Ideas Are Everywhere
It’s time I blow the lid off a misconception — a long-held misconception among young writers and non-professional creative people. Ideas are not special. Ideas are not as valuable as you think. Ideas cannot be protected, bought, sold, or shared like a secret pot of gold. There is no super-special idea that is only yours that no one has ever heard of. And most importantly, no one will “buy your great idea.” IDEAS ARE A DIME A DOZEN.
Now before you protest, let me explain: It’s not the idea that’s valuable. It’s the UNIQUE EXECUTION of that idea. I’ve talked about execution in the past — your ability to deliver an idea in a way that no one else can is your ticket in this business. Time and time again, I’ve heard young writers shaking their fists at the heavens because “someone stole my idea!” I know, I know. It was perfect. You thought of it. Then one day you read in Variety that someone else is making it. “How can there be another Robot Squirrel Movie??” you shout. Well, if your idea is a good one, it’s fair to say someone else thought of it too. High concepts are dangerously vulnerable to this. We are all reading the same articles and seeing the same images and sooner or later, someone ELSE will also say, “What if a squirrel was a robot?” Or maybe not. But you know what I mean. Ideas are shared and talked about and tossed back and forth every day in Hollywood. Things are thrown against the wall, then torn down and thrown up again. When you walk in to pitch an idea, it needs to come with the added bonus of YOU. YOU are sharing how YOU will execute that idea in a way that ONLY YOU could. Prove that you are the only who could make THAT IDEA in THAT WAY. And the more of that idea you can execute and get to market, the more it becomes difficult to copy or steal. The more it becomes yours and only yours.
So if you see your idea getting made by someone else and feel cheated, get in line. It’s happened to me about 30 times. And I mean the EXACT same idea. But when the movie comes out, I see that it was also a collection of script, actors and music that I never could have combined. And take heart — if you truly still believe in your idea, keep at it anyway. You can still execute YOUR vision of it. History has shown us there can be multiple movies about Robin Hood, Mars, The Wizard Of Oz or even Red Riding Hood.
On a related note, I realize a lot of you don’t have the means to execute your great idea and so you want to get it to someone that could. And a lot of times you think that is me. Many, many times over the years I will be contacted by someone (usually a friend of a nephew of a friend) who tells me, “I have a story for you. It could be a great movie. All you have to do is write and make it and we’ll share ownership of it.”
That’s all? All I have to do is make it? So the other 99 % of the process? Cool.
And by the way, I’m not wandering the Earth looking for ideas to make into movies. I don’t wake up every day thinking, “Wow, I have all the money and connections and the means to make movies, I just need an idea. I hope I find someone who has one.” I’m not looking. I have about 40 ideas of my own. I have files FULL of ideas that I’ve been trying to get made for years. The only thing that makes me stop working on those original projects is when someone else has a fully-funded idea and wants to hire me to do that “making” part. So if you have a huge pile of money to go with your idea, then yes, maybe we should go have coffee and talk about it. But this notion that you are carrying around this precious diamond is not true. Ideas pop up every day, and at least three times a month I hear from someone who has “the best idea ever” — they just want me to put the sweat into birthing it. It’s the “birthing” that no one really wants to do. That’s what makes an idea an actual piece of business that others want to pay for. All the story beats, all the visuals, nailing down all the rules and logic problems and even knowing what niche market will go see that idea. What KIND of Robot Squirrel? Is he from space or the future? And what does Robot Squirrel really WANT?
Even if you know that the entire Robot Squirrel Community has been DYING for a movie, you have to make it work on a basic story level. You have to set it up with a movie star attached or prove you can make it for half the budget or guarantee 10 million Twitter followers will go see it. So don’t think of your idea as the end-all-be-all. And don’t keep emailing me about it. I’ve got my own ideas to bring to life, and you’ve got yours. Ideas are just the beginning, and the rest will make it a reality. If you believe in your idea, don’t stop! Keep working on it! Only YOU can make that thing into the one-of-a-kind idea you thought of in the first place. And when you do, the rest of the world will finally see how valuable it is too.
(By the way, I just Googled “Robot Squirrel” and fifty images popped up. Fifty.)