Three ways to get short film ideas
1 — BRAIN-STORMING
If you plan on working on a script with a team, one good way to get started is to host a brain storming session. You should have a ball park idea of what you want the script to be when you go into the session. To prep for the session, have a series of questions you can ask the group. Some sample questions for the brain-storm could be:
- What images would you like to see in the film?
- How should people feel when they watch the film?
- How should people feel when the credits roll?
A good brain-storming session should have a meeting room with a white-board so that while everyone in the group throws out ideas, there is a way to capture them.
For one film project, I was working with a creative team to make the film. I pitched them several ideas for the subject of the film and they chose suspense / thriller. I had never written a suspense thriller before so after our meeting I listened to an album by Godflesh (an industrial band) and started writing down all of the images I could see happening in our suspense thriller. By the end of my bus ride home, I had six pages of images that could take place in the film.
I typed all of my notes up and shared them with the creative team so everyone could comment and make suggestions on what I had written.
While it is much more common to write a script on your own, Brain-storming can be a good way to involve a creative team in developing the basic idea of the script. When I’ve had a hard time titling a script, brain-storming has helped me to generate a long list of titles so I can pick one.
2 — CURRENT NEWS
When you are searching for ideas for screenplays, reading the news paper or reading news articles online can help you find inspiration for a screenplay. There is always new research in science and articles about new developments that can give you an idea for a sci-fi screenplay.
I’ve probably been inspired by half a dozen news articles in my own writing. There are stories everywhere and newspapers sell papers with the stories they tell. That is not to say that you would take the particulars of a news article and turn it into a script. News articles are copyrighted. But an idea you might get from reading the paper is not copyrighted.
In early 2016, I was interested in working with improv actors. I wanted to develop a bank of ideas I could present to the improv actors I would be directing. I happened to be visiting my Dad and he had a large stack of local news papers. I started flipping through the papers looking for story ideas. Within about an hour or ninety minutes, I had twenty different story ideas broken down that I could propose to my improv actors to use to build their scenes.
Ideas can not be copyrighted, so if seeing a film or if hearing a story from a friend inspires you and gives you an idea, you can use it. If you read the Hero of a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell you will learn that many of our stories are reworked, remixed, and repurposed.
I’ve read articles about the difficulties blind people have faced when regaining their sight in adult life, and that has inspired a short film script. I read about a medical procedure to remove the pleasure center from the brain, and that inspired a script idea.
If you’re not sure where else to start, flipping through news articles can give you inspiration for an idea.
3 — A GAME OF WHAT IF
Simply asking what if can help generate ideas. What is a lawyer who relies on bending the truth couldn’t lie for 24 hours? (Liar, Liar) What if a Military Industrialist survived injuries from his own weapons and decided to stop making weapons? (Iron Man) What if a man became famous for taking photos with his iPhone? (iPhotographer) What if a group of teenagers gained superpowers when they discover an underground cave? (Chronicle)
There are an infinite number of scenarios that can be imagined by answering what if. Asking this question in your own life can give you story ideas. What if a woman regained her sight in adult life? What if cowboys faced off against aliens? (Cowboys Vs. Aliens)
When you are developing a script or already have a script drafted, asking what if can open doors to new scene ideas or alternate ways of tackling the story beats in your script.
While we were developing the script for iPhotographer, the Director and I talked about the story of the script. We would go on photography walks and discuss the script. iPhotographer is about a man who becomes a professional iPhone photographer. As we went on our photography walks elements from photography would turn into ideas that could be added to the script. We would often ask what if, which always led to new jokes and story beats to flesh out the script.
Asking what if can also help you when you get stuck while writing a screenplay. When searching for story ideas or developing a script asking what if is another great tool for discovering new ideas.
Those are three ways that we have generated ideas for short films. There are many more ways to catch ideas for stories. They can come from dreams, listening to music, and perhaps most importantly observation.
What do you to catch ideas? What inspires you to write?
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This article is part of a longer chapter in the Bridgeport Film Club Guidebook