The new documentary about Woody Allen is a fine portrait of a long creative life. For me the best part was seeing his drawer of ideas. Early in part two of the documentary, Dick Cavett says Woody Allen once told him that he had endless ideas for movies. Cavett was amazed. “It would take me a year to have just one idea! He has many?” But then we see how the trick is done. Cut to Woody’s bedroom. He opens a drawer in his bedstand, takes out a pile of scraps, spreads them out on the bed, and talks about his process.
Woody: This is my collection, all kinds of scraps, written on hotel stationery and whatnot. I’ll ponder these things. I go through this all the time, every time I start a project.
Interviewer: Read me one note.
Woody: A man inherits all the magic tricks of a great magician. That’s all I have there. But I could see a story.
Ideas, for the most part, are just seeds. They’re cheap and plentiful. A man wakes up in the future (Sleeper). The mother of a man’s genius adopted son turns out to be a prostitute (Mighty Aphrodite). Some ideas are better than others, no doubt. But to grow them into something that matters you have to see the story. And then tell the story.