Scott H Young

How to Sell Your Ideas Like a Movie Producer


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So you have a great idea. It’s the idea that will change the world, eliminate poverty and make you a million bucks. The only problem: when you talk about your idea, you only get blank faces looking back at you.

You’ve probably been in a situation where you need to communicate an original idea. You might need your boss to look at your proposal for a new product. Maybe you want friends to read your new novel. Perhaps you want to relate your passions to people who don’t share the same interests as you.

The problem in all these situations is the same: you have a complex, original idea. But you need to summarize the idea quickly. How do you solve this problem?

Sell Ideas Like a Movie

One of my professors shared a strategy movie producers use when pitching ideas to a studio. Given that producers may only have a few minutes to pitch an entire movie, it would seem almost impossible to explain the plot.

The secret, my professor shared, is that they base their idea from components of existing ideas. He used the example of J.J. Abrams new movie, Cloverfield:

“It’s a mix between Blair Witch Project and Godzilla.”

In one sentence, he created a decent sketch of the movie.

Mash-Up Ideas to Sell Something Original

Cloverfield is a good example because it blends aspects of two well-known movies. Your idea might not be such a good fit. Here are a few ways you can help mash your ideas for better communication:

  1. Find a base. Pick a point of reference for your idea. If I wanted to explain to people what I do on this website, I could start by saying that I’m a writer. This is an incomplete picture for what I do, but it is a good starting point.
  2. Mash in a new element. From your starting point, add in a completely different idea that contains missing elements from your reference point. For my own example, I could mix in online business owner to mix with writer. This approach will miss nuances, but will convey 80% of my idea in 2-3 sentences.
  3. Add Exceptions. The final step would be to fix the common misconceptions people make about your mash-up. This is the stage where you want to throw in the details to make your idea more unique.

A Few Mash-Ups to Consider

Here are just a few mash-ups I’ve considered:

  • LinkedIn - Facebook + business contacts.
  • Skype - Free long-distance + through the web.
  • Lifehack.org – Self-help + practical.
  • Blogger - Writer + Online Business Owner
  • Bears - Cats + Dogs (only larger)

Are these mash-ups 100% accurate? Of course not. But if you’ve never heard of LinkedIn or you’ve never seen a bear before, they cover about 80% of the description you need. All in just a few words.

Why This Idea is Counterintuitive

As an innovator, the first instinct you have is to preserve the uniqueness of your idea. Claiming your masterpiece is a derivative of three or four other works feels wrong. You put a lot of effort to create something unique, and in the first sentence of your explanation you remove the originality.

I’ve fallen into this trap many times. Pride for a great idea sabotages you in trying to sell it to other people.

Why it Works

If you don’t offer a point of reference for your idea, other people will make their own. Using a mash-up puts the idea into terms the other person already understands. After this person understand the core of your idea, you can worry about the window dressing.

Here are some mash-ups questions for you:

  1. Assume nobody had heard of your profession before. What mash-up would best explain it?
  2. Mash-up one of your hobbies.
  3. What’s your favorite style of music? Mash-up two different genres as a way of describing it.

Try picking one of these questions and add it to the comments.


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24 Responses to “How to Sell Your Ideas Like a Movie Producer”

  1. nicolien says:

    I enjoy reading your blog, but one comment (because I’ve seen you make the mistake before):

    “other people will make there own”

    there = place
    their = possession
    (they’re = verb)

    not so hard, is it ;)

  2. Olga says:

    Perhaps a credit to the professor would be appropriate?

  3. Like blogging in a textbook…

    Real idea: A website which lists tutorials on nerdy subjects, such as HTML and software development… With the web elements, it allows progressive revelation. I.e., a person can read more nerdy information about a topic, or continue to the next step of the tutorial. Like a blog, it has tangents scattered rather haphazardly. Like a textbook, it has a core set of knowledge to present. Also takes elements of blogging, such as commenting on specific topics within a tutorial, and RSS feeds.

    I’d love someone to steal this idea and apply it to their own area of expertise. Nerdy topics like software development are my domain, but if someone could make a tangent-rich time management site, it would be excellent. ;)

    After I have written the code for my site, I’ll be happy to share it with anyone interested… though this could take months.

  4. Cal says:

    Hi Scott,

    Can you give a few examples of this principle at work outside of the world of business ideas? I’m curious how well it translates across different fields…

    - Cal

  5. etavitom says:

    This is a great post! Thank You. Making 1 + 1 = 3 is magical and a smart way to explain/develop concepts.

  6. Scott Young says:

    Cal,

    Good point. Most of the examples I can think of where marketing an original idea would matter would be with new products/innovations. But here are a few I’m guessing off the top of my head:

    Ayn Rand -> Moral Philosophy + Adam Smith
    Law of Attraction -> Positive Thinking + Metaphysics
    Music -> Sound + Rhythm

    There are times when this approach might miss too many of the nuances of an idea to make it completely worthless. But I think, as a starting point, it can help you communicate ideas quickly.

  7. J.D. says:

    I’m a fan of sharing practices across disciplines and borrowing the best from the best.

    My cousin is a movie editor and I’m in software engineering/project management, so we compared how we pitch ideas. What’s interesting is while there were so many approaches, we spiraled down on a common theme that works: Walk your potential investors through a meaningful scenario or storyboard. The most important thing is the emotional reaction to the scene. Does each scene make you feel?

    The meta lesson was — win the heart, the mind follows.

  8. Scott Young says:

    nicolien,

    Clearly I’m too hasty making my postings and not spending enough time in the proofreading phase. Yes, I am aware of the distinction, but even I miss a few things…

    Olga,

    The professor in question was Chris Street.

    This is a public blog, so I make it a habit of not “outing” specific people who aren’t already in the blogosphere. I made a conscious decision to have elements of my personal life shared with several thousand people. Other people have not, so I generalize to respect privacy.

    -Scott

  9. Olga says:

    Thanks for following up. I would make an exception for university professors–their life’s work is having ideas and communicating them to other people. I would think that they’re already sufficiently public figures that the medium doesn’t really matter, so an brief credit of name/dept./school would not be unwelcome. I’m a student myself (in the U.S.), and there seems to be a huge problem with academic honesty here, so my guess is that a professor would rather be surprised by seeing their name somewhere they did not expect than seeing their idea (well, I’m not sure if it’s their idea, but that’s as close as you’ve got to a source) without proper credit.

    You could go the more complicated route of actually contacting the professor prior to posting the article, but it probably gets a lot more complicated here (can they say no, you can’t publish this, or do they just get the heads-up and a choice about how they’re credited?). I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not sure what the law is (especially outside the U.S.) with respect to intellectual property of public speaking. Perhaps you have some insight into this from Toastmasters. In any case, this is probably something that you as a blogger who’s trying to make income from their blog will have to deal with eventually.

  10. Diego says:

    As a Californian, I found this really amusing because, perhaps because of the proximity to the movie industry, we use mash-up all the time as explanation and even make jokes about wanting to have been at the pitch meeting for this or that film. But seriously, it does work fairly well for the most part.

  11. Scott Young says:

    Olga,

    The idea was suggested to me in an off-hand remark in a private conversation.

    Credit is appropriate, but when I get ideas based on conversations with friends, I don’t pull up the footnotes.

    -Scott

  12. [...] Sell Your Ideas Like a Movie Producer – Communicating original ideas is hard.  Here’s a tip to make it easier. [...]

  13. john howard says:

    I have 3 Ideas.
    1. NU-X; A band of mostly female Mutant Vigilantes

    2. Sisters of The High Sea; legendary female pirates framed for their parents’ murder.

    3. Shala Kelly, Princess Of Light; unbeknowest to a secretary she ain’t from this world. Shala was dropped off as a baby by her father the Outerealm emperor Saulon.

  14. edman says:

    Well i have lived a graet story,It would make the best movie it has a lot of dreams that i had when i was a kid .Every night i had dreams that was crazy, car crash get parolized .Then it happen years later,Had dreams would walk again it happen,Have proof to .When i got my neck broke i whent to a holding place it was like a part of hell,I was ask did i whant to come back.The big guy showed me my futcher .I was going to go the the pen within a few months after a learned to walk,Well that happen to,Got out after 7 years of hell on earth .I got a million of storys of what i have seen done been around and i have papper work to back me up.

  15. edman says:

    Well my spelling was off on my last comments,o well.I talked to the ones that got cast to this world until the comeing,They have a underground world,Many citys .I seen a bigfoot looking thing Aliens,Its a under world this was when i got killed ,I died then came back .They got labs the make flue other wild stuff to they walk with us all the time they are some that look like us.They are demons,they can jump from body to body,They tried to pull me back when i came back to life ,But i think it may have been a trick the old under world boss may have wanted me to think they didnt want me to come back?I dont no if he was good or evile?But its all true story.I have learn to come out of my body when i want.I got a few tricks,cant tell a lot of stuff but what i can may help a few get the story out .I got to tell every one every thing is connected Aleans are demons so is big foot,The bible is true they just looked at it in a different way.

  16. edman says:

    He told me a big secret told me tell no one,If i do it will destroy many.So i got the greatest secret any man can have but i cant tell,Just wait and watch,I see them all the time they scream at me when i dont exspect it call me name let me know they always are at least one watching me.One time i was in the big wally mart was walking along seen a young greas face skinny gay suck jaw teen boy calling old woman names he was just a foot behine he.Gave he a ruff way.So i tried to not look ,I looked down he said something to me it was something about me?How did he know that huh.So i get mad i look at him he new i could see him,I thought he was real so i look down again .(The word kick his butt ran through my head)I looked back he was gone?sO I WALKED over old woman still bent over looking at close i said .Who was that boy?She looked at me said what boy?I say boy behine you calling you old hag and other bad words,She said you herd that to ,I thoght it was in my mine.Then i walked away look back she was gone to?

  17. edman says:

    my life can be a book or a bunch of movies,I just dont got time to tell you what i see in a pentacostile church?Some wild stuff i tell you i can tell who is makeing up stuff and who is real and a lot of them get tricked by demons and think it GOD they do the evile ones work.

  18. edman says:

    So i told you some stuff just a little some think i may be a demon some think i may be a “Angel” What do you think dont forget this is real no make belief.What do you think?

  19. edman says:

    hear is a good show go around ask peop[le whats the price on thier souls?tell them they sign the dotted linethier soul has been sold,go to big churches ,preachers,trailer parks,mountain folk,it will get a lot of talk this show will preachers will preach on it.this will be big,name your price some will sell cheap some not so cheap some will not sell.say once you sell me your soul whear every i go in the after life you will follow hell heaven planet x under ground,what ever.

  20. edman says:

    Hear is one of the things they showed me on the other side.They are always watching us all we dont see them they got ufo’s that we cant see they have super camo hear is how it works they take micro fiber,micro cams,micro screens make super camo you can see through.Example i put it on a airplain ,So when some opne looks up at it they see sky,If some one fly over them they see ground.

  21. Jason Colby says:

    I have 2 great movie ideas, but am to scared to even let a peep out over the net? Is there people who work for J.J. Abrams, if your intersted

  22. Richard Buckner says:

    I was browsing around and found this web site, I submitted an Idea back on a book Ive been working on for several years. They replied were not intrested, Thank you have a nice day. Now theres a movie coming out that is almost the same structure as my book. I have finished my book I have about 6 more months. I cant say my idea was stoloen or not untill this film releases the new film is Legion. But Even if so my book is better they only got a piece, If you want a movie Idea contact me Ive got something will blow your mind and audiences away. Thanks Richard from Mississippi.

  23. Richard Buckner says:

    Dang, Sorry for the grammatical errors, one of my children spilt tea in my key board now the keys are sticking badly.

  24. Kenneth says:

    I think a real life yu-gi-oh film would be cool to all the yu-gi-oh fans out there.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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