The oddjobbers (writers, screenwriters and the kind) know that some of the best stories (apart from adaptations of literature pieces, remakes, documentaries, mockumentaries, historic and period dramas) started with a seemingly übersimple child’s game : “let’s make believe that…. (I am a princess in a pea pod shaped mattress; I am a dragon slayer; Ramses, King of Egyptian people; this mud is our chocolate pie and Mum is the Big laundrymatic Chief Lady; I have a hammer, I am a pop singer and I smash all my toys; MY name is Han Solo and YOU are Chewbacca; etc).”
The only difference is in the formulation : What if….?
And starting with this “what if…” postulate can lead you pretty far and produce some of the finest stories, provided your ideas are decently fueled with a good imagination. Forget narrow-minded or clichés things, unless you twist them enough to turn them into an interesting pattern.
Results can be good or… not so good.
Let’s have a closer look: (remember I talk fiction here, not historical facts nor period dramas).
Sometimes the results are just astonishing and we are being provided with great literature and films. (I leave the scientific or engineering part of this aside, its not my field).
For instance :
- What if …a scientist wanted so bad to compete with God and created his own creature? Results : Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818) and James Whale (1931) [+ numerous adaptations TV, films, theater and countless spoofs & cartoons.]
- What if…an evil man, feeding only on human blood, could transform into a bat and contaminate each person he bites? Results : Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897) and Tod Browning (1931) [+ numerous adaptations TV, films, theater and countless spoofs & cartoons.]
- What if…aliens invaded the Earth? Results : The War of the worlds by HG Wells (1898), radioplay by Orson Welles (*wink*) 1938 and all the Alien Invasion literature & films influenced/induced by those geniuses [from The day the Earth stood still (1951) to Mars Attacks (1996) & Men in Black 3 (2012)]
- What if …a priest wanted to protect his religious community from persecution and created an protector which later turns destructive? Results : The Golem (first writtten by Rabbi Eliyahu of Chelm (16th Century), then by Rabbi Yaakov Emden (1748), by Franz Klutschak (1841) and film by Paul Wegener (1921)
- What if…a school director’s wife and his mistress teamed up to murder him to get rid of him? What if he DID not actually dies and sought revenge? Result : Les Diaboliques (The devils) by HG Clouzot (1955), (forget the remake w. Sharon Stone , it’s pathetic)
- What if…pets and animals could talk and tell their adventures to a young Victorian aquarelist woman? Results : all Beatrix Potter’s books and Miss Potter (2006)?
- What if…a zillionaire paid paleontologists to revive some defunct Dinosaurs species on an island, the team escaping a funest fate just in time? Results: Jurassic Park by M. Crichton (1990) and by S. Spielberg (1993) [and sequels, and spoofs and various others Jurassic monsters]
- What if…a rejected secretary decided to turn love down, wrote a best-selling book about it- thus allowing other women to take control over their feelings, love and ensuing pain- to finally win the object of her thoughts turned true love? Result : Down with love (2003).
- What if…a widowed woman who discovered that her husband left her broke, had an affair, eventually befriended the lover while developing a marijuana business to erase her debts and found love? Result : Saving Grace (2000).
- What if…There was a secret passage to enter a famous actor’s mind for some minutes, allowing to control his mind and body? Result : Being John Malkovich (1999)
- So many others.
Yet, sometimes the results are, well, you know…so so, to put it kindly.
For instance :
- What if…we followed the life of several teenagers on their campus and recorded their abyssal stupidity and their gastric problems? (American pie*)
- What if…we stuffed in so much SFX on screen, everyone will think it’s a GREAT movie? (Matrix, Thor, Iron Man 2, Spider man, Star Wars the Phantom Menace and the updated episodes, Titanic)
- What if…we made any sequel of a any Blockbuster in the attempt to make as much money, based on the notoriety of the 1st film, hey? (Bad, bad, baaaaad idea, seldom good sequels, Jaws, Highlander, Rocky, Rambo…)
- What if…we had NO viable idea but tried ANYWAY? The March of the Yellow giant Raspberry (it’s a joke), Sex lives of the Potato men* (it’s not a joke), Gigli (now really, a lesbian who sleeps with men?), Jersey girl (now really, again, a music rep in a BIG company who does not how to change his daughter’s diapers, chooses to lose his temper and trash his client Will Smith, ending in solo pleasures and a crazy Liv Tyler?), Cowboys and Aliens* –no comment- (2011).
- What if…Abraham Lincoln was (secretly) a VAMPIRE HUNTER?….(Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter * 2012)
- And, what if…. IN THE SAME TIME, Abe Lincoln chased Zombies*? (2012)(I think he might have had a seizure, if not already dead, and certainly had turned in his tumb)
- What if…there is no proper script or plotholes or unsatisfying endings? 2001 : space odyssey (yeah, I know, you hate when I say that, but have a second look), Indy and the last Crusade( I know, I know, yet, plotholes around), Barton Fink (sorry, ending’s weak)
* Oh God, someone REALLY greenlighted that, you know, and put MONEY into it, and INFLICTED it to the world!
So long, folks, I have to find a greenlighter for my 15 min-script in which :
the protagonist gets a tip from a spaceship alien commander that his mother is the reincarnation of the American Pie (eaten by Lincoln in a theater) made of Potato slices found in the Tumb of Bigfoot, rescued by Indy while en route to the dentist for his pet Shark JAWSY the 6th, and that’s disturbing fact, because he tries to to fight his growing inner apetite (haha) for fame in participating in the “Yukon contest of the tough guys of the Woods” : being able to eat 999 fries in one mouthful (haha, again). Being connected with/to a potato mother presumably still alive in the stomach of someone (brought back to life per thunderstorm), the stakes are high and the obstacles, numerous. Will he burn out? (hahaha) .Good idea, hu?
PS : For science cum-what if… : http://what-if.xkcd.com/13/ (ANSWERING YOUR HYPOTHETICAL QUESTIONS WITH PHYSICS, EVERY TUESDAY)