Ideas Are Bad
by Conor O’Hagan
First of all, you really shouldn’t be reading this article. It contains some little pieces of insight, some tips that have worked well for this screenwriter. Maybe a little kernel of truth that you can take with you and mention to a similarly striving friend. A humorous quip that you can share on twitter, in the hopes that it might propel you into Rob Delaney-esque grandeur. But really, you should just go back to work.
No? Still with me? Alright.
You’ll notice the upcoming irony, and it’s a tough thing to navigate. How does one strike a balance between arguing against ‘Writing Tips’ articles in a ‘Writing Tips’ article? Well, may this one be your last. Somehow, Steven Pressfield didn’t seem to have any issue with this irony when advising you against the myriad of forms of ‘resistance’ in his famous The War of Art. In it, he convinces you against any sort of distraction from completing your major work of art, a distraction like his very book. To my credit, this article is significantly shorter.
Worse than well-thought and well-written books dedicated to a subject, we can be sure that we are right when we feel guilty about reading those SEO-heavy “listicles” that we are endlessly bombarded with. 99.99% of the time, reading that article on “Ten Character Arcs You Can Identify With”, or “Seventeen Plot Twists You Just Did Not See Coming” is not going to help you or your writing. It is pure procrastination, or if you like, resistance. It’s succumbing to the fear.
In that same vein, I stoutly maintain; ideas are bad. It’s not just a catchy title.
Admittedly, if you find yourself in that elevator pitch scenario, ideas are invaluable. Almost as invaluable of that next, better idea, when the exec shoots down your first through fourth.
But for you, screenwriter, and for your masterwork that somehow isn’t as perfect on the page as it is in your head, ideas do nothing for you.
I think of working on my first feature -
INT. COLLEGE BUILDING – DAY
CONOR – handsome, intelligent, writer-type – strolls through campus. He waves at his fellow students who greet him –
CONOR: Jason, my man! (beat) Hey, Killer, see you tonight? Alright!
Conor stops. An idea has come to him. He removes a large hardbook notebook from his bag. He sits and leafs through it – various notes on characters, plot, theme… He jots down his new idea.
No, you’re right, it wasn’t very good. But what of it?
I lived that screenplay. All year, all the time, I had that notebook. I was constantly reworking characters mentally, I was questioning motives, I was playing devil’s advocate, finding faults.
Compare that to now.
I see a man with a limp;“Oh, that could be a character.”
I spot an article on the structure of The Bride of Chuckie; “Oh, I’ll have a read of that.”
I remember that it’s been all day since I was on twitter; “Oh, I wonder what @Glinner is up to.”
I hear a charming anecdote; “Oh, I could really use that.”
It’s true that many of the best ideas come from little seeds, but these seeds do not help you when you have your project. The project. Which, at this stage, we should. We must. Take that one gem, the one that deep down you know really has something true in it, and embrace it fully.
Leave the ‘New Ideas’ notebook at home. Stop convincing yourself to try a new genre, move into stand-up, or do anything instead. Turn off your goddamn wireless – no, you will not need it for “research”.
These ideas are the goblins in your head that stop you from doing what you want to do.
Get back to loving the work, loving the words, the scenes, the characters. Do what you’re supposed to do.
Write, writer, write.
Read more screenwriting satire on TLL
#TLLjournal || #june #july || #finalists || #loglines
The prize-winning, top six loglines are listed in order. The remaining finalists are listed in no particular order.
Logline: “A Christmas Carol” meets “The Conjuring” when a modern-day Scrooge hires professional ghost hunters, one of them his former fiancee, Belle.
Screenplay title: A Ghost Story Of Christmas
-Quarter-Finalist/Writer’s Network for the screenplay, “The Know-It-All”
-Semi-Finalist/Writer’s Network for the screenplay, “Class President”
-Produced and Directed a 35MM version of “Class President” (2002)
Written by: Eddie Yaroch
WGA Registration Number: 1718347
Genre: Black comedy/Thriller/Mystery
Logline: When a series of murders with obscure motives stain with blood a small kingdom just after the abolition of the capital punishment, the police end up suspecting the former last executioner to work on his own.
Screenplay title: The Executioner
Written by: Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat
WGA Registration Number: 1732491
Genre: Coming of Age/Action/Sci-Fi
Logline: When a nerdy college student wakes up on a train forty years in the past, he’s mistaken for a spy, finds romance, and discovers the fate of his long lost father – a government agent.
Screenplay title: Just in Time
Written by: Jim Jackson
WGA Registration Number: 1676037
Logline: Maddie and Timothy Petrolly journey into the mysterious world of Purpensula, and with the help of the Whurples, they fight the giant monster Whiggats to rescue a cousin they’ve never met who is trapped in Purpensula. They must complete their task in three days or remain in Purpensula forever!
Screenplay title: Purpensula
Written by: Debra Johnson
Registration Number: Copyright # 1-1366019491
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Logline: A newly engaged woman thought she was over a fiancé who left her at the altar, until she woke up in his wife’s body.
Screenplay title: Guess Who?
Written by: Sue Romansik
WGA Registration Number: 1575782
Logline: For most people getting shot would be the worse day of their life. For this bullied young man, it’s the best day of his life.
Screenplay title: The Dummy
Written by: Alan S. Ferguson
WGA Registration Number: 1523647
Logline: Julie, a nominal Christian headed for a weekend shopping binge to New York, finds herself sitting next to Jesus on a deserted train. Her manicured, pedicured, self-absorbed, designer life is turned upside down when she gets off the train and finds she’s in Mumbai, India. Her divine assignment is to rescue eleven orphans living on a garbage dump before she can return home.
Screenplay title: The Designer Bag at the Garbage Dump
-The novel has over 250 5-star Amazon reviews.
Written by: Jackie Macgirvin
WGA Registration Number: Protected by the Novel’s rights
Logline: A young interracial couple struggle to sustain their love for one another during the height of the civil rights movement in the late 60’s. Ultimately, they must choose between love and revolution.
Screenplay title: Discriminating Love
Written by: Jerome Epps
WGA Registration Number: 1729846
Logline: A young slave-woman struggles against the sexual exploitation imposed upon her on a Southern plantation on the eve of the Civil War.
Screenplay title: For Virtue
Written by: Richard Buzzell
WGA Registration Number: 1642680
Logline: After a vicious attack, an executive at a high tech firm making advanced RFID tags is haunted by nightmares and traumatized by her resulting emotional and physical scars.
An attempt by her sister to avenge the attack and reunite her with a former boy friend is nearly perfect until it is discovered that she herself had been unwittingly tagged with a chip developed by her sister’s company (as part of asurreptitious controlled experiment) during routine cosmetic surgery and her every movement since has been tracked and recorded.
While the attacker’s deaths bring renewed confidence and closure for their victim, the police investigation of the murders shifts and her sister finds herself in the cross-hairs wherein the investigating detective must choose; side with the law, or do what’s right.
Screenplay title: Tags
-Finalist/FilmMakers International Screenwriting Contest for feature “The Reason” (final judging still in progress)
-Semi-Finalist/Screenplay Festival for feature “The Reason”
-Semi-Finalist/Round 2 / Cinequest Screenwriting Competition for feature “The Reason”
Written by: Robert Christian Frostholm
WGA Registration Number: 1697131
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