View Full Version : what's a low-concept writer to do?
05-19-2004, 03:37 PM
Okay, final question before I give up and become a plumber (thus making my mother-in-law very happy):
If a spec script only sells if it's high concept,
If most agents and producers will only consider spec scripts that are high-concept,
If I can't really expect to interest anyone in an original script unless it's high concept,
If I hate high concept, I love low (or lower) concept, I love to write little off-beat, weird, quirky comedies and sci-fi flicks like the ones some of the independent companies put together (REPO MAN, NIGHT OF THE COMET, EATING RAOUL, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, ALIEN AVENGERS, DROWNING MONA),
Is my only choice to stop sending out queries, move immediately to L.A., network, find indie directors and producers who like the same sort of stuff I like, and "make my own damn movies?"
(This question flows out of another thread I started about the "cruel hoax" of queries disappearing into the void, but since it's really a new question, I decided to make it a new thread.)
05-19-2004, 03:52 PM
Well... that's what I'm doing.
I have one "low concept" script - that I love. I found a local director who also loves the script, and we'll be forming an LLC and looking for funding (with or without a producer)
I've enrolled in film editing classes - we will film it digitally, locally and edit it ourselves.
In the meantime.. I'm writing other scripts that I think ARE high concept and keep hoping to break in the easy way :rollin (as if there was one)
05-19-2004, 03:59 PM
Check out indietalk.com
05-19-2004, 04:25 PM
I feel you're pain and it's a difficult question to answer. It comes down to the age-old screenwriter conundrum:
What kind of writer am I?
I always think that is the most important thing a new screenwriter can ask themselves (any screenwriter for that matter). Because while neither type of script is right or wrong, the paths to success with them can be very different.
Low Budget can be tough - I know people who have written and shot their own flicks. Am thinking about it myself. But even after you have made your film, there's no guarantee that it will get distributed, get you more work, etc. Just like a high-end spec sale is no guarantee of long term success.
It's a tough thing but here's the important part of your post, to me:If I hate high concept, I love low (or lower) concept, I love to write little off-beat, weird, quirky comedies and sci-fi flicks like the ones some of the independent companies put together (REPO MAN, NIGHT OF THE COMET, EATING RAOUL, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, ALIEN AVENGERS, DROWNING MONA),
If you don't love high concept, high budget extravaganzas, you shouldn't force yourself to write them. Search out people in your town,city, state who do low budget stuff -- or even research companies from where you are who are in LA. Submit to them. Not everyone is looking for high-concept. I have dealt with prodcos looking for 'lower' concept (I don't like the term) stuff. They exist. Find them.
And ignore your mother-in-law.:D
05-19-2004, 05:38 PM
Yes, nix the mother-in-law. I hate the term low-concept too. Have you tried adapting your published novels? I mean they were published by Doubleday for chissake.
05-19-2004, 05:47 PM
Actually, I write high-concept, high-budget extravaganzas and everyone seems to be looking for high-concept, LOW-budget semi-extravaganzas... ;)
05-19-2004, 06:06 PM
I don't think there are really clear lines between high concept and low concept movies per se.
I think that any script that is well-executed, fresh, and provide a Herculean journey for its characters will always find fans. The truth is that very few spec sales from first time writers sell (less than 10 a year to studios). But many first-time writers get agents, pitches, assignments because they wrote something that had compelling stories, high or low budget.
So don't worry about that fact that you are writing "low-concept" but focus on writing the best stories possible. And if you truly have a great script, leave it on a street corner of Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills. Someone from one of the Big Five will sign you up.
05-19-2004, 07:21 PM
This is a silly thread. I'm sorry, but this high-concept/low-concept stuff is garbage and people have misunderstood and misinterpreted this to death. It's really getting awful.
You don't have to write Independence Day 2 to make a spec sale. You don't even have to write The Hot Chick. Just try to write something that has a hook. That's all it takes to get people's attention. Great films of all budget ranges have great hooks. Name a great film - indie or studio - and I'll bet you money it has a great hook. If you don't have a hook of some sort, then what do you think will attract people to want to make - let alone see - your movie? This idea that low-budget or indie movies are "low concept" (or that there's even such a thing) is really ridiculous.
REPO MAN, NIGHT OF THE COMET, EATING RAOUL, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN
All have GREAT hooks. (I've never seen the other two)
05-19-2004, 07:42 PM
I have two really excellent, top notch specs that I use as writing samples--one is extremely high concept, high budget and the other is a low concept indie piece. Most people I make a connection with ask to read the low concept script.
So don't give up on those stories. But do move to L.A. You could meet the right connection in the john at Staples Center. Although, I wouldn't recommend shaking his hand.
05-20-2004, 01:57 AM
Well, independent films are made independently. That is - someone finds the money from and independent source, then produces and directs their own script. Just take a look at your list of films!
The average movie costs $102 million and will be seen by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. That's what movies *are* - mass market entertainment.
Indie films are a different animal - made by filmmakers (often for pocket change) for a niche audience.
If you plan on selling a script, you need to write the kind of script that producers want to buy.
If you want to make your own movies - you can write small, quirky stuff.
05-20-2004, 02:27 AM
what's a low-concept writer to do?
05-20-2004, 05:36 AM
I seem to be spending all my time reading and replying to posts. Not getting much else done. It was fun while it lasted, but I'm going to force myself to stop doing this and get back to work.
I've gotten some great advice and some welcome support here. Before I leave, special thanks to:
Wenonah (wish you the best of luck with your script, and, yes, I can cook food!);
Victorian (didn't know about indietalk.com, thanks for telling me);
SebsWrtrDad (you're right, I should write what I love to write -- and don't worry, I ignore my mother-in-law);
Mark (my published novels are detective stories, but maybe I'll try it sometime);
elephant (I'm really hoping to move to L.A., I know that's where the action is).
And, note to Mike Samonek -- with all due respect, this is NOT a "silly thread," I've been yelled at and insulted time and again for not writing "high concept," and the term is not the same thing as a "hook," and every screenwriting book I own and every serious screenwriter or producer I've heard from has pointed out that "high concept" is absolutely required to sell a spec script, and anyway, how can it be a "silly thread" if it's important to me and I was asking a serious question? Are you rich and famous?
Anyway, thanks to the rest of you, and...
I'm outta here.
05-20-2004, 06:12 AM
that cooking food quote was from dclary, in response to a woman on another board who had a really hard time at a fondue restaurant with the raw chicken.
05-20-2004, 09:12 AM
I don't think the thread is silly either. But I
agree with Mike. If a writer can concoct
a good "hook," it could be enough to garner
For instance (off the top of my head), there
is a script (THE EXPENDABLES) about a group
of men who are sent to salvage valuables off
a sunken WWII Japanese submarine.
Not all that exciting or interesting.
The hook: The salvage team is made up of
lifers from a California state penitentiary.
Sort of an underwater version of THE DIRTY
Not a high concept. But it has enough of a
hook to add life to a prosaic idea.
But it doesn't hurt to come up with a high
concept either. However, one would be
better served to dream up something along
the lines of LIAR LIAR instead of INDEPENDENCE
DAY. (The former would be less likely to
scare away producers.)
The problem with "low concept" for a new
writer is that it will be difficult to pitch and
hard to land an agent - and almost impossible
if you don't have an "in" at the agency.
For a new writer, an agent wants to be
able to sell his script. If the agents knows
he won't be able to sell the script, he most
likely won't sign the writer.
Instead of hoping for an outright spec sale,
the agent could package the script.
But that is a lot of work for an agent (who
is already juggling lots of projects), and he
probably won't want to get mixed up in all
that for a brand new scribe. (There are
always exceptions. Like if the script won
the Nicholl contest - it could be different.
But in such a tough town - it is wiser to
avoid the "exception game.")
If the "indie" script is VERY VERY VERY
good, the agent may hip-pocket the
Like Bill said, if you want to write for Holly-
wood, you need to concoct an idea that
will connect with the masses.
And that's the hard part here.
Remember: Anyone can write a screenplay
that will never sell.
F--k all this crap about screenwriting is art.
The true art in Hollywood screenwriting is
telling a tale that audiences will want to
see again and again. That's the story that
producers and studios will snatch up.
Writing a script than no one on the planet
wants to read isn't art... it's masturbation.
I meet writers who pitch "my summer on
Grandma's pig farm" and believe it is the
I see lots of writers throw around the term
"high concept" on this board and abroad.
"My new script is really high concept...."
I read thousands of scripts a year and only
a handful are high concept.
The real gift in screenwriting is stumbling
upon the story that audiences stand in line
and pay to see.
Everything else in screenwriting can be
learned, but it is this elusive element -
that cannot be found in a class or on a
message board - that lets some in and
keeps others out.
05-20-2004, 09:35 AM
"Writing a script than no one on the planet wants to read isn't art... it's masturbation."
Yes well, goes with delusional self-aggrandizment I suppose and many of the scripts I read at Zoetrope were in this category. I think the prison crew example is what we're up against. That is a freak show aspect many want to see. They don't want to see normal. They live normal and want to see possibilities no matter how strange.
Don't come to LA trying to pitch indie films. It's not that kind of town. If one can pitch big and quality at the same time, that's the ticket. None of this is silly. It's business.
05-20-2004, 11:45 AM
So I thought I would waste some bandwidth and tell a little 'high-concept/low-concept' anecdote.:D
My wife recently received her MBA -- while she was in school, we had this long discussion about Hollywood's idea of high concept vs 'the real world' definition.
In the business world, a high-concept idea is a more complex, harder to understand, unique idea. A low-concept idea can be summed up in a sentence and is easily digestible. (A generalization, but you get the point)
In Hollywood of course, the opposite is true. (Again, I admit it;s a generalization) High-concept movies tend to be simple and can be summed up pretty easily in a sentence or two (by simple I don't mean stupid - a high concept movie can be very well made and smart). Low-concept movies tend to be more complex and obtuse and hard as hell to pitch in under a paragraph.
The only real similarity we could see is that in both cases, a high-concept idea has to have a uniqueness to it.
No matter how hard we argued, I could never convince my wife that Hollywood wasn't run by wackos. Of course, living with me pretty much just reinforces her opinions on the subject.....
I now return you to your debate.....
05-20-2004, 12:23 PM
And, note to Mike Samonek -- with all due respect, this is NOT a "silly thread,"
What I meant was it's silly to obsess over terminology like high/low concept. I still believe that. But if that's what you want to spend your time doing, then so be it. My point was more along the lines of "don't worry about it, just write compelling stories."
I've been yelled at and insulted time and again for not writing "high concept," and the term is not the same thing as a "hook,"
I wasn't saying they were the same thing - in fact, I was saying just the opposite - that low concept scripts with a hook have a shot of getting people's attention. That's the entire point of my post. :rolleyes
And who's doing all this yelling and insulting? Who yells at writers?
and every screenwriting book I own and every serious screenwriter or producer I've heard from has pointed out that "high concept" is absolutely required to sell a spec script,
Well, I've made my views on screenwriting books pretty clear over the years I've been here. And anyone who tells you something is "Absolutely required" to sell a script doesn't know what they're talking about. There is no magic bullet. There is no "must have" element to sell a script other than it being a compelling story. Regardless of the "size" of the concept.
and anyway, how can it be a "silly thread" if it's important to me and I was asking a serious question?
Again, sorry it came across that way. But I do still believe your time would be better served just writing what you love and not concerning yourself with what will sell. Everyone else around here says that all the time and no one gets bent out of shape. Believe it or not, I was trying to be helpful.
Are you rich and famous?
What does being rich and famous have to do with me having an opinion on this subject? Are you now saying that someone has to be a professional screenwriter to even chime in on a subject?
I promise to stay out of all high/low concept discussions in the future. You guys can have it. :lol
05-22-2004, 10:35 PM
Cruel but cool, CE. :lol
05-22-2004, 11:14 PM
I meet writers who pitch "my summer on
Grandma's pig farm" and believe it is the
next E.T.Brutally hilarious, C.E. :rollin
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