YOU HAVE AN IDEA… BUT SOMEONE ELSE HAD IT FIRST
A long time ago, when I was about 14 years old, I began writing a screenplay called Hidden. It was the story of 2 rival crime organizations battling for control of a lucrative yet mysterious technology. Caught in the middle, there was a man trying to discover the truth behind 2 suspicious murders and finds himself wanted by both groups…
And then Romeo Must Die came out…
There was one huge difference between my script and Jet Li’s Shakespearean Oakland fight flick… Their movie was a better.
I remember being absolutely shattered sitting in the theater watching Romeo Must Die. Not only was it similar to the story I was trying to tell but these writers and filmmakers did a better job. I put Hidden on the shelf but I didn’t come away from that experience empty handed. The movie put some things into perspective. After the shock wore off, I saw it as an opportunity to evolve as a screenwriter. I was encouraged in a strange way. My concept wasn’t anywhere near as well developed as Romeo Must Die but it had some similarities. Perhaps I could come up with Hollywood movie concepts.
To some, that’s an extremely naive approach but it didn’t raise my confidence levels. In a sense, it inspired me to come up with bigger and better stories. I threw out and deleted every trace of Hidden after that. From that point on, I began researching the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. If I found something similar and the story was worth it, I would brainstorm ways to set my story apart. A way to keep my scripts original and as entertaining as possible.
Even as I type this it sounds easy but it’s not. It’s never fun spotting a television commercial for a completed project that you’re still in the middle of pouring your heart into.
In fact, it happened to me again a few years ago. I was working on a script involving a vampire. My 17 West business partner Eric has always wanted to make a vampire film so I kicked some concepts around and came up with something that I thought would make a pretty cool vampire drama. (I still do.)
Then came True Blood. Once that show took off, vampires dominated the film and television world. None of the films and television shows were similar to my concept but the craze killed it for me. Instead, I began taking notes of what I liked about those projects and what I didn’t. Someday, I’ll return to that story when the vampire’s popularity dies down a tad. (pun intended) When that time comes, I’ll be well equipped with cliches to ignore and familiar arcs to avoid.
It happened again a year ago while we were developing a short film about zombies. Then came The Walking Dead… You know how this story ends.
WHAT TO DO?
Don’t get discouraged. I put my last two projects on the shelf because it wasn’t the right time to write them. That doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned them like Hidden long ago. They remain very relevant in my storytelling plans. When the time is right, I’ll tell my vampire story and make it as original as possible.
That’s the key. If you spot a television show or film similar to your script, work harder! If you believe in the story with all of your heart then study and make it work regardless.
If you do feel like you have to trash your script (and that’s okay), take some elements with you. Just because the concept has been done before doesn’t mean your characters, action sequences or even lines of dialogue have to die along with it. Hold on to your creations. You’ll never know when they will come in handy.
It might be fate and/or destiny. Someday, you’ll need a character who embodies certain qualities and you’ll be ready. What if you ‘had’ to write a story and abandon it just to develop one specific character? There are positives everywhere.
I’m the first to admit that finding out your original work of art has been done can be heartbreaking. A moment like that can have a tremendous impact on your work. Push through it. Find the positives. Write.