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Complete Guide: Ways To Brainstorm Movie Ideas

Are you looking to come up with the perfect movie idea for a short film, feature project, or screenplay? It can be frustrating when you’re trying to think of screenplay ideas or story ideas and nothing seems to come to mind.

It may not even be writer’s block, per se. Sometimes it feels like all of the best ideas have already been taken. However, we’re here to tell you that’s not true!

There are still plenty of great movie ideas left, you just need a bit of inspiration. Here are 20 ways on how to get the best movie ideas.

Read a Book

This could be a book, short story, or even a poem. The idea here is to draw inspiration. Maybe you start to imagine what would happen in the main character did something different in the story.

Go for a Walk

Inspiration is often lurking outside. Go for a walk, visit a park, and watch some squirrels fight over an acorn or birds flying around chasing one another. Think of dialect for them in your head or imagine a backstory behind it.

Take a Shower

It may seem like an odd suggestion but something about taking a shower often allows for ideas to surface. Scientists believe the relaxing environment mixed with the distraction of doing something menial allows for good ideas to come to light.

Watch a Movie

This could be any movie. An old favorite or something completely new. Try to break down the plot points or the essence of the movie. You could also focus on a supporting character. What do you think their life is like or what their backstory is?

Call a Friend

You could call a friend or family member. Ask them about how their day was or what’s been going on with their life. You’ll usually be treated to some great anecdotes that can provide countless ideas.

Browse Through Social Media

Similar to calling a friend, social media provides you access to real people and their real thoughts. As many have said over the years, real-life can often be stranger than fiction. You’re likely to find a lot of inspiration about characters or plot points while reading through friends’ posts or even through popular hashtags and trends.

Start Sketching

Even if you don’t draw, mindlessly sketching can be a great way to think of ideas. Plus, many find that they’ll start to sketch faces or landscapes that eventually end up being the inspiration for characters and settings.

People Watch

You can people watch almost anywhere and the best part is, it’s free! Where you go just depends on where you live and what type of movie ideas you’re looking for. For example, an airport is a great place to be inspired about reunions or love. However, not always feasible. A café, coffee shop, or bar are all good places to watch and listen.

Craft Something/Work on a Hobby

Working on a craft or hobby you love, is a great way to keep your hands and part of your brain busy while the other part is free to come up with ideas. It’s similar to the shower effect with just an added touch of creativity.

Search Through the Public Domain

The public domain is full of old stories, legends, and myths just waiting to be retold. You could reimagine a new version of them or just take inspiration from their plot and characters. Everything is fair game in the public domain.

Watch Soap Operas

This might seem like a silly suggestion but it’s actually quite brilliant. Soap operas have to keep viewers interested on a day by day basis. That definitely made for some creative writing and mind-blowing plot twists. While some of it, or a lot of it, might be off the wall, there are still a lot of great movie ideas to be had.

Read Through History

There is so much history throughout the entire world that it seems impossible to ever be able to absorb it all. However, all of that history is filled to the brim with interesting and sometimes unbelievable stories. Pick a time or event in history and dive into it. Look for story ideas throughout the text and see what you can find.

Start Researching Locations

Do you have an idea of where you want your story to take place? If not, start thinking about it. Select a location or several and research them. Look into their local history or tales about local legends. You may very well find screenplay ideas or movie ideas within the location setting of your story.

Dig Through Your Own History

You don’t have to just look through recorded history. You and your family have a history as well. Think about your life growing up, relationships you’ve been in, or the relationship with your parents. You could also ask relatives for stories or go exploring online through your family tree. You’re bound to find some inspiration.

Read or Watch the News

While the news can sometimes be difficult to watch or read, it’s often filled with human interest stories. Plus, as we stated before, real life is often stranger than fiction. You are bound to find some interesting characters or stories that produce some great movie ideas.

Break Down the Classics

The “classics” are usually considered classic for a reason. These books or movies were wildly successful during their time and it carried throughout history. Study the classics and break down their essences or plot in a few sentences. Look for trends amongst your notes. What do these classics all have in common?

Sign Up for a Dating App

This one might not work if you’re already in a relationship. However, if you’re single, you’re likely to find endless inspiration for characters and movie ideas in dating apps. There have been whole movies based around dating for a reason.

Study Real-Life Figures

While this is similar to studying history, studying a real-life figure may bring inspiration for a short film or a biopic about the subject. Even if you’re not interested in that, entire movies have been based around real people without actually being a biopic (such as Patch Adams).

Have a Brainstorming Session

Start a brainstorming session where no ideas are bad ideas! Grab pen and paper or your favorite electronic device and just start writing. You can write movies ideas, plots, character history, or whatever else comes to mind. Just keep writing and don’t overthink it. You’ll likely be surprised at the results!

Watch Silent Films

Classic silent films are pure masterpieces. Imagine having to create an entire movie without having your characters speak a word. Silent films are brilliant sources of movie ideas as you can watch them and infer any story you want. Just watch the character’s expressions and actions. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? Make up a whole backstory for them based on what you see in the scenes.

Find Out How Other Movies Got Started

A lot of times when you google your favorite movie you will find if it was based on something or how it came to fruition. Check out the video below to see how five popular movies got their spark from.

Use Pixar’s 22 rules of Storytelling

Once you have some rough ideas about plot, characters, etc. you can begin to craft it into some type of story.

Storytelling has been around for as long as mankind and at this point, there’s nothing new under the sun. However, the world’s top animation experts have some pretty basic fundamentals that appear in most — if not all — of their stories.

Director and Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats (@lawnrocket) tweeted out 22 tips for storytelling that she uses during her process. Since Pixar has an extremely long track record in getting things right in regard to storytelling, this is definitely worth a read.

Keep in mind these are not hard and fastened “rules” or a “formulaic process” that will magically turn your story into the next big thing in Hollywood that spawns a vicious bidding war amongst studios. Take what is useful and refine or disregard what’s not.

Enjoy.

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Jay

About Jay

Jay Carver is a screenwriter, director and producer. Through his production company J-Style Films, he has done work for companies such as Turner Broadcasting. In the past, he has worked with Hollywood actor Omari Hardwick and won several film festivals including "Best Director".

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