“How do I get my ideas?” Is that a question possible to answer? What if I asked you why you put your right shoe on first? You’d be stuck for an answer, too. But, I shall attempt to do the difficult—I won’t say “impossible.”
For the most part, my ideas just come. There. Was that helpful? But sometimes I have to go after them (or myself) with a club, especially when it’s just plain easier to do something other than come up with brilliance. So, for lack of really good idea to write in this post, grab your club and come with me. We’re going to hunt some brainwaves.
Just Do It
By now maybe you’ve realized that there’s always some effort to getting ideas. Sometimes (wonderful times) they just pop into my head, but other times I have to really think. And think hard. This is where the club becomes a two-edged weapon. While it may scare ideas out of the bushes, it can also scare the daylights out of me, resulting in complete “idea-generator” shut down. (Read that as: I don’t handle pressure well.)
So here’s my first tip. Learn your limitations. Figure out just how long you can rack your brains successfully, and stop before you fall over the edge. And take what you can get. If amazing ideas aren’t coming, I grab the little ones. They make great jumping off points. And if all else fails, I throw away my club, and get out my little friend the magic rabbit and chase him down some rabbit trails…
Introducing The Magic Rabbit
I’m a very active, visual thinker. I need space, quiet, next-to-no pressure, and writing utensils to be able to focus and play with scenes in my head. Which doesn’t work so well in chats and business meetings. So I rely on what I’ll call (for lack of a better term) my magic rabbit brain. Toss an idea around and, hey presto! see what emerges.
For instance, this last chat we were stuck for a conversation between two characters in a ticklish, but static, situation. Jordan had typed a partial sentence and it hadn’t finished coming through, so all it said was, “The cell was small.” I glanced at the sentence from a ways away and accidentally read “the cell was snail.” I got a chuckle out of that, then started playing with the concept of having a cell that was shaped like a snail. Eventually we wound up with a set design, a way to introduce two characters, a set-up for some neat scenes, more of the villain’s personality, and a way to get the dialogue rolling—just by playing with a misread.
That’s why you play with those little “okay” ideas. Mess with them and things happen. But keep your antennae moving while you’re doing it. If an idea starts going the wrong direction, drop it, or at least hold it loosely. The last thing you want to do is be stuck hanging on to an idea that doesn’t work. One that nobody else likes and you just know it would work if they’d only stop and listen to you . . . and maybe change half the script while they’re at it. I’ve been guilty of that a couple of times. Believe me, it gets messy.
Follow the Scene
Next to the Magic Rabbit my most important idea generator is my “antennae.” Or perhaps I should say “whiskers” to keep with rabbit theme. Anyway, unlike the little bunny these feelers generate and moderate ideas. We talked about “feelings” in an earlier post. Moderating is the ability to tell if a scene is working. If it “feels” right. If you’re in the middle of a hold-up, and there are secret service all over the place, the world is at stake, the victim just found out that the main badguy is their old friend, etc. etc. etc. You don’t want someone to suddenly crack a “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke. It doesn’t fit! This applies to sets, props, costumes, dialogue, action, just about anything in the filmmaking world.
But the cool part is that, for me, this method can also generate ideas. I get into the general mood of the scene and see what comes. Maybe this works because I’ve watched lots of movies and read lots more books. Maybe I’ve just had too much sugar. I don’t know. It just works. If I can get in the moment and visualize what the characters are trying to do, look out! Stuff happens.
It’s Not Personal
No, I’m not going to go into how to make the audience connect with an idea. I’m talking about you. About your ideas. Your ideas that you have slaved over, polished, perfected, and joyously presented them to whatever group you’re working with, only to have them shot down. Blown up. Stuffed in a box and sunk in the Pacific somewhere about fifty miles off the coast of California.
What do you do?
If I’ve had a rough day I tend to take the easy way out and go “sulk” in the corner. No more ideas from me! You didn’t like the last ones so, humph, catch me giving you any more.
This is the wrong response.
It hurts, yes. But you’ve got to be able to keep coming up with ideas or you’ll spend the next hour trying to get somewhere, and then have to start over. Sulking is not worth it! People say to not think of someone’s reaction to your ideas as a reflection on yourself. With me, that’s much easier said than done. In fact, I don’t think there really is a three-step process to growing an instant thick skin. (Something between armored plating and a rhinoceros, preferably.) It comes slowly and with practice. And you don’t learn to let go of good ideas without, guess what? Letting go of ideas. Ouch.
But remember this. You have a brain. And it works. (With me so far?) You come up with ideas every day. Whether other people like them or not is not something to lose sleep over. (And believe me, I struggle with this a lot.) You’re part of a team. You bring ideas to the table that no one else there has thought of. It’s this mix that makes movies so unique. Anyone can come up with an idea. But it’s how you work with each other that counts.