I am lucky. I have no problems coming up with very good ideas for movies. If I never had another idea for the rest of my life, I would not make a sizable dent in the ones I already have.
Screenwriters who struggle with coming up with an idea tend to be visibly annoyed when I tell them this. I think I’m comfortable sharing this with others because I know movie ideas really mean nothing and please nobody in and of themselves, so there’s not much to brag about. I guess you can get lucky and sell an idea, but in terms of what’s important, a motion picture screened in front of people, a great idea is simply a member of the orchestra that achieves that vision.
I’m not sure where all the ideas come from, but I can tell you where I was, and by telling you this, perhaps this will help you come up with your idea. First, you should know what you want to write. A feature? For the studios? For yourself to direct? Maybe a low budget script for someone else to direct. Will it be shot on film or digital video? Are you looking for an idea for a short film? Perhaps you have a particular genre in mind.
Parameters are excellent tools for creativity. The irony is restriction spawns wonderfully imaginative ideas. If you can write about anything or anybody, with absolutely no conditions, it becomes harder to settle and find that jewel of an idea. So determine your conditions, every one, and embrace them, because there you will find the frame of your idea. In other words, knowing your movie has to be shot on digital video in four weeks with two Asian women in their thirties at an antiques store will narrow your thinking and concentrate your imaginative power.
Is it necessary to have parameters before we come up with an idea? Of course not. You can always find a very special idea and that idea will determine it’s own boundaries. But if you have needs for your screenplay, determine those needs, and it will help.
So after you have determined the conditions for your screenplay, or if you have not, now you can come up with your idea. What’s a good place to start?
The newspaper. Read a thick newspaper. Read through all sections. Read the obituaries. This is our world. Artists look at the world and become moved to express themselves. I read the newspaper anyway, but many times I find something, even one line, which is highly inspiring. By looking through the newspaper with fresh eyes, we become open again to what affects us. I also find the newspaper will confirm instincts I might already have about an idea.
And make sure you read the section you normally never read at breakfast. Trust me.