Your Film Idea Might Suck, That’s OK
Here’s the scenario. You get a film idea that is going to change people’s lives. I’m talking the next Momento or the next Shawshank. But you start to tell your film friends about it and they listen for about 30 seconds then switch the topic.
Even worse, you want to pitch the idea to a potential paying client. You send them an email and start to type out your idea, and you keep checking your inbox for the next week with no reply.
I used to be here. It made me feel insecure, it made me feel like a lesser creative.
Sometimes I’d even start working on my idea and filming it. I’d start shooting scenes, but when I sat down and started editing, I was disappointed with how the footage came out.
My brain seems to be bigger than my talents at times – and I’m sure you can relate.
There are some pains associated with the above problems. The main one being that nobody cares about your film. They pay as much attention to your story idea as they do to youtube pre-roll ads.
After experiencing a few of these conversations, maybe you feel like, ‘I should do something else’ – ‘I don’t have the chops to be a filmmaker.’
I’m not here to give you some hokey pokey ‘feel-good’ pep talk. Maybe you do suck as a filmmaker. Maybe your ideas are extremely lame.
CONSIDER THAT YOUR WAY IS WRONG
Consider the possibility that your way of creating films hasn’t been working. Honestly, I want to help you move past crappy ideas and into golden ones (or at least ones that don’t absolutely suck).
HOW TO GET PEOPLE BEGGING YOU TO BE INVOLVED
Imagine being able to send out an email and get people excited about your idea immediately. And all this without even picking up a camera. People will start begging you to get involved and help out with their talent and time.
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars or a few months of your life creating the film to get others excited about it. You can spend a few hours and figure out if you’ve come up with a great idea. Or even better you’ll only spend a few hours to come and realize that the idea is total trash.
Most people don’t realize they’ve come up with a lame idea until they’ve spend thousands of dollars and months working on the project. I’m talking about a way to spend a few hours – and you’ll realize if your film idea is worth pursuing or worthless. The trick is creating a minimum viable film.
THE MINIMUM VIABLE FILM (aka TREATMENT)
A minimum viable film is the barest elements of your film before you enter production. Another word for it is a film treatment. It’s you communicating your vision of the film before you even pick up a camera. You may have heard of the idea before. You may have even created treatments for jobs before. But what I’ve noticed is that most filmmakers skip this step and don’t take full advantage of it. Hopefully this is a good reminder / overview to you.
Spend a few hours creating a treatment and you can have a document that will make your film a possibility. Or like we said before, you’ll quickly understand how lame your idea is and you’ll know not to pursue it.
Let me give credit where credit is due. Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to write this article if it weren’t for copying this filmmaker. He inspired me to spend more time on my treatments. His name is Diego Contreras and he is a director based in LA. Check out this great interview on his process and even a treatment sample he has (which I based mine on). His treatments still look better than mine.
MY EXACT STEPS FOR CREATING A TREATMENT
This is how I make my treatments, hopefully it gives you a benchmark for creating your own treatments (I’m sure you can do better than me). Generally I start with an idea. A few sentences that sum up the story and communicate the tension. You don’t want to commit to a specific idea too much too quickly.
Next I do something very interesting. I’ll take my idea and make a list of: SIGHTS, SOUNDS, ACTIONS. For 30 minutes I’ll sit down and write out underneath these sub-headings anything that comes to mind in these 3 categories. Keep in mind this is high-level brainstorming.
I’ll then move onto the reference page. Here’s a list of places to find unique reference images that will spark your creativity even more!
Once you have a pretty good bin of reference images. Now you can start writing a sample script to communicate your project. The reason we wait till after reference images is because we want to allow room for any inspiration we find on those sites!
Writing the script is somewhat difficult, but this is how I approach it. The main goal of the sample script is to communicate the film. I write about the visuals, about the noises hear, and about the dialogue.
You want to avoid writing about actors ‘feelings’ – doing this forces you to actually communicate feelings through visuals. Rather than writing, “he was sad” – you can write “he looked down at the ground.”
I’ll act like I’m watching the film in my mind and begin to write it down. Even if it’s not perfect, write it down. It’s better to realize that your film isn’t that great at this stage instead of taking a loan out to put your short film together.
LOSERS ARE VAGUE
Also, what I’ve noticed is that people love when you get specific and are confident in what your talking about. They’d rather make suggest changes to a specific vision than be confused by a vague description of your film. GET SPECIFIC.
After you’ve made your sample script that communicates the visuals and dialogue, it’s time to start piecing the treatment together. Feel free to write anything else out that might help communicate your vision. You can include a paragraph on the cinematography of the film (is it handheld, or tripod, why?), the locations, the actors. Anything that’s specific or necessary, include it. If it’s not necessary, doesn’t fully help the vision, leave it out! This is all about saving time and energy remember?
Generally I make my treatment into a PDF with indesign. I usually have separate pages for my reference images, project overview, and project script.
YOU COULD DIE IF YOU DON’T SET A DEADLINE
If you are like me I could sit and tweak scripts, images, and everything else until the world ends. So I want you to set a deadline for yourself, and don’t budge on that thing. Even better, tell 3 people you have a film idea and you’ll send it to them next Monday. Boom you’re forced to finish that sucker before Monday rolls around.
And once Monday hits, you have to send it out (you’ll know by then whether it sucks or not). Over the next few months I’ll be diving into how to best get your treatment in front of folks you want excited about your project (assuming it doesn’t suck).
To make it easy, you can download the exact InDesign template that I created for my treatments below. Also, if you found this article helpful at all, CLICK HERE and tweet it this film article out to your friends.