A producer who’s sold to all the majors, Barri Evins created Big Ideas to give aspiring screenwriters what it takes to break into the business by sharing methods she uses with professional writers. Sign up for Barri’s newsletter and follow her on Twitter @BigBigIdeas.
This makes choosing an idea the decision of a lifetime.
Ideas possess incredible power to grab our interest. Premises captivate us and capture our imagination. They draw us to films and television shows.
While an actor may provide some eye-catching appeal, we make our entertainment choices based on story. Big stars may add sparkle, but at best can only mitigate the damage of a box-office flop. And movie stars’ light waxes and wanes. Careers come and go, while story remains relentlessly appealing.
“People are drawn to watch ideas, not talent,” says Gary Reisman, whose company, NewMedia Metrics, uses the psychoanalytic theory of attachment to predict the success of TV shows. Tony Maglio, in his article for The Wrap entitled, “Predicting Fall TV’s Hits and Misses,” Reisman has found that “the most important factor in a show’s success isn’t its stars, but rather viewers’ immediate connection with its premise.”
Our connection to ideas is powerful and primal.
Industry pros are so highly aware of this, that when it comes to buying and greenlighting projects:
A Compelling Idea Trumps Strong Execution
Great ideas are highly sought after. They are a rare find.
When it comes to execution, the attitude is: a script can always be rewritten.
Once your material has been acquired by a buyer, we’re not married to you. Some other writer can always be brought in to rework your idea.
You Can’t Make A Silk Purse Out Of A Sow’s Ear
No matter how you try, you cannot overcome the downward pull of a weak idea.
I’ve heard from many inspiring writers who have poured years – yes, years – into pounding out draft after draft of a single script. They hope to make it what I call “more better” because, in truth, it will never lead to happiness. I will never be good enough launch their careers.
The problem starts from the very first decision made – what the idea will be.
No matter how you dress it up, you can’t distract us from a weak concept.
A once popular women’s magazine column from years past was entitled, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” It chronicled a troubled marriage. The couple would come to a marriage counselor separately to discuss their problems. Then the counselor met with them together, trying to give them tools and techniques to improve their relationship. With that little cliffhanger, the therapist would then update the reader on the status of the relationship many months later.
I have to admit, I kinda loved the melodrama.
Then again, it was happening to someone else.
While many couples benefited from the counseling, some marriages had fundamental, irresolvable issues and could not be saved.
Before pouring yet more time and energy into rewriting a project – even if it is your passion project – at some point you must ask yourself, can this script be saved?
It may be time to let go of your great love and start from scratch with a new idea. One that has the best possible chance to succeed.
Do Not Pass Go
But don’t pass go just yet.
The best way to avoid the pain of endless rewriting only to have a script hit the rocks is to focus, first and foremost, on choosing your story idea before you begin. Time spent courting your idea can save you weeks, months, years of rewrite hardship and heartbreak.
I work with a great many writers on loglines for scripts through my Logline Booster Shot service. Invariably, severe logline issues point to story problems that were there from the outset.
Why not hone your logline before you begin your script? Now you’ve transformed your logline into a powerful tool.
It enables you to explore the strength of your concept before you’ve written 100 plus pages. And it allows you to test market your idea before you type “Fade In.”
How to Test Drive Ideas:
- Have lots and lots of ideas. Check out my Building the Idea-Generating Muscle Success Story here.
- Experiment with the ideas that speak strongly to you, writing the genre and logline for each of your top ideas.
- If you cannot write a logline that conveys the conflict of the story, set that idea aside and move on.
- When you create a successful logline – with the world, the hero, their flaw, the inciting incident, the conflict, and the stakes spelled out – you have all the essential elements of a successful screenplay, including the groundwork for structure and theme. Now develop a short pitch of the story – a few sentences at most – no more than a paragraph. You should be able to complete your pitch in one minute – two tops.
- Take your concept for a Test Drive – pitching it to movie experts – that’s everyone!
- Closely observe the reactions of your market sample. This is the richest source of input on an idea. It’s where you learn what really works, and what doesn’t, based on the nonverbal reactions to your story.
- Incorporate that input into revising your logline and short pitch.
- Take it out for another Test Drive.
Thoroughly developing premises and then taking them out for a Test Drive, enables you to hone in on ideas most likely to engage audiences and allows you to start to refine your concept before you begin to write. When you do hit the keyboard, you can be confident that you know where you are headed and are miles ahead on your journey.
Stop! In The Name Of Love…
Okay, you’ve taken your idea for Test Drives, incorporated what you learned, and honed it into a strong concept.
At this point, you’re exceptionally eager to get started writing.
Stop! Don’t run down the aisle just yet.
Not if you’re looking to live happily ever after.
You may be eager, but you aren’t truly ready to start writing.
I am an advocate for prewriting. Outline, outline, outline, I beg of you.
I outline these columns. How can I get where I’m going if I don’t know where I’m headed? I need the major signposts along the way – the big points I want to make in order to clarify the topic.
Mine your concept for all it’s worth while you’re in the outline phase. Explore every comedic possibility, every obstacle, as many variations on a genre convention as possible. Pushing yourself to come up with twelve or twenty possibilities makes it more likely you will come across the one great element that springs directly from the premise and theme, and is unique to your story.
Squeeze every bit of juice possible from your idea.
That’s the surest path to a Hollywood ending.
- More articles by Barri Evins
- How to Decide the Best Possible Movie Ideas to Develop Into Screenplays
- Get Real: Movie Ideas – Why Didn’t I Think of That? Part 2
Is Your Concept High Enough? Webinar by Unknown Screenwriter