Those are ones I don’t have.

            But the ones I do get are always great fun to read, if a little similar. But it wasn’t JUST the concept that sold, there also had the HELL written out of them.

    • Tom

      This is all great advice. Especially “read books.” One of the biggest advances in my writing came when I stopped doing research on the internet and started doing it at a nearby university library.

      One of the main problems with so many concepts and scripts is that it’s clear that the writer’s knowledge of the world is based solely through watching film and TV. They’re not able to subvert convention simply because they lack the knowledge foundation necessary to think outside the box.

      That’s why when you read a bunch of amateur scripts, every serial killer is Hannibal Lecter or Buffalo Bill. Every drill instructor is Sergeant Hartman. Every cop is Riggs or Murtaugh. Every soldier is Hicks, Hudson, or Vasquez. Every kingpin is Scarface. Every mob crew has a Pesci and a De Niro.

      Writers don’t take the time to learn enough about these worlds to add new texture, characters, or situations. When they write a mob movie, they think research is to simply watch Goodfellas and Sopranos. How will you ever write something new and interesting if the depth of your knowledge comes from pre-existing films?

      Go to the library. Read books. Job shadow your friends and relatives. Learn the world that you’re writing.

  • Scott Crawford

    This is the classic COLON (some would say HYPHEN) LOGLINE, where the whole thing is building towards the last few words… which should follow a colon though you’ve done a comma here! Still, it’s great because I’ve not SEEN or read a story about a golden goose, at least not for a long time.

    A few things… the title is GOOD but I think it might be better if the goose that lays the golden eggs was THERE in the title. So… GOOSE HEIST or something.

    Also fairy tale/heist sounds weird… call it a comedy if that’s what it is (it sounds like it). Call it A KNIGHT TO REMEMBER… I can see Kevin Hart starring in a comedy called A Knight to Remember.

    Finally, taking apart this FINE concept but… you know, I guess that’s what we DO here… I’d keep it shorter, I don’t think you NEED to have all that setup. You’re stealing a golden goose, who really cares WHY? So…

    “A down-on-his luck knight agrees to take part in a heist to steal the king’s most prized possession: the goose the lays the golden eggs…”

    Then accidentally kills it, thus fulfilling the proverb? Up to you. Best of luck!

    • Ashley Sanders

      It sounds like a fun, family movie with elements of comedy.
      I wonder if it is coming across as a comedy because there might be an inadvertent rubbish Carry On style double entendre in the title?
      Patrick, if that’s not how you want it to be perceived, I’d suggest a title change too.
      Right, mind out of gutter ….

  • BMCHB

    Somebody suggested here, about three weeks ago, that Carson had lost interest.

    Since then, Carson has dropped at least three classic articles. This is one.

    • gazrow

      “Somebody suggested here, about three weeks ago, that Carson had lost interest.”

      Course I only suggested it to piss him off enough to prove me wrong! I kid you not. :)

      • BMCHB

        When someone shouts “You!” in a large crowd, I always turn around, too. ;-)

        • klmn

          That’s how they choose their target.

          You are doomed.

          • BMCHB

            And yet what?

            I won’t rest easy tonight until you tell us!

          • Scott Crawford

            We found ourselves a concept for a horror film.

  • Malibo Jackk

    No horror script?
    Only one sci-fi?
    Is this Scriptshadow… ?
    Have I been transported to a new dimension??

  • Malibo Jackk

    A NIGHT TO REMEMBER
    A young boy rents a barge to seek revenge on the iceberg that killed
    his great-grandfather.

    • PQOTD

      He’s gonna need a bigger barge…

      • Malibo Jackk

        Tag line.

      • Citizen M

        If I was him I’d mount a bloody great laser on the barge and slice that sucker to ribbons.

    • Randy Williams

      Only to find that global warming has reduced it to an ice cube he now keeps captive in his freezer next to the ice cream sandwiches.

    • BMCHB

      ‘Barge': there’s a boat I haven’t heard in a long time.

      An old friend’s family has one. All my teen Summers involved a couple of weeks on a barge, lakes and canals.

      The ‘contained thriller’ would be going down/up a lock. A slow lock. And there’s a water monster in the lock, too. And it’s night.

      • Randy Williams

        Barges are frequently cited in the news as “getting away”. Like they’re trying to escape. Smaller boats are more crafty, they “slip away”.

        • BMCHB

          65 – 85 foot barges can’t really slip away… ;-)

    • Scott Crawford

      There’s a pretty good book, I think by Peter Tonkin, called The Ship Killer about a man who travels around the world to intercept and sink an oil tanker which callously rammed and dunked his yacht, killing his wife.

      Make a good movie? Taken with spinnakers?

      • PQOTD

        ‘Moby Ship’.

    • UPB13

      Is there a love story? I’m the king of the barge!

    • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

      Very bad, misleading title, but I LOVE the premise. The only question is, who do you envisiion playing the vlianous iceberg?

  • carsonreeves1

    Spiritual stakes can work in novels. But they rarely work on their own in movies. They require external stakes to accompany them, which Wild didn’t have.

  • carsonreeves1

    It started out being about the lawyer, but I think it moved over to the girl by the 3rd act. It’s a very complex and layered movie, though, so it can be argued either way.

  • Tungi Mu

    In order to repay his mounting debts a lowly knight agrees to take part in a heist, stealing a pompous king’s most priced possession, the goose that lays the golden eggs [, BUT….]

  • Citizen M

    I think it would be better if he needed to win the love of a fair maiden rather than settle debts.

    • PQOTD

      Yep – see Lindsay Doran’s classic TED talk: save the world or get the girl? It’s about relationships, always.

      • Angie

        Enjoyed this. Thanks. Makes me feel better about my thriller in progress.

      • filmklassik

        It’s become a famous lecture in the last few years but I flatly reject her premise. The notion that these stories aren’t about what we THINK they’re about, and that there is actually, to use Doran’s words, a “bait and switch” going on, is nonsense, because it suggests that they’d work just as well without their more obvious narrative charms.

        Thus, to Doran, ROCKY would be just as effective *without* the big climactic showdown between Rocky and Apollo Creed, as long as you successfully paid off the Adrian story. And I call bullshit.

        Now, is the love story between Rocky and Adrian effective? Does it lend necessary emotional ballast and resonance to the story? Does it make the movie better? Absolutely. But the idea that ROCKY is first and foremost about Rocky and Adrian is crap.

        And while the relationships between our plucky heroes in STAR WARS is important and makes the story better, just try telling it without blowing up the Death Star at the end.

        • PQOTD

          Where in her lecture does she actually imply: “Thus, to Doran, ROCKY would be just as effective *without* the big climactic showdown between Rocky and Apollo Creed, as long as you
          successfully paid off the Adrian story”?

          What she’s saying is that the “positive accomplishment” works because the “positive relationship” is there to celebrate it with..

          Let’s imagine Rocky had lost just like he did in ‘1’. His disinterested, distant trainer shrugged and said ‘Better luck next time, pal’, and Rocky went home alone to an empty house.

          Does that really resonate with you? Because it leaves me cold.

          We might feel sorry for him because he really did have nobody in his corner. But more than likely the script wouldn’t have gotten made because nobody wants to see a sad, lonely loser be a sad, lonely loser.

          He can be a loser in the ring to us because he’s not a loser to her.

          If the ‘Death Star’ gets blown up and everybody just goes their own way because they don’t like each other very much, so what?

          And as Doran herself says right up front, this is not entirely her own thesis.

          She got the 5 ‘positive psychology’ things from Dr. Martin Seligman.

          That the ‘positive accomplishment’ mattered less than the ‘positive relationship’ aspect came from a studio executive whose job it was to run focus groups with audiences.

          That exec, btw, was a man.

          Doran very clearly says that HE told her ‘positive accomplishments’ don’t matter to an audience.

          That came from a guy whose opinion is based on empirical evidence gathered from numerous focus groups.

          Imho, his opinion that she reiterated counts and we ignore it at our peril.

          So you can call ‘bullshit’ if you like, and forever remain an amateur writer. I’m paying heed because it’s a really big hint as to how we need to approach scriptwriting if we want to break in.

          Clearly ‘positive accomplishments’ do matter, but if they don’t include a relationship as a positive accomplishment to go hand-in-hand with it, what are you really left with?

  • Randy Williams

    Someone took care of our precious dog while on vacation and all sorts of horrific visions came to my head while away.

    SYBELINE
    Horror
    A meek young lady with a heart of gold entrusted with the precious dog of the cold and merciless roommate she has a huge crush on, accidentally gets the dog killed, and seeks the help of a voodoo cultess to raise the dog from the dead, but in the process begins to lose every aspect of what makes her human.

    It will have a sweet, heart tugging ending.

  • Sal Ayala

    Another really timely post Carson, thanks.
    I noticed that a few of the top 10 (2,5,7,9) and movies used as as examples are “Fish out of Water” stories.

    Specifically: Pretty Woman, The Kings Speech, The Matrix, The Social Network, are all great examples of finding a new way into a fish out of water story.

    Wonder Woman is a great recent example. Both Diana
    Steve Trevor are fish out of water. As individuals, first, and then in their relationship

  • gazrow

    To be honest, I think most, if not all, of the questions you pose in your WYSR have already been covered in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Also, not sure if your idea has enough legs for a series – feels more like a one off drama, at least to me.

    Good luck with it though!

  • BMCHB

    Top Tip: Watch movies.

    The bad ones, the good ones, the ones at 4am on TCM. Watch everything. Twice.

    I dropped out of a Film Masters years ago because out of 23 students only two had seen The Godfather.

    As the other lad said to me, “Three’s underrated…”.

    • Scott Crawford

      Two’s overrated.

      I’m not one of those who wants to tell people what movies they should and should not watch, but it IS worth paying attention to movies outside your “wheelwell.” That means old, black and white, foreign, different genres, low and high budget.

      Particular attention must, however be paid to SUCCESSFUL movies and to shows because these are the ones you are expected to emulate.

      • BMCHB

        Been here about 6 years. Realised after six months that my writing sensibilities were French. I don’t even like the French!

        My scripts were all about the most important thing in someone’s life happening on a Thursday morning. In the rain.

        I hope I’ve learned. Aliens invaded on Wednesday. The rain is acidic. And now Lennon Jagger, our hero, has only 3287 seconds to save the world. :-)

  • Randy Williams

    Horror. I like your logline, puts the voodoo up front.

    • hickeyyy

      I like what’s going on here, but make it a cat. Everyone does dogs.

      • brenkilco

        Didn’t King use a cat in Pet Sematary?

        • hickeyyy

          That’s true – and Key and Peele just did the Keanu movie…. but there is a new dog movie every week. Cat people are underrepresented.

          And this is coming from a dog guy that is allergic to cats.

          • PQOTD

            Dogs, cats – done to death. Iguana made an appearance in the first Terminator. Aquarium fish turned up in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’.

            Name me a film where there’s been a pet aardvark.

        • PQOTD

          And ‘Jinx’ in ‘Meet the Fockers’.

      • Randy Williams

        The animal will be dead in the first five pages and never recover, so don’t think it matters.

  • brenkilco

    It strikes me that there are two kinds of great ideas when it comes to scripts. There are the ideas that make them salable and the ideas that make them work. Or to put it another way, the premise- the shiny, cool box the story comes in- and the compelling, irresistible essence of the story that goes inside the box.

    To take a couple of Carson’s examples. In Murder on The Orient Express we have a master detective trying to solve the murder of a murderer on a snowbound luxury train. Decent premise. But that’s not the killer idea that gave assurance the movie would work. The killer story idea was this. SPOILER ALERT Everybody did it. That was the idea that sets this whodunit apart and that surely was Christie’s starting point.

    Memento. A guy with short term memory loss attempting to solve a murder is the cosmically ironic premise. And it’s really good. But the killer story idea is that the tale is told backwards. Starting with the unexplained killing by the protagonist and ending with the revelation of the motive for the killing he has caused himself to commit, which of course turns out to be far different from what we initially expect. It turns out to be the perfect way to structure the movie as well as effectively mimicking the character’s affliction and increasing audience identification.

    Nightcrawler. A freelance video guy risks his safety by filming violent incidents at night and selling them to sensation seeking local news shows. Now that’s an interesting, original premise. But the killer story idea is that this weird, go getter, is actually a psychopath who has no limits and is willing to create his own news and even commit murder to advance himself and that this isn’t really a thriller but a twisted American success story.

    I think a lot of writers start banging away as soon as they get the first sort of idea. When they really need to have both.

    • Scott Crawford

      I never bang til ive gone through the whole thing. Outlining. Story prep. But that’s a whole other article.

    • Levres de Sang

      Please excuse this clandestine strategy, but I wondered if I could interest you in a preview of my new script?

      I always appreciate your knowledge and insight and think of you as a connoisseur of the kind of films that have influenced this particular project. In short, I’d really value your opinion. Especially in terms of how you think I’ve handled the genre itself. Indeed, I’m quite sure your knowledge is deeper than my own in this respect.

      Anyway, there’s no rush, but if you think you might have some free time then I’ll reply with a Sendspace link later on today. Here are the details:

      Title: FROM THE CONVALESCENCE OF CHRISTIANNE ZELMAN
      Genre: Gothic Drama

      Logline A psychiatrist becomes involved with a disturbed young woman, but falls foul of those responsible for her condition.

      WYSR: FROM THE CONVALESCENCE OF CHRISTIANNE ZELMAN is a character piece with that rarest of attributes: a fascinating storyworld. Indeed, it’s both love story and Nazi fairy-tale played out against the rainy altitude of the Austrian Tyrol. The role of Christianne is tailor-made for an Oscar-bound actress; while the script itself should appeal to anyone who enjoys classic melodrama of the Bette Davis, Tennessee Williams, New German Cinema or even Todd Haynes variety.

      • brenkilco

        I would more than happy to give it a read. I know you are very good with mood and tone and this sounds intriguing. If you want to send it direct brenkilco@gmail.com

        • Levres de Sang

          Much appreciated! I’ll send it along shortly.

  • brenkilco

    I think the idea of a medieval caper movie is potentially very neat. I fear the fairy tale angle will both generate more interest among certain types of readers and cheapen the story.

    • andyjaxfl

      Have you read MEDIEVAL? Nifty little heist script with a few interesting twists that would make for a decent pulpy movie.

      • brenkilco

        No, never heard of it. But I like the idea. Caper movies generally work best when the thieves have few tech resources and have to use their heads. And there wasn’t much high tech 800 years ago.

  • BMCHB

    Another Tip: Pay attention to real life.

    Some of us saw/watched the London tragedy unfold yesterday… Those firefighters, all firefighters, are heroes beyond belief.

    And then write a movie.

    “The Girl On The 24th Floor” *

    * No disrespect and not being glib.

    • Scott Crawford

      Skyscraper with Dwayne Johnson is a forthcoming movie about a building on fire in China.

      Rethink?

      • BMCHB

        Recast. I love Mr Rock, but it’s a terrible thing on film if you have to be The Rock to save people.

        None of the firefighting heroes that I’ve seen look like him…

      • PQOTD

        At least hold it back a bit.

  • JasonTremblay

    Nice examples with Canadian content. The book Life of Pi (not Pie, as delicious as that would be) was written by a Canadian, Wild was directed by one, and, of course, The Sweet Hereafter is a classic Canadian film.

    Good timing. July 1st is Canada Day. :)

    • PQOTD

      And quite a bit more interesting than ‘The Life of a Circle’s Circumference Divided by its Diameter.’

      • Scott Crawford

        I’ve got a slasher idea about a killer mathematician:

        Pi r Scared.

        • brenkilco

          Killculus, Fatal Subtraction, Fearem,

          • Scott Crawford

            There’s nothing standard about MY deviation.

            Math jokes.

        • Wes Mantooth

          Bad Will Hunting.

    • Scott Crawford

      During the late 70s, early 80s the Canadian government invested in tax breaks that saw a boost in Canadian movies known as – seriously – Canuxploitation. Not all the movies were great, but some were great fun, mostly starring Canadians like Bill Shatner, Christopher Plummer, and Donald Sutherland.

      • brenkilco

        I think the sleeper thriller Silent Partner may have been one of those.

        • Scott Crawford

          Silent Partner, Kidnapping of the President, Bear Island, Terror Train, Highpoint, The Amateur…

          http://www.canuxploitation.com

          Around the same time you had Ozploitation in Australia but I don’t know if that was linked to government incentives or just the emergence of new talent. Ange?

      • JasonTremblay

        There are some amazing Canadian films. My favourites are C.R.A.Z.Y. by Jean-Marc Vallée, Monsieur Lazhar, Starbuck, and Room (a coproduction with Ireland).

        • Nick Morris

          Nice. Mine are Black Christmas and Hard Core Logo. :)

          • Wes Mantooth

            Love Black Christmas. Unbelievably influential film on the slasher genre. Years ahead of its time. And the same Canadian later brought us the magic of Porky’s.

          • Nick Morris

            Yes. As well as A Christmas Story after that.

        • Wes Mantooth

          The Brood.

      • Nick Morris

        Funny story. The original My Bloody Valentine was shot here in my province of Nova Scotia. The producers had scouted out the perfect abandoned coal mine on Cape Breton island.

        But before cameras ever started rolling, the overzealous town of Sydney Mines took it upon themselves to spruce up the old mine in time for the imminent production. The producers had to delay shooting in order to get it looking shitty and run-down again. :)

    • Erica

      Speaking of Canadians, a Canadian invented the Hawaiian Pizza. Maybe there is a biopic in there.

      • Erica
      • Scott Crawford

        Ok, did he invent the idea of ham and pineapple? I thought that predates the pizza of the same name.

        • Erica

          No you silly goose. But believe it or not, back in the day no one though of putting that combination on a pizza. It was cheese, mushroom, bacon and pepperoni in the late 70’s in North America.

          http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/hawaiian-pizza-sam-panopoulos-1.4155044

          • Scott Crawford

            It doesn’t seem QUITE as much of a leap as some obits suggested but still, shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.

          • Erica

            Think of the leap of restaurant to fast food, the story of McDonald’s.

          • Scott Crawford

            When steak met kidney there was…

            STEAK AND KIDNEY PUDDING

            Coming soon to a theatre near you.

            “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”

          • Erica

            HA!

          • JasonTremblay

            How about a horror called Blood Pudding? Made from the blood of the victims. Mmm.

          • Scott Crawford

            Yeah, we call it BLACK pudding to avoid those connotations. I like black pudding but we’ve had some BAD stuff lately. I blame Brexit.

          • JasonTremblay

            BLACK pudding???

            Racist! LOL

          • PQOTD

            It’s quite ‘Sweeny Todd’.

      • JasonTremblay

        Yes, he passed away last week.

      • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

        Hey, it passes Carson’s irony test.

        • Erica

          Very true, was my first though too. I did a double take.

  • BMCHB

    Missed yesterday, unmarketable scripts…

    TITLE: U & I ( Belong Together)

    PREMISE: The fantastical true story of Christopher Latham Sholes and the invention of your keyboard.

    • brenkilco

      I think a bio of the inventor of the ergonomic chair would have more GSU.

      • BMCHB

        I told you it wasn’t marketable! :-)

      • Scott Crawford

        I tell you, it’s TRUE black, I tell you.

        You can’t handle the TRUTH.

        Chair jokes.

        • BMCHB

          Relax, Scott. Lean back and relax.

          • Scott Crawford

            Not on the shit stools we have at a William Hill. I’d fall over.

    • Scott Crawford

      I’d like to see on this years Black List a spoof of all the scripts on the past few years black lists. Like this one…

      …but but but, you know who would like to direct and star in that script. Hanks. He loves typewriters. Look it up.

      Then write it!

      • BMCHB

        It’s written. It’s actually pretty good. It’s not a spoof.

        I’ll polish it over next couple days and submit under a fake name for AOW next week.

        • Scott Crawford

          Apologies. Please, please consider sending it to Hanks… erm, I think it’s Playtone his production company. Get some feedback on it first.

          ANY script that could attract the interest of a movie star IS marketable, least as far as your career is concerned.

    • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

      Sounds like a ten minute, cute, 60 Minutes story NOT a viable movie, sorry…

      • BMCHB

        I’ll take that as a compliment – thanks!

        Yeah, you have to know if your ideas are shorts or features or comics or novels.

  • BMCHB

    There was a teacher in my secondary school who was renowned for his “punishment” essays.

    I got a famous one for being late one day: “Five foolscap pages on the dimples of a golf ball, BMCHB!”

    I gave him fifteen pages. The Kingdom of The Golf Ball Dimple. I created an entire world AND I won our school’s creative writing award… again!

    • Scott Crawford

      If you shrunk the earth to the size of a snooker ball, it would be smoother. Or put another way, if you enlarged a snooker ball to the same size if the earth, it would have more lumps and bumps.

      Makes you think. And if it doesn’t make you think, then I worry.

      • BMCHB

        All I’m saying is that the mundane can be interesting. There are a million ideas for movies around you/us everyday.

        • Scott Crawford

          Sure, sure… sorry, bored at wrk.

          Very often a mundane starting point can lead to something quite special. A common trick with stage plays is to start with the everyday… like Carnage (originally God of Carnage) where two couples meeting to talk about their kids (mundane) soon turns into a dramatic breakdown of their relationships.

          You could start with two people meeting to do a jigsaw puzzle together that then descends into… well, Carnage.

          Outside drama, a lot of horror stories start with something ordinary like hiking in the woods, then it turns into something more horrible. With a little more imagination….

          Yes, those punishment exercises may have backfired.

          • BMCHB

            You have to think and write “mad” things. And make them interesting.

            Do my left foot and right foot get on?

            If I typed upside down would my words have more gravity?

            Where do they keep those missing 27 Leap Seconds?

    • PQOTD

      Ha! Good for you, B!

  • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

    Okay, since these kind of posts seam to rapidly change into tests of loglines. I got a logline I need to test and refine the wording of, since next month I hope to pitch it a writers’ conference to literary agents and book editors.

    Title: The Chosen Redeemer of Thars: Book One in the Legend of Thars Series

    Logline: An Elfin angel who had lived in the land of Thars comes to Earth to recruit one of two friends who used to play a role playing game based in the world of Thars. This Elfin angel wants one of these two, high-school-aged seniors to redeem him from a blood curse that this former Elfin prince made after had defeated a dragon and its occultic followers.

    • http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts Eldave1

      E.C. – To me, it is a bit of a mess. It is too long and too confusing. What does “had” lived in the land… mean? Is anyone going to know what Thars is? . Do we care that he is recruiting one of two friends? We don’t even know what the impact (stakes) of the blood curse is. There are also grammatical problems. i.e., “former Elfin prince made after had defeated a dragon and its occultic followers.” do you mean he “had” defeated? Also not sure if the protag is the elfin angel or the friend and there must be just a little info about the friend (i.e., is he a boy, a man, a woman????).

      I would start with something simple – i.e.,

      In order to xxxxxx, an Alien must come to earth and convince a yyyyyy to zzzzzz.

      xxxxx = whatever stakes you are invoking (e.g., to avoid death, banishment, etc.)
      yyyyy = who is this
      zzzz = what must this person do?

      • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

        Thanks for the post, Eldave1. This is the kind of input I need!

    • The Old Man

      Way to much information for a logline.

      A cursed elfin from another world comes to earth to find a teenager he needs to remove his curse.

      • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

        Exactly how old are you, “old man”?

        • wlubake

          How about focusing on the kids?

          “Two nerdy high school kids find themselves in a battle for survival against mystical beasts and dark forces after being pulled into the world of their favorite roll-playing game by the hero elf they thought they had created.”

          • wlubake

            In the end, who will the audience relate to as the protagonist: An elf-angel with a blood curse, or dorky kids who are in over their heads?

          • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

            I don’t tell people how to think. That’s NOT how I roll as a writer, a creative person, or just a human being in general. If you knew me or ANY of my writings, I tend to throw A LOT out there in hopes that the audience will like something.

            FYI, neither of the role playing, high school seniors are “dorky kids”. Nor are either one “in over their heads”.

          • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

            Really DON’T like the use of that adjective “nerdy”, immediately made me think this was a teen comedy or something. Do like the fact your focusing on the protagonists who are the two, high school seniors. Points for tracking. I think you’re up to two now.

    • Justin

      “An elfin angel seeks out the aid of two companions on Earth to liberate himself from a blood oath-curse…” blah blah blah, fill in the blanks.

      Redeem might be the wrong word to use with “curse.” Rather, “liberate” or “free” might be more suitable.

      • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

        You have MISTOLD the story, but at least you tried. The “blah blah blah” part is something you should NEVER put in a critque of a logline. Bad job, sir.

        • Justin

          I was multi-tasking (busy with a job), so I only had a minute to read through it. I do apologize for the lazy note, though.

    • wlubake

      Right now, you have described the first act, at best:

      Angel comes to earth to recruit, and why he wants said recruit. No mention of the actual journey/battle that will happen. Only alludes to it (presumably stuff to remove the curse).

      • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

        LOVE it, you’re tracking. Originally (last year) I pitched the whole series. Until I was TOLD to break it down into smaller books. The entire series is well over 1,000 pages.

    • Jaco

      So, basically a mashup between Dungeons & Dragons (TV show) and Guardians of the Galaxy?

      Run the idea through Carson’s points above:

      (1) Try . . . I don’t think this comes off as a particularly inspired idea. It doesn’t have that “wow” factor – something we haven’t seen before. That could be due to your pitch – you’ve stated nothing unique.

      (2) Fresh angle . . . Tolkien set in space? I don’t think so – it’s been done, done and overdone. The fresh angle might be apparent in your book – but not in this pitch.

      (3) Clarity. The pitch definitely misses the mark. Too many specifics and not enough salient points about what makes your story stand out. See wlubake’s version of your pitch – it’s 10,000x better than your current verision.

      (4) Complex/Interesting Main Character: From the pitch – no idea. Focus more on those kids – nobody cares about an Elf Angel (which in and of itself is a really confusing character).

      (5) Irony. It’s kind of in here – but the lack of clarity in the pitch really tubes any chance of a reader/producer understanding the irony. Again, see wlubake’s posts.

      (6) Strange Attractor. Not sure about this one. Your pitch seems to want to throw in the kitchen sink of strange attractors . . . elf angels, weird planets, dragons, games, curses . . . focus, focus, focus. With a pitch filled with so many elements, it’s going to be nearly impossible to get someone interested in any of them.

      (7) Ill-equipped Main Character(s): You do seem to have this if the focus is on the teen friends. Unfortunately, that’s not so clear in the pitch. If you go with something more like wlubake’s suggestion – it’s much clearer.

      (8) Primary Source of Conflict: Clarity issues in the pitch hide the ball. I’m guessing the source of conflict is the teens on the new world – focus on that.

      (9) Genre-Mixing: I guess – if you are counting sci-fi/fantasy as a mashup. Sensing there may be some overt religious stuff – if so, maybe highlight that.

      (10) High Stakes. Unclear. If the ultimate stakes are whether the teens survive – if so, focus on that. Less focus on the Elf Angel. If the book is more focuses on his adventures and his salvation – then lose the kids. This all goes back to how confusing the pitch is at the moment.

      Based on those 10 factors – I’d say you have some major work to do on re-tooling the pitch.

      Good luck!

      • wlubake

        The story this sounds the most like is the Chronicles of Narnia, particularly the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

        Fish out of water have to help powerful being to defeat evil forces.

        Aslan = your elf/angel
        Kids = your high school kids

        I’m sure these are vastly different worlds and plot points are very different, but the basic concept sounds very similar. Maybe look there for inspiration.

        • Jaco

          Ah – don’t know why that didn’t come to my head sooner! Yes – it definitely sounds like a Narnia in space tale.

        • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

          LOVE the comparison. Already thought of that. You’re on the right track of where I’m at. Definitely a lot closer than Jaco, who I’m afraid may need a bread trail to follow an adult conversation.

        • PQOTD

          OT: I have a fab cartoon stuck on my fridge: a woman in an otherwise-bare room regards a long flatpack on the floor.

          Caption: ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Ikea Wardrobe’.

          There could be a funny short in that.

      • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

        Thanks for that, Jaco. I just wiped this story out on whim and and really clueless of how to proceed. Glad I’m to read I’m not the only one who’s clueless…

        • Jaco

          You are welcome. Rushing things can often result in sloppy work – especially for new writers. You also have to be honest with yourself – more than anybody else.

          I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it.

          Good luck.

  • Poe_Serling

    Thanks for the article, Carson!

    It’s always a treat to click on Scriptshadow and find a new Top
    Ten list of some kind… can’t wait for the one featuring the
    short scripts with the most potential.

    And coming up with that elusive better film idea often begins
    with being in the right ‘movie’ frame of mind.

    Meaning?

    Being open to creatively explore all the unlimited opportunities
    for crafting a story around just about any subject matter out
    there.

    Just on the horror side of things:

    A VHS tape – The Ring
    Ants – Them!, Phase IV
    Contamination from a space probe – Night of the Living Dead
    Isolated research in Antarctica – The Thing
    Winter caretaker job – The Shining
    .
    .
    .

    • Scott Crawford

      As I was just writing, with horror it might be better to start with the mundane rather than the monsters. But as Bren pointed out, these starting Lois are just that, and you need to develop these ideas into a omplete story.

  • http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts Eldave1

    Great article.

    I would modify Step 1: “Try” to be:

    1. Try and Test

    This: “….. Every time you come up with an idea, ask yourself, is this an inspired idea or is it similar to other ideas out there….?

    Should be modified to ask yourself and others…..

    I keep a perpetual list of log-lines for movies. I have assembled a group of very tolerant (of me) friends that will rank them for me in terms of what they think would make the best/most interesting movie. It has been invaluable in focusing efforts on the stories with the biggest payoffs. Long winded way of saying – there are tons of people out there – use them to test your ideas.

    • Scott Crawford

      I would modify “similar” to “TOO similar.” Nowt wrong with being similar to something successful, as the makers of Out and In burgers will tell you. It’s just if there is nothing new about this AT ALL.

      Then I’d want my friends to tear me a new one.

  • The Old Man

    What the heck…

    Vampire hunters find a vampire asleep during the day but before they can kill her a solar eclipse blocks out the sun. The vampire wakes and bites the leader turning him into a vampire.

  • Ninjaneer

    Constantly be creating new story concepts / ideas. Once you have hundreds of ideas you’ll have a much better chance of choosing a story that actually has a good chance out there.

    The vast majority of scripts are DOA and are exercises in adding flourishes to a turd sandwich because the writers skipped over the most important step… concept creation.

    Among the small group that does start with a good premise most of those writers won’t think about the best angle / approach to that story.

    Spending the time up front to get the idea and angle correct is the best effort / time ratio in the screenwriting process.

    Concept generation where you are not “writing” is not wasted time. Constantly jumping into lazy ideas that have zero chance over and over again is wasting time (not useless time because you can still learn and hone you skill but wasted in comparison to doing it right).

    • Ninjaneer

      Regarding concept generation, “Everything Is a Remix” is a must for screenwriters.

      1. Copy
      2. Transform
      3. Combine

      https://vimeo.com/139094998

  • Randy Williams

    I wonder if it would be more marketable if it was a teen instead at a military school or boot camp. Just rewatched Toy Soldiers yesterday. Love the simple forward momentum of that movie.
    I think, like someone refigured my logline with the strange attractor first, in this case the murderous drill instructor, would benefit it?

  • r.w. hahn

    Here’s my bit of fun: The tentacular answer to “Sharknado”

    OCTOCALYPSE

    A Japanese nuclear plant leaks into the ocean creating montrous Octopi that attack the west coast of the US.

    • Erica

      Need to add a bit of irony in that one,

      A Japanese nuclear plant leaks into the ocean creating montrous Octopi that attacks a west coast fishing town of the US.

      • r.w. hahn

        Yes I like that…

        • Poe_Serling

          Kind of an update on the ’50s classic It Came from Beneath
          the Sea…

          “A giant octopus emerges from the Philippine Trench and turns its
          attention to the West Coast.”

          Starring Kenneth “Thing from Another World” Tobey. Co-written
          by George Worthing Yates (Them! and a host of other familiar
          horror/sci-fi films).

          **Octocalypse would make for a solid double bill with your
          own creature feature project Oasis. ;-)

          • r.w. hahn

            LOL! Indeed it would Poe…I forgot about It Came from Beneath the Sea…A Creature Feature Double Feature. Desert vs. ocean! Ha ha ha. I’d kick my feets up for that on a Saturday Afternoon

    • Malibo Jackk

      ENORMOUS
      A giant squid attacks New York City.

    • BMCHB

      WHEN a leaking Japanese nuclear plant creates monstrous Octopi in the Pacific Ocean, [only an ex-sushi chef], can save the west coast of the US from the Octopocalypse.

      • BMCHB

        TAKO

        “But what I do have are a very particular set of sharp knives.”

      • r.w. hahn

        A disgraced Sushi Chef must save San Diego from monstrous Octopi created by a leaking Japanese nuclear facility.
        :)

        • BMCHB

          WHEN a leaking Japanese nuclear plant creates monstrous Octopi in the Pacific Ocean, only a disgraced sushi chef can save San Diego and the west coast of the US from the Octopocalypse

        • BMCHB

          “disgraced Sushi Chef” is fukkin hilarious!!!

          How does a sushi chef become disgraced? LOL :-)

          EDIT: **FUGU** He fukked up the preparation and killed …???

          • r.w. hahn

            unknowingly serve rancid raw fish that actually was tainted by the nuclear accident?

          • BMCHB

            So, it starts in a sushi bar. The board and lots of the department heads from Japanese Nuclear Inc. are celebrating six years without a nuclear disaster. They order Fugu…

            Our eventual hero, Hiro Rockimoshi, fukks up the preparation and they all die. The next day they are not around and this leads to the nuclear disaster that creates the monstrous octopi…

          • r.w. hahn

            Ha ha ha….I think I see an outline starting to come together….

          • BMCHB

            Go for it! :-) SyFy will snap it up!

          • r.w. hahn

            I’m telling you. Steven Seagal as Hiro Rockimoshi! Too funny.

          • BMCHB

            I think you’ve got a GO picture! Write it quickly!

          • r.w. hahn

            Will do!

          • BMCHB
          • BMCHB

            Steven Seagal HAS to play Hiro Rockimoshi!

          • PQOTD

            Rockiconcerti.

        • Midnight Luck

          Sushi Chef becomes disgraced after an Octopus he’s about to serve up takes all his knives and starts running through the restaurant killing everyone, slicing and dicing people into yummy Steak Tartare!
          He must hunt down the Octopus and save his restaurant and his name, before it’s too late!

          Or, you know, something.

  • Poe_Serling

    Since your original post is from a year or so ago, I think MJ was just
    thinking it was about time for a reboot.

    ;-)

  • ShiroKabocha

    If your genre is not comedy, definitely avoid puns in your title. I thought it was comedy too, hence loved the title and thought it fitting, but since your story leans more on the serious side, better avoid. As you can see, it gives the wrong vibe and people will be disappointed if they go in expecting a comedy yet end up getting a crime story.

  • GoIrish

    The Dashinator

    A woman must fight an unstoppable cyborg sent back from the future with one mission: destroy her sex tape and prevent future human suffering.

  • jeff

    I wrote the “beige wallpaper” logline, which was:
    A disillusioned CIA agent is brought out of retirement to hunt a vengeful billionaire, who seeks to annihilate the United States using a Soviet Cold War doomsday weapon.

    I was under the impression that the Soviet Cold War doomsday weapon was my strange attractor, because this is a real life thing that the Soviets built to retaliate if the U.S. launched a surprise nuclear attack. They called it Mertvaya Ruka (“The Dead Hand”). I’d love some help making this sound like something you haven’t seen before. Alternatively, what were the movies that make this idea seem so generic?

    • Mallet

      -“Disillusioned CIA agent” – Generic (goes along with all the other disillusioned character types (cops, P.I.’s, Lawyers, etc…). Why can’t people like their jobs or be happy?
      -“Brought out of retirement” – Generic (used a lot, also ties in with the “one last job” trope).
      -“vengeful billionaire” – Generic (used a lot, pretty much a staple of James Bond and other spy films (why couldn’t the bad guy be poor, but very smart and got the super weapon that way, rather then throwing money at all the problems).
      -“Cold War doomsday weapon” – Slightly generic (been used in various Jame Bond films, plus other action movies (Captain America films for example (Wintersoldier is a cold war era super weapon, etc…))

      • jeff

        I agree that taken all together, it makes the whole thing seem generic. And something like “brought out of retirement” has no place in a logline when a) it’s not an original idea/strange attractor and b) it has very little significance on the plot/characters.

        Wondering now whether to even have him retire, but that means changing several scenes, including how he meets his daughter. Hmmmm…..

        • Mallet

          Might be a bit of work to change, but maybe rather then have him “brought out of retirement” and “disillusioned” have him been in prison this whole time (instead of retired). They need to release him to stop the bad guy. Or go a step further, and have him been in prison in Russia for decades (he was caught spying back in the cold war and been in jail ever since) and now the Russian and Americans need him to stop the super weapon because he was learning about it/spying on it when he was originally caught and arrested.

    • BMCHB

      When a terminally ill Russian tycoon takes control of The Dead Hand, a cold war era harbinger of the apocalypse, a rookie CIA agent must track down the only man who can stop him, a legendary CIA agent known only as Man Of War…

      • jeff

        I like “takes control of The Dead Hand”, and “legendary CIA agent”. Not too sure about giving the villain a terminal disease though.

    • Levres de Sang

      Agree with others as to those “disillusioned” and “brought out of retirement” elements; but I also think your title (Blowback) contributed to the overall generic nature of your AOW pitch. Whereas something like The Mertvaya Project would have piqued my curiosity enough for me to open the script. Indeed, what you’ve written above sounds really interesting, but unfortunately it wasn’t conveyed on AOW. Hope that helps…

      • jeff

        Thanks for your input. I like the title Blowback because it accurately conveys the themes of the script while still sounding like an action movie. I concede that out of context it might sound like a bad Steven Seagal movie, but stick it at the end of a kickass trailer and I think it would be perfect.

        I considered alternates like The Dead Hand but that sounds like a horror movie? The Mertvaya Project to me suggests a mysterious factor which isn’t really there, and is only a small element of the script.

    • Midnight Luck

      Call it the “Dead Hand” Doomsday weapon, and now you have a – strange attractor- because I now really want to know what the fuck the Dead Hand IS, so I’ll check it out!

      • jeff

        Cool thanks, I will definitely have to work the Dead Hand into the logline somehow. What do you think about changing the title too? Would “The Dead Hand” be better than “Blowback”?

        • Midnight Luck

          Dead Hand, or any movie with “dead” in it, seems to be an automatic tough sell at the theater, so Dead Hand as a title probably isn’t the way to go.
          But, I do think a different title will be better than Blowback. Sadly, that title seems slightly generic, and uninspired, plus it just doesn’t EXCITE with information, intrigue or mystery.
          Sounds like a B-movie Mel Gibson movie along the lines of EDGE OF DARKNESS or PAYBACK. And you don’t really want to be in that grouping.
          I have a feeling there is a very solid, interesting title in there somewhere, which states exactly what you are going for, and what the project is about.
          You just need to open your mind up to the possibilities, and let it flow. :)

    • Citizen M

      I agree with you that the doomsday weapon is the strange attractor, in the sense it is an actual weapon rather than some imaginary satellite thingy you control with a suitcase of comms equipment.

      But you need to make clear that this is a real weapon, which your logline doesn’t do. So I’d preface it with a bit of history.

      “The Cold War-era Dead Hand system was designed to annihilate the United States if the Soviet leadership was wiped out in a surprise attack. Now an anti-American billionaire has gained control of the Dead Hand, and only a disillusioned ex-CIA agent can stop him.”

      • jeff

        Thanks, that’s a great suggestion :-)

  • Kirk Diggler

    You need to type faster.

  • fragglewriter

    Carson, for #6…Life of Pie – When a ship transferring zoo animals to a new country sinks, a young boy is stuck on a lifeboat with a dangerous tiger.

    Is the above movie from the angle of the fresh baked PIE from the American Pie movie?

  • Bacon Statham

    Sandstorm (sci-fi western)

    ”Seventy years in the future a shell-shocked soldier must defend his estranged fathers ranch from the rogue Special Forces unit he went AWOL from after they recruit a small town gang led by his former best friend to get back a powerful weapon he stole from them.”

    • Tungi Mu

      1. Do the rogue soldiers want to take over the ranch or they just want the “powerful weapon”?

      2. If they’re a Special Forces unit why are they opting to use a “small town gang” to retrieve their weapon?

      ” A shell-shocked soldier has to defend his hometown after an unhinged Special Forces unit descends on the town to retrieve [a powerful weapon] that was stolen from them.”

      • Bacon Statham

        1. The weapon. Basically Earth is now dry. There’s very little water left on the planet, so the corporations pretty much took over from the government and they invaded a lot of planets to obtain it, so they could sell it for profit.

        I don’t know what you know about ringwoodite, but it’s basically a mineral below the Earth full of water. It allows the Earth’s ocean to recycle itself. But for some reason (I haven’t figured this part out yet, I’m thinking something to do with the Earth’s core) the ringwoodite isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do anymore.

        The ”weapon” is more of an energy source that would draw out the water from the ringwoodite and replenish the Earth’s oceans, lakes, rivers. The corporations view it as a weapon because if someone got their hands on it they could replenish the water supply and destroy their monopoly over it.

        2. First of all the town is dying. There’s not much left there apart from a few farms surrounding it. The gang leader wants to go straight and turn it into the respectable town it once was. The unit, which works on behalf of the corporations, offers to pay him for his assistance in capturing the protagonist and getting the energy source back because he knows how he thinks, not to mention he’s got a grudge against him for stealing a lot of money off him to start a new life elsewhere (they both used to ride in the same gang together).

        Hope that cleared things up.

    • Poe_Serling

      Sandstorm

      A really eye-catching title for a sci-fi/Western.

      To me, the logline seems a bit wordy. Here’s my attempt to trim off some of
      the fat:

      ”A shell-shocked soldier fights to defend his father’s ranch from both a rogue
      Special Forces unit and a small town gang as they try to retrieve a futuristic
      weapon in his possession.”

      I think ‘estranged,’ ‘AWOL,’ and ‘former best friend’ would all be story elements
      that come to light in more detail in the actual script.

      Good luck with it.

      • Bacon Statham

        I should probably come up with a different logline. The soldiers aren’t really rogue in the sense they’ve broken off from the military, it’s more like they don’t really follow the rules of engagement, they will bombard the shit out of a town in order to get what they want.

        And the weapon is actually an energy source that could save the world, but to the antagonists it is a weapon that could be used against them.

        • Poe_Serling

          “A shell-shocked soldier defends his homestead from both a Special
          Forces unit and a local gang as they try to retrieve a world-changing energy source in his possession.”

          • Bacon Statham

            That works. I’m too lazy when it comes to loglines. I think of something simple then worry about changing it later.

    • BMCHB

      There’s a lot of components in this one. Give me 20 minutes and I’ll try and break it down

    • BMCHB

      TITLE: SANDSTORM
      GENRE: Sci-Fi/Western

      LOGLINE: When his father’s ranch is attacked, a veteran suffering from PTSD struggles to save his family’s legacy as the attackers reveal themselves to be his old unit that lost their lives in The Great War of 2319.

    • Jarrean

      There’s a lot going on here.

      Does it matter that the father is estranged? Also, why would a Special Forces unit need to recruit a small town gang just for this conquest? Because when I hear Special Forces I’m thinking the best of the fucking best.

      If you have to tie the best friend angle into it, simply make him the leader of the Special Forces. Nix the small town gang all together.

      Best of luck.

  • PQOTD

    Just wondering if your comments are going to moderation for some reason. It happens with all new commentators and generally does sort itself out, but it is a pest.

  • RO

    A little OT but since this post is about concepts, has anyone seen the Tracking Board’s top 10 pilots competition selection? First, congrats to those writers for making the top 10. But as I read each of the log lines, some were crazy length, some were boring and at least one was done as a south park episode in the early 00s. Has anyone checked this list out? Anyone by chance read these finalists? I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts.

    • Jarrean

      I said the same thing last night. Good luck to the writers of Double Effect and The Greatest Radio Show This Side of the Apocalypse. These were the only two I’d be interested in if they were on tv.

      • RO

        Those ones stood out to me also. I got a fun vibe from “this side of the apocalypse”.

        Missed this years submission, but I’m working on two shows now to submit for next years.

  • BMCHB

    “Tips To Come Up With Better Movie Ideas”

    Night, folks! I hope you all have inspiration soon…. :-)

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c6b9dd080df82063da1a4f6e013b6b55a7cdaaf436ba0f15ced8f91a9569d239.jpg

  • carsonreeves1

    Sorry, that was random in retrospect. But it kind of looks like an old movie camera, which was the connection I was going for. Could’ve put more thought into that. :)

  • Breezy

    TWENTYFIVE DOLLARS. that’s highway robbery…

    Ok, I’m going to try this out.

    I don’t have a logline, this is a spit-balled premise.

    So, we have these migrants (yes, ya’ll, yes -perfect underdogs!) who are in los estados unidos illegally. They’re NOT from Latin America. They’re not from the Middle East.

    They’re from Trinidad, Antigua and Jamaica. Since (i HEARD) when people from these islands find themselves in the same space, theyre always arguing over slang, music, culture – whatever. They don’t get along too well. (so i HEARD right?)

    But a rasta, a rudegal and some yardie archetypal characters from these islands found themselves together anyway and are in the heart of Texas, jumping through all kinds of hoops to get legal. They’re just trying to get themselves some visas with permanent residency, why does life have to be so difficult???

    But they have a YUGE fucking problem, guys.

    Since Trump just became prez and after California started all this “I’m seceding” talk, then some random person left a comment on youtube saying “yes, please leave. And please PLEASE take the rest of the blue states with you”, ALL the blue states (not PA et al) decided they too want out of this country. Not just on paper, the states are ACTUALLY DETACHING from the ACTUAL CONTINENT.
    Which means, according to the left, immigrants are in trouble. And according to the right, illegal immigrants are in trouble.

    Either way our immigrants are in trouble.

    So our shell-shocked protags are stuck in TX with no documentation, Trump done sent ICE out after them — no, let’s up the ante — Trump sent ANN COULTER out after them,and their only hope is to get to New York before they get caught or before NY detaches from the mainland.

    Question: But what about NewMexi– no, no, no. Caribbean people are family people, all the family is over in the east, no fam in the west, they will risk crossing through that red sea to get to NY. How’d they end up in TX?
    Uh, im the writer, I PUT them there.

    Thing is, though, some of our characters’ obstacles are their own stereotypes. A major one is Caribbean people are always late, they love taking their time. Something scheduled for 10am, it’s going to start at 12:30

    But immigrant-friendly blue states are skedaddling in 27 hours, what the F*K are they gonna do? (yes, google told me it takes 26 hrs)

    These mofos are scrambling about trying to co-operate while running from red-necks, snakes, ICE, cultural appropriation, trigger-happy citizens, terminator “temp ban on immigration” Coulter and sometimes even each other before their time runs out and somebody puts them on a banana boat back home.

    This will be biased. I lived in Texas for two years. This is for the red states!!
    And yes, I have been on a road-trip from TX to NY.

    Rated R for adult language. (Not for bona fide RIGHT-WINGER)

    Oh, and check out my 100% original not ripping off or inspired by jack shit title:
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ddac719144ba0ca0956570209d67983a7b2db3bf11fdd68ce92936f7e881dbc4.jpg

  • Ashley Sanders

    No not at all. It’s a good premise – and that is the really hard bit. That’s 60% of anything. Anyone who tells you that good ideas are easy to come by and they have a shoebox full of them is deluded.

    Titles are tricky, but not nearly as hard as a good simple but I’ve never seen it before premise – the sort of premise where you go, I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that/ I haven’t already seen that movie.

    I’m currently reading Jack Madden’s new script and he has one of those premises.

  • BIMPY KING OF LORDS

    Want better ideas then read a book. A novelist is far more creative than a screen writer

  • Stephjones

    So, I got some help on the logline last week ( thanks to Link, citizen M and Shiro) This is my revision:
    Title Let’s Be Famous
    Genre: Adventure Comedy
    New logline: After a plan to gain fame by faking a sea adventure gets exposed and goes viral, two celebrity-obsessed city kids miss their moment in the spotlight when they really are shipwrecked and lost at sea.

    • RO

      That’s pretty good. So are the celebrity obsessed kids the ones that faked the adventure or were they obsessed with the fake sea adventure and then get lost?

      • Stephjones

        They faked the adventure then got lost

  • shewrites

    Definitely sounds like a comedy to me. A good one!