THE FREEDOM TO SUCK
Hanging out with friends, one of my favorite things to do is to just pitch around ideas. If you’re just drinking and relaxing, the ideas don’t have to be good; a lot of the fun comes from making everyone laugh with a really dumb-sounding idea.
But at the same time, a lot of inspiration comes from those conversations. It’s like jamming with a garage band; there is no audience, so there is no pressure to be “good,” and thus there’s freedom to just noodle around, play, riff, try things out, and perhaps maybe kinda sorta trip over something good. When it comes to pitching with friends, sometimes you’ll throw something out there and everyone looks at each other and says, “You know, that actually isn’t too bad…”
Even back in film school, something we used to do while hanging out, waiting for class to start, etc. was to throw around pitches. But in that situation the game was focused around combining incongruous “X meets Y” movies. “It’s Jaws meets Back to the Future… on the basketball court.” Again, a lot of the fun is to just laugh at the weird Mad Libs-style mash-ups that come to mind. But it’s also this kind of freeform thinking that allows you to wander into an actually good idea.
When it comes to development work, a common tool is to pitch the writer on “the stupid version.” As in: “Okay, this is the stupid version, but what if the whole story takes place in space?” Or: “Okay, this is the bad version, but what if his mother is secretly the antagonist?” The idea is to throw out an idea that isn’t necessarily perfect, but an angle that gets the brain-juices flowing.
Not long ago I was on a podcast, and in the course of the conversation I tossed out an idea from the top of my head; it was just a random pitch plucked from the air that I was only using to make a point. But my co-host seemed a little horrified that I would just make a “high-concept” public like that.
On the one hand, high-concept ideas are the most precious coin within this industry (outside of actual coin). But on the other, I don’t think we can or should be too rigid in our thinking. Because that way lies only replication. I have read a million scripts that could be described as well-written, but don’t have any actual ideas of their own; they are just takes on other people’s ideas. And how were those original concepts found? Oftentimes through free-thought.
I would posit that there is no such thing as writer’s block. There is only a fear of writing something bad. Once we give ourselves the freedom to suck, we can write as much as we want. And even if we write ten pages and most of it turns out to be garbage and has to be thrown out… it is better to write than to not-write. Because in writing we might find something that is good, and the “bad” stuff is just the ore from which the gold is wrought.