Many novices come up with an idea and think they’re done. The problem is this:
- Anyone can come up with a good idea
- Turning good ideas into good stories is the hard part
If you come up with a good idea, the next step is to turn that good idea into a good story. A good story is more than just a good idea. For example, let’s say you came up with an idea for a science fiction movie called “Star Wars.” Your great idea might be, “What if someone built a weapon capable of destroying entire planets?”
That’s a great idea, but now the real question is how do you turn that into a good story? More importantly, your story can’t be just about a weapon capable of destroying entire planets. In “Star Wars,” the Death Star is always in the background from beginning to the end, but the actual story isn’t about the Death Star but about Luke changing to trust the Force.
In “Die Hard,” the great idea is having one guy fight an army of terrorists while trapped in a skyscraper. Yet the real story is about the hero trying to get back with his wife.
Every great movie is a combination of:
- A great idea
- An underlying story
The great idea grabs people’s attention. The underlying story is what makes that great idea compelling for two hours.
Would anyone want to watch “Star Wars” for two hours if the movie focused on nothing but the Death Star blowing up planets the whole time? Would anyone want to watch “Die Hard” for two hours if it was nothing but the hero battling terrorists with plenty of gunfire and explosions for two hours? (Just watch any of the bad “Die Hard” sequels to see how this strategy fails completely to create a good movie.)
Most novices focus on the great idea and forget that they need an underlying story to tell that great idea. “Legally Blonde” is about a ditzy blonde going to law school. That’s a great idea, but the real underlying story is that this ditzy blonde is learning to become a strong woman.
The great idea in “Back to the Future” is going back in time to meet your own parents. The underlying story is that the hero needs to gain confidence in himself.
Tell most people the underlying story first and it will never be as compelling as the great idea. The idea of a planet-killing weapon makes “Star Wars” appealing. The idea of someone learning to trust himself in “Star Wars” is not. The idea of fighting terrorists alone makes “Die Hard” appealing. The idea of trying to get back with his wife is not.
The great idea in “The Hangover” is that a bunch of guys wake up the next morning and discover what they did the night before. The underlying story is that each guy is learning to become a better man. The underlying story always brings the great idea to life.
Combine a great idea with a seemingly mundane story and that seemingly mundane story makes that great idea worth watching. Omit an underlying story and just focus on a great idea, and you’ll have no way of turning that great idea into a movie of any type.