A projector beams

How to come up with a movie idea

By BBC Maestro

You want to make a film. But there’s just one problem: you don’t have a good movie idea. Maybe you watch your favourite films and find yourself thinking “how did they come up with the idea for this?”

Or perhaps you’re suffering from writer’s block and need a little help finding inspiration. Either way, here are our tried-and-tested methods for coming up with great film ideas.

Watch lots of films

As an aspiring filmmaker, you’re probably already a movie fan. But how often do you just stick to your preferred film genre?

If you’re a sci fi fanatic, why not give a romantic comedy a go? Or if you prefer independent films, try watching the biggest movie blockbusters. Edgar Wright explains the importance of watching a wide range of films in his BBC Maestro course, Filmmaking:

“Every filmmaker today has learned their craft, either directly or through the influence of others, from how the silent filmmakers approached the form. So, your duty as a filmmaker is to learn from the masters and take the influences that speak to you and interpret them in the way you want to make your films.”

You might just find something unexpected captures your imagination when you take the time to get to know a new genre.

Get outside

Rather than sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike, take a walk – and take a notebook with you. Take in your surroundings, listen to conversations, and do a spot of people watching.

Note down anything you think is particularly interesting, unusual or inspiring. It might spark an immediate idea for a movie plot, or you might find that it gives you inspiration when you look back through your notebook later.

There’s plenty of inspiration all around us – you just need to get out there and find it!

Try free writing

All filmmakers come up against writer’s block at one point or another. You don’t have a promising idea, or you’re stuck with how to move the plot forward.

One of the best ways to get through your writer’s block and spark new ideas is to free write. Set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes, and just write until your alarm goes off. It doesn’t matter what you write about – the only objective is that you don’t stop writing.

The idea is to get your creative juices flowing, which might lead to a great movie idea – or it might just help you to get past that sticky stage, meaning you’re more likely to let inspiration find you.

A person writes in their diary

Speak to people

Talk to everyone. Ask your friends and family about their life stories. Strike up conversations with strangers in the street. Take the time to really listen to people and find out about where they’ve been, what they’ve done, and what drives them. You might just find a golden nugget that’ll make the perfect basis for your next film.

Draw from personal experiences

Your own life is full of potential inspiration. There’s a reason so many writers swear by the adage ‘write what you know’.

Do you have a story to tell? Maybe you’ve experienced a big life event like the death of someone close, a divorce, or a massive career win, and you have a tale to tell. Or perhaps you had a chaotic holiday where everything seemed to go wrong, that could form the basis of a comedy. You might have met your partner in a way that rivals the best romantic comedies.

Take a look back over your life with a fresh perspective. Is there anything that stands out as a story that needs to be shown on the big screen?

Try rewriting the classics

You don’t always need to come up with ideas completely from scratch.

What would happen if Dorothy didn’t have the silver shoes in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? How would things have panned out if Frodo had died at the start of The Lord of the Rings? What would have happened if Eve hadn’t eaten the forbidden fruit?

You could also try rewriting the opening scenes of classic films.

Putting your own spin on classic films and stories that are available in the public domain can be a fun way to engage your brain. Even if you don’t end up making a film around that specific idea, it can easily spark other ideas that you may end up taking forward.

people read together

Keep an idea journal

Keep a notebook by your bed and commit to writing down three ideas every morning when you wake up or in the evening before you go to bed.

It’s unlikely that you’ll hit upon a fantastic idea every single time. But the more ideas you come up with, the more likely you are to hit upon a good one.

Stay on top of current events

Read or watch the news on a regular basis. Current events can provide great inspiration for stories. You might be inspired to tell a true story based on recent events, or maybe you’ll just read about an unusual situation which sparks your imagination.

Let your imagination wander

Edgar Wright explains this is how he came up with the idea for Shaun of the Dead:

“The idea for Shaun of the Dead came to me during a time in which I was playing way too much of the video game Resident Evil 3. When I was walking to the corner shop one weekend after playing the game nearly non-stop for a period of 72 hours, I began to question what would happen if I was suddenly thrust into the middle of a zombie apocalypse right then and there. And that was all it took for the idea to form.”

It might be easier said than done, but wonderful things can happen when you disengage your brain and let your imagination take over.

Don’t get bogged down with the big picture

If you’re too focused on coming up with a fully-fledged story idea, it may never happen. Sometimes all you need is an interesting character or a unique situation, and the rest will come naturally.

This is something that even experts in the industry struggle with. As Edgar explains:

“Coming up with ideas for screenplays can be difficult. I find it’s sometimes easier to start small and work towards formulating a full story. Ideas will often come to me when I begin picturing a specific scene in my head that eventually morphs into the premise for an entire movie.”

So, take the pressure off. As long as you have the kernel of an idea, it’ll all come to you as you start writing.

Are you feeling inspired yet? Once you’ve got your next movie idea, you’ll want to get to know as much as possible about the rest of the filmmaking process, from storyboarding your film to pitching your movie.

Find out everything you need to know from award-winning filmmaker Edgar Wright with his Filmmaking course. He’ll show you the different approaches to filmmaking, including how to get your film made, and how to get it seen.

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