Finding an idea that has a chance of both getting made and finding an audience – this is the very start of the process. Where do you find an idea, and what is a good idea? Ideas are a dime a dozen but good ones aren’t so easy to get. Stories are everywhere – TV, magazines, heard from friends, or experienced oneself. So how do you choose one to begin the long and winding road of developing it into a viable screenplay?
I read an article in a magazine a couple of years ago that immediately piqued my interest. The précis of this true story is as follows:
The wife of a happily married couple goes into a coma. When she finally awakes, she remembers everyone from her former life – her friends and family – except for her husband, about whom she remembers absolutely nothing. Still in love with her, he starts from scratch to woo her again.
So what is it about this idea that attracted me to its dramatic potential?
First, it’s a universal story. It could happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. The film therefore could be set anywhere and anytime.
Second, it’s both naturalistic and shocking. It doesn’t depend on some magical gimmick, and it presents a terrible, life-changing dilemma to the couple in question. It is inherently dramatic.
Third, the outcome is completely open-ended. It is a gift to any storyteller because you can shape it any way you want. It is not genre-specific. You could make it a tragedy or a comedy, and explore pretty much any aspect of the human condition you choose to. It presents an opportunity for the two main characters to both have powerful emotional arcs as they renegotiate their relationship. Whether they succeed or fail, they will both find out a lot about themselves in the process. How did the husband woo his wife the first time, and will it work a second time? Perhaps she’s changed, and is no longer attracted to him? Perhaps their seemingly happy marriage was not so perfect after all; perhaps the wife is faking her partial amnesia as a way out of an uncomfortable trap?
This is a good idea because it invokes questions – questions almost anyone who’s been in a committed relationship has asked themselves. It explores the fragility of love, and the pain of ambiguity. It asks: is this marriage too good to leave, or too bad to stay in? In the right hands it could well make a movie that people would queue up in the rain to see. By the way, it has been picked up by a Hollywood independent studio, so don’t get any fancy ideas… or rather, see if you can find one of your own.