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Script Inception: The Day I Picked an Idea

By Patrick Kirkland · April 12, 2012

Script Tip #98: Script Inception

A guy walks into a bar–


A guy walks into a building. He’s there to see a guy.

…No, a girl. He’s there to see his ex-wife.

His ex-wife with whom he’s hoping to re-ignite things. She moved his entire family across the country.

So this guy walks into the building, sees his ex-wife, and then…

Terrorists take over the building. And this guy has to stop them. Because this guy is a modern-day John Wayne. Yippee kay ay.

Is it really this easy? Because as I sort around my writing desk, the amount of ideas I have that are just about as cool as the next Die Hard equal up to be… zero. A big fat zero. No ideas have just come to me. Nothing spring to life. And therefore, I head to the research.


Let’s be honest, you’re going to go here anyway, so why not use it to your advantage? Instead of just looking at your friends and their kids, look for a story. Divorce and job loss = Kramer vs Kramer. Kids in trouble = Goonies, Kids, Super 8, take your pick. You might feel a little weird about using your friends for story fodder, but they decided to be friends with a writer. My friends and family know they’re going to end up in a scene somewhere. Nothing is safe; nothing is sacred. Names will be changed to protect them.


There’s a huge wealth of resources that lies at your fingertips. Remember when your teachers said the internet doesn’t count as a real information source? Yeah, well, it does. Really. Try writing a research paper from encyclopedias. See how far you get.

Of course, you can check out your favorite blogs. Wired. Esquire. Hell, you can check out Food Network if you think that will inspire you. It must have worked for Nora Ephron when she penned Julie and Julia.

But, be careful how much time you spend on this. Blake Snyder says that outlining is the place to waste time. I disagree. Researching. That’s where the real time wasting happens. Because for every blog you may check for research, only the diligent will have what it takes to stay off of Facebook in between clicks. Personally, I look at Wired. I look at SlashFIlm. I look at Fast Company, but after an hour or so, I find a lot more of interest in an old favorite resource:

The NY Times

The articles are always interesting, but because I’m a character guy, I flip through to the place that really catches my interest: the obituaries. Times obituaries are always interesting. These aren’t just normal people. You have to have actually accomplished something in life to get a Times obit.

I see that Frank Marshall, the creator of the Marshall amplifiers, died. The amplifiers themselves are iconic, and I think about what it would take to tell that story. He must have been in the same era of Les Paul, the famous electric guitarist who died just a few years ago. Maybe together, the two of them ushered in rock music as it’s known today. Les on his guitar, amplified by Frank’s machines. Maybe it’s a story of their friendship and how the music world corrupted and carried them to legend status. Maybe it’s the story of rock itself, never before told. No Buddy Holly, no day the music died. Only a boy, his guitar, and his new fuzzy amplifier.

Still, while I love guitar and good music movie, typically bio-pics aren’t great sellers. Not to mention, the several Script Tips about how to navigate Hollywood that I’m going to want to work through and use when this screenplay is done.

One idea that I’ve come upon is an amalgam of all of my resources. After reading a blog post on the Paleo Diet– otherwise known as the caveman diet– I’m reminded of a story in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food about a group of city men in Australia who returned to their Aborigine heritage in a 1982 experiment. The men not only lost weight, but they picked up Aborigine skills. While this is interesting in itself, it’s not what I want to write about. So maybe my story could be about a character who begins to live like a caveman—maybe to lose weight– only to take it too far. Maybe it’s a horror story. Maybe it’s about a serial killer.

Now we put to use Story vs. Character. This could go two ways. One could be the story: a caveman serial killer terrorizes the urban madness of New York. But I’m not so sure that’s the way I want to go here. When I think of my favorite horror films, they’re not the Freddy or Jason type where bloodshed is the main drive. Think about American Psycho. Would it be the same without Patrick Bateman? Don’t think so. I think what I want is to get inside this character’s head. How far is this going to take him? And that is a character story, which means that now I need to flesh out my protagonist. Which is a whole new Script Tip.