Ordinary, workmanlike ideas are a dime a dozen. Great ideas aren’t. When I say great I mean commercial, high concept, extremely sellable ideas. If you haven’t figured it out yet, most of the time Hollywood buys the “idea.” It could be a book, play, comic strip, comic book, graphic novel, blog, twitter, a true story and, oh, yeah, a screenplay.
If you’re lucky enough to come up with a great idea you move to the front of the line. But if you can’t complete it you’re screwed. You’re more screwed than the screenwriter with an OK idea who has completed a script. At least he or she has something to put on the market. And sometimes that OK idea is so well-executed that the writing stands out and the characters are so interesting that the OK idea is overlooked because reading the script has been such an enjoyable ride.
Think Juno a few years ago. Ordinary idea. Really, old, done to death idea: teenage girl gets pregnant, wants the right couple to adopt it: will she find the right couple? Ho-hum. But the execution, as we all know, was spot on. We hadn’t seen dialogue like that in a while or such an appealing character. Hell, all the characters were appealing in this otherwise ordinary story.
So having the OK idea isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you can rise to the occasion with superior execution.
But if you’re one of those people with the “big” idea that would make even the most jaded Hollywood type do an Irish jig and you can’t finish it, that’s just bad form.
I can’t tell you the number of great ideas I’ve heard from students, clients, friends and colleagues. I mean, really cool things. The kind of idea you’re immediately jealous of because you didn’t think of it. The kind of idea that makes you want to suggest a collaboration.
And I can’t tell you the number of great ideas I’ve heard that never get finished. Or maybe there’s a first draft, but the author can’t get the initiative to do the next couple of drafts to get it into perfect shape.
I’ve been saying for years that completion is everything. It’s the only thing that matters if you want to have a career.
If you’re one of those lucky people with a great idea, but you’re not completing the screenplay, you need to get in touch with why that’s happening. Life intrudes, as they say, so if life is piling on and you can’t get your head on straight, OK. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try to help lift the fog. Or maybe you need help in the form of a collaborator. You need a second set of eyes to help you discover what was right before your eyes. Maybe you need a script consultant or a screenwriting class or a writers support group.
It’s bad enough to have an OK idea and not be able to complete it. But when you have that killer premise that makes everyone who you tell it to smile, and you can’t get it done, it’s not quite tragic, but it’s pretty damn sad because the risk you take is that someone else will come up with the same idea and beat you to the punch.