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Genre ideation guide

How to generate ideas for as-yet undiscovered movie genres

Brain Dump

This should be the first stage of any ideation or research process. What you currently think or know is both an underrated resource and potentially a distraction.

1 . First and foremost document all your current thinking on the topic: the ideas you like, the dumb ideas, maybe even stuff you stole from somebody else. You need to capture it all.

Aside: I have a theory that undocumented ideas are a lot like when you don’t put an errand on some kind of trustworthy to-do list: you keep thinking about that thing you need to do at all the wrong times and the nagging nature of it uses up too much cognitive processing power. Write down an idea—even an obviously bad one—and you’ll be able to move on to the next thing.

2 . You will probably start to have new ideas just by virtue of writing down your current ones. Write them down.

3 . Once you’ve recorded everything, move on.

  • Example list of current ideas:

  • Movies that take one place in one room: Rope, Dial M for Murder, 12 Angry Men, that, 4:44 Last Day on Earth

  • Westerns that aren’t westerns: Copland, Outlands

  • Movies inspired by the Ramparts police precinct

  • True stories about the NYPD in the early 70s: Serpico, The French Connection

  • “Inspired by” biopics where subject is hidden: Never Look Away (Gerhard Richter)

  • Heist movies where the protagonist is foiling the heist: Die Hard

  • Skyscraper movies: Die Hard, Towering Inferno

  • Non-disaster disaster movies: War of the Worlds, Children of Men, that space movie


This is the most common form of developing concepts and frankly the hardest. Invention is what we do when we say, “I just need to come up with an idea”. It’s hard and it’s not for everyone. And when you’re one of those people that it doesn’t work for, it can make you feel awful—as if you’re not creative or just don’t “get it”.

Invention is, by and large, luck. You have the right bag of references, the right materials to research, and the right insight and, boom, a big idea. If any of that is off? Nothing. And now you have creative block. No, you don’t. Your luck just ran out. Don’t depend on invention, view it as “luck” and plan accordingly.

First off, your Braindump list is invention but if you want to add to that, you can use questions:

  • Examples:

What if it was all movies that take place in one room?
What if its westerns that aren’t westerns?
What if its non-disaster disaster movies?

I personally think invention should be something that you’re capturing on the periphery consistently and not treated as a methodology, unless the goal is simply to challenge yourself.


This section and the next one are examples of a methodology: a series of replicable steps that one can take to ensure success. They still require creativity but they are less dependent on luck.

1 . Pick a favorite movie.

  • Example:

Die Hard

2 . Write down all the components of that movie: settings, genre, key themes, influences, source material, key scenes, tropes, etc. Use internet research to augment this if you have the time.

  • Example:

Die Hard—

NY cops in other locations
Protagonist foiling a heist
Disaster films
Stumbling upon a crime or conspiracy
Realistic, i.e., painful violence
Movies that were originally supposed to star Frank Sinatra
Movies that no one wanted to be in
Los Angeles in the late 80s
Elevator Shafts
1 American vs a gang of foreigners
Walking barefoot on broken glass

3 . Pick an item from that list. If you can’t decide what to start with, then start at the beginning and now write down every movie that you can think of that utilizes that element. Again you can conduct research to augment this list. Include everything that seems remotely related—if a Wikipedia entry mentions a movie that sounds like it might fit, throw it in.

  • Example:

Skyscraper Movies—

Die Hard
The Towering Inferno
Man on Wire
Poltergeist III
Gremlins 2
Skyscraper Souls

  • Example:

Protagonist foiling a heist—

Die Hard
Die Hard with a Vengeance
National Treasure
Point Break

  • Example:

Movies that were originally supposed to star Frank Sinatra—

Die Hard

You can apply this same method to actors, directors, and more though its considerably harder due to the specificity of a person. You can also just do this over and over again with different movies.


Another methodology this one focusing on clichés.

1 . Make a list of tropes, settings, set pieces, etc or visit and get use some ideas that are interesting.

  • Example:

Psychopathic Manchild
Race Against Time
Scenes on National Monuments
“Random” encounters with con artists and sociopaths (or anyone pretending to be something that they’re not)

2 . Take one of these tropes and list out movies that fit the bill. Again internet research can really fill these out.

  • Example:

“Random” encounters with con artists and sociopaths (or anyone pretending to be someone else)—

The Spanish Prisoner

  • Example:

Race Against Time with a secret—


Conclusion: Work through all these processes so that you have more genre concepts than you need. The reason that you want more than you need is so that if you discover that a really great concept doesn’t stand up in reality (maybe 2 of the movies suck or the plot element isn’t as important as you had thought) You also need to get accustomed to a natural fact about client work: they need to see more than one option. Some need it so they can know the edges have been explored, other want to see other options as a means of comparison, and others like the idea that there’s a contingency plan in case they wake up tomorrow and hate the idea.

The other thing that will happen is you will get a massive dose of confidence from being able to generate ridiculous amounts of concepts. When you realize that you can develop a dozen solid ideas in an hour you’ll stop feeling hurt when clients reject your work—it’s just another hour of your time to make more ideas.