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How to come up with TV pilot ideas fast

Updated: Feb 20

TV writing is hard, especially when you're staring at the blank page on Final Draft. Or maybe you've even gotten so bold and added an INT. to get you started.


Either way, coming up with original pilots is difficult. Brainstorming often leads to generating the exact same schlock you've seen a million times.


TV Pilot - Flip the Genre

So, here's a method I've found useful to generate new ideas specifically because it demands you work against clichés to get to your idea. And that method is called...


FLIPPING THE GENRE ON YOUR TV PILOT


This is a simple and easy way to generate fresh ideas for your TV pilot or screenplay. Here's how it works...


First, you pick a trope you've seen a thousand times. And whatever genre that trope is in, you flip it.


That comedy idea you had felt pretty familiar, didn't it? Now picture it as a drama.


It might not be perfect. (It's almost definitely not perfect.) But it will at least force you to look outside the box and see if there's something good there that you can use.


Picture this: you have a logline that goes:


"A cash-strapped and desperate man robs a bank but finds that within the vault lies secrets waiting to be revealed."



Kinda blah, right? We've seen it a million times - and done very well with Inside Man. Now let's flip the genre...


FROM THRILLER TO COMEDY


Let's take that heist thriller logline and flip it into a completely different genre. Imagine this as a romantic comedy...


"A cash-strapped ne'er-do-well robs a bank and finds that her high school crush is working the register."


Suddenly, that's a whole different movie. It's no longer Clive Owen planning the perfect heist by uncovering a Nazi (pretty grim) - now it's something more like Ali Wong making an ass out of herself as she executes the most imperfect heist and trying to look good while doing it (pretty fun).


It might not be the story you want to pursue, but it's undeniably more innovative than a conventional dramatic bank heist. In fact, can you recall a romantic comedy set during a bank heist?


If the answer is no, then you might just be onto something.


The magic of genre flipping lies in its ability to breathe new life into tired narratives. It challenges you to break free from the shackles of convention and explore uncharted territories within your own imagination.


The process isn't about landing on the perfect story right away; rather, it's a catalyst for some damn good brainstorming.


LET THE TV PILOT BRAINSTORM HAPPEN


The beauty of this technique is that it encourages a playful and experimental approach to storytelling. It invites you to push the boundaries of your initial ideas and discover unexpected gems that may have remained hidden in the confines of a traditional genre.


It's about embracing the freedom to explore and letting your creativity run wild. Don't be afraid to experiment with unlikely combinations.


Take that horror concept and flip it into a family-friendly adventure, or turn that sci-fi epic into a poignant drama. The more unexpected the shift, the greater the potential for a captivating and memorable story.


SOME SUCCESSFUL PAST GENRE FLIPS


Cabin in the Woods might be one of the most successful examples of a genre flip.



The whole premise is that they're going to begin with the most tired tropes in all of horror cinema and flip the whole thing on its head.


In fact, when we enter the new world and realize what's actually going on, for a little while in the movie, we're actually in a workplace comedy - maybe the most far removed from a slasher flick that you can get.


On the TV writing side, MASH or Hogan's Heroes represent some pretty dramatic genre flips. Set in the Korean War and in a Nazi concentration camp respectively, these were sitcoms equipped with a laugh track and everything.


And if you're not a thousand years old, recently Our Flag Means Death has done a great job of flipping the genre, turning a murderous pirate story into a antic-laden comedy with a pretty intense romantic story intertwined as well.


Stepping away from TV writing once again, Brick, one of Rian Johnson's earliest movies is another great example of flipping the genre. Here, he took a noir and set it in a high school.



This juxtaposition of setting and story really helped propel this movie into a really unusually great movie.


A LOT OF YOUR GENRE FLIPPING WILL BE CRAP


And that's kind of the point. It's getting you to think in a more uncomfortable space than you're used to.


It can be a springboard for creativity, prompting you to explore untapped potential within your ideas. So, the next time you find yourself staring at a logline that feels a bit too familiar, take a leap into the unknown.


Flip the genre, let your imagination soar, and watch as your screenplay evolves into something truly special.


Photo Credit: Focus Features, Universal Pictures, Relativity Media,

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Hello!

I'm Anton, a TV writer and author of Breaking Into TV Writing, a book about the business of TV writing and how to get your foot in the door.

 

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