There’s a well known phrase that states…
“There are no original ideas. There are only original people.”
This is never more true than in the world of entertainment, where the phrase may be augmented to state..
“There are no original ideas. There are only original executions of those ideas.”
In books, film and television, an idea is a cheap item. Coming up with a good idea is the easiest part of the process. Fleshing out that idea into a compelling story is where the talent lies. So, it’s not so important that the idea is original, it’s the execution of that idea that makes it special.
Now, we’re not talking about remakes of existing movies (like Friday the 13th, Prom Night, Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, etc.), we’re talking about reusing ideas.
For example, the show How I Met Your Mother is a blatant copy of Friends.
- They’re both about five NY friends who take up social residence at a nearby establishment; Friends had their couch in a coffee shop where HIMYM have their booth in a bar.
- The on-again/off-again relationship on Friends of Ross & Rachel is played out on HIMYM with Ted & Robin.
- The stable, but goofy couple in Friends was Chandler & Monica and that’s played out by Marshall & Lily.
- And, of course, the womanizing friend of Joey is played by Barney on HIMYM.
But, that’s okay from a creative perspective because the cast/crew of HIMYM execute the comedy very well, in spite of it’s often immoral subject matter.
Another example? Well, how many movies focus on a top government agent/killing machine that “goes rogue” either by choice or because they were set-up?
- There’s the Bourne movies, a few of the Mission: Impossible flicks, Sean Connery in The Rock, and that’s just the ones that I can think of off the top of my head. I’m sure you can come up with many more.
- Plus there are two new movies coming out that repeat that premise, Haywire, directed by Steven Soderbergh and the new Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds film called Safe House.
Humans have been telling stories since our creation. It’s part of the way God hard-wired us. We tell stories in everything we do; jokes, art, media, or just talking to co-workers at lunch. The odds that there is one unique idea that the billions of humans that have existed haven’t yet discovered is a virtual impossibility.
What’s important is how you tell that idea. Look at the Matrix. It’s an inventive way to tell the superhero story, but at the end of the day, it’s just another superhero story.
Anyone can take a pencil and paper and draw a picture, but only some people can turn that into art and tell their story. Anyone can write a book or screenplay, but only a few people will tell their story in a way that resonates with us.
So, don’t worry about coming up with the next great idea. Even if the idea is new to you, it’s almost a certainty that it’s been told before.
Instead, focus on how to tell that story in a way that is unexpected. That is what will make it memorable.