"The major thing about developing a Microbe is that as soon as you have a concept that is feasible to make for the money you are prepared to lose, your film is green‐lit. You are writing with the confidence that this is definitely going to be made and that makes ALL the difference to the development process. A concept is the simple clear vision that becomes the destination toward which everything is produced and directed. “Concept” has it’s own category when you register it with the WGA. It is normally just a couple of sentences, expanded into a page or two. It suggests, but does not define, a great story. Above all, a great concept excites you and you KNOW that it will excite an audience. You are inspired and cannot think of anything else. It’s like a trailer in your mind for a film you have no choice but to go and see. Where do great concepts come from?
In my experience they come by themselves when there is a space in my life. I’m walking. I’m in the shower. I’m on vacation. I’m watching TV. I’m reading a book. I’m asleep and dreaming. We can all have a concept but how do we know it’s any good?
To make a concept great, and sustainable throughout the massive process of making a film it has to be something that you can recognize as being driven by a larger primal question that is unique to you. This question is your personal theme. It is your fingerprint.
My personal fingerprint is “can a dysfunctional love be turned into a functional love?” I bring it to the table no matter if it is a work‐for‐hire job or an original concept, a cartoon, a horror movie, an art‐house piece and even an adaptation.
If every filmmaker has his or her own personal theme, why not try to find out what yours is? Knowing it might help you as a litmus test for concepts that inspire your Microbe, or any other work you might be hired to do.
So, watch out ...
1. Choose the very first two movies you remember loving as a child. Go onto YouTube find the trailers. Watch them both. Then explore why you loved them.
2. Examine theme plots and character arcs that are the same in both films until you’ve defined the linking tissue that means to most to you personally.
3. Then drill that linking tissue, and the reasons for loving both those films down to a central question. You will find that question is your fingerprint. It drives everything you make.
Don’t rush this. Use the eternal “why?” every time you come up with an answer and you will surprise yourself by how deep you can go.
Let me explain how I worked out my fingerprint …
The first two films I remember loving are Walt Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 a Space Odyssey.
First, why did I love them?
The Jungle Book made me laugh and moved me at the same time. It has an incredibly bitter‐sweet ending. I identified with Mowgli’s relationship with Baloo the bear. Baloo represented all that I loved about my father, a wild fun unpredictable man who constantly led us into trouble, but at the end of the day equipped Mowgli with courage and love.
Among many other things, both films are about dysfunctional father figures, and that was the linking tissue that meant the most to me. Why? Maybe it was because I had a pretty dysfunctional relationship with my father. Why? Because I wanted that relationship to be so much better than it was.
What question drives that?
“Can a dysfunctional love be turned into a functional love?” When the answer is yes in a story I write, then it’s a happy ending. If the answer is no, then it’s a sad ending. I take it both ways.
Remember there is no way you can come up with wrong answers here. Just as there are no wrong answers in therapy. As the years go by you will see the question go deeper and become more and more useful to you. Try it now.
What were the first two movies you remember loving as a child?
What is your fingerprint question?