TUESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
THEY STOLE MY IDEA!
New writers are often paranoid that someone will steal their ideas - so they
do everything possible to keep their screenplay idea top secret... leaving it out of their query
letters and going out of their way to make sure no one can read their script. The obvious problem
with that is no one will want to read your script if you don't tell them what it's about... and
nobody *can* read your script if you don't let them. Your logline is all about the high concept,
and that's what gets a producer interested enough to read your screenplay. You can't keep your idea
But does that mean you just let people steal it?
Let's look at this from a business perspective - is stealing your idea good business? If a
producer steals your idea, they must then HIRE A PROFESSIONAL WRITER to script it. That costs them
money. In fact, it costs them more money than if they were to buy your script, because it's just a
job to the pro hired to write the script. It's not their personal idea, so they don't care... they're
in it for the cash. If they steal your idea and hire me to write the script, they have to pay my
rate - and it's much more expensive than what it would cost the producer to buy a script from a
new writer. If someone comes to me with an idea that is not my own and wants me to script it,
it's gonna cost them. I have plenty of my own ideas, and plenty of my own scripts that I'm trying
to find the time to write. I don't want to write anybody else's ideas... unless they pay me so
much that I'd be a fool not to.
You are not a pro writer - they don't have to pay you what they pay me or David Koepp or Terry
& Ted. So from a business standpoint it's cheaper to buy your script, than to steal your idea.
But *ideas* are not protected under copyright. Only the execution of the idea. So anyone can
legally steal your idea... and then pay big bucks for an established professional to script it.
So the best protection against idea theft is to write a great script. That way, they won't want
just the idea, they'll want the whole damned script - and they'll buy it.
See, it's not just the idea that's important - it's the *execution* of that idea. There are
piles of completely unreadable scripts that have great ideas buried in them - but no one is ever
going to find them, because reading the script will cause brain damage. I've read some of those
scripts - my head hurt afterwards. Though ideas are important, they are also a dime a dozen. You
could give 5 people the same great idea and only one of them might write a great script from it.
The writing part is probably more important than the idea part - but you need *both* if you want
to succeed. Hell, I *give away* ideas all the time - the first year of my website I had an
"Idea Of The Day" feature where I gave away a high concept idea every single day, 5 days a week.
I did it to prove there was no shortage of great ideas out there. I could give away a couple
hundred in a year and *still* have enough left over to make a living. Those who worry about
Hollywood stealing their ideas should instead worry about writing a great script...
When it comes down to it, *writing* is what matters.
Though this is a generalization, most people who worry about someone stealing their idea only
have one or two scripts, which makes them care too much about them. It's like having only one child
- you can be overprotective. You can worry too much about all of the bad things that might happen
to that only child, and screw the kid up for life. But if you have a dozen kids, you care for them
all but you don't worry so much about them. You have kids to spare. When one kid skins their knee
on the playground, you don't have time to worry about all of the strange infections that might
happen, you have eleven other kids with skinned knees! Just spray on some Bactine, kiss the boo-boo,
and send them back to the playground!
One way to stop worrying about someone stealing your idea - have a lot of scripts and a lot of
ideas. Work those creative muscles and come up with a bunch of great ideas. Not only will you worry
less, you will also come up with so many great ideas that you can afford to have a few stolen.
Another generalization is that people who worry about having their ideas stolen are often new
writers with ideas that aren't worth stealing. I often see this on message boards, Frequently they are okay ideas, but not the *great
ideas* you come up with when you practice coming up with ideas every day and have enough good
ideas to throw a bunch away. So worrying about idea theft doesn't make much sense - instead
worry about writing a great script and coming up with hundreds of good ideas..
And your script isn't just the idea, right? I'll bet I can name 2 films with the same idea
as your script. There is nothing new under the sun. BEING JOHN MALKOVICH? Very similar to
HEAD (starring Victor Mature as himself... it's his head the protagonists have adventures on...
his hair is like a forest!). So what really matters isn't the idea - but the EXECUTION of the
idea (the writing part). That's why the idea part can't be copyrighted but the writing part can.
So if you've done all of this work, the writing is going to be the thing that attracts the
Give your script to anyone who wants to read it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
SUE THE BASTARDS?
Register your script with the WGA - you can do that online and instantly get a registration
number. WGA registration lasts 5 years. Copyright lasts your lifetime plus 70 years, which makes
it a better deal. Copyright registration also allows you to recover more money when you get to
court. The only drawback with copyright is that it's the government, and moves about as fast as
that line at the DMV. If you have someone that wants to read your script *tomorrow* you probably
don't want to make them wait until the copyright office sends you the registration number. That's
usually when I do the instant WGA online registration - you're protected for 5 years in about 5
minutes. Then I copyright for long term protection.
But what if someone makes a film just like your script? Since you can't copyright an idea, only
the execution of the idea, if they lifted your idea, you can't really do anything about it. If
they lifted your execution and you can prove it (lines of dialogue verbatum, etc.) you may have a
case. What you will need to prove is that they had access to your script - you must provide a
paper trail that proves they had a copy of your screenplay and read it. There are people who think
Spielberg stole their idea... but they never gave their script to Spielberg. To me, that sounds
more like synchronicity - when two or more people come up with the same idea at the same time.
That's very common, because we all live in the same world and watch the same news and read the
same books and watch the same TV shows... and when you simmer all of those things together in
the minds of thousands of creative people, it's no surprise when a bunch of people come up with
the same idea as you. It's so common there's that word for it - Synchronicity.
I'm not a lawyer, and I don't even play one on TV - so if you can prove that someone had
access to your screenplay and then made a film with the same idea, many of the same lines of
dialogue and many of the same scenes and characters, you should hire a lawyer. The lawyer will
probably warn you that these cases are difficult to prove, and tend to end any screenwriting
career you might have had. Suing makes sense if the film was a big hit, doesn't make much sense
if the film was a flop.
Hey, what if you prevent any of this idea theft stuff with a confidentially agreement? Make the
producer sign a contract saying they won't tell anyone about your idea! Great idea... Not! No one
will sign a confidentiality agreement with a non-name writer... and oddly enough, all of the
"name" writers I know never use them (that includes Oscar winners and nominees and just guys who
have written movies that made a couple hundred million). What those guys do is write great
scripts - that is their protection. See, it always comes back to good writing!
CHANGE THE SCRIPT
How do you prevent coming up with a used idea? Well, the first thing you need to do is be a film
fan - so that you've seen a bunch of movies and know about a bunch of other movies. When I was starting out I
bought the Leonard Maltin Guide and began crossing off the movies I had seen, and reading the descriptions
of all of the films to see what movies I might want to seek out. Probably the better books for me ended up
being the genre books - as a fan of everything criminal on screen, from noir to detective to gangster - I
would read books on the genres and subgenres I was interested in. Not as some kind of idea research,
just because I was interested in that kind of film. Though there aren't enough hours in
the day to see every movie ever made (I'm still trying), you can read some books and be interested
enough in film to have a pretty good idea of what has been done before. Plus, there's the "20 Year
Rule" - that any basic idea from a film over 20 years old can probably be done again with enough
new twists. So "Jaws" is about a giant shark attacking people, and "Deep Blue Sea" is about a giant
shark attacking people. Note that the only thing that is the same in both of those movies is the
giant shark part... everything else is different.
And that's the key to similar ideas. It never fails: I come up with a completely crazy original
idea that as far as I know has never been done before... and halfway through the first draft read
about a script with the same wild idea that just sold for a bunch of money and Tom Hanks has just
signed on to star. I'm screwed, right? Why even finish the script? It's a used idea - much like
used toilet paper.
But wait a minute - they made two of those asteroid movies, didn't they? ARMAGEDDON and DEEP
IMPACT were made at the same time! And HBO made one three years earlier called WITHIN THE ROCK.
Asteroids hitting earth is a pretty good idea. The problem is with the bland ideas - where there
are a hundred scripts with the exact same idea that was lifted from something in the soup without
going through the imagination machine at all. So you get something too bland to make a mark.
The basic generic idea that we have seen a hundred times before. I'm never surprised when I'm at a
pitch clinic and hear a couple of scripts based on the same news event from two years ago. You need
to run every idea through the imagination machine to twist it into something unique. *Your*
imagination is likely to make the idea different than someone else's imagination.
The HBO version of the giant asteroid hurtling toward earth, we're all doomed story has that
rag-tag team of oil drillers sent on the shuttle to drill and plant nukes to blow up the
asteroid... only they hit metal. Not any sort of earth metal - some alien metal within the
rock... and they discover this isn't an asteroid, it's an *invasion*. So now it's oil guys vs.
aliens. That was a really good twist on the idea... that came 3 years before ARMAGEDDON.
So, the first step is to use your imagination to come up with some amazing idea that only a
very few people could have come up with - because it goes through whatever odd filters and circuits
are in your personal imagination.
The other thing to do is personalize your ideas - find the ideas and elements of ideas that are
unique to you. You want to leave your fingerprint on the story. I usually begin with some element
of my life and grow a story from it. For my NIGHT HUNTER movie, I had gone through a period in my
life where my best friend back stabbed me for his career... then all of my other friends kissed
*his* butt because he was successful (at my expense). I felt betrayed and isolated and angry... at
people I liked. So I spun that into a story about the last vampire hunter (this was 3 years before
BLADE) who feels isolated, and once those he trusts get bitten - they fall in league with the
vampire king. My personal story, scenes lifted from my life that no one else could have written,
but in a horror-action story that HBO viewers would tune in to see. But the personal aspect made
it unique to me. Other writers - if they use their personal stories as a basis - would have written
*different* vampire stories. (Or not written a vampire story at all.)
If you find out there is another script with the same idea as yours, what you need to do is
change your idea a little. First, find out everything you can about the specifics of this other
script - read it if you can get your hands on a copy. Then find the ways that your script is
different and accentuate those differences. Look at the elements of *your life* that are in your
script, and accentuate those as well. Fine what is different and focus on those elements, doing a
page one rewrite on your script that makes it different than the one that just sold. Now you have
the VOLCANO to their DANTE'S PEAK or the OUTBREAK to their PANIC IN THE HOT ZONE or the
BUG'S LIFE to their ANTZ a MILK to their MAYOR OF CASTRO STREET. There is always parallel
development in Hollywood, and if one studio has a hot high concept script, another studio may want
something similar to compete with it... and maybe kill it. Both MILK and OUTBREAK were the
johnny-come-lately projects created to duke it out with the other studio's established scripts...
only the scripts that got there first died on the vine. Only around 10% of scripts bought get
made, so there is always the chance that your script that got there second will be the one that
ends up on screen, while the biog script bought will all of the fanfare crashes and burns on the
way to the screen.
One way to make sure your script is different is to take a page from WITHIN THE ROCK (which got
there first) and add a *second* high concept to your script. Or maybe just boost the concept you
have to make it more unique.
HIGH CONCEPT INJECTION
When I had my day job working in the warehouse for a decade, I wrote a good page a day - and
that's 3 scripts a year for a grand total of 30 scripts. One of my current spare time projects
(like I have spare time) is to rewrite all of these old scripts. One that I have been working on
was about a bodyguard and a woman pregnant with the President's kid - and the President's people
want her dead so that he can be re-elected. THE BODYGUARD meets what's in Bill Clinton's pants.
This was pre-Clinton though, and was kind of a JFK-like Prez and a Marilyn Monroe type. There
always seemed to be some movie with a similar idea, just as I prepared to send it out. First
we had THE BODYGUARD, then we had all of those Clinton scandal movies like ABSOLUTE POWER and
MURDER AT 1600 where the President is having an affair and kills the girl himself. Not exactly my
script, but kind of the same idea. Just when those had run their course we got a half dozen
Bodyguard-Protects-Pregnant-Babe movies, at least two of which starred Clive Owen. My script
needed something that really made it different! I wrote this back when I didn't understand that
high concept isn't just doing search and replace to make it The President or make the bad guys into
Vampires or have the story take place In Outer Space. I had a weak concept - one that was obvious
instead of inventive. The more unique your concept is, the less likely someone else will come up
with it and the more likely it will be something personal.
What I needed was *more* imagination to make it more unique (and more personal).
So, what I needed to do was give this old script a high concept injection that would change the
core of the story. To take the basic plotting and characters and overlay a new high concept.
Add a new weird element. The bodyguard protecting the pregnant babe is still there - but instead
of her pregnant with the President's kid, I raised the stakes and changed the genre by having the
father be someone even more powerful. So the story is *now* about the Vatican's version of
Indiana Jones who unearths the key to cracking a code in the missing Dead Sea Scroll... and discovers that the second
coming is about to take place - the Second Son will be born in a certain hospital on September 29th...
So the archeologist jets to the hospital to find and protect the pregnant woman from Satan's
minions - who want to kill her before she gives birth. Various forms of demons attack
(instead of The President's handler's secret hit squad) and each form of demon is some cool kind
of monster. I tried to make the demons all kind of high concept. Coming up with them was fun. And
the new end twist - she gives birth, and it's *Satan's* son! Okay - kinda RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
meets THE BODYGUARD meets DAVINCI CODE meets CONSTANTINE meets THE OMEN... but much better than
the stale script it began life as... and it examines faith and responsibility, a couple of things
I've been thinking about lately. I'm hoping they hire Clive Owen as the lead.
A year ago I had a project where I needed to come up with a bunch of pitches for sequels to
movies in a studio's library. After selecting some movies, my next step was to let my imagination
run wild and find interesting and unusual story ideas for a sequel - to take the unique idea from
the original and add another unique idea. More high concept injection. While doing this, I looked
for stories that were personal to me - things the protagonist could wrestle with that were things
that I have wrestled with. Some of the ideas I came up with are really cool - personal and
So, if you use your imagination and stay away from bland stories, that puts your script in a
small stack - there may be another script in there that has the same idea as yours, but there aren't
hundreds of them. Then, if you make it personal, you have a script that may have the same idea as
another script, but is still a *unique* take on that idea. And we get ARMAGEDDON and DEEP IMPACT.
And if there is still a script in the stack that has the same general idea as yours, find all of
the ways that your idea is different and do a major rewrite focusing on those elements... and if
that doesn't do it, twist the concept even more the way I did with SECOND SON and do a page one
rewrite. If someone just sold a script with a similar idea as yours - just make yours different.
So if you finish your script only to find a similar script just sold, all is not lost!
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Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
Only $4.99 - and no postage!
PRO DIALOGUE TECHNIQUES!
*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!
*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!
Expanded version with more ways to create interesting dialogue! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 50 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
Only $4.99 - and no postage!
Use your creative energy to focus on the content; let Final Draft take care of the style. Final Draft is the number-one selling application specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics and stage plays. Its ease-of-use and time-saving features have attracted writers for almost two decades positioning Final Draft as the Professional Screenwriters Choice. Final Draft power users include Academy, Emmy and BAFTA award winning writers like Oliver Stone, Tom Hanks, Alan Ball, J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and more.
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