What Good Is A Great Idea If You Can't Finish It?


Ordinary, workmanlike ideas are a dime a dozen. Great ideas aren’t. When I say great I mean commercial, high concept, extremely sellable ideas. If you haven’t figured it out yet, most of the time Hollywood buys the “idea.”  It could be a book, play, comic strip, comic book, graphic novel, blog, twitter, a true story and, oh, yeah, a screenplay.
            If you’re lucky enough to come up with a great idea you move to the front of the line. But if you can’t complete it you’re screwed. You’re more screwed than the screenwriter with an OK idea who has completed a script. At least he or she has something to put on the market.  And sometimes that OK idea is so well-executed that the writing stands out and the characters are so interesting that the OK idea is overlooked because reading the script has been such an enjoyable ride.
            Think Juno a few years ago. Ordinary idea. Really, old, done to death idea: teenage girl gets pregnant, wants the right couple to adopt it: will she find the right couple? Ho-hum. But the execution, as we all know, was spot on. We hadn’t seen dialogue like that in a while or such an appealing character. Hell, all the characters were appealing in this otherwise ordinary story.
            So having the OK idea isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you can rise to the occasion with superior execution.
            But if you’re one of those people with the “big” idea that would make even the most jaded Hollywood type do an Irish jig and you can’t finish it, that’s just bad form.
            I can’t tell you the number of great ideas I’ve heard from students, clients, friends and colleagues. I mean, really cool things. The kind of idea you’re immediately jealous of because you didn’t think of it.  The kind of idea that makes you want to suggest a collaboration.
            And I can’t tell you the number of great ideas I’ve heard that never get finished. Or maybe there’s a first draft, but the author can’t get the initiative to do the next couple of drafts to get it into perfect shape.
            I’ve been saying for years that completion is everything. It’s the only thing that matters if you want to have a career.
            If you’re one of those lucky people with a great idea, but you’re not completing the screenplay, you need to get in touch with why that’s happening. Life intrudes, as they say, so if life is piling on and you can’t get your head on straight, OK. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try to help lift the fog. Or maybe you need help in the form of a collaborator. You need a second set of eyes to help you discover what was right before your eyes. Maybe you need a script consultant or a screenwriting class or a writers support group.
            It’s bad enough to have an OK idea and not be able to complete it. But when you have that killer premise that makes everyone who you tell it to smile, and you can’t get it done, it’s not quite tragic, but it’s pretty damn sad because the risk you take is that someone else will come up with the same idea and beat you to the punch.
            

13 comments:

  1. It's time for me to start having ideas then!

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  2. I don't think I've ever come up with a great idea. Just maybe the notion of an idea with great possibilities. I'll see a movie that occasionally has a great idea behind it, then I'll see something like When In Rome which was entirely unbelievable and pretty stupid. How could that script have gotten an agent and sold and made? That turd had such glaring problems that it made it hard to watch. The cast was good, but every actor was wasted. It made me wonder why they would've even wanted to do the thing, other than a paycheck. I may have to keep writing my OK ideas and hope that my execution puts it into the next level

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  3. I hated When In Rome too. Not only was the plot unbelievable, but who would ever believe that Kristin Bell would have a problem finding love? She could have any guy she wants. And why would she and Josh Deschenal get married in Rome? Her sister had to. She didn't. I so hated this freaking movie.

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  4. Can someone turn an OK idea into a great idea? I don't mean once you get to the script. I mean, an idea is an idea. It's either high concept or it's not. It might be a serious premise or something stupid. I recently saw two movies: The Virgin Hit and The American. The American was very hard to follow. It certainly wasn't high concept. I understand it was based on a novel. It was, to me, an OK idea. The Virgin Hit was just stupid. Some teenagers making a documentary about one of them losing his virginity. Am I wrong, or have we see this before, like a million times?

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  5. I agree with what Rance said about The Virgin Hit? Why would anybody make this movie? I checked boxofficemojo and found out the budget was $1.7 million, but still, it looks like the budget was $50,000. I shake my head and wonder why I should keep trying. I'm going to check out When In Rome. It looked like a turd when I saw the previews.

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  6. When you say the great idea do you mean high concept?

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  7. The best definition I've ever heard of high concept is what I say in the last paragraph of the post. You hear somebody's premise and you smile. And as you smile you may also say "Yeah. Yeah."

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  8. I have great ideas, but am I the only one who thinks they're great? That's always the problem. Who knows really? But I know we need to keep going.....Nice advice.

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  9. Here's my problem. When I should be sending them out, I stop myself and say "No, it's not good enough yet." Then I go back and do more rewrites, or even just tweaks.

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  10. A great idea does not a story make. Also, as you point out, you might craft a really good story but it's been done to death. So don't throw those good ideas away. Keep writing until you've written yourself up to those good ideas and you'll figure out a story for them.

    Welcome back DB.

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  11. I'm just like Carlo. I do the same thing. I just found out about your blog. I'm going to start at the beginning. If this post is anything like the others I'll be here all the time.

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  12. I feel this post is staring me straight in the face. You know I've got 4 or 5 abandoned scripts in my desk. I'm just hoping I'll find the right line of attack and finish them. A guy can dream, can't he?

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  13. Best post to date DB. I think I've found a great idea over here but unfortunately I have shown it to a few ppl and they seem to agree... I guess it is time to finish this sucker before the idea is stolen!

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