Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ideas are cheap

Tuesday I participated in this massive discussion on Go Into The Story, during which I opined, "Ideas are cheap." Perhaps some of you saw this talk, but for those who didn't, here's what I meant by that.

In both interviews and in person, I've heard many a working writer roll their eyes at that notion, usually citing an incident that follows as such:

Said writer mentions his profession at a party. A fellow unknown to that writer says, "Hey, I've got a great idea for a movie! How about I give it to you, you write it up and we'll split it 50-50?" This story usually ends with the working writer straining not to be incredibly insulted at the proposal.

Perhaps even some of you have been on the receiving end of this. I'm always a little put off by the attitude of the pitcher. The implicit message seems to be that coming up with an idea and developing an idea take an equal amount of effort. Quite simply, anyone who believes that has not sweated over multiple drafts of a script.

For example, these are ideas:

4 teenage guys make a pact to get laid before prom.

Two teens experience trouble getting beer to a high school party so they can impress girls.

A case of mistaken identity has a couple on a date night hunted by cops and crooks.

Those are ideas, but are they story? Do they trump the work that goes into the structure and execution of said ideas? As someone who's had a couple really, really good ideas that resulted in a script or two that didn't live up to their promise, I can say yes. A thousand people could have come up with those ideas, but only a few could have executed them as successful films.

How often have you watched TV or seen a movie trailer for an idea that you could have sworn you had first? I don't know a writer who's hasn't had that experience.

THAT is what I'm trying to express when I say ideas are cheap. It takes more than a good idea to make a good script.


  1. I think anyone that's ever mentioned they are a writer or wants to be a writer has heard the "Hey, I have an idea for you I think you should write" speech.

    A few things about that always irk me:

    1. This person assumes I want to write their genre. I don't.

    2. This person assumes their fascinating self-experience I nearly fell asleep listening to in person is going to somehow grab the attention of hundreds of thousands of people. It won't.

    3. This person has instantly insulted me by insinuating I have no ideas of my own that I rather be writing or have been trying to write or have been slamming my head against a wall trying to break or been...well, you get the point.

    Not to mention that whenever you do entertain their thought, the never get back to you.

    Usually when someone says something like this I tell them to write me an outline or pitch and present it to me. I'm still waiting for at least one person to get back to me with that.

    As for ideas: the more loglines I read, the more I understand why professional writers don't care if someone tries to steal their idea. You can have my idea, but you won't write it the way I will.

  2. My response:

    Why don’t I think about a swimming pool and you dig it for me?

  3. TBSC is absolutely right. Ideas are cheap. It's what you do with them that matters.

  4. And the flip side is true too. No one wants to steal your ideas. You can share your "amazing genre twisting idea" with abandon because no one wants to take it from you. They've got enough ideas of their own.


  5. I love the responses to this one, particularly the swimming pool bit.

  6. I love the idea of the swimming pool bit. Consider it stolen.