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12 Brainstorming Techniques

Steve Kaire offers up some tips on brainstorming ideas.

Odd Couples
This is exactly what the title implies. Two people are thrown together in a situation in which they’re stuck. In the film and TV series of the same name, it was a slob and his obsessively neat roommate. In The Defiant Ones, Sidney Poitier was an escaped convict chained to a racist played by Tony Curtis. War movies frequently had two enemies who found themselves in the same foxhole or building and have to cooperate with each other to survive. Enemy Mine had a human and an alien facing a similar situation.

The Blank From Hell
Here, you have to fill in the blank with a noun that hasn’t been done before. The Affair From Hell is the film Fatal Attraction. The Roommate From Hell is the movie, Single White Female. The Patient From Hell is What About Bob? The Doll From Hell is Child's Play. And so on.

Fish Out of Water
This technique has been used in literature for a long time. You take a person out of their normal environment and place them in a radically different one. Examples would be Beverly Hills Cop, where a Detroit cop investigates his partner’s murder in the city of Beverly Hills. Another is Crocodile Dundee, where a crocodile hunter from the Australian outback encounters the urban jungle of New York City. There’s also the film Splash, which is literally a fish out of water story.

Amateur Blank
Here again the challenge is to fill in the blank with a noun that we haven’t seen before. I’ve sold two stories that were Amateur Detectives. Illustrations of movies in this category are Critical Condition, where Richard Pryor impersonates a doctor. The Couch Trip, where Dan Aykroyd escapes from an asylum and pretends to be a psychiatrist. Also, Trial and Error, in which actor Michael Richards passes himself off as an attorney.

Fairy Tales, Myths & Stories That Are Updated
Here you take an old classic and contemporize it. It’s the same structure, similar story, but occurs in the present time. Pretty Woman is really PygmalionTrading Places is a modern version of The Prince and the Pauper. The obsessive hunt for the great white shark in Jaws is not much different than the search for the great white whale in Moby Dick.

Information No One Else Knows
I’ve sold three projects that I initially saw on the news that fall into this category. The information is unusual, sometimes amazing, and the general public is completely unaware of it. The movie Con Air is based on the U.S. government's real airline that transports the nation’s most dangerous criminals from state-to-state. That was the basis for the film. The information revealed doesn’t always have to be true. In Men in Black, what is fascinating is the notion that there’s a secret government agency that tracks the whereabouts of aliens that are living on earth and which also has strange alien life forms working for them.

First Time
This refers to a situation which occurs for the very first time. There was a film in development that was supposed to star Michael J. Fox called Vassar. It was about the first guy to attend Vassar, an all female college. The conflicts and romantic entanglements are obvious in a setup of this type. Another example is the comedy My Cousin Vinny. A Brooklyn attorney who’s never tried a case before in his life is summoned to a southern town by his cousin, who’s charged with murder. The attorney, played by Joe Pesci, must win this case despite his inexperience and the fact that he’s totally out of his natural element.

Stumble Into
This technique has been around for a long time. It always involves an average person who by chance, is thrust into a monumental life-threatening situation they have no control of. James Stewart in Hitchcock’s Rear Window, is a man confined to a wheelchair who believes he’s witnessed the murder of one of his neighbors. Whoopi Goldberg is a telephone operator who overhears what she thinks is a spy plot in Jumping Jack Flash. In Cellular, a guy is mistakenly called on his cell phone by a total stranger who claims she’s being held hostage and pleads for him to help her.

The Ultimate Blank
Again you must fill in the blank with a noun that hasn’t been done before. If you substitute the word "Shark" in the blank, we would get the movie Jaws. Plug in the word "Dog," and we have the movie Cujo. Insert the noun "Cop," and we have the film Robocop.

Unintended Consequences
This method is almost always used in the science-fiction or adventure genre. An experiment is taking place and something goes terribly wrong. In The Fly, Jeff Goldblum is a scientist performing a genetic experiment on himself in an isolation chamber when a housefly flies into the booth and he’s transformed into a half-man, half-fly. In Jurassic Park, an amusement park has genetically engineered ancient dinosaurs for the public’s entertainment. The dinosaurs escape and wreak havoc on the guests. In the family film, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, a scientist who’s experimenting with miniaturization accidentally shrinks his children. His kids must then try to get from their yard back into their house and get the attention of their unsuspecting father to return them back to regular size.

Going to Extreme Measures
Here we start with a character who must take some extreme or outrageous action to reach his or her goal. In Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman is an impossible actor to work with. He can’t find employment until he dresses up like a woman and lands a role in a soap opera. In that same vein is the movie Mrs. Doubtfire. Robin Williams’ ex-wife has a new boyfriend and Williams is forced to don a nanny’s uniform in order to spend more time with his children and try to win his ex-wife back.

Fatal Character Flaws
This showcases a character who has a major weakness in his or her personality which causes them major complications. In Liar, Liar, Jim Carrey is a lawyer defending a client in the most important case of his career. But because of a wish his son made that caused his father to have to tell the truth for 24 hours, Carrey is forced to do the opposite of what his profession normally entails: lying. Another example would be A Christmas Carol. Here the character of Scrooge is an old, bitter miser who is given a chance at redemption when he is haunted by ghosts on Christmas Eve.