You, too, can write a screenplay!
From idea to action with 'Movie Plot Generator'
By Todd Leopold
(CNN) -- You've heard them all before: The cop who doesn't play by the rules. The holy fool who challenges the beliefs of the country club set. The small-town girl with big-time dreams who invades Poland with a wisecracking robot.
That last one doesn't sound familiar?
If so, that's because you'll only find it in "The Official Movie Plot Generator," a book made up of 90 page tabs -- each containing a standard-issue protagonist, plot and twist -- that can be combined in thousands of combinations.
For example, flip the tabs and you might get "Adolf Hitler/Hits the karaoke circuit/Deep in the Compton ghetto." Or, "A hockey mask-wearing psychopath/Helps children learn to read/In a rousing adaptation of the Broadway musical."
Authors Jason and Justin Heimberg -- actual Hollywood screenwriters -- were inspired to create the book after one too many meetings with actual Hollywood producers. They'd arrive to pitch some of their ideas, be turned down, and then have the producer muse on one of his or her own pet concepts.
"We kept hearing them say they'd want something original, but then they'd have these clichéd elements," says Justin.
"They'd tell us that they had the greatest idea, but then it would be the same old derivative idea," adds Jason.
The light bulb went on and the two, close enough to finish each other's sentences, decided to put together a book. They perused issues of TV Guide and thought of the standard plots of various genres -- the rogue cop action movie, the time-traveling scientist film, the historical epic -- and wrote them all down, separating them into hero/situation/place or theme.
Then, in a bid for more control than they usually get over their screenplays, they decided to publish it themselves.
"The publishing business isn't as bad as the movies -- publishers usually don't bring in someone to rewrite your book -- but you still don't have control over design and marketing," says Justin, who has had a hand in writing humor books. "So we decided to do it all on our own."
That included finding a printer and distributor, while arranging for most of the sales on their own (through Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, some gift stores and their own Web site, www.movieplotgenerator.com).
"We wanted to be noble and help the struggling Chinese economy," says Jason.
The Brothers Heimberg have actually heard some of the plots in their book as actual pitches.
More seriously, he adds, "It's kind of fun, though daunting. But this is all ours." (Indeed, during the interview Justin was at the Heimberg parents' home in Rockville, Maryland, awaiting the delivery of 3,000 new copies. The brothers Heimberg have already printed 10,000 and sold most of them at $15.95 a pop.)
The two hope that "The Official Movie Plot Generator" becomes a nice business in its own right, but in the meantime they're making a full-time living as screenwriters. Currently, they have seven ideas in development purgatory, according to Justin, and they're doing the screenplay for "Kingpin 2," a sequel to the Farrelly brothers' 1996 film.
And if they're feeling a little creatively dry, they can always turn the pages of their book. After all, they've actually heard some of the more outlandish possibilities, such as one in which a cop becomes a nanny, or another about a bumbling nerd who teams up with an orangutan.
Which is why the book is also a fine gift for producers who think they have the perfect film in their heads. Indeed, some have even pitched ideas that exist in the book.
"We'll give it as a gift and they'll say it's great," says Justin, "and then this really serious look comes across their faces."