Taking the time to correctly plan out your proposed film or TV project before production gets underway is vital to its success. But before you even begin thinking about the latter stages of pre-production, you should evaluate the merits of your story kernels and ideas.
Ideation is one of the most crucial aspects of filmmaking because if you get it wrong and things start to unravel at any point during the making of the project, you will have wasted everyone’s time—something you do not want to be remembered for.
So how do you come up with good story ideas for your short, series or feature? And how can you tell if an idea is worth the effort it’ll take to bring it to the small or big screen? Let’s talk about that.
1. Look to Your Own Personal Experiences
Everyone has a story, and where better to start than with your own? Even if you only spend five minutes reflecting back on your life, you will undoubtedly see great potential in your most notable memories, milestones and life events.
And as is often the case, the more emotionally charged your life experiences are, the better the end result will be. Just try to keep the ‘realness’ in if you can.
2. Borrow from the Experiences of Others
To build upon the previous point, experiences that borrowed from elsewhere can also act as very effective catalysts for a short script or screenplay. You could for example, work a story out of anecdotes told to you by friends or relatives.
Just be aware that this can be a bit of a grey area legally speaking. It is always best to seek permission in writing before you begin working. You may also need to change the names of your characters and places to protect people’s identities.
3. Observe and Investigate Lapses in Society
Wherever there are faults in society or within the laws that govern society, there are countless nuanced interactions at play—the backbone of many documentaries and mockumentaries.
You could explore story ideas that are politically motivated, make a statement about consumerism or voice an opinion about an unethical practice. But even if you don’t feel producing a hard-hitting exposé, there’s bound to be enough material to work with along similar lines.
4. Conduct Research into Historical Events
As the saying goes, “Truth is stranger than fiction” and when truth is weaved into a work of fiction, the result can be a more authentic, compelling and utterly engaging story. What more could any screenwriter ask for?
And by the same token, attempting to craft an alternative history for the purposes of your film or TV project could also prove to be wellspring of ideas. So if you’re stuck, a little research can go a long way towards lighting that inspirational fire in you.
5. Consume Media That Offer Different Perspectives
As a filmmaker and lover of film you probably already to this, but it never hurts to go that little bit extra beyond your comfort zone by consuming media in a style or genre you don’t typically see.
Watch anime or with subtitles on; watch foreign language films; watch experimental short films and pay close attention to the way the writing, cinematography and director’s vision are all bared out.
Just make sure you are consciously engaged with the material. If you phase out and only passively experience what is being shown, you will miss out on the whole point of the exercise.
6. Adapt Other Art Forms into Film
If you’re still stuck for ideas, turn to books, paintings, poems or music and try to source ideas by seeing what it would look like if you adapted the material to a time-based medium like film.
Once again, you should ask permission to use anyone else’s work—in part or in whole—in your work so be sure to do that if you’re serious about the idea and can’t separate the inspiration from the final product.
7. Train Your Hands to Work with Your Mind
Try to make a habit out of coming up with and writing your ideas down whenever you hit upon something good. There will be a disproportionate amount of bad ideas compared to ones you think are actually useful but that’s the name of the game.
As for how to evaluate and zero in on the ideas with the most potential, that will happen naturally as you move through the ideation phase of filmmaking. Also, don’t be afraid of changing or combining your ideas to see if you can make them better.
Now get out there and get your ideas down!