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06/28/2006: Milking the Idea Cow
I'm planning a whirlwind last-minute trip for the 4th of July – just a long weekend, really, but fun. As a result, I got to go buy travel books the other night! Whee! Hey, you know what books I love? Those "100 Places to See…" books. Usually travel guides assume that you already know you want to go to Maui or Peru or Greece or whatever. But those books open it all up, and you end up considering places you've never thought of. That how I ended up in Tobago a while back… one of those books said it was the place to go, and it was.
Those books remind me of a great brainstorming technique that my friend Michelle told me about once. It's called "One Hundred Bad Ideas." It's just what it sounds like; you make a list of one hundred bad ideas for a sitcom or a drama or for a House spec or for a movie or a short story. The fact that you're calling them "bad ideas" frees you up to put down absolutely anything that crosses your mind. After all, they're *supposed* to be bad. But, truth be told, you don't really have one hundred bad ideas. Once you're thinking about your subject, and being free and accepting with all your ideas… some of them are going to be good. Possibly really good.
Do it pretty fast. A quarter hour, maybe, until you run dry. You probably won't complete the list. You'll run out of ideas, bad and good, before you reach one hundred. But the fact that you will try as hard as you can to finish it, also means that you're not settling for the first idea you came up with. This is incredibly valuable. The reason I started my writing career with *two* spec Seinfelds is that I had a better idea when I was halfway through writing the first script. I'd jumped on my first idea too soon.
I actually, right now, have a file on my computer called "100 bad ideas for a sci-fi drama." It has 52 entries – that's when I fizzled out. I actually love about fifteen of the ideas on the list, and will probably invest some time in all of those fifteen, playing around to see if they can be turned into something. Most of the ideas are, however, legitimately bad, as they should be. I was going to excerpt the list here, except that I have realized that one's bad ideas are a very personal thing. We all need to feel free to put down *very bad* ideas without fear that anyone else will ever see them.
Okay, if you insist, here's one of the more detailed entries: "A person is split into two people, a man and a woman. They need to solve a task together to re-integrate. They hate each other, but must stay together always or lose any chance of becoming one again."
A wee bit contrived, no? Other entries are much shorter, by the way. "The Monkey's Paw, the series," that kind of thing.
So go crazy! Especially if you've decided to tackle a spec pilot. Looking for a family sitcom idea? A single-camera half-hour idea? A cop drama with a twist? One of each? Start making lists. You'll be amazed what you've got kicked into the corners of your brain.
Lunch: tofu pups and fresh tomato.
Addendum: Friend-of-the-blog Jeff Greenstein adds this story from art school: "On the first day, my painting teacher told the class, 'You are about to paint 100 bad paintings. So just go ahead and get 'em out of the way so you can start painting the good ones.'" Nice!
"I think of that often when I look at my early spec scripts."