Someone will steal my idea.

When you are talking to a writer there is one thing that makes an amateur writer stand out, “Someone will steal my idea”. Not only does it say that they are an amateur, it also tells everyone in ear shot that they have no idea how a film is made.

“I have an idea for a film, but I don’t want it to get stolen”.

This can also take the form of “Would you sign an NDA?” (No Disclosure Agreement). Or how to I protect my idea?

All these are scream that the writer doesn’t understand that an idea has no real value.  And no one steals something which has no value.  “Oh Craig, you are such and idiot”, I hear you say.  “Craig you don’t understand this is super original and never seen before. Everyone will want to steal my idea”. 

No they wont, hear is why.

They wont steal your idea.

The Legal reasons.

A script is about 2% of a production cost. Let’s say your world beating original idea needs 100 million to be made. Is a production company going to risk $98,000,000 to save two million.  You could tie them up in court for years accusing them of thief.  Not only that someone will have to be given the writer credit.

The production company will just buy it off you and get a trusted writer to develop it into a script.  Ideas are like leaves, there are millions of them. The production company will just move to the next one if they can’t buy yours.

Another writer will steal my idea.

Yep, happens all the time. But still isn’t worth worrying about. I could give a treatment detailing the beats of a story (even some of the characters) to two different writers and I would get back two completely different scripts.  They would not even resemble each other.  How many bank robbery films are there? Or films about Pirates.  That didn’t stop Heat from being made to the TV Series Black Sails.

Let’s look at coincidence.

“Deep Impact” and “Armageddon”, two films about the world being hit by a meteor come out at the same time.  “Olympus has fallen” and “White House Down”, two films about terror attacks on the White House at the same time. No one is jumping up and down say “you stole my idea”. Because the film is the telling of the story, not the idea.

Ideas are of such low value they cannot be copyrighted. So even the law agrees with me.

let’s look at some of the most successful and seemingly original ideas and see just how unoriginal they are.

Avatar vs Dances With Wolves. A soldier goes and lives with a natives and falls in love with a woman from the tribe. When his people wage war, he fights with the natives cementing his place in their tribe and showing how powerful his love is.

The Lion King vs Hamlet. A King is killed by his brother who takes the throne. The young prince is banished.  He is visited by the ghost of his father and decides to go back and take revenge and his place on the throne.

Sixth Sense vs An Occurrence at Owl Creek. In 1962 the Twilight Zone aired this French Short film as an episode.  In it a man is near death, but survives. He goes through life, only to realise he actually died. That is basically the Sixth Sense.

Independence Day vs Battlefield Los Angelis. These are virtually identical. If someone said they are part of the same universe I would believe it. Independence Day is the air battle while Battlefield is the ground war, that would make sense to me.

I am not saying that these writers set out to steal another writer’s idea.  Far from it. What I am saying is that there are no new ideas in the human understanding.  The things that makes you unique is the way you tell the story.

Non-amateur writers learn that the money is in the telling not the concept and they are happy to discuss their ideas.  Once something becomes a project, they may keep it closer to their chest for any number of reasons. But not because they think someone will steal an idea.

The most liberating thing is knowing that an idea has no value until the script is written. It stops you from wasting all that valuable energy worrying if someone is going to take your idea. You can now channel it into actually writing a script, which by the way, can be protected by copyright.

Craig Griffiths

Craig Griffiths is a screenplay writer and best selling author. His books on screenwriting are available via the Books page on the website. He has written and produced several short films with his feature scripts in production. Craig has been involved in numerous podcast including Canada’s “The Bunker Project” and was the host of “Making Business and Sales Work” a top ranked podcast on iTunes for many years.

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