Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to Meet Good Ideas

Coming across a good idea ought to be the most likely part of the uncertain and especially unlikely process of getting a film projected onto a theater screen; but before the Cinderella story; before an audience walks into that theater, or the marketing campaign was successfully devised to bring that audience in, or the film somehow made it into Sundance or Toronto -- whereby the right people screened it and the right things were said and the right buzz grew into that distribution deal -- before a cast and crew serendipitously came together and really made something great enough to be noticed; before that first unlikely investor came along and took a risk, or a producer saw some fleeting potential in a script and decided to put their contacts and connections on the line... there was a writer and an idea, and it probably wasn't pretty.

They had to meet.  And goddamn it, they had to get along.

Yeah, there are people out there that will say "I knew this was a great idea from the beginning!"  They'll lean back and fawn over how easy it all came to them once they "found" the idea; conveniently overlooking all the strife it took to turn that idea into a good script.

Jealously you ask them: "But how did you get that idea?"

The edge of their lips turn into a coy smile; they don't even do you the courtesy of thinking about the question: "No idea, just came to me."

The words are true, but I still want to punch this fictional person in the face.  I digress, but as writer of this blog, I'll take the liberty.

(A can of Mountain Dew flies across the room, hitting the pretentious man squarely in the face.  His nose seeps blood, mixing with spilled drink as it spots his expensive white shirt.  The dry cleaner won't be able to get that stain out...).

Finding a good idea is hard.  What's more, you don't come upon ideas, ideas come to you.  You can put yourself around the right people, in the right setting and situation where ideas might hang around, but that's about as much as they'll allow.  No, they come to you, and they'll do so whenever they damn well please.  Then when they come, well, you have to like them.  Just because an idea approaches you doesn't mean you're attracted to it.  We go through ideas all the time, politely smiling at them before we go back to talking with our friends.

Some ideas are more interesting than others.  All you can do is think about how cool that idea is; you can't believe they tapped your shoulder or decided to dance with you.  Other ideas seem engrossing on the evening you meet them, but its very hard to spend any time with them after that; all looks and no substance.  They're secretly boring.

Can you sit down and have a conversation with your idea?  Will it be one of those conversations that go on and on, spilling with great tangents and material?  Can you put up with them?

The best ideas get in your head man, and they change the way you see things.  At the same time they're possessive.  Everything you see, hear and smell -- every other thought -- gets interrogated by the idea first.  Trees, highway, car wreck -- Could you work in the story?  It doesn't matter where you are -- supermarket or meeting, your idea is there vying for all your attention.  Sometimes it takes a while for that possession to take hold.

No one wants to admit they have trouble romancing a good idea, but then again, how many ideas are truly "good," before a writer took a chance and decided to make that long, hard commitment?

The days go on and doubts inevitably ensue.  You don't really know this is a great idea, do you?  In fact, you're still thinking about that smarmy guy who said it all came so easy.

Thinking about the long journey ahead, and just how improbable the script you're writing will end up on the big screen, you sit down for a heart to heart with your idea: "Hey.  Listen, I think you're really interesting.  We've been spending some time together and that's no small thing for me -- I don't just spend time with any idea, you know.  The problem I'm having is..."  (You hesitate you don't want to tell them the truth)  "Why aren't you brilliant?  Why aren't you behaving symphonically, idea?  Why aren't you bursting with inspiration?  Why aren't you feeling like a great idea every single day?"

Meanwhile you wonder, is this idea truly destined for great things, if I have to put in all this work? 

But is it really the ideas fault?  You start questioning yourself: "What's wrong with me?  Is this my fault?  Am I any good?  Am I even cut out for writing?  If I have to put in all this work, am I truly inspired -- A good idea like this comes along and this is all I can do with it?!..."

"Confidence," you tell yourself.  Ideas respect confidence, but personally I suspect it's not a cure all adage.  Sometimes you just have to make a clean break.  Tell an idea it's not working out creatively.  It's not really bringing much to the table after all, and you need to move on to the next idea.  Or maybe it's just too difficult, and that is a good sign.

Maybe you just decide to take a break from your idea.  You know... temporarily.  "Maybe we'll meet each other again when you... when I'M... More mature."

-- Next thing you know that piece of shit idea is in bed with Steven Spielberg, and Spielberg's pulling all the stops.  He's wooing the idea with his studio, with his financial resources.  And that's the one that got away...

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, take a moment to be thankful for your good ideas.  Also be thankful Steven Spielberg hasn't had your idea first.  He's a tough act to follow.

Charles Rhoads

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