Writers and imagination… Dreaming up a Movie Idea

Many writers stress over finding a movie idea that they can develop into a screenplay. Often, those movie ideas come from your own capacity to wonder at the world around you.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to wake up in the morning, roll out of bed, stumble into the bathroom, and look into the medicine cabinet mirror, only to discover that your face wasn�t your face? Your face was someone else�s?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel back in time and meet your parents when they were ten or twelve years old? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be buried alive?

Writers wonder about what are some examples of symbolism in the tell tale heart. They have a very active have-you-ever-wondered-what-it-would-be-like imagination. The truth is that I think we all do. We�re born with it.

It’s through that kind of active, playful sense of wonder that you find a movie idea.

When I was a kid, I had a lot of have-you-ever-wondered-what-it-would-be-like imagination time. When my brothers and sisters and I were finished with school for the day, we would be sent outside where we relished the freedom and the many hours of unstructured free time. I know, nowadays, it�s almost a sin to give your kids unstructured play time, but for us it was the norm.

We were left to fill our time with games we knew (hopscotch, baseball, freeze tag, etc.) but we were also left to dream up spontaneous new games, many of them fueled by the have-you-ever-wondered-what-it-would-be-like universe.

As kids, we are immersed in the have-you-ever-wondered-what-it-would-be-like world, but as we grow older, we are forced to leave that world behind for the neatly-rowed, black, white and gray cubicles of �reality.�

As a child, the games of imagination that we play are so rich. A door becomes a portal to a gnome�s castle. A stick becomes a sword, and we�re suddenly a swashbuckling pirate. Fireflies become gold trinkets that we try to capture in glass jars. We sit and watch a worm work its way through earth and try to imagine the many worlds it will inhabit underground.

Well, writers have a very active have-you-ever-wondered-what-it-would-be-like imagination. What is Moby Dick, except a have-you-ever-wondered-what-it-would-be-like tale about engaging a killer whale in mortal combat? Isn�t Jaws a have-you-ever-wondered-what-it-would-be-like to battle a killer shark whose sole purpose in life is to consume human flesh? And isn�t every vampire tale really a meditation on, have you ever wondered what the cost might be to live forever?

Writers are people who have somehow been able to protect and nurture that have-you-ever-wondered part of their psyche. If you want to write screenplays, or anything else for that matter, you have to nurture that part of yourself.

You have to allow it to flourish and grow. You have to allow yourself the space and time to imagine�and it can�t only be for the two hours that you sit down at your desk to write. You have to let go of the concrete �certainty� of the world to slip into the multi-layered, multi-dimensional world of possibility.

As a working writer, you�ll be able to sit down at a prescribed time and harvest what�s been grown in your imagination, but you have to realize that the imaginings that you bring to your writing desk have been gathered through the imaginings of a lifetime.

You might have to build up the muscle to re-imagine the world, but what working writers have done is to strengthen that muscle to the point where it grows antennae. Those antennae are always up, and the buzz of a fly, a baby�s cry or the sight of a grasshopper can trigger all kinds of imaginings.

If that have-you-ever-wondered part of yourself has been buried, you have to resurrect and resuscitate it. If it�s lost, you have to find it. And if it never had a chance to fully develop in you as a kid, you have to open yourself up to let it flow and let it grow.

You, as a writer, need play time. What do I mean? You need periods of unstructured free-time where your imagination is allowed to roam. You, as a writer, need to start building in that time for yourself.

It can be something as simple as a meandering walk along a beach. If you don�t paint already, it could be as simple as taking a painting class, the tactile drag of a brush along canvas settling your spirit, and allowing your mind to roam free.

It could be getting your hands into a vat of potter�s clay at a pottery class, allowing the spinning potter�s wheel to spin new avenues of imagination. The activities that seem to work well are those that somehow physically engage us while allowing our minds room to roam.

As adults, we are so busy. Every waking minute seems to be crowded out by the constantly growing agenda of things we need to get done. The list of things we need to do never seems to diminish, no matter how much we work at it. It�s no wonder our imaginations are crowded out by the business of our busy lives.

Writing is an odd exercise. It�s a kind of �serious play.�

But in order to play, in order to harvest movie ideas and turn them into movie stories, your imagination has to have the freedom and space to roam. It�s almost like a structured kind of abandonment.

In the cowboy days, they used to make corrals to hold horses and cows. If you only had a few animals, you would have a small corral. If you had a large number of animals, you had a large corral.

For a writer, your corral is your safe space, the place where your imagination is allowed to play and roam free.

It�s almost as if you need to construct a huge corral, one that rolls into the meadow, trails through the woods and winds its way around the lake, even though you only have one �horse� to put into it– but that one horse is your imagination, and it has to be allowed to roam safely and freely throughout that space.

All of this have-you-ever-wondered work is the basis for building a movie idea or film concept.

A film concept is simply a movie idea. What�s important is that the movie idea or concept has to be intriguing, catchy, interesting or fascinating. It can usually be boiled down to a sentence or two. We�ve already dealt with a couple of them earlier in this essay in talking about Moby Dick and Jaws. Often times, the concept is presented as a �What if� construction. What if a great white shark marks a heavily populated resort beach as his own private feeding ground?

We�ll cover movie ideas in a more thorough fashion elsewhere on this site. What�s central to this essay is that coming up with a fantastic movie idea starts with the writer�s uninhibited ability to wonder at the world�to look around himself and wonder what it would be like to�

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