There are times when a writer will have a fantastic idea for a story, only for the Ideas Pixies — mischievous sprites in the pay of big Hollywood studios — to come in the middle of the night, pluck it from your brain and give it to someone like, I dunno, Tom Cruise, who can have the whole thing packaged and announced in Variety before you can even sharpen your pencils.
The first time this happened to me was when I was still acting. I had watched a documentary on two rival snipers during the siege of Stalingrad in WWII, and I made a note to start researching it, as it was a fantastic idea for a movie.
The next morning – the VERY NEXT MORNING! – I received a casting report for a film called ENEMY AT THE GATES, based on the true story of two rival snipers during the siege of Stalingrad in WWII.
The Ideas Pixies had struck!
Looking back at my diary, I find that they returned ten years ago today. I had been working on an epic science fiction time travel script called THE LAST TIME MACHINE (LTM in the diaries). It had started with an idea called THE LOCAL LOONEY, about a man babbling in the High Street about travelling through time, and it evolved into a much more mainstream idea about a girl who befriends this poor fellow, realises it’s her supposedly dead father who’s travelled back through time and is trying to stop his rival from activating the machine and destroying the universe. A rip opens in time and modern London is deluged with dinosaurs, Roman Legions, and the Luftwaffe, and there’s a neat side plot about a Hyde Park gig with legendary dead musicians including Jimi Hendrix. It was big and ambitious and would never get made, but I was hoping that it would be my calling card and a gateway to getting paid work on an actual movie. Then, getting home from a long day flying to and from Edinburgh for the day job, this happened…
TUESDAY 25TH APRIL, 2006
The evening ended depressingly when reading SFX on the loo – there’s a new TV series being filmed with Douglas Henshall called PRIMEVAL – it’s about people fighting dinosaurs coming through tears in the fabric of the universe… Basically, a major part of LTM. Initially, I thought it was a year’s work down the Swanee, but on reflection it just means another rewrite. I’ll send my agent an email…
Yes, there’s no better place to receive bad news than on the crapper. Later that night…
Had a text conversation with my agent. She’s going to look at the SFX article and call me tomorrow. She read LTM and loved it, so there’s hope yet.
Spoke to (fellow writer) Steve. His reply, “May I suggest the word bollocks?”
WEDNESDAY 26TH APRIL, 2006
Spoke to my agent about LTM. We agreed that the dinosaurs will probably have to go, but the main thrust of the story will not be affected. She really enjoyed it and felt I should make more of the parallel universes. I’m going to email her some dates and we’ll meet soon.
So, there we have it. Firm evidence that Ideas Pixies are real… Or, it could be that every now and then writers will have vaguely similar ideas, especially so in science fiction where the same tropes crop up again and again. I continued writing LTM, but other events happened later in the year that meant I would put it to one side. There’s a draft in a folder somewhere, and maybe one day I’ll dust it off? Primeval has been and gone in the meantime (a show we loved, by the way – great family viewing!).
What should a writer do when you discover that someone else is developing an idea similar to yours? If you’re starting out and writing a sample then maybe you’ll say screw ’em and carry on anyway. Why not? Sometimes you’ll find that your take is sufficiently different. After all, there have been rival asteroid movies, Robin Hood adventures, volcano disaster epics and Jungle Books, and whose to say that yours isn’t the better version?
Sometimes you’re just screwed, particularly if you’re writing for a producer; the idea really might be just too close to the bone for them, and your rivals may already in pre-production and you haven’t even finished your second draft. You have to shrug, put it down to experience and move on. Not easy, but it’s happened to me a couple of times, and I’m sure it’s happened to plenty of others.
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t try and sue them for stealing your idea. They didn’t. And the Ideas Pixies have better lawyers than you anyhow.
Stay tuned for another revealing diary entry soon…