Writing a Script Part1 – Story Concept- Scott Myers
10 step guide to writing screenplays!
PART 1: STORY CONCEPT
It all starts with the idea. And every day, I task myself to come up with strong, marketable story concepts.
How? The usual suspects: newspaper articles, radio news and talk shows, books, the Internet. At one point, I had 25 magazine subscriptions. Advice columns, obituaries, Weekly World News, anywhere I could think of to look for some unusual item which I could spin into a movie idea.
The not so usual suspects: Halliwell’s Film Guide which presents 1-line story synopses of 25,000 movies. I’ve gone through it at least a half-dozen times, searching its pages for interesting ideas or movies that had been made overseas, but not in the U.S.. I take an idea and genre-bend it, that is, make a drama into a comedy, or a thriller into comedy. I also do gender-bending, change the key characters from a man to a woman or vice versa. Another thing I do is read through the Yellow Pages and compile a list of jobs – septic tank disposal guy, guitar builder, driving instructor – hoping a character or a story will pop to life. I even generate movie titles trying to inspire a story: One of them comes to mind –- FUTURE KILL.
I collect all this stuff and put it into files, either actual articles, which I used to put into a set of bulging manila folders or input thoughts/ideas into my computer.
Before my last relocation, I threw away all the articles, but I still remember some of them. Like the obituary about the British soldier who was stuck in Germany after WWII. He felt sorry for the local civilians, who were destitute and starving. Noticing this big factory in the middle of the city, he toured it with some of the men who had worked there. They explained that during the war, the facility had been converted into a jeep production unit. But before the war, they had built cars – what Hitler called “the people’s car”. Turns out this Brit helped to resurrect that factory and he came to be known as the “Savior of the Volkswagen.”
The thing is I know that a majority of the ideas I generate are not worthy of being made into a movie. But that doesn’t slow me down, instead it fuels my story concept process because I figure I have to come up with a lot of ideas to find some great ones.
The two most important words in the story concept process are What if? I remember reading an article about screenwriter Jim Hart, who was sitting at the breakfast table with his family, when one of his kids suddenly asked, “What if Peter Pan grew up?” That was the genesis of the movie Hook.
I can not emphasize enough the importance of your story concept. On some types of scripts, I would guess it’s worth 50% of the project’s value to the studio because of what it can translate into in terms of marketing the film.
Conversely if you are working with a weak or marginal story concept, I don’t care if you can write like Zaillian or Sorkin, chances are that script is probably not going to sell.
So the first step is a big one: Come up with a great story concept.
In Part 2 of this series, we’ll look at brainstorming, a hugely important aspect of the screenwriting process.
[Originally posted June 5, 2008]