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View Full Version : Why "high concept" rarely translates into satisfying, enduring movies


SirByron
06-10-2013, 09:23 PM
Latest example:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2184339/reviews?ref_=tt_urv

And the opposite is usually true.

Is it because the movie is front-loaded almost completely into the "hook"?

Is this the way of the future, led by cynical marketers rather than filmmakers - entice audiences by finding a great hook? Who cares about the movie itself if you've got a great "What if?"

Repeat cycle. Is it any wonder the "business model for movies" is broken when the audience has been tricked so regularly?

wcmartell
06-10-2013, 09:51 PM
Yeah, who even remembers VERTIGO or WIZARD OF OZ or IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE or SOME LIKE IT HOT or E.T. or KING KONG or JAWS or SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS or TOOTSIE or THE SIXTH SENSE or TARZAN or THE TERMINATOR or THE EXORCIST or A TRIP TO THE MOON or...

That's just off the top of my head.

A *good story* well told. That goes back to Jules Verne and most early fiction.

But, it matters not what you or I think - we are not the buyers.

- Bill

JoeBanks
06-10-2013, 10:19 PM
"There's a story Lorne Michaels tells at the end of Bill Carter's book The War for Late Night about quitting Saturday Night Live. Lorne said that in his exit interview, a certain high-level executive at NBC said (I'm paraphrasing), "We paid you to deliver a certain number of episodes for a certain budget in a certain number of days. Nowhere in your contract does it say the show has to be good. If you believe it has to be good, then that's on you. You can't get mad at us for getting in your way."

The Purge, whether satisfying or enduring, made $34 million on a $3 million budget. that's successful and Hollywood prefers to pay for success

Fortean
06-11-2013, 08:56 AM
If a Hollywood producer wants to get attention for their "high concept" film, too often they are relying on a catchy title suggesting a novel concept, which goes into the marketing process, but is only a gimmick for a shabby story.

SPOILERS

When Shyamalan's SIGNS (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0286106/combined) was marketed in trailers and on television, the emphasis was upon "crop circles" and Mel Gibson.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTgO18G5zjI

I have investigated UFO reports for a very long time, some of which include ground markings and impressions, and at other times, crops have been crushed or broken along the stem. Whether caused by a flying craft landing upon the ground, a dust devil (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_devil), lightning or microbursts, they were seldom investigated by the news media. When "Crop circles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crop_circles)" with geometric patterns were reported, they struck me as a hoax. The news media jumped upon the subject with uncritical enthusiasm, (sometimes with overnight vigils looking for UFOs, rather than pranksters). The craze was eventually exploited by Shyamalan, as a "high concept" film. Of course, in Shyamalan's film, an advanced civilization would mark sites with complex geometric patterns in crops only visible from the sky, and an alien race with a sensitivity to liquids would attack people without wearing any water-resistant clothing. Thus, from my viewpoint, the story was as well researched as any science fiction based upon articles excised from the tabloid press.

Hollywood may think SIGNS was a "high concept" film, (with a profitable return). I think that Shyamalan used the "crop circle" craze as a gimmick to sell an awful science fiction film to his gullible fans.

THE PURGE (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2184339/combined) strikes me, also, as a gimmicky title, (with a ridiculous concept), that shouldn't be confused with "science fiction."

tuukka
06-11-2013, 11:44 AM
I don't understand. Nearly all enduring classics are high concept movies. For example, look at IMDB top 250:

http://www.imdb.com/chart/top

SundownInRetreat
06-11-2013, 12:02 PM
Well said WC & Tukka. Methinks the OP misunderstands "high concept". Most people do.

Joaneasley
06-11-2013, 12:35 PM
We all write the best stories we can, regardless of the concept. The major difference between my high concept stories and the ones that the industry does not consider high concept is that the ones with a unique, catchy, appealing concept (AKA high concept) are the ones everyone wants to read. The other ones were written with just as much care, but it's much harder to get anyone to look at them.

muckraker
06-11-2013, 01:17 PM
We all write the best stories we can, regardless of the concept. The major difference between my high concept stories and the ones that the industry does not consider high concept is that the ones with a unique, catchy, appealing concept (AKA high concept) are the ones everyone wants to read. The other ones were written with just as much care, but it's much harder to get anyone to look at them.

This has been my experience as well and it frustrates me. It seems the entire industry has become inured to the idea that concept trumps story, so getting anyone to pay attention to a script that is not high concept is nearly impossible these days.

tuukka
06-11-2013, 02:14 PM
Movie industry has never really wanted to make movies that aren't high concept. Audiences have never really wanted to watch movies that aren't high concept.

If you don't have an interesting premise, it almost always also means that you don't have an interesting story. Premise is integral to any story.

SCRIPTMONK!!!
06-11-2013, 03:03 PM
In my experience studying film, the major difference between good and bad when it comes to "high-concept" films is how the story is approached: CHARACTER-first, or PREMISE-first.

A good high-concept film is character-first, meaning it focuses upon the protagonist's traits and psychology. A main concern is the uniqueness of the protagonist. The story then creates a plot situation specifically designed to put him or her into scenarios that lead to personal transformation.

Crappy high-concept films are usually premise-first, meaning they revolve around their gimmick, and usually treat characters as nothing more than warm bodies they dump into the plot to carry out pre-planned functions. Protagonists are usually generic stereotypes. The characters are not treated as people, but just empty cogs there to move things forward.

"Sastisfying, enduring movies" are those that connect with the audience. The audience connects to a story through its characters. The human beings on screen are the conduit to the human beings in the audience. The first type has characters capable of doing this, the other does not.

Here is an early article I wrote on this concept, though I have greatly expanded upon it in writings since: http://uncelebrity.blogspot.com/2010/08/how-to-write-story-character-first.html

Bairn_Writer
06-11-2013, 03:46 PM
Whilst it seemed like the kind of idea that would be profitable these days, I thought the Puge seemed like a pretty ridiculous concept and would have a very hard time convincing people that any society would allow you to commit any crime you wanted.

It didn't appear high concept to me, just stupid aimed at people (probably teenagers) who just want to get to the violence.

Manchester
06-11-2013, 04:04 PM
High concept: It's a Wonderful Life (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/)

Not high concept: Same story, but without the angel angle.

SirByron
06-11-2013, 05:46 PM
ScriptMonk! You hit the a bullet with a bullet Sir! Respect!

Note I said "rarely" - not always. "Liar, Liar" is a good example of a high concept movie that was also good. But I am hard pressed to think of the "great premise" for a really great movie like "American Beauty".

Or consider the timeless European films - Breathless, Bicycle Thieves, etc. Are they High Concept by having a high-power imaginative hook? NO! But they endure due to High Execution, notably their character work.

So yes, the fad is that Concept Trumps Story. But what the mediocre writers don't understand is what ScriptMonk! is pointing to: you can have a great High Concept movie and Satisfying Movie if your Hook/Premise is Character-based - like "Liar, Liar"

Manchester
06-11-2013, 06:00 PM
In my experience studying film, the major difference between good and bad when it comes to "high-concept" films is how the story is approached: CHARACTER-first, or PREMISE-first.

A good high-concept film is character-first, meaning it focuses upon the protagonist's traits and psychology. A main concern is the uniqueness of the protagonist. The story then creates a plot situation specifically designed to put him or her into scenarios that lead to personal transformation.

So Dorothy was created and fully-formed before the premise of the Wizard of Oz? Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

If you're saying, even if I have a world-class premise, I shouldn't skimp on the characters - fine. If you're saying that, in order to be a good story, it must ultimately be driven by the characters - fine. But if you're saying the character(s) must be created first - not fine.

And sure, as you say, "The audience connects to a story through its characters." But my hunch is the premise is what gets them into the theater, and if you can't get them into the theater, those great characters are proverbial trees falling in the people-less forest.

DavidK
06-11-2013, 09:05 PM
The other ones were written with just as much care, but it's much harder to get anyone to look at them.

Question: if it's hard to get anyone to look at it, is it really high concept?

I ask this because one of the defining characteristics of 'high concept' is that it's a self-marketing title or idea which immediately attracts interest.

A lot of writers (not necessarily you) describe their idea as high concept because they think it's very clever, or complex, or has a fascinating hook or twist, but those are not what define high concept. High concept doesn't automatically translate into a satisfying movie, in essence all it means is that the idea can be described very simply and that description alone is sufficient to convey the idea and make it sound marketable.

My hunch is that writers shouldn't obsess over high concept or trying to find it or make it happen, because if it does happen it will announce itself.

mikejc
06-13-2013, 06:28 PM
Seems to me, the film business is a pretty big business with many parts.

When you talk about high concept, I think you are speaking mainly about the mainstream part of the business. The part of the business which has the goal of producing a $100 million plus box office gross. Nothing wrong with that, but they are looking to do something different than the indie part of the business. You need to get a lot of people in the door.

The indie end of the business seems very different and interested in producing a different sort of movie.

So, I don't think high concept applies as universally as the objectors might portray.

Aside from that, there are so many factors that go into a movie that the same movie made by different people with a different skill set and vision could turn out completely different--all from the same concept and script.

A different set of people could have turned out a bad Liar Liar. Or a terrible It's a Wonderful Life. Or, maybe even a great Purge.

Execution is far more of a key determinate.

SirByron
06-14-2013, 01:17 PM
Execution is far more of a key determinate.

Yes.

I am fond of saying "The Execution IS THE Idea".

Unfortunately, you can only promise good execution, whereas true "high concept" has the payload in the logline.

(Also many people here don't really understand what "High Concept" means - people like "SundownInRetreat" etc.)

Simply put, "High Concept" is an idea that has a great "WHAT IF?" which immediately hooks you.

"High Concept"
What if children were pitted against each other in a tournament to the death?

SundownInRetreat
06-16-2013, 11:20 AM
I know full well what "high concept" means - and it isn't "what if?"

I'd explain what it is but it would fall on deaf ears. Maybe if you found out instead of arrogantly dictating to all and getting your facts wrong along the way, as per "The Hunger Games is a rip-off of Battle Royale", you'd finally learn something. I corrected you in that thread, too. A correction that also fell on deaf ears.

UpandComing
06-16-2013, 04:43 PM
Latest example:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2184339/reviews?ref_=tt_urv

Is this the way of the future, led by cynical marketers rather than filmmakers - entice audiences by finding a great hook? Who cares about the movie itself if you've got a great "What if?"

Repeat cycle. Is it any wonder the "business model for movies" is broken when the audience has been tricked so regularly?

Sadly, I think the future in movies is indeed one of two categories: high-concept, low-budget films (particularly genre films such as horror) and high-budget tentpoles (which don't necessarily have to be high concept because they are so often based on pre-sold properties such as comic books and YA novels). So, I think the best option for an aspiring writer breaking in with a spec is to write a HC, LB genre film. (That said, even if the script isn't high concept, the writer can pull out the "hookiest" part of it and place it front and center in the logline to attract eyeballs - I've done that with my scripts, which tend to be more character-driven).

I do agree with what Manchester said, that it is primarily the premise that gets butts into theaters (and studios want as many in theaters on opening weekend as possible, which is why HC is so attractive to them - the strong marketability factor). However, I also think that audiences are more likely to consider the movie good if it is character-based, like ScriptMonk said. This is why I've always been a bigger fan of the HC movies of Jim Carrey ("Liar, Liar", "Truman Show", "Yes Man") than those of Adam Sandler ("Click", "Bedtime Stories", "I Now Pronounce You.."); the former's movies tend to have better character definition for the protagonist.

As for the definition of HC, let's turn to that expert on all things, Wikipedia :) :

High-concept is a term used to refer to an artistic work that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise. It can be contrasted with low-concept, which is more concerned with character development and other subtleties that aren't as easily summarized.

High-concept narratives are typically characterized by an overarching "what if?" scenario that acts as a catalyst for the following events. Often, the most popular summer blockbuster movies are built on a high-concept idea, such as "what if we could clone dinosaurs?"

So, if I had to go with a definition for HC, it would probably be: "A "What If?" scenario that can be stated in a succinct manner". What makes a HC film a good one is that it can get your butt in the theater based on premise, and then have you leaving the theater afterward thinking, "that was not only an interesting idea, but it was well-executed."

SundownInRetreat
06-16-2013, 06:49 PM
As for the definition of HC, let's turn to that expert on all things, Wikipedia :) :

High-concept is a term used to refer to an artistic work that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise. It can be contrasted with low-concept, which is more concerned with character development and other subtleties that aren't as easily summarized.

High-concept narratives are typically characterized by an overarching "what if?" scenario that acts as a catalyst for the following events. Often, the most popular summer blockbuster movies are built on a high-concept idea, such as "what if we could clone dinosaurs?"
Yeah, Wikipedia. That said Dredd grossed $100m at the box office, Henry the VIII had 17 wives and Tony Scott had brain cancer. :rolleyes:

Anything can be spun into "what if". Rocky: "what if a bum fighter was given the chance to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world". Just because you can do that doesn't mean "what if" is symbiotic in anyway.

High concept is simply a premise that can be summarised in one short sentence, with mass appeal and where the potential is glaring. Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer were the kings of this:

Top Gun: A maverick pilot battles it out at at the navy's elite fighter pilot school in his quest to be named Top Gun.

Flashdance: A female welder and exotic dancer's journey to get into a prestigious ballet school.

Bad Boys: Two hip, wise-cracking detectives protect a murder witness while investigating a case of stolen heroin.

But like I said, it could be applied to Rocky - "a no-hope amateur boxer is given the opportunity to fight for the world heavyweight title of the world" - or any of the films WC Martell mentioned (Jaws, ET, King Kong, Vertigo, it's a Wonderful Life, Terminator etc). In fact, speaking of Jaws:

"The summer blockbuster was born. So, in essence, was the high concept movie. Previous executives had tried to boil down plot and character to easily encapsulated ideas - warning writers and producers not to proceed with anything that couldn't be written down on the back of a box of matches. Now it had really been done. Jaws was "shark attack". Off the shark's back, subsequent movies would spring to life using the same kind of two or three word pitch. Alien was "Jaws in a spaceship", Under Siege was "Die Hard on a boat". Soon this kind of pitch became industry standard."

"Simpson's ideas were in the form of memos. Katzenberg would later say of Simpson's famed memos, "they were gold. He really was laser sharp."

- High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess.

It's not "what if" - even though you could rephrase anything with "what if". SirByron probably ran to Wikipedia to get his definition - or whoever "told him" The Hunger Games plagiarised Battle Royale.

UpandComing
06-16-2013, 07:41 PM
Yeah, Wikipedia. That said Dredd grossed $100m at the box office, Henry the VIII had 17 wives and Tony Scott had brain cancer. :rolleyes:

Anything can be spun into "what if". Rocky: "what if a bum fighter was given the chance to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world". Just because you can do that doesn't mean "what if" is symbiotic in anyway.

High concept is simply a premise that can be summarised in one short sentence. Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer were the kings of this:

Top Gun: A maverick pilot battles it out at at the navy's elite fighter pilot school in his quest to be named Top Gun.

Flashdance: A female welder and exotic dancer's journey to get into a prestigious ballet school.

Bad Boys: Two hip, wise-cracking detectives protect a murder witness while investigating a case of stolen heroin.

But like I said, it could be applied to Rocky - "a no-hope amateur boxer is given the opportunity to fight for the world heavyweight title of the world" - or any of the films WC Martell mentioned (Jaws, ET, King Kong, Vertigo, it's a Wonderful Life, Terminator etc). In fact, speaking of Jaws:

"The summer blockbuster was born. So, in essence, was the high concept movie. Previous executives had tried to boil down plot and character to easily encapsulated ideas - warning writers and producers not to proceed with anything that couldn't be written down on the back of a box of matches. Now it had really been done. Jaws was "shark attack". Off the shark's back, subsequent movies would spring to life using the same kind of two or three word pitch. Alien was "Jaws in a spaceship", Under Siege was "Die Hard on a boat". Soon this kind of pitch became industry standard."

"Simpson's ideas were in the form of memos. Katzenberg would later say of Simpson's famed memos, "they were gold. He really was laser sharp."

- High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess.

It's not "what if" - even though you could rephrase anything with "what if". SirByron probably ran to Wikipedia to get his definition - or whoever "told him" The Hunger Games plagiarised Battle Royale.

This is what I said:

So, if I had to go with a definition for HC, it would probably be: "A "What If?" scenario that can be stated in a succinct manner".

I did not say that the words "What If?" were necessary for the actual description. I just said that HC means the logline has to have a "What If?" scenario. And by that, I mean that the idea has to have an element of irony, surprise, or unexpectedness in it.

All the loglines you mentioned, while not using the words "What If?", have an element of irony, surprise, or unexpectedness:

Top Gun: A maverick pilot battles it out at at the navy's elite fighter pilot school in his quest to be named Top Gun. (The unexpected element is that someone who is a maverick, and thus not used to obeying rules, will try to rise to the top at an elite school).

Flashdance: A female welder and exotic dancer's journey to get into a prestigious ballet school. (The unexpected element is that someone who is an exotic dancer, often not considered a very classy field, will try to get into prestigious school).

Bad Boys: Two hip, wise-cracking detectives protect a murder witness while investigating a case of stolen heroin. (The unexpected element is that someone who is wise-cracking is involved with something serious - protecting a murder witness).

All of these ideas immediately grab attention not just because they can be stated in a short sentence, but because they all have that element of irony/surprise/unexpectedness.

If high concept was "simply a premise that can be summarised in one short sentence", then pretty much any movie could be called high concept. Examples:

Flight: An airline pilot's successful crash landing is investigated, turning up troubling details.

Silver Linings Playbook: A former mental patient tries to win back his ex-wife while being chased by an unstable young woman.

Life of Pi: A young man stranded at sea forms a bond with a tiger as he tries to get back home.

I don't think any of these movies would be thought of naturally as "high concept".

It's the element of irony/surprise/unexpectedness that makes HC movies unique.

So, you don't have to actually say "What if?", but the idea ("What if something ironic/surprising/unexpected happened?") is still there.

But if you want another opinion, here's what the respected Scott Myers of Go Into the Story has to say:
http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/2011/11/you-want-high-concept.html

Oh, and BTW - Wikipedia may have questionable information from time to time, but it actually often has useful info. :)

SundownInRetreat
06-16-2013, 08:26 PM
It isn't just summarising in one sentence, though that's a large part of it, but also having mass appeal and where the potential is obvious. Neither Flight, Life of Pi nor Silver Linings Playbook have that. I also disagree with irony, surprise and unexpectedness. Where's all that in Jaws or Rocky or Vertigo or Terminator or The Sixth Sense or Alien?

As for "what if" still being there, as I said, you can rephrase any pitch with it included but that doesn't mean it's inherent. Scott may well include "what if" but that's an addition to the criterion. In fact, he may well have designed it himself to test the elements I mentioned: mass appeal and potential. And it's a great way of looking at it. You ask "what if" and your mind starts to explore the possibilities. Thus "what if a cyborg was sent back in time to kill a woman whose unborn son will win the war between humans and machines?" outguns "what if a middle manager decides to apply for regional manager?" It's not essential but it can certainly help you assess whether the concept hits all requirements.

Thanks for the link, I never knew the Black List did articles.

mikejc
06-16-2013, 08:54 PM
I think what these last few entries point out is that "high concept" is not well understood, even by people who believe they understand it.

I don't even know if there is a definitive authority on what high concept is.

But, I go back an earlier point; high concept doesn't ruin movies, the PEOPLE who made THAT movie you don't like ruined it.

UpandComing
06-16-2013, 09:46 PM
It isn't just summarising in one sentence, though that's a large part of it, but also having mass appeal and where the potential is obvious. Neither Flight, Life of Pi nor Silver Linings Playbook have that. I also disagree with irony, surprise and unexpectedness. Where's all that in Jaws or Rocky or Vertigo or Terminator or The Sixth Sense or Alien?

As for "what if" still being there, as I said, you can rephrase any pitch with it included but that doesn't mean it's inherent. Scott may well include "what if" but that's an addition to the criterion. In fact, he may well have designed it himself to test the elements I mentioned: mass appeal and potential. And it's a great way of looking at it. You ask "what if" and your mind starts to explore the possibilities. Thus "what if a cyborg was sent back in time to kill a woman whose unborn son will win the war between humans and machines?" outguns "what if a middle manager decides to apply for regional manager?" It's not essential but it can certainly help you assess whether the concept hits all requirements.

Thanks for the link, I never knew the Black List did articles.

What you said:
It isn't just summarising in one sentence, though that's a large part of it, but also having mass appeal and where the potential is obvious. I think "mass appeal" is part of the HC definition. But the problem is you're not being specific enough. Anyone can say they think something will have "mass appeal", but what does that mean? It's a subjective term. One person's "mass appeal" can be another person's "too weird for people to consider".

I think that movies that are more likely to have mass appeal are movies that have a strong element of irony, unexpectedness, or surprise. So, their loglines immediately make a consumer's ears perk up because the idea is different/unusual.

What you said:
I also disagree with irony, surprise and unexpectedness. Where's all that in Jaws or Rocky or Vertigo or Terminator or The Sixth Sense or Alien?

When I say irony/unexpected, I mean that based on a protagonist's characteristics, they do something/something happens to them that is very unlikely/conflicts directly with their nature. When I say surprise, I mean that something happens in the movie that is very unlikely/impossible in the real world. As for your examples:

Jaws - "What if a Great White shark suddenly started attacking everybody on a beach?" (Unexpected; not likely to happen)
Rocky - "What if a bum fighter was given a chance to win the heavyweight championship of the world?" (Unexpected, as the likelihood of this happening is minimal)
Vertigo - "What if an acrophobic (afraid of heights) detective followed a woman who kept attempting suicide from tall heights?" (Irony)
Terminator - "What if a robotic assassin from the future was sent back in time to kill someone?" (Surprise - not possible in the real world).
Sixth Sense - "What if a young boy had the ability to communicate with dead people?" (Surprise - not possible in the real world. This is why so many HC movies have a supernatural element, like "Liar, Liar" and "Click")
Alien - "What if a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature began stalking and killing the crew of a spaceship." (Surprise - not possible in the real world - at least, not that we know of yet :))

One more thing - you mentioned the logline "What if a middle manager decides to apply for regional manager?". Of course, that's not high concept. But how could we make it have mass appeal? By adding an element of irony/unexpectedness/surprise: "What if a middle manager applying for regional manager faced competition from a new candidate - the disgraced former President of the U.S.?"

Lastly, the Black List link: It's from a great blog called "Go Into the Story" run by Scott Meyers; if you're an aspiring screenwriter and you're not checking that on a daily basis, you're definitely missing out!

ATB
06-17-2013, 12:01 AM
The genius of BAD BOYS was two polar opposite partners being forced to live a different life "to protect a murder witness." It's about a family man having to pretend to be a smooth, nouveau riche, womanizing ladies-man. A ladies-man trying to adapt to living the slow, boring, sheltered life of a husband and a father.

That's where the comedic gold was mined from. And, yeah, all the other basic action-blockbuster elements wrapped around that core.

SundownInRetreat
06-17-2013, 12:19 AM
One more thing - you mentioned the logline "What if a middle manager decides to apply for regional manager?". Of course, that's not high concept. But how could we make it have mass appeal? By adding an element of irony/unexpectedness/surprise: "What if a middle manager applying for regional manager faced competition from a new candidate - the disgraced former President of the U.S.?"
You missed my point. I said Meyer's "what if" approach could be used to self-assess your work to see if it has mass appeal and potential. Eg: he may have thought an autobiographical piece about his early days as a middle manager was interesting but when putting the "what if" spin on it, comes to realise it's pretty dull and may be good indie-drama fare but not HC.


Lastly, the Black List link: It's from a great blog called "Go Into the Story" run by Scott Meyers; if you're an aspiring screenwriter and you're not checking that on a daily basis, you're definitely missing out!

:)

UpandComing
06-17-2013, 12:32 AM
You missed my point. I said Meyer's "what if" approach could be used to self-assess your work to see if it has mass appeal and potential. Eg: he may have thought an autobiographical piece about his early days as a middle manager was interesting but when putting the "what if" spin on it, comes to realise it's pretty dull and may be good indie-drama fare but not HC.

:)

True, that actually sounds like a good idea to test a logline's HC potential. Okay, enough back and forth, I'm going to bed! :)

LauriD
06-17-2013, 03:31 AM
To me, "high concept" means "based on a gimmick" -- often of a supernatural or ironic nature. "Liar, Liar" and "Bruce Almighty" come to mind.

A compelling logline can be written for any movie, but that doesn't necessarily make that movie "high concept."

And I agree that great stories are rarely high concept in the gimmicky sense. So I think it's sad that high concept seems to trump great stories when it comes to decisions about what's sold and made.

I wonder whether whether the obsession with "high concept" (which also seems to signify "lower risk" and "easy to market") is another one of those group-think excuses for avoiding actual thought or insight about what makes a successful movie?

I also wonder whether anyone has ever established that "high concept" movies, ceteris paribus, make more money than the "other kind"?

As I posted in another thread:

"We conclude: (1) The studio model of risk management lacks a
foundation in theory or evidence and revenue forecasts have zero pre-
cision. In other words, "Anything can happen." (2) Movies are com-
plex products and the cascade of information among film-goers during
the course of a film's run can evolve along so many paths that it is
impossible to attribute the success of a movie to individual causal fac-
tors. In other words, "No one knows anything." (3) The audience
makes a movie a hit and no amount of "star power" or marketing can
alter that. In other words, the real star is the movie."

http://marshallinside.usc.edu/mweins...0new%20one.pdf

DavidK
06-17-2013, 03:35 AM
I think what these last few entries point out is that "high concept" is not well understood, even by people who believe they understand it.

I don't even know if there is a definitive authority on what high concept is.

'High concept' is very well understood within the industry; it's only in threads like this that it gets expanded and re-interpreted and confused. It's not synonymous with good idea or clever premise or amazing twist or high-budget or star vehicle.

It's also odd how people talk about high concept as if it's an option you can switch on when you decide to write a script. As with many terms and concepts, over the years it becomes so misused and over-used that its meaning gets lost in the stampede to use it.

LauriD
06-17-2013, 04:36 AM
From the blurb for the book "High Concept":

"Steven Spielberg once said, "I like ideas, especially movie ideas, that you can hold in your hand. If a person can tell me the idea in twenty-five words or less, it's going to make a pretty good movie." Spielberg's comment embodies the essence of the high concept film, which can be condensed into one simple sentence that inspires marketing campaigns, lures audiences, and separates success from failure at the box office.

This pioneering study explores the development and dominance of the high concept movie within commercial Hollywood filmmaking since the late 1970s. Justin Wyatt describes how box office success, always important in Hollywood, became paramount in the era in which major film studios passed into the hands of media conglomerates concerned more with the economics of filmmaking than aesthetics. In particular, he shows how high concept films became fully integrated with their marketing, so that a single phrase ("Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...") could sell the movie to studio executives and provide copy for massive advertising campaigns; a single image or a theme song could instantly remind potential audience members of the movie, and tie-in merchandise could generate millions of dollars in additional income."

- See more at: http://utpress.utexas.edu/index.php/books/wyahig#sthash.2OKx7Oiy.dpuf

LauriD
06-17-2013, 04:59 AM
I was just looking at the list of the 50 top-grossing films. Most are franchises, sequels, adaptations, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_highest-grossing_films

I only spotted three that seemed to me to be "high concept": Jurassic Park (also based on a best-selling novel), Inception, and 2012.

So is the "high concept" trope a way to justify greenlighting something that isn't a franchise/sequel/adaptation? I.e., it's a CYA definition that means whatever you want it to mean?

(Interesting comment that Battleship failed because it was "too high concept." http://www.thewrap.com/movies/article/peter-berg-admits-battleship-was-expensive-too-high-concept-43566)

A quick search for phrases like "do high concept movies make more money" didn't turn up anything....

OK, Don Simpson (among others) made high concept movies and made lots of money doing it.

See, e.g., http://www.amazon.com/dp/0385486952)

But does that mean that high concept movies on average make more money or have a better ROI?

tuukka
06-17-2013, 06:11 AM
I was just looking at the list of the 50 top-grossing films. Most are franchises, sequels, adaptations, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_highest-grossing_films

I only spotted three that seemed to me to be "high concept": Jurassic Park (also based on a best-selling novel), Inception, and 2012.

So is the "high concept" trope a way to justify greenlighting something that isn't a franchise/sequel/adaptation? I.e., it's a CYA definition that means whatever you want it to mean?

(Interesting comment that Battleship failed because it was "too high concept." http://www.thewrap.com/movies/article/peter-berg-admits-battleship-was-expensive-too-high-concept-43566)

A quick search for phrases like "do high concept movies make more money" didn't turn up anything....

OK, Don Simpson (among others) made high concept movies and made lots of money doing it.

See, e.g., http://www.amazon.com/dp/0385486952)

But does that mean that high concept movies on average make more money or have a better ROI?

Pretty much every single movie on that top 50 list is high-concept.

I'm not even using that definition loosely. Those films are *very essentially high concept*, in a manner understood by 99% of movie industry.

I have no idea what many of you people are talking about.

LauriD
06-17-2013, 06:17 AM
Pretty much every single movie on that top 50 list is high-concept.



Then I clearly don't understand high concept.

Can you please give examples of what makes these movies high concept?

Does high concept just mean "you can write a pithy and compelling logline for it"?

tuukka
06-17-2013, 06:43 AM
If high concept was "simply a premise that can be summarised in one short sentence", then pretty much any movie could be called high concept. Examples:

Flight: An airline pilot's successful crash landing is investigated, turning up troubling details.

Silver Linings Playbook: A former mental patient tries to win back his ex-wife while being chased by an unstable young woman.

Life of Pi: A young man stranded at sea forms a bond with a tiger as he tries to get back home.

I don't think any of these movies would be thought of naturally as "high concept".

It's the element of irony/surprise/unexpectedness that makes HC movies unique.

I'll give you the other two, but Life Of Pi is very high concept.

An ocean-liner carrying circus animals sinks, and only a young boy survives in a lifeboat. The catch? HE HAS TO SHARE HIS LIFEBOAT WITH A DANGEROUS TIGER.

That's most certainly a high concept.

Merely the concept of an ocean-liner sinking and a young boy surviving in the sea alone, is high-concept. It's an exceptional situation that only happens to very few people in the real world, and it's a high-stakes life or death scenario, which can be summed up in once sentence. The fact that the survivor is a young boy makes it all the more interesting.

...Of course that would be a somewhat generic high concept in this time and age. But add the tiger, and it's completely unique.

Flight is not very high-concept in story, but it does have an extremely unique high-concept moment, which was the primary angle that was used to sell the film to audiences. Everyone knows which moment I'm talking about.

The rather mundane "high concept" in Silver Linings Playbook is a essentially that it's love story between two *mentally unstable* people. One just got out of mental hospital, the other should probably enter one. It's not a flashy hook, but the film does have some kind of interesting angle to it.

tuukka
06-17-2013, 07:07 AM
Then I clearly don't understand high concept.

Can you please give examples of what makes these movies high concept?

Does high concept just mean "you can write a pithy and compelling logline for it"?

You can google this. Just write "high concept" on google. It's literally this easy.

We are talking about something that pretty much everyone in the industry understands, and a huge number of people outside the industry. If you have some personal obscure definition of "high concept", that goes against how nearly everyone else defines the term, it's beneficial for you to research this.

tuukka
06-17-2013, 07:17 AM
It's also worthy to add, that having a high concept doesn't mean that your concept is any *good*.

There are bad high concepts and good high concepts. There are also a lot of high concepts that felt fresh and unique 10 years ago, or 50 years ago, or 100 years ago. As years go on, it's getting harder and harder to come up with a great, *original* high concept.

Nowadays we are seeing a lot of movies with supernatural or sci-fi high concepts. That's because those haven't been mined to death yet. Sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, etc, genres weren't very popular back in the day, thus there is more playing room left. There have been much less movies in those genres, than in for example realistic drama or thriller.

SundownInRetreat
06-17-2013, 07:22 AM
Then I clearly don't understand high concept.

Can you please give examples of what makes these movies high concept?

Does high concept just mean "you can write a pithy and compelling logline for it"?
It was discussed earlier - including quotes from High Concept. HC is a simply a story that can be succinctly conveyed in one sentence, with mass appeal and obvious potential. Silver Linings isn't such a film.

Eg:

Top Gun: A maverick pilot battles it out at at the navy's elite fighter pilot school in his quest to be named Top Gun.

Flashdance: A female welder and exotic dancer battles to get into a prestigious ballet school.

Bad Boys: Two wise-cracking, chalk-and-cheese detectives must exchange identities while investigating a case of stolen heroin.

Rocky - a no-hope amateur boxer is given the opportunity to fight for the world heavyweight title of the world.

Vertigo - a retired acrophobic detective investigates the strange activities of a friend's much-younger wife yet becomes dangerously obsessed with her.

See? And none are flashy, special effects heavy, or ground breaking premises - which is what most people think of when they hear "high concept".

Jim Mercurio
06-17-2013, 07:32 AM
This really isn't a pitch for my new DVD set where I talk about concept for 35 minutes. ;-)

Two things to add. I think execution of a great high-concept is the real tricky part to achieve. It means the humor and jokes and situations are really filtered through and limited by the premise. It is really hard to continue to find new ways to "exploit a simple concept" but when it's done well, it's really satisfying. People will tell me they have a one-location film and pitch it like Die Hard but what they really have is a static script with one location where characters sit around and talk for 95 pages. That's not high-concept. That's low-location. Or something like that. But seriously, eventually mediocre movies with high-concept premises will hit generic scenes. Except for maybe Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith as a storyteller can't stay on point. Even when he tries to stick to a concept, it ends up with long and talky scenes that aren't really that clever and aren't limited by the set up. The "get high by the pool" scene in Land of the Lost is an example of a non sequitur scene in a high concept film.

One of the ways to tell if a high-concept script is executed well, and, also possibly, why well-executed high concepts stories are commercially successful is that they are "smashable." The term comes from branding. If you crushed a coke can or showed me just a piece of it, I would still immediately recognize it. Same thing with high concept movies. After the inciting incident of the remake of Freaky Friday, how long does it take you to watch ANY scene and realize the premise? 5 seconds? Ten? Same thing with Memento? The backwards storytelling and the short term memory? Ten seconds? 15 second?

A femme fatale who screws her victim over by telling him that's what she is doing and then hiding pencils to achieve her goal...that is a brilliant exploitation of concept. Everything in Memento is pretty much that clever and that integrated. Most of Liar Liar's twists are on-point. ALthough the reaction to it is in line with the concept, the setpiece scene of him beating himself up might not be. But for a 72-minute movie, there is enough on-point stuff to keep an audience hooked, right? ;-)

And because every single moment in a hypothetically perfectly-executed HC movie is smashable, then that means there is already a concept for the poster and it also means that if a person is switching channels or stumbles upon a scene in the middle of a high-concept movie, the scene itself pretty much carries all of the set up you need to understand and watch the movie from that point on. This last part -- my speculation only -- might be related to the commercial success of movies or TV shows shown on TV.

I think the Wire is better writing than Lost, but show an average viewer 10 minutes of each....it's definitely more effortless to "get" Lost pretty quickly.

Those are my admittedly incomplete thoughts to complement some of the discussion.

Peace!

tuukka
06-17-2013, 07:47 AM
But I am hard pressed to think of the "great premise" for a really great movie like "American Beauty".

Or consider the timeless European films - Breathless, Bicycle Thieves, etc. Are they High Concept by having a high-power imaginative hook? NO! But they endure due to High Execution, notably their character work.

So yes, the fad is that Concept Trumps Story. But what the mediocre writers don't understand is what ScriptMonk! is pointing to: you can have a great High Concept movie and Satisfying Movie if your Hook/Premise is Character-based - like "Liar, Liar"

These are softer high-concepts than many other films, but:

American Beauty: An ordinary, harmless, middle-aged husband and a father is murdered in his home. Who murdered him, and why?

It's a dramatic life-and-death scenario with a murder mystery built in. The script opens with the murder, and the question. Throughout the film, we know how things are going to end, and that gives the story an over-riding tension that might otherwise be missing (The tension would certainly be lesser).

Bicycle Thieves: A poor father searches post-World War II Rome for his stolen bicycle, without which he will lose the job which was to be the salvation of his young family.

Again, this is almost a life-or-death scenario. Without the bicycle, the poor father will lose his job, and his family will fall to extreme poverty. The stakes are very high, and the goal is very clear.

Breathless: A young car-thief kills a policeman, hides in his girlfriend's apartment, and tries to arrange the money to escape abroad, before the police find him.

Very dramatic material, with extremely high stakes.

It's worth noting that Breathless and Bicycle Thieves are *old*. Like I said earlier on, what might have been fresh and interesting 50-70 years ago, is less so today.

All those films have some kind of a high concept, even if admittely they don't have imaginative high-power hooks. But still, they are very different compared to many scripts written by amateurs, where the concept is often explained by the writer to be something like:

"In my script an ordinary person does ordinary things, and talks ordinary stuff with other ordinary people. There aren't really any stakes, or conflict. I have hard time explaining what the films is specifically about, but it's a very personal, life-affirming story about seriously important issues. (Unfortunately, because it has no explosions or shoot-outs, nobody wants to read it)".

tuukka
06-17-2013, 08:03 AM
If you want to know what a "high concept" is, it's this:

A strong dramatic hook with a clearly defined conflict, that can be explained in one sentence.

That's it.

Some have supernatural aspects, some don't. Some have a "what if" scenario, some don't. Some have mass appeal, some are targeted to a specific audience.

Some high concepts are awesome and unique. Some are bad and generic. Most high concepts are somewhere in between.

Merely having a high concept doesn't mean your premise is good. Because some high concepts suck.

LauriD
06-17-2013, 08:18 AM
You can google this. Just write "high concept" on google. It's literally this easy.

.

"Everyone" in the industry may understand this, but folks here seem to have varying definitions...

It seems like you could write a dramatic hook for ANY movie. Does that mean that all movies are high concept -- or at least could be described in high concept terms?

Or is the argument that any successful movie is by definition high concept --- if you look hard enough?

tuukka
06-17-2013, 08:32 AM
"Everyone" in the industry may understand this, but folks here seem to have varying definitions...

It seems like you could write a dramatic hook for ANY movie. Does that mean that all movies are high concept -- or at least could be described in high concept terms?

Or is the argument that any successful movie is by definition high concept --- if you look hard enough?

Well, the great majority of people in here aren't in the industry, they are merely aspiring to be in it.

Typically scripts don't get turned into movies, unless they have a high concept. So yes, the great majority of movies out there - At least successful ones - have a clearly defined high concept.

Moreover, there are even more unsuccessful movies out there, that also had clearly defined high concepts. The concepts just mostly weren't particularly good and interesting. But then again, at least the scripts got filmed, which is more than you can say of most scripts.

And yes, there is a massive amount of scripts out there, that don't have a clearly defined high concept. And nobody wanted to make movies out of them.

Already people have mentioned successful movies in this thread that don't really have a very clear high concept. Silver Linings Playbook being one of them, and a recent one at that. But films like that are a really small minority, and like I explained, SLP at least has one somewhat interesting and distinctive angle to it, as the main focus of the story is a love affair between *two mentally unstable* people. Right off the bat, I can't recall many movies like that.

SLP is also based on a novel, written and directed by a successful filmmaker, and has two very interesting and challenging *crazy* lead characters to play. Which makes it very attractive for star-actors, and which is why it was clever to make it a love story between two mentally unstable people. Star actors secure financing, and make it much easier to sell the film to audiences.

This is also why the upside-down plane is so important for Flight: Even if your main premise isn't so intriguing, having that one distinctive, killer element can make a big difference. Every time the trailer for Flight played, the crowd went crazy over that final shot.

UpandComing
06-17-2013, 11:06 AM
If you want to know what a "high concept" is, it's this:

A strong dramatic hook with a clearly defined conflict, that can be explained in one sentence.

That's it.

Some have supernatural aspects, some don't. Some have a "what if" scenario, some don't. Some have mass appeal, some are targeted to a specific audience.

I like a lot of what you've had to say in the last few comments. But I honestly think that your definition of HC just proves my point. You say it is:

A strong dramatic hook with a clearly defined conflict, that can be explained in one sentence.

Well, let's do an experiment.

Below is one logline:

"A cop must outsmart a crafty serial killer who preys on prostitutes to rescue a young woman."

Here you have a clearly defined conflict that can be explained in one sentence. But nothing special - cops have dealt with serial killers and kidnapped young women in the past.

Now, a revised version of that logline:

"A cop must outsmart a crafty serial killer who preys on prostitutes to rescue a young woman - his daughter."

Here you have a clearly defined conflict that can be explained in one sentence - with a dramatic hook added. A hook is by definition something unique-sounding that grabs your attention. Something won't grab you unless it makes you think "What if this strange/unique/unlikely thing had a possibility of happening?"

So, the first logline doesn't grab you because it has happened/you can easily see it happening. The second grabs you because it is unusual/unlikely to happen.

This is why I don't consider "Flight" a high-concept movie - it's main premise is an investigation that turns up troubling details, nothing special. The upside-down crash landing is just one element of the story, but not the main premise. "What if an investigation into a successful crash landing turned up troubling details?" Just doesn't work.

All I'm saying is that if the logline has a dramatic hook (something unique), then it automatically passes the "What if?" test, and can be considered high concept.

If you can think of 5 movies widely considered high concept in the industry that don't naturally lend themselves to the question "What if?", I will eat my words :)

SirByron
06-17-2013, 12:27 PM
I think we're doing ourselves a disservice by trying to define High Concept.

It it not in the definition. Definitions are not really possible or useful in the creative world.

It is the power of the imagination, the force of the idea, the energy of something previously unimagined that gives High Concept its true voltage.

tuukka
06-17-2013, 12:33 PM
Yup, the first example is somewhat missing drama and conflict.

To put it out in its barest terms, it simply says: "A cop tries to catch a criminal".

The latter example has *personal stakes*. If the cop doesn't catch the criminal, his own daughter will die. Which is proper drama, and conflict. The fact that his daughter is a prostitute is a really good detail, as it gives the whole thing an interesting human angle, and potential for a lot of human drama. Was this some existing movie? If not: Good, gritty concept.

As always, these are not black and white issues. There is a place of grey where you move from a mere "concept" into a "high concept".

But there is a huge amount of movies, where I don't think the "what if" question quite works.

For example Ocean's Eleven is high concept, but where does the "what if" come in? Shawshank Redemption? Goodfellas? Star Wars? Seven? Apocalypse Now? The Dark Knight? Gladiator? Reservoir Dogs? L.A Confidential? Saving Private Ryan? Unforgiven?

And so on. You could maybe do it with some of those, but not with all. And I could continue that list forever.

And with some, it would be forced. "What if a group of criminals decided to rob three Las Vegas casinos on one evening?". Yeah, but what importance does would the "what if" have in that sentence? You can simply say "A group of criminals decides to rob three Las Vegas casinos on one evening". There is no inherent curiosity factor in the Ocean's Eleven's premise, which is what the "what if" is supposed to serve.

Most high concepts don't really have a strong curiosity factor. They are not about "I wonder what would happen, if...". They are more about: "This is what happens. Now let's see how our protagonist survives".

Regardless, while it's great to have a great overall high concept, you shouldn't overlook the importance of minor concepts within your larger concept.

Seven has a really generic high concept, if you look it from the POV of drama and conflict. It's two detectives trying to catch a serial killer. Been there, done that. They have no personal stakes in the story, except for doing their everyday job (And disregarding the 3rd act, obviously). But the neat little detail, that could almost feel superficial to the premise, is the fact that the serial killer kills according to *seven deadly sins*. Which is the real hook of the film.

Star Wars has no clever, high-power hook to it. It's a really simple, downright generic story premise. It just happens to have an amazing imaginary world that the audience can experience. And a ridiculous amount of cool minor concepts, like light sabers, or death star.

In order to get a script sold, you must ask yourself: What sets this apart? Is it an amazing, unique, imaginative hook? Or is a really well-established genre storyline, that just offers that one cool little twist that everyone wants to see?

Or is the seemingly generic premise built on that one moment, that everyone will be talking about? Chestburster scene is famously what sent the (originally clunky and generic) Alien script to fast-track, and I have no doubt that the seemingly simple, yet so genius concept of landing a plane opened the development gates for Flight.

Or does it have a low-power premise, but two killer lead roles, that every actor and actress wants to play?

There are many ways to play this game, and to get a script sold.

UpandComing
06-17-2013, 12:34 PM
I think we're doing ourselves a disservice by trying to define High Concept.

It it not in the definition. Definitions are not really possible or useful in the creative world.

It is the power of the imagination, the force of the idea, the energy of something previously unimagined that gives High Concept its true voltage.

You could be onto something....:)

LauriD
06-17-2013, 12:55 PM
I think we're doing ourselves a disservice by trying to define High Concept.

It it not in the definition. Definitions are not really possible or useful in the creative world.

It is the power of the imagination, the force of the idea, the energy of something previously unimagined that gives High Concept its true voltage.

That's a lovely idealistic notion, but if reps and prodcos are ONLY interested in high concepts (however defined) then it behooves writers to know what that means to reps and prodcos.

UpandComing
06-17-2013, 01:12 PM
Yup, the first example is somewhat missing drama and conflict.
The fact that his daughter is a prostitute is a really good detail, as it gives the whole thing an interesting human angle, and potential for a lot of human drama. Was this some existing movie? If not: Good, gritty concept.


Thanks! I just came up with this off the top of my head. You can feel free to use it, lol.

For example Ocean's Eleven is high concept, but where does the "what if" come in? Shawshank Redemption? Goodfellas? Star Wars? Seven? Apocalypse Now? The Dark Knight? Gladiator? Reservoir Dogs? L.A Confidential? Saving Private Ryan? Unforgiven?

And with some, it would be forced. "What if a group of criminals decided to rob three Las Vegas casinos on one evening?". Yeah, but what importance does would the "what if" have in that sentence? You can simply say "A group of criminals decides to rob three Las Vegas casinos on one evening". There is no inherent curiosity factor in the Ocean's Eleven's premise, which is what the "what if" is supposed to serve.

I think the Ocean's Eleven concept is very HC, as the likelihood of criminals trying to rob one Las Vegas casino (which is much more high-security than many other environments) in one evening, let alone three is unlikely and unique - let's put it this way, if I heard that story on the news, I would think, "that would make a great movie!". As for the other examples, I think most of them don't qualify as HC; either their situations aren't really that unique (dramatic as they may be), or they are set outside the real world, so normal rules don't apply (Star Wars, Dark Knight). Maybe Seven, but even that, as you mentioned, is not the strongest high concept.

Most high concepts don't really have a strong curiosity factor. They are not about "I wonder what would happen, if...". They are more about: "This is what happens. Now let's see how our protagonist survives".

I honestly think that that could describe pretty much all movies. And that people wouldn't talk so much about HC if there wasn't something clearly differentiating them from most movies.

Regardless, while it's great to have a great overall high concept, you shouldn't overlook the importance of minor concepts within your larger concept.

There are many ways to play this game, and to get a script sold.

Totally agree. And like I said, I like a lot of the things you have to say, they are reasonable; I just think HC wouldn't be thought of as so special if its definition/true meaning was so generic.

tuukka
06-17-2013, 01:42 PM
I think we're doing ourselves a disservice by trying to define High Concept.

It it not in the definition. Definitions are not really possible or useful in the creative world.

It is the power of the imagination, the force of the idea, the energy of something previously unimagined that gives High Concept its true voltage.

I actually somewhat agree with this.

I don't think that the skill of writing a good high concept, or a good story, or good characters, is something that can be analyzed and defined into a neat little box.

It's an intuitive thing. Some people are good at it, most aren't.

But on the other hand, it feeds artistic creativity to have *tools*. Grasping the concept of what "high concept" is, and how you can use it, is merely a tool to help you out in your creative process.

This is the main reason why I write on this board. Discussions help me formulate my own thoughts, and they allow me to create mental tools for myself.

ATB
06-17-2013, 01:44 PM
A high concept idea is something you wish you'd come up with first. Easiest way to look at it.

Madbandit
06-17-2013, 02:12 PM
A high concept idea is something you wish you'd come up with first. Easiest way to look at it.

Best way to look at it. When a movie does mad box office money, there's always some person steaming mad, kicking themselves and saying "Why the f*** didn't I like come up with that idea?! I could have been rich!" Instead, they should write whatever they want and don't give a horse's seat about who's doing what.

tuukka
06-17-2013, 02:33 PM
There are only a few times in my life, when I have seen an idea and thought to myself, "why didn't I come up with that?".

Usually it was connected to something I had already done, and put out there. And the new idea someone else came up with, made me realize how my idea could have been better (and more successful).

SundownInRetreat
06-17-2013, 09:07 PM
Usually it was connected to something I had already done, and put out there. And the new idea someone else came up with, made me realize how my idea could have been better (and more successful).
Is this tongue in cheek or serious? I can't tell.

tuukka
06-18-2013, 10:54 AM
Is this tongue in cheek or serious? I can't tell.

Serious.

When you have done a a time-consuming project and it's out there for audiences, it's a pain in the ass to realize, how it could have been so easily been better, and more successful (Talking mainly TV here).

I'm talking about an idea that is very similar to what I did, but better.

Otherwise, I don't see any reason whatsoever to envy anyone else for their ideas. Most ideas out there are anyway in genres that I'm not interested in working in, or stories that I'm not interested in telling, even if I'm interested in watching them. Telling stories takes a *lot* of time, so I concentrate only on stuff that I really really want to do.

Joaneasley
06-19-2013, 08:50 AM
I say, if it's hard to get anyone to look at it, it is by definition not high concept. The proof that something is high concept is in the reaction you get when you pitch it to people. See if they not only understand it, but their eyes light up. They smile. They say they like it.

Now, sometimes, my writing partner and I come up with a concept that makes our eyes light up -- the comedy and the visual potential of the premise are immediately self-evident to us, We think it's high concept. But there are times we forget to test it on other people. And then when the script is ready to go, we find out that when other people hear the pitch that made us laugh, they don't. So I have to accept the fact that I was wrong about it being high concept, even if we did make the script work and we did describe it succinctly. The other thing that happens is that we have inadvertently used an element that the industry is sour on -- like an angel. She's a funny, sassy angel, but now we know that people hear angel and assume the saccharine worst.


Question: if it's hard to get anyone to look at it, is it really high concept?

I ask this because one of the defining characteristics of 'high concept' is that it's a self-marketing title or idea which immediately attracts interest.

A lot of writers (not necessarily you) describe their idea as high concept because they think it's very clever, or complex, or has a fascinating hook or twist, but those are not what define high concept. High concept doesn't automatically translate into a satisfying movie, in essence all it means is that the idea can be described very simply and that description alone is sufficient to convey the idea and make it sound marketable.

My hunch is that writers shouldn't obsess over high concept or trying to find it or make it happen, because if it does happen it will announce itself.

LauriD
06-19-2013, 09:45 AM
I say, if it's hard to get anyone to look at it, it is by definition not high concept. The proof that something is high concept is in the reaction you get when you pitch it to people. See if they not only understand it, but their eyes light up. They smile. They say they like it.

.

Maybe the "I know it when I see it" test is the only one that matters. And all the attempts to define HC are only best guesses about what's going to get that positive reaction? I.e., if it doesn't get that reaction, then it's not HC no matter how well it fits the definition.

My latest script has what I think is a really high concept. It's 6 words long and it made someone at CAA go "oooooh." :)

The Road Warrior
06-19-2013, 11:08 AM
Well said WC & Tukka. Methinks the OP misunderstands "high concept". Most people do.

It's when you have a great idea at the top of a mountain, trouble is, you've probably left your pens and paper down at base camp.

The Road Warrior
06-19-2013, 11:11 AM
A high concept idea is something you wish you'd come up with first. Easiest way to look at it.


I can also see how 100 or 1000 high concept scirpts would fail, whilst one that's made/executed/filmed well, say JAWS, is successful, makes me wonder whether you can really legislate for all this stuff.

Or does it just turn out right sometimes?

LauriD
06-20-2013, 02:32 AM
I can also see how 100 or 1000 high concept scirpts would fail, whilst one that's made/executed/filmed well, say JAWS, is successful, makes me wonder whether you can really legislate for all this stuff.

?

I still don't get why Jaws is a high concept. "A shark starts eating people at a resort island."

Um... isn't that what sharks DO? Where's the irony, the twist?

And if it's all in the execution, then why does HC matter at all? Other than as a substitute for thought and craft?

tuukka
06-20-2013, 03:30 AM
I still don't get why Jaws is a high concept. "A shark starts eating people at a resort island."

Um... isn't that what sharks DO? Where's the irony, the twist?

And if it's all in the execution, then why does HC matter at all? Other than as a substitute for thought and craft?

The twist is that this is a serial killer shark, that is determined to kill and eat humans on that very island, on purpose. Shark's don't do that.

It's not simply random sharks eating people, which is what sharks occasionally do. It's this one shark, a special shark.

Of course in this time and age, that kind of concept wouldn't sell that well. Even in the late 90's, you needed genetically enhanced super sharks to do the eating. But in 1975 the concept of Jaws was novel.

tuukka
06-20-2013, 03:36 AM
I say, if it's hard to get anyone to look at it, it is by definition not high concept. The proof that something is high concept is in the reaction you get when you pitch it to people. See if they not only understand it, but their eyes light up. They smile. They say they like it.

I'm not sure why some people assume "high concept" automatically means the premise is good. Someone can have a high concept that sucks. It's still a "high concept". Let me show you:

"Genetical engineering mutates a shark into a 600ft sea-monster, which can also walk. As the monster attacks Las Vegas, a former sea-biologist with a gaming-addiction must find a way to beat the monster".

That is obviously high-concept, isn't it? It also sucks as a premise.

LauriD
06-20-2013, 03:53 AM
The twist is that this is a serial killer shark, that is determined to kill and eat humans on that very island, on purpose. Shark's don't do that.

It's not simply random sharks eating people, which is what sharks occasionally do. It's this one shark, a special shark.

l.

Maybe it's just an especially hungry shark? ;)

pabloamigo
06-20-2013, 03:54 AM
Does the sea-biologist beat the shark at Blackjack?

If so, I'm in!

LauriD
06-20-2013, 03:55 AM
I'm not sure why some people assume "high concept" automatically means the premise is good. Someone can have a high concept that sucks. It's still a "high concept". Let me show you:

"Genetical engineering mutates a shark into a 600ft sea-monster, which can also walk. As the monster attacks Las Vegas, a former sea-biologist with a gaming-addiction must find a way to beat the monster".

That is obviously high-concept, isn't it? It also sucks as a premise.

Still not getting it. Why is that high concept?

It's not simple. It's not obvious. And I don't see the irony or the "hook."

SundownInRetreat
06-20-2013, 05:14 AM
I still don't get why Jaws is a high concept. "A shark starts eating people at a resort island."

Um... isn't that what sharks DO? Where's the irony, the twist?

And if it's all in the execution, then why does HC matter at all? Other than as a substitute for thought and craft?
I'll try one more time to explain to you HC.

1) A story that can be succinctly summarised:
"a small-town holiday resort is terrorised by a killer shark".

2) Mass appeal:
Terror, suspense, horror, action + the primeval fear of being eaten alive. Who wouldn't be intrigued by that? Or that logline?

3) Obvious potential:
Ties in with 2). So many ideas spring from that setup that it would not be a head-scratching brainstorm. Plus sequels, novelisations, t-shirts etc. the imagery alone - a fin stalking a swimmer etc.


And no, sharks don't typically eat people. Not even the much-maligned Great White. Of the hundreds of species only 3 are rated as deadly: the Bull, Tiger and Great White. Tests have shown that while they react to the stimuli of human blood, they react much less than to their natural food source stimuli. Great White shark attacks are very rare. Intended kills are rarer still. Most death are down to one bite in a case of mistaken identity. Unfortunately for us, we are so delicate compared to the shark that its little nibble leaves us dying of shock.

SundownInRetreat
06-20-2013, 05:36 AM
The twist is that this is a serial killer shark, that is determined to kill and eat humans on that very island, on purpose. Shark's don't do that.

It's not simply random sharks eating people, which is what sharks occasionally do. It's this one shark, a special shark.
Not quite true. At the time, Hooper's belief: "Mr. Vaughn, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It's really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks, and that's all" is how sharks were perceived in scientific circles. The rogue shark theory (on which Jaws is based) was a widely held notion. As was sharks having to turn on their sides to attack (the guy in the lagoon) and roll over (the Kintner boy).

Benchley used all the acquired knowledge (which wasn't much - and even today there's still so much that's unknown) to tell his tale and he was devastated at how wrong he was, and the impact it had on popular perception and the treatment of the sharks that he spent the rest of his life dedicated to reversing the myths that tabloid journalism and filmmakers so readily perpetuate.

Jaws the shark was larger than normal but even back then, it was believed 25ft is more than possible and even up to 40ft (though that's now pretty much off the table) but it was acting in accordance to what "rogue theory" of the 70s postulated.

Jaws was different to standard Great Whites - he was bigger, badder, bolder, stronger; could go down with three barrels and sank the Orca and though this could be interpreted as being "a special shark" it's really just what was envisagd from such a top-tier Carcharadon Carcharias. Benchley could have gone with a quite reasonable 18 footer, whose curiosity is piqued by an underwater cage but that doesn't excite the primal fear as much as a 25 footer, torpedoing the cage to get at the snack inside. And this "we need the baddest antaogonist possible" was carried on into the sequels where the sharks got even bigger and badder.

If you don't want to read tons of shark books as I did, all of the above can be verified via the documentaries and commentaries on the Jaws 25th and 30th anniversary DVDs.

The Road Warrior
06-20-2013, 06:09 AM
I still don't get why Jaws is a high concept. "A shark starts eating people at a resort island."

Um... isn't that what sharks DO? Where's the irony, the twist?

And if it's all in the execution, then why does HC matter at all? Other than as a substitute for thought and craft?

I wouldn't overthink it Lauri, :) you're probably better off without any "firm grasp" on the finer points of the high-concept.

David Morrell, who wrote the novel First Blood has a pretty good take on it in his book on writing:
http://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Lifetime-Writing-Novelist-Looks/dp/1582972702

He points to its origins the 80s, Bev. Hills Cop, and the flms of Don Simpson in general, a la Top Gun, or anything that can be scribbled out on the back of a cereal packet and the audience immediately gets.

Morrell clearly sees it as the beginning of the dumbing down of film, but more interestingly for my money, was what he he said beyond that... something like this: "... once as a writer you begin to think in terms of the high-concept, it's very difficult indeed to get it out of your head".

Clearly he thought that it might screw with your head or even ruin you as a writer.

The Road Warrior
06-20-2013, 06:19 AM
Another thought, if you've ever got - in life, love, at the supermarket, out in your car, :) what you've got throughout a thread like this one -- universal confusion, then maybe, just maybe, there's something wrong with the topic?

Maybe it's not so much the posters, or even the failure of any high priest's attempt to communicate the essence or nub of the matter that's lacking -- but the idea itself that's not fully formed, inchoate, confusing?

Like Fowler in his dictionary of grammar advises when a sentence or some grammatical point seems unsolvable, on those occasions perhaps we should all just run away!

tuukka
06-20-2013, 06:22 AM
Still not getting it. Why is that high concept?

It's not simple. It's not obvious. And I don't see the irony or the "hook."

The problem is that you keep on trying to apply criterias to "high concept" that the definition simply doesn't have.

A high-concept should be simple, yes. But it's not supposed to be obvious, the best high-concepts in fact tend to have a surprising angle to them. A high-concept doesn't need to be ironic. The hook in here is that giant shark monster is going to destroy Vegas. Yes, it's an awful hook in this context, but it's decidedly high concept.

Here is another version:

"A scientists tries to save an almost-extinct race of fire ants via genetic engineering, but his creations grow into an army of 600ft monsters that endanger all life on earth".

Now it's ironic. The scientists means well, but due to his meddling with nature, it's now all the other species on the planet that are going to be extinct.

It's decidely high-concept. The hook is obvious, the fire ants are going to *destroy the entire world*.

It still sucks.

DavidK
06-20-2013, 07:18 AM
Genetical engineering mutates a shark into a 600ft sea-monster, which can also walk. As the monster attacks Las Vegas, a former sea-biologist with a gaming-addiction must find a way to beat the monster".

That is obviously high-concept, isn't it?

No, it definitely isn't.

DavidK
06-20-2013, 07:26 AM
"A scientists tries to save an almost-extinct race of fire ants via genetic engineering, but his creations grow into an army of 600ft monsters that endanger all life on earth".

It's decidely high-concept. The hook is obvious, the fire ants are going to *destroy the entire world*.

Okay, you definitely do not understand what 'high concept' means.

The Road Warrior's advice is good:
I wouldn't overthink it Lauri, you're probably better off without any "firm grasp" on the finer points of the high-concept.

Don't waste your time trying to think in terms of high concept, just think of interesting people in interesting stories. The industry will tell you if it's high concept.

sc111
06-20-2013, 08:54 AM
I'll try one more time to explain to you HC.

1) A story that can be succinctly summarised:
"a small-town holiday resort is terrorised by a killer shark".

2) Mass appeal:
Terror, suspense, horror, action + the primeval fear of being eaten alive. Who wouldn't be intrigued by that? Or that logline?

3) Obvious potential:
Ties in with 2). So many ideas spring from that setup that it would not be a head-scratching brainstorm. Plus sequels, novelisations, t-shirts etc. the imagery alone - a fin stalking a swimmer etc.



Number one is misleading. Just about any story can be summarized succinctly.

Oedipus Rex: A man learns he unknowingly killed his father and married his mother.

The New Testament: A man born to a virgin fulfills an ancient prohecy and dies to erase the sins of humankind.

The Little Engine That Could: A locomotive train uses positive thinking to attain its goal of reaching the top of a hill.

Yet we wouldn't say all of these are high concept, would we?

High concept is an idea which instantly conjures up set pieces and inherent conflict for the protag.

I think Jaws is less high concept and more a well-executed, "man against nature" story which has been the conceit for many a book and movie dating back to Moby Dick.

Jurassic Park, though also Man v. Nature, is much higher concept than Jaws, IMO

grumpywriter
06-20-2013, 10:25 AM
For me "high-concept" means an idea/concept that elicits a VISCERAL reaction from the majority of people who hear it. And by "visceral" I mean, "I absolutely MUST see how that plays out."

tuukka
06-20-2013, 10:31 AM
No, it definitely isn't.

It's basically Godzilla. Godzilla isn't high concept?

Regardless, considering how in-depth I've been with my arguments, you're not really returning the favor. "No, it definitely isn't" isn't a convincing argument.

I guess it's worth repeating that its awfully badly written on purpose.

tuukka
06-20-2013, 10:47 AM
For me "high-concept" means an idea/concept that elicits a VISCERAL reaction from the majority of people who hear it. And by "visceral" I mean, "I absolutely MUST see how that plays out."

It's almost impossible to have such a concept.

People have varied tastes. Now matter how great the high concept, the majority of people are not going to be interested.

Moreover, most scripts, and most high concepts, are targeted to a certain demographic. For example horror movies are generally done with limited budgets, and for a limited target audience. Great horror high concepts often don't have much appeal outside that target audience.

Joaneasley
06-20-2013, 11:15 AM
A high concept is not only a concept that can be defined briefly. That is necessary but not sufficient. It also has to be unique and have wide appeal.

The whole purpose of high concept is marketing, selling tickets. The industry wants to find ideas that immediately appeal to people -- that make them want to read your script and buy your script and make your movie, and that make people want to see the movie, all from just hearing the idea. Yes, your idea should also be executed well on the page, but if they don't read the title and the short description and immediately like it, they'll never find out if they like the execution, because if they have any choice in the matter, they won't bother to read it.

There's no necessity that Jaws have irony or a weird factor like a walking sea monster to be considered high concept. All that's necessary is that people heard the plot explained in a few words at the time the movie was new -- a shark attacking people at the beach -- and they thought it was cool and wanted to see it. And now, Jaws is THE movie about sharks attacking a beach. Any other script about sharks attacking a beach will be compared to Jaws. And a new one that is like Jaws only this time the shark has feet is NOT high concept because that addition, the feet, does not make the movie fresh and appealing to audiences. They don't want to come. So it's not high concept. People thought snakes on a plane would be high concept. Fan boys thought it sounded cool, and the industry bought into it, but from what I recall, there were more people like me who didn't want to watch snakes on a plane (Eeew) than who did.



I'm not sure why some people assume "high concept" automatically means the premise is good. Someone can have a high concept that sucks. It's still a "high concept". Let me show you:

"Genetical engineering mutates a shark into a 600ft sea-monster, which can also walk. As the monster attacks Las Vegas, a former sea-biologist with a gaming-addiction must find a way to beat the monster".

That is obviously high-concept, isn't it? It also sucks as a premise.

sc111
06-20-2013, 11:31 AM
Let's not forget, Jaws, the novel, was on the bestseller list for a very long time and sold several million copies the year before the film was released.

tuukka
06-20-2013, 11:58 AM
A high concept is not only a concept that can be defined briefly. That is necessary but not sufficient. It also has to be unique and have wide appeal.

The whole purpose of high concept is marketing, selling tickets. The industry wants to find ideas that immediately appeal to people -- that make them want to read your script and buy your script and make your movie, and that make people want to see the movie, all from just hearing the idea. Yes, your idea should also be executed well on the page, but if they don't read the title and the short description and immediately like it, they'll never find out if they like the execution, because if they have any choice in the matter, they won't bother to read it.

There's no necessity that Jaws have irony or a weird factor like a walking sea monster to be considered high concept. All that's necessary is that people heard the plot explained in a few words at the time the movie was new -- a shark attacking people at the beach -- and they thought it was cool and wanted to see it. And now, Jaws is THE movie about sharks attacking a beach. Any other script about sharks attacking a beach will be compared to Jaws. And a new one that is like Jaws only this time the shark has feet is NOT high concept because that addition, the feet, does not make the movie fresh and appealing to audiences. They don't want to come. So it's not high concept. People thought snakes on a plane would be high concept. Fan boys thought it sounded cool, and the industry bought into it, but from what I recall, there were more people like me who didn't want to watch snakes on a plane (Eeew) than who did.

Yes, most people thought that Snakes On A Plane was (ridicilously) high concept. Now you are saying that once the film was released, it suddenly wasn't high concept. Was the script high concept? Or not?

About novelty factor: When Godzilla 98 came out, Hollywood certainly considered it high concept. But it was in fact just another version of the Godzilla movies series, which had been going on for decades at at that point. And the film did open huge (It had the biggest opening weekend on 1998, and I recall it was the 3rd biggest opening of all time) and then it crashed and burnt due to terrible WOM. So was it high concept? Or not?

Many of you are making this way too convoluted. It's like high concept is some magic ingredient. A film premise can be high concept, then the exact same premise isn't high concept.

Moreover, like I've explained in this thread, some movies are explicitly targeted at a specific, limited audience. It's not particularly logical to claim that for example a splatter movie can *never* have a high concept, because the audience potential is by default limited. This has been true of many sub-genres, really. Over time, some genres increase popularity and become mainstream. So suddenly they can have high concepts, when in the past they couldn't?

None of that makes any sense, really.

It seems people want the concept of "high concept" to have so many arbitrary rules, changing all the time, that *nothing* is really high concept.

The discussion shouldn't really be about "What makes a high concept?". It should be about "What makes a GREAT high concept?".

Anyway, inspired by Snakes On A Plane, here are high concepts for big 4-quadrant hit movies:

Killer Condom (1996)

A carnivorous living condom is feasting on New Yorkers’ nether-regions.

Poultrygeist (2006)

Zombie chickens attack a fast food joint.

Troll 2 (1990)

Vegetarian monsters attempt to transform a family into plants so they can eat them.

Blown (2005)

A sex-doll becomes possessed by a voodoo priestess.

The Human Centipede (2010)

Mad scientist plans to stitch three people together…front to back.

The Gingerdead Man (2005)

A gingerbread man is possessed by the spirit of a murderer.

Jack Frost (1997)

A serial killer becomes a mutant snowman.

Mannequin (1987)

Man falls in love with a possessed shop-dummy.

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

Elvis and JFK fight a reanimated Egyptian mummy.

Monsturd (2008)

A serial killer is chemically mutated into a monster made of human waste.

Outlander (2008)

Vikings take on aliens.

The Wig (2005)

A cancer patient appropriates a haunted wig.

Joaneasley
06-20-2013, 12:03 PM
Good point. I forgot Jaws had been a book. But it's also true that the concept made a lot of people read the book.

Movies cost a lot to make, so Hollywood wants movies that people are going to want to see. What are you likely to want to see?

Perhaps a movie based on a book, website, toy, play, comic strip, etc., that you already love.

A sequel to a movie you love.

A movie with a director, writer and/or stars you love.

A movie that has great reviews and/or big awards.

A movie that may have none of the above, but you hear what it's about, and it you say to yourself, "Ha! I've got to see that."

That's where high concept comes in. To break in as an unknown, your best bets are to option a hit book and draw on that fame to get noticed, or to write an appealing high concept idea.

By the way, you could do some kind of variation of jaws and make it high concept, but it has to be different enough and original enough that people who liked Jaws would think of your movie as something entirely new and cool on its own. Feet wouldn't do it. Would mind control? Warrior sharks? I dunno, but it has to be different, cool, and decidedly not Jaws.






Let's not forget, Jaws, the novel, was on the bestseller list for a very long time and sold several million copies the year before the film was released.

SundownInRetreat
06-20-2013, 12:16 PM
Number one is misleading. Just about any story can be summarized succinctly.

Oedipus Rex: A man learns he unknowingly killed his father and married his mother.

The New Testament: A man born to a virgin fulfills an ancient prohecy and dies to erase the sins of humankind.

The Little Engine That Could: A locomotive train uses positive thinking to attain its goal of reaching the top of a hill.

Yet we wouldn't say all of these are high concept, would we?

High concept is an idea which instantly conjures up set pieces and inherent conflict for the protag.

I think Jaws is less high concept and more a well-executed, "man against nature" story which has been the conceit for many a book and movie dating back to Moby Dick.

Jurassic Park, though also Man v. Nature, is much higher concept than Jaws, IMO

SC111, think what you want but the criteria stated *IS* what makes High Concept. You have Google at your fingertips and you have the quotes I mentioned earlier. BTW, your loglines don't succinctly summarise. Oedipus learns he killed his father and married his mother - but what happens? New testament - a guy lives and dies but what actually happens? Where's the conflict? What's the 2nd act? Whereas Jaws it's clear what happens - ashark attacks! You could even tag extra on and still keep it short: "a police chief scared of the water must hunt a killer shark terrorising his seaside resort". You get the picture straight away, you see the mass appeal and the potential. More to the point, it isn't just the summary that counts. It has to go hand in hand with the other two criterion.

The misnomer is in the words "high" and "concept" - they don't actually mean anything groundbreaking, "out there", cutting-edge, never-seen-before, profound or head-****ing, even though the words seem to imply it.

And that's why you're off-base with seeing J Park as HC over Jaws (presumably because of the novel concept of reviving extinct species via DNA cloning). J Park, like Jaws, is HC because "a theme park suffers a power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur to run amok, terrorising the stranded tourists" summarises the plot and you see the mass appeal and potential. Just dinosaurs alone is HC as they spark fascination. The thought of T Rexes on the loose and people screaming gets the masses salivating even more. Similarly, time travel is another appetite whetter regardless of how it's implemented.

As for not thinking Jaws is HC but a well executed "man vs nature" but is an idea that goes back donkeys - that's what I said is the mass appeal! That you mention it's a time-honoured convention proves my point. It's an inherent desire to survive and from our caveman days it's been our darkest fear to be eaten alive. Rows of sharp teeth gets us scared. Because they represent danger. And our blood turns to ice whenever we see that triangular fin break the water. We are hard-wired to fear these things.

It wasn't down to gimmicks of the shark being huge or special that made Jaws HCl. Both Bait and The Reef were HC despite featuring relatively small and unspectacular sharks. Bait: "a freak tsunami traps shoppers at a coastal Australian supermarket inside the building - along with a 12-foot Great White Shark" tells us all we need to know, has mass appeal and tons of potential. Same goes for The Reef: the crew of a capsized sailboat swim for shore - and are hunted by a 14ft Great White shark". You don't need hi-tech and blow-your-mind concepts like Deep Blue Sea to be HC (though that too is HC) you just need to hit the three points of short summary, mass appeal and obvious potential. If you don't want to Google or listen to me then Joane says the exact same thing:

A high concept is not only a concept that can be defined briefly. That is necessary but not sufficient. It also has to be unique and have wide appeal.

The whole purpose of high concept is marketing, selling tickets. The industry wants to find ideas that immediately appeal to people -- that make them want to read your script and buy your script and make your movie, and that make people want to see the movie, all from just hearing the idea.

There's no necessity that Jaws have irony or a weird factor. All that's necessary is that people heard the plot explained in a few words at the time the movie was new -- a shark attacking people at the beach -- and they thought it was cool and wanted to see it.

Seriously, it's not about about an out-there, intellectual or jaw-dropping idea - and right now I feel like Cassandra so ciao.

grumpywriter
06-20-2013, 12:16 PM
It's almost impossible to have such a concept.

People have varied tastes. Now matter how great the high concept, the majority of people are not going to be interested.

Moreover, most scripts, and most high concepts, are targeted to a certain demographic. For example horror movies are generally done with limited budgets, and for a limited target audience. Great horror high concepts often don't have much appeal outside that target audience.

Not a bad point, Tukka. I'll rephrase to: ..."visceral reaction to the majority of people who would fall into the target audience for that type of movie."

jackso
06-20-2013, 08:41 PM
Hi I'm new to the forum, and thought this would be a good place to jump in.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't worry about this but as someone who has read through the slush pile, I would be concerned less about "high concept." As an agent said to me a low concept script becomes high concept the day after it sells.

From my own experience, I agree with what BitterScriptReader said when he did a deep dive into the stats at BlackList, premises are usually fine, it's just that amateur scripts are downhill from there.

It's probably more useful to think in terms of commercial v. non-commercial. Everyone can intuitively grasp which is which.

sc111
06-21-2013, 09:01 AM
SC111, think what you want but the criteria stated *IS* what makes High Concept. You have Google at your fingertips and you have the quotes I mentioned earlier.



I simply disagee that Jaws is high concept. Maybe a tall concept, but not "high" like Jurassic Park.

You're ignoring the zeitgeist of the novel's success and you're claiming the film succeeded because it was high concept. And, imo, you're shoe-horning Jaws into your theory when it doesn't actually fit. Since you suggest I google, perhaps you should google the backstory on the movie you use as an example to support your theory.

BTW: Jaws was released in the summer of 1975 -- was the film industry even talking "high concept" in 1975?

Jaws was such a suprise hit some say it brought attention to the potential market for summer blockbusters. In fact, one article pointed out that, back in 70s, some theaters in some markets closed for the summer because everyone was on vacation and studios lost money. The success of Jaws changed all that.

Benchley was a journalist who had never written a novel before. He proposed Jaws because of an article he'd read about a huge white shark caught off Long Island. In the late 60s and early 70s there had jump in (non-fatal) encounters with great whites on both the east and west coasts. This is what inspired him.

However, the novel was a surprise bestseller (no one in publishing thought it would sell as well as it did -- so there goes the idea they knew it was a high concept before they published it) and it went into paperback quickly. The book was such a surprise hit the movie was fast-tracked. The movie released the year following it's first printing. Even though they assumed it would attract the book's fans -- easy to market to a pre-existing fanbase -- the huge BO it garnered far exceeded their expectations.

There have been loads of information about the many problems during the Jaws shoot. The studio almost pulled the plug because it was going over budget. The most tense scenes -- with the barrels -- were last minute solutions because mechanical shark didn't work.

Jaws wasn't a result of some pre-existing marketing theory about high concept. Jaws tapped into something that neither the publishing industry or the film industry ever anticipated.

If the book had never been published, would a spec from the slushpile with your logline jump out at any executive as high concept? I doubt it.

I agree with jackso -- commercial V. non-commercial is a better frame of reference.

Geoff Alexander
06-21-2013, 12:02 PM
I simply disagee that Jaws is high concept. Maybe a tall concept, but not "high" like Jurassic Park.

You're ignoring the zeitgeist of the novel's success and you're claiming the film succeeded because it was high concept. And, imo, you're shoe-horning Jaws into your theory when it doesn't actually fit. Since you suggest I google, perhaps you should google the backstory on the movie you use as an example to support your theory.

BTW: Jaws was released in the summer of 1975 -- was the film industry even talking "high concept" in 1975?

Jaws was such a suprise hit some say it brought attention to the potential market for summer blockbusters. In fact, one article pointed out that, back in 70s, some theaters in some markets closed for the summer because everyone was on vacation and studios lost money. The success of Jaws changed all that.

Benchley was a journalist who had never written a novel before. He proposed Jaws because of an article he'd read about a huge white shark caught off Long Island. In the late 60s and early 70s there had jump in (non-fatal) encounters with great whites on both the east and west coasts. This is what inspired him.

However, the novel was a surprise bestseller (no one in publishing thought it would sell as well as it did -- so there goes the idea they knew it was a high concept before they published it) and it went into paperback quickly. The book was such a surprise hit the movie was fast-tracked. The movie released the year following it's first printing. Even though they assumed it would attract the book's fans -- easy to market to a pre-existing fanbase -- the huge BO it garnered far exceeded their expectations.

There have been loads of information about the many problems during the Jaws shoot. The studio almost pulled the plug because it was going over budget. The most tense scenes -- with the barrels -- were last minute solutions because mechanical shark didn't work.

Jaws wasn't a result of some pre-existing marketing theory about high concept. Jaws tapped into something that neither the publishing industry or the film industry ever anticipated.

If the book had never been published, would a spec from the slushpile with your logline jump out at any executive as high concept? I doubt it.

I agree with jackso -- commercial V. non-commercial is a better frame of reference.




A better frame of reference? "High Concept" is something that is commonly used as a descriptor in film making vernacular. I don't think that "commercial vs. non-commercial is terribly different, you run into the same issues in terms of trying to nail down and and define something that exists on a spectrum.

Personally, I think that Jaws is High Concept, because it is simple but effective and taps into something that is pretty fundamental in human experience, i.e., the monster under the bed. The thing is, the success of any concept is contingent upon execution. You can have a high concept movie like Jaws that is a success because it is well executed and fully expresses and explores the concept, or you can have a high concept picture which flops, because it's badly executed. High Concept is no guarantee of success, but it is a better starting point than a story without an idea at its core.

grumpywriter
06-21-2013, 12:14 PM
You also have to look at the concept of JAWS in the context of when it came out. Not long after a series of shark attacks off a popular beach in New Jersey (or was it Long Island?) and, as far as I know, BEFORE any movie had addressed most people's visceral fear of sharks. For me, that's what makes it "high concept" -- (i.e. something you just HAVE to go see).

JeffLowell
06-21-2013, 12:29 PM
Personally, I think that Jaws is High Concept, because it is simple but effective and taps into something that is pretty fundamental in human experience, i.e., the monster under the bed.

Agree, and also - there'd been shark attacks before, but that story was "what if a monstrously large shark targeted one area?" The shark with a grudge element is what made it high concept, IMO.

sc111
06-21-2013, 01:01 PM
A better frame of reference? "High Concept" is something that is commonly used as a descriptor in film making vernacular. I don't think that "commercial vs. non-commercial is terribly different, you run into the same issues in terms of trying to nail down and and define something that exists on a spectrum.

Personally, I think that Jaws is High Concept, because it is simple but effective and taps into something that is pretty fundamental in human experience, i.e., the monster under the bed. The thing is, the success of any concept is contingent upon execution. You can have a high concept movie like Jaws that is a success because it is well executed and fully expresses and explores the concept, or you can have a high concept picture which flops, because it's badly executed. High Concept is no guarantee of success, but it is a better starting point than a story without an idea at its core.

Since you're on the producing side of the biz, perhaps you would know -- was the industry using the term, high concept, 40 years ago? Or, was it a term that evolved after analyzing the mega-success of films like Jaws and trying to duplicate those successes?

Geoff Alexander
06-21-2013, 01:19 PM
Since you're on the producing side of the biz, perhaps you would know -- was the industry using the term, high concept, 40 years ago? Or, was it a term that evolved after analyzing the mega-success of films like Jaws and trying to duplicate those successes?

I'm interested in film history, but I'm not a film historian, so take my answer as less than definitive. I think it's generally accepted that the term "High Concept" came in response to Star Wars and Jaws. It was developed alongside a general evolution away from an independent film style that had changed the landscape in Hollywood from about 1967-1974 (the Robert Evans period at Paramount leading the way) towards an increased emphasis on achieving blockbuster status for studio films, the possibilities of which were made clear by Jaws being the first 100m Box Office film.

sc111
06-21-2013, 01:45 PM
I'm interested in film history, but I'm not a film historian, so take my answer as less than definitive. I think it's generally accepted that the term "High Concept" came in response to Star Wars and Jaws. It was developed alongside a general evolution away from an independent film style that had changed the landscape in Hollywood from about 1967-1974 (the Robert Evans period at Paramount leading the way) towards an increased emphasis on achieving blockbuster status for studio films, the possibilities of which were made clear by Jaws being the first 100m Box Office film.


Well, my hunch was the frenzied quest for high concept tent poles came after Jaws for the reason in your closing sentence. But, as you said earlier, a high concept doesn't guarantee commercial success. Yet, it seems that's where all the best are placed, lately.

The Road Warrior
06-21-2013, 02:29 PM
Has anybody died yet? No. Good. Keep going folks.

SirByron
06-21-2013, 02:35 PM
ecause it is simple but effective and taps into something that is pretty fundamental in human experience, i.e., the monster under the bed.

That is an Archetype, not "High Concept".

The best kind of "High Concept" involves playing around with (universal) Archetypes.

Geoff Alexander
06-21-2013, 02:48 PM
That is an Archetype, not "High Concept".

The best kind of "High Concept" involves playing around with (universal) Archetypes.

No, what you quote is not an "Archetype". It's immediately clear to me that we probably don't speak the same language, which is perfectly fine.

sc111
06-21-2013, 04:23 PM
I was thinking about 'After Earth,' a big budget high concept. Yet, there are comments here on DD and on other sites where a number of people outright refuse to see it out of a resentment of Smith-family nepotism.

Who knew casting Will Smith's son would trigger that response? Market analysis and number crunching can't predict this sort of thing.

Joaneasley
06-21-2013, 05:13 PM
The thing is, tuukka, people try to come up with ideas they think are high concept -- i.e. cool enough to attract industry people to make the film
plus a large audience to buy tickets.

I agree that most people thought Snakes on a Plane was, as you say, "ridiculously high concept" -- but the accent is on ridiculous. They thought other people would hear that and maybe think it's cool. But did many people hear "Snakes on a Plane" and think, "Wow! I have to see that?" or did more people hear it and think, 'EEW?" If more people heard it and thought "Eew" and wanted no part of going, then, IMHO, it was a failed attempt at high concept, because mass appeal is one of the tests of high concept. You try out your idea on a bunch of people, and you see if they say "Eew," or say nothing, or light up and say, "I wanna see that!"

Who says the industry thought Godzilla 98 was high concept? It wasn't a new or unique idea, it was a perennial old idea, which is something else Hollywood does (another Wizard of Oz, anyone? Another Cinderella?) These things keep coming back because they are familiar mental real estate, tried and true, old faithful, maybe with a hot young star this time, but not a new and fresh concept that it make it high concept. If the first Jaws is high concept in its day, copycats are not going to be called high concept. Same with the first Godzilla and all its copycats.

High concept has to be all of these things: a unique, fresh idea that really appeals to many people when they hear it described briefly. Godzilla flunks the new, fresh and unique test. Snakes on a Plane flunks the "many people really want to see it" test. My test is results-based.



Yes, most people thought that Snakes On A Plane was (ridicilously) high concept. Now you are saying that once the film was released, it suddenly wasn't high concept. Was the script high concept? Or not?

About novelty factor: When Godzilla 98 came out, Hollywood certainly considered it high concept. But it was in fact just another version of the Godzilla movies series, which had been going on for decades at at that point. And the film did open huge (It had the biggest opening weekend on 1998, and I recall it was the 3rd biggest opening of all time) and then it crashed and burnt due to terrible WOM. So was it high concept? Or not?

Many of you are making this way too convoluted. It's like high concept is some magic ingredient. A film premise can be high concept, then the exact same premise isn't high concept.
.

mikejc
06-21-2013, 06:31 PM
Maybe it is best to look at it from a producer's viewpoint, or better yet, the person at the studio who is responsible, signed off, for the film, if made.

What are you ideally looking for?

A concept which instantly generates interest in the listener in only a few words. You immediately know what it's about and want to see it. And, the listener is certain it would appeal to a wide audience. Stands out from the crowd with some unique element.

Also, meaning, easy for them to sell to someone else.

However, again to the original point of the thread, it isn't High concept which rarely translates into satisfying, enduring movies--it is, rather, low execution.

Jim Mercurio
06-22-2013, 01:03 AM
One thing that seems to be missing here is the fact that even if an intermediate writer comes up with an amazing high-concept story that satisfies everyone's definitions, there is still the bigger and harder obstacle of executing it well. That's where the fun and appeal is. Leslie Dixon has made a ton of money being someone who can exploit the crap out of a concept.

If you gave the logline for Groundhog's Day to 10 amateur writers to write, probably none of the resulting screenplays would be close to being makeable. I have read 30 scripts with a similar premise and what bogs it down is the repetition and not finding a way to keep things progressing and escalating.

Forget the technical definition. Ask yourself if you concept lends itself to a visual telling? And can you keep that simple concept AND ONLY that simple concept going for 100 pages? (And do you want to?) The execution of My Best Friend's Wedding trumped the execution of Made of Honor. Eddie Murphy thought he could take a simple Nutty Professor-like premise and recreate its success. Ahem, Norbert. Yikes.

I talk about concept for an hour or so in my workshops and classes. Once you nail down the handful of premises or "rules" for your concept (what I call a concept logline), ALL of the humor has to come out of that. In fact, you can reverse-engineer a set-piece (or any good) scene from the movie and pretty much define the concept. One of the ways execution is bad in amateur's high concept scripts is that the writer is undisciplined and will have scenes that don't relate to that concept. Theoretically, what they are doing is (1)adding a premise that is only used once in the movie or (2) not using enough of the premise at the same time.

An example of (1) is in Liar Liar, they NEED to add the overall premise "He can't ask a question if he knows the answer will be a lie." As much as I don't like having a piece of the concept used for only one scene, it was a necessity to get through the actual trying of the case. An example of (2) would be to have a scene in Freaky Friday where the mother and daughter -- after knowing about the switch -- are alone in a room somewhere having a heart-to-heart about their feelings and relationship. We want to get to those ideas but it has to be filtered through the premise. Even if the scene is worthy of an Oscar in a low-concept drama, in FF, it wouldn't belong.

(Note: I added the rest hours later...)

More about execution:
Check out this scene from the original Superman movie that is really great at exploiting concept. All of is surprises and twists come from a small set of premises or conceits.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVBfFSYJVHs

And this next clip is an excerpt from my DVD set. (I personally extracted it, so format might be a bit off). It discusses how that short scene above can be used to reverse-engineer a concept logline, which is just a logline that is aimed at capturing the handful of key premises/conceits from which everything in your story will be derived. A scene that exploits concept will draw from the elements in the CL and only from there. And if it does, then -- back to the smashable idea -- if you see just the one scene, you should understand almost all of a given story or movie's premise.

http://youtu.be/fLr89fI1cCw

sc111
06-22-2013, 10:31 AM
It discusses how that short scene above can be used to reverse-engineer a concept logline, which is just a logline that is aimed at capturing the handful of key premises/conceits from which everything in your story will be derived.


You're talking about a short scene from Superman, right? An iconic character who made his first appearance in comic books in 1938. Read by kids, generation after generation, ever since. A character that has in many ways become a uniquely American mythical "savior", in a red-white-blue costume, embedded in our social consciousness.

Question -- do you think this long-time, culture hero has anything to do with the success of Superman movies? Or, is it all concept executed by the numbers?

I have no problem with reverse engineering successful films as a learning tool for screenwriters.

However, when we look too closely under the hood at the moving parts it's too tempting to identify this or that thingy (like high concept) and think, "Eureka! I've found the secret to writing a blockbuster -- all I have to do is imitate the formula."

tuukka
06-22-2013, 02:55 PM
Snakes on a Plane flunks the "many people really want to see it" test. My test is results-based.

The problem with this results-based approach is simple: It means that no new script is high concept. Because a script retrospectively becomes high concept, only if a film is made, and the film is popular.

In your analysis, if people think that a script is high concept, but it eventually fails to attract an audience, then it *wasn't* actually high concept.

The problem is that you can't know whether a film is popular, before it's out there. Thus, no script is high concept. Only a finished film can be high concept. If it's successful.

I disagree, of course. I find your analysis very impractical from a screenwriting of filmmaking point of view.

Richmond Weems
06-22-2013, 08:26 PM
I'm just looking for a "good" concept, let alone a "high" concept.

SirByron
06-24-2013, 01:26 PM
I'm just looking for a "good" concept, let alone a "high" concept.

I have been working a framework for churning out High Concept ideas.

See this
http://365loglines.tumblr.com/

(I am not this guy)

Do this long enough and you'll blow your own mind in a way and learn things that ... will be itself is its own reward.

Richmond Weems
07-18-2013, 07:38 PM
Ugh. Heaven forbid Pauline Kael actually enjoy a movie just for sheer entertainment.

Maybe she's the long lost mother of Biohazard?

mikejc
07-19-2013, 06:22 PM
This is an article written by someone who never had even a dime at risk in a movie.

When she, or a similar writer today, puts some money into a movie and still feels that movies that can't be marketed are a great thing, then they might be worth listening to.

And, more than one investment-- anyone can put money into something with high ideals once--and lose.

When you've got nothing to lose, it's easy to dictate how it ought to be.

mikejc
07-20-2013, 10:31 AM
The market is pretty big--tent poles, indie's, foreign, etc. If you have something really great, truly great, you can get it done one way of the other.

It is kind of like the high school viewpoint on venture capital--someone gives you a bunch of money and you get rich. The money always comes with many conditions, tight oversight and outside opinions.

Soderbergh can do whatever he wants if he is spending his money. If he is so convinced he is right, he ought to fund the movie he thinks ought to be made and see if it makes money--which translates to "we have more now to make more films."

Besides, cinema and movies are two different things.

mikejc
07-20-2013, 01:02 PM
You'd need to study it to get the exact blame, or the order of blame.

My guess is, 90% of the time, the blame is a poorly made movie no matter the concept. As most here know, a movie involves a lot of people and a lot of factors. The fact any turn out great is amazing by itself.

Example The Lone Ranger was a pretty good concept and could have yielded a great movie (not cinema). But, a number of flubs later, none related to concept, and it's a turkey.

I think the "satisfaction" of a film comes completely from the little things and the performances--not the concept.

So, per the title of the thread, high concept or low concept have almost nothing to do with how satisfying a film is. The dialogue, how it's delivered, the parts of the story, the emotions, the timing etc., etc. are what makes for satisfaction.

DavidK
07-20-2013, 07:34 PM
I think the "satisfaction" of a film comes completely from the little things and the performances--not the concept.

So, per the title of the thread, high concept or low concept have almost nothing to do with how satisfying a film is. The dialogue, how it's delivered, the parts of the story, the emotions, the timing etc., etc. are what makes for satisfaction.

I agree. While the term 'high concept' has been widely interpreted and misinterpreted in this thread, the fact remains that fundamentally all it does is make the idea easy to generate interest in and sell. Apart from that, a high concept movie is no different from any other and it's a whole package of elements in the production and execution that determine whether or not it will be a successful movie. Plenty of directors go into the editing suite under the illusion they have a good film in the making.

Craig Mazin
07-23-2013, 08:57 AM
Is this thread for real?

Who cares?

Calculate less.

Write what you truly want to write.

The rest is Asperger Salad.

LauriD
07-23-2013, 09:18 AM
Is this thread for real?

Who cares?

Calculate less.

Write what you truly want to write.



Craig -- we care because we want to get reps, and we want reps to send out our specs, and we want to get paid for what we write.

And reps have a long "do not write" list:

http://coverageink.blogspot.co.il/2011/05/agents-not-sheet.html

So if what we want to write is on that list, according to these reps we're wasting our time in terms of marketability. Isn't that something we should be aware of?

Would any rep here on DD tell a client "write what you love" rather than telling a client to come up with a commercial ("high") concept before starting a script? Do you know of any reps who tell their clients that? Or do reps tell their clients (in essence), "write something I can sell"?

I understand it may be different when you already have a track record and a string of hits. But most of us aren't quite there... yet. :)

Manchester
07-23-2013, 09:21 AM
Craig -- we care because we want to get reps, and we want reps to send out our specs, and we want to get paid for what we write.

And reps have a long "do not write" list:

http://coverageink.blogspot.co.il/2011/05/agents-not-sheet.html

So if what we want to write is on that list, according to these reps we're wasting our time in terms of marketability. Isn't that something we should be aware of?

Would any rep here on DD tell a client "write what you love" rather than telling a client to come up with a commercial ("high") concept before starting a script? Do you know of any reps who tell their clients that? Or do reps tell their clients (in essence), "write something I can sell"?

I understand it may be different when you already have a track record and a string of hits. But most of us aren't quite there... yet. :)
Okay. Except, that's not what this thread is about.

LauriD
07-23-2013, 09:30 AM
Okay. Except, that's not what this thread is about.

Since when has that ever stopped anyone from posting a comment? ;)

UpandComing
07-23-2013, 09:47 AM
Craig -- we care because we want to get reps, and we want reps to send out our specs, and we want to get paid for what we write.

And reps have a long "do not write" list:

http://coverageink.blogspot.co.il/2011/05/agents-not-sheet.html


Interesting article. Thanks for posting!!

Craig Mazin
07-23-2013, 09:52 AM
No offense to Nicole or Julian or any of the other agents on that list, but they're all full of shiit.

I said no offense, right? :)

Agents are absolutely useless when it comes to advice on "what's hot," because they just FOLLOW what's hot.

Which changes.

If you write a great script, you will attract interest. Period, the end.

The rest is nonsense.

That aside, this particular thread... the fetishizing analysis and definition of "high concept"... is a particularly masturbatory endeavor.

I mean... if you want to be a screenwriter, that is.

If you want to teach a screenwriting class at your local community college, I would imagine this is very relevant.

Manchester
07-23-2013, 10:03 AM
That aside, this particular thread... the fetishizing analysis and definition of "high concept"... is a particularly masturbatory endeavor.

You anti-onanite bastard!

LauriD
07-23-2013, 10:06 AM
No offense to Nicole or Julian or any of the other agents on that list, but they're all full of shiit.

I said no offense, right? :)

Agents are absolutely useless when it comes to advice on "what's hot," because they just FOLLOW what's hot.

Which changes.

If you write a great script, you will attract interest. Period, the end.

The rest is nonsense.



But those !@#-filled individuals are the ones who determine which scripts get read. They're the gatekeepers, so their perceptions matter.

Scripts are pitched based on their concepts. If reps don't like the concepts they're not going to read the scripts, no matter how "great" they may be.

And it sounds like reps aren't going to send out even "great" scripts if they don't think the concepts are marketable.

So if one can't get past the gatekeepers, how does one attract interest with a "great" script if the genre is on the "do not write" list or the concept is otherwise not "high"?

grumpywriter
07-23-2013, 10:25 AM
Craig is right. Write scripts. Write what you're passionate about. Write movies that have themes that resonate with the deepest levels of your being. FORGET EVERYTHING ELSE because it's all too shifty and subjective. JUST. WRITE. (And then send it out...if you want...)

LauriD
07-23-2013, 10:38 AM
JUST. WRITE. (And then send it out...if you want...)

So we should write for self-gratification? ;)

I'd rather do it for money.

grumpywriter
07-23-2013, 11:03 AM
So we should write for self-gratification? ;)

I'd rather do it for money.

I think it's kind of... paradoxical? Is that the word? I think that if you do it just for the money, and you're just focused on that as your final goal, in all likelihood you won't produce anything that someone in the industry is going to want to embrace, and, hence, you won't make any money. But if you write for self-gratification or for yourself or for fun or enjoyment or however you want to phrase it, you WILL eventually end up writing something that someone will want to champion, and then, you will make money. :)

docgonzo
07-23-2013, 11:29 AM
FWIW, three of those agents/managers are chiefly TV Lit. Actually, Nicole is now a series development exec at FX.

LauriD
07-23-2013, 11:42 AM
I think it's kind of... paradoxical? Is that the word? I think that if you do it just for the money, and you're just focused on that as your final goal, in all likelihood you won't produce anything that someone in the industry is going to want to embrace, and, hence, you won't make any money. But if you write for self-gratification or for yourself or for fun or enjoyment or however you want to phrase it, you WILL eventually end up writing something that someone will want to champion, and then, you will make money. :)

I didn't say JUST for the money.

But I think people are deluding themselves if they ignore the realities of the marketplace. You can write something good that's a hard sell, or write something that's a slightly easier sell.

I LIKE to write historical action adventure, and I've won awards for it and had some top producers attached -- so yeah, I had some champions for a while. Doesn't mean the script got sold. I got that 9 on the BL for one of the scripts, and when nothing happened, not even an email, people said (in effect), "What did you expect? Who's gonna buy a female-lead western?"

My last two scripts have been contemporary modest-budget thrillers, and my next one will probably be too.

harbak
07-23-2013, 12:57 PM
http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp02.Strange.Attractor.html

This is the best quick explanation of what a writer should think about high concept that I have seen. Thanks to Ted and Terry. Their columns are the best I've ever read on the perspective of a spec writer.

Craig Mazin
07-23-2013, 05:36 PM
LauriD:

I write screenplays for money. Agents don't.

I might know what I'm talking about.

You particularly seem susceptible to calculation... that was you on the Black List Calculation Thread, right?

Stop. Breathe. Write. You have no control over anything but the best script you can write. That's it.

Craig Mazin
07-23-2013, 05:38 PM
Also, despite your obsession with Black List numerology, if you're supposed to write historical action adventure, then write it.

It's not fair, but I'm sure that a life of writing stuff you don't like or want to write is no kind of life at all.

grumpywriter
07-23-2013, 05:52 PM
I didn't say JUST for the money.

But I think people are deluding themselves if they ignore the realities of the marketplace. You can write something good that's a hard sell, or write something that's a slightly easier sell.

I LIKE to write historical action adventure, and I've won awards for it and had some top producers attached -- so yeah, I had some champions for a while. Doesn't mean the script got sold. I got that 9 on the BL for one of the scripts, and when nothing happened, not even an email, people said (in effect), "What did you expect? Who's gonna buy a female-lead western?"

My last two scripts have been contemporary modest-budget thrillers, and my next one will probably be too.

If you got some top producers attached well then... there you go... You wrote what you love, and it garnered the interest of industry execs who thought they could make some money from it. It got you attention. It got you a 9. It opened doors. Call it a success and move on to the next script.

figment
07-23-2013, 06:01 PM
It's not fair, but I'm sure that a life of writing stuff you don't like or want to write is no kind of life at all.

Why is it always boiled down to writing what you love or writing what you hate?

You had great success writing spoof movies. Then, when that ride was over, you switched to male-dominated R rated comedy. Did you hate one and love the other? Probably not.

You reconciled yourself to the MARKETPLACE.

I'm guessing at some point you said, hey, R rated comedies are getting made, I can write that. Maybe I can get a meeting for one...

Why is simply noting what's getting made or what type of specs actually sell mean you are selling out? It's not calculating as much as it is simple commonsense.

sc111
07-23-2013, 06:38 PM
Craig -- we care because we want to get reps, and we want reps to send out our specs, and we want to get paid for what we write.

And reps have a long "do not write" list:

http://coverageink.blogspot.co.il/2011/05/agents-not-sheet.html

So if what we want to write is on that list, according to these reps we're wasting our time in terms of marketability. Isn't that something we should be aware of?

Would any rep here on DD tell a client "write what you love" rather than telling a client to come up with a commercial ("high") concept before starting a script? Do you know of any reps who tell their clients that? Or do reps tell their clients (in essence), "write something I can sell"?

I understand it may be different when you already have a track record and a string of hits. But most of us aren't quite there... yet. :)

I read the article. They eliminated virtually every genre except male driven romcoms and kids' adventure movies. Huh? What's left?

Craig Mazin
07-23-2013, 07:10 PM
Why is it always boiled down to writing what you love or writing what you hate?

You had great success writing spoof movies. Then, when that ride was over, you switched to male-dominated R rated comedy. Did you hate one and love the other? Probably not.

You reconciled yourself to the MARKETPLACE.

I'm guessing at some point you said, hey, R rated comedies are getting made, I can write that. Maybe I can get a meeting for one...

Why is simply noting what's getting made or what type of specs actually sell mean you are selling out? It's not calculating as much as it is simple commonsense.

There's really no percentage in debating with me about why *I* did things, ya know?

I'm gonna win every time.

I love spoof movies. The first scripts I ever wrote as a kid were spoof scripts.

I love rated R comedies. The second movie I had produced, allllll the way back in 1998, was a rated R comedy.

In short, you do not know of what you speak.

Also, Identity Thief is not male-dominated rated R comedy.

Basically your post got everything wrong, so in that regard, it was perfect.

My concern isn't about "selling out." I don't care about that.

My concern is that any of you think for a second that you or agents or the world knows what the market "wants."

The market certainly wasn't asking for Juno.

The market certainly wasn't asking for The Beaver.

The market is reactive. Yes, it reacts to what was just a hit movie.

It also reacts to a great script.

If you feel like chasing what's hot, all I can promise you is this: you can get in line behind a hundred other writers who are more qualified on paper than you. Who have agents and a track record.

Because there are plenty of pros playing the Chase Game too.

They shouldn't.

Take my advice, or don't. Doesn't change my life one bit.

Craig Mazin
07-23-2013, 07:17 PM
I read the article. They eliminated virtually every genre except male driven romcoms and kids' adventure movies. Huh? What's left?

Precisely. Please don't think agents know what the business wants. The second Bill Murray decides he wants to act in St. Vincent de Van Nuys, then that's what the business wants.

And that's true more than ever. It was always a business that reacted in part to talent. Now it's 90% reactive to talent. If you have a script, a director and a star, you're probably going to have a movie. Studios don't really want to cook their own food anymore. They want take-out.

mikejc
07-23-2013, 07:45 PM
Precisely. Please don't think agents know what the business wants. The second Bill Murray decides he wants to act in St. Vincent de Van Nuys, then that's what the business wants.

And that's true more than ever. It was always a business that reacted in part to talent. Now it's 90% reactive to talent. If you have a script, a director and a star, you're probably going to have a movie. Studios don't really want to cook their own food anymore. They want take-out.


I agree completely. I am also guessing that a number of those scripts you wrote during the period covered were assignments and not spec. Which would be a different animal.

It is hard to imagine sitting down to write a spec that was not a subject you loved. That would be dreary in the extreme.

sc111
07-23-2013, 07:53 PM
Precisely. Please don't think agents know what the business wants. The second Bill Murray decides he wants to act in St. Vincent de Van Nuys, then that's what the business wants.

And that's true more than ever. It was always a business that reacted in part to talent. Now it's 90% reactive to talent. If you have a script, a director and a star, you're probably going to have a movie. Studios don't really want to cook their own food anymore. They want take-out.

Now if only Lauri can find a blog listing the types of scripts talent wants. (<joking Lauri>)

Back when I was trying a lot harder than I am now, it became clear to me the scripts which received the best response had a piece of me in them. Personal stuff. Bittersweet stuff. "Calculate less" stuff. Because this resonates with readers.

Those scripts which I left-brained, calculated for the market, though written with the same skill level, did not resonate. There was something mechanical about them. Self conscious. Even I could see the difference.

When we write what we love, layering in brutal honesty, a certain alchemy is at play. And everyone gets it. High concept or low.

Terrance Mulloy
07-23-2013, 10:31 PM
In regards to that link Lauri posted about 'Agent's NOT sheet', I would agree with the general consensus about some of those genres. The fact is they are hard sells - particularly from unknowns writing on spec. You've only got to look at the tracking boards to see that most, if not all specs that go out with said genres rarely ever get any traction. Surely the people who sell scripts for a living would have some indication of what buyers respond to. Maybe not. All I know is that I'm repped by one of the people in that article and he would probably think I was nuts if I wrote an epic space fantasy script on spec and expected it to sell. ;)

That said, S. Craig Zahler made a name for himself writing gritty, R-rated westerns. Sure, none have been actually made yet, (although I think he has one in production that he's directing), and not everyone can write them as good as he does, but my point is - it got him noticed. Writing violent, brutal westerns, which he obviously loves, got him in the game (The Brigands of Rattleborge anyone?) So if your passion is writing biblical action movies, or historical dramas, or zombie westerns, then you should probably just focus on that.

It's a tough scenario to juggle. Write what you are passionate about, even though the chances of it ever being made are slim, or continue to chase the 'high concept' driven market, which is nothing more than a moving target where the goal posts are constantly shifting.

But as Craig said - this is something none of us have any control over. The only thing we can control is what we write, and how well we write it. I still like the think that if you write a great script, no matter what the genre, it will open doors for you.

Rantanplan
07-23-2013, 10:44 PM
It's not either or. Write what you're passionate about, but don't be an idiot as to what kind of films Big Hollywood actually wants to produce. Many scripts are better served by indie outfits, and certain scripts might have to wait until you're famous to be made. Or until you prove yourself as a Sundance winning writer-director.

Hasn't that sort of always been the case? I seem to remember that it took freaking *Robert Duvall* 13 years to get his passion project made, THE APOSTLE. Mel had to finance THE PASSION... on his own (pretty good investment, as it turns out). Even when you're HW royalty certain films will be considered too risky for studios. Even **Spielberg** had to sweat to get LINCOLN into theaters (double exclamation points Batman!!). PLATOON was an independent flick that went down in film history and won a bunch of stuff.

Just because you're passionate about something doesn't mean HW is going to give a flying crap, duh. I think the goal is to make both sides happy --write something they can market that doesn't make you hurl every time you look at yourself in the mirror :):)

Or go the DIY way. Become a Tarantino or Rodriguez or Linklater or Smith or whoever else.

LauriD
07-24-2013, 01:54 AM
I would agree with the general consensus about some of those genres. The fact is they are hard sells - particularly from unknowns writing on spec. You've only got to look at the tracking boards to see that most, if not all specs that go out with said genres rarely ever get any traction. Surely the people who sell scripts for a living would have some indication of what buyers respond to. .

And speaking of tracking boards, look at the latest spec sales figures from Scoggins:


https://specscout.com/scogginsreport?utm_source=Scoggins+Report+Main+Mai ling+List&utm_campaign=55cfed6e35-July_2013_Spec_Market_Scorecard7_23_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_92b17ed7f5-55cfed6e35-26225097

To date in 2013, the 65 spec sales have been:

thrillers - 29%
action-adventure - 23%
science fiction - 18%
comedy - 11%
drama - 8%
western - 2% (one script)

sc111
07-24-2013, 08:53 AM
I LIKE to write historical action adventure, and I've won awards for it and had some top producers attached -- so yeah, I had some champions for a while. Doesn't mean the script got sold. I got that 9 on the BL for one of the scripts, and when nothing happened, not even an email, people said (in effect), "What did you expect? Who's gonna buy a female-lead western?"

My last two scripts have been contemporary modest-budget thrillers, and my next one will probably be too.

When you posted the above, I was wondering why you jumped from historical action-adventure to modest-budget thrillers. They're so vastly different. Now I see why:

To date in 2013, the 65 spec sales have been:

thrillers - 29%
action-adventure - 23%
science fiction - 18%
comedy - 11%
drama - 8%
western - 2% (one script)

Maybe you're far more talented than I but when I switched genres it took me a while to get up to speed. I felt like I was starting from scratch again. And I'm still not there. But I didn't switch based on numbers -- I felt I had other stories to tell.

Every genre has aspects unique to itself. And it takes time to build skills in those genre-specific areas. To underestimate this fact is a mistake, in my opinion.

I don't think it's a good idea to approach screenwriting like the stock market. Suddenly this "stock" appears to be rising so you put your money there to get in on the ground floor.

IMO, the "I can write that genre" attitude reflects a lack of understanding of what makes a great script in any genre stand out.

And considering there's been only 65 specs sold so far this year, out of thousands, it had better stand out.

LauriD
07-24-2013, 09:52 AM
When you posted the above, I was wondering why you jumped from historical action-adventure to modest-budget thrillers. They're so vastly different. Now I see why:



Maybe you're far more talented than I but when I switched genres it took me a while to get up to speed. I felt like I was starting from scratch again. And I'm still not there. But I didn't switch based on numbers -- I felt I had other stories to tell.

Every genre has aspects unique to itself. And it takes time to build skills in those genre-specific areas. To underestimate this fact is a mistake, in my opinion.

I don't think it's a good idea to approach screenwriting like the stock market. Suddenly this "stock" appears to be rising so you put your money there to get in on the ground floor.

IMO, the "I can write that genre" attitude reflects a lack of understanding of what makes a great script in any genre stand out.

And considering there's been only 65 specs sold so far this year, out of thousands, it had better stand out.

I don't think I (or anyone) can write any genre. For example, I think I'd be lousy at girly rom-com or R-rated comedy or a Smurf movie or gangsters or a slasher flick, for example.

I agree it takes time to build skills. I've written 3 modest-budget contemporary thrillers now, and the latest one is the best (IMHO).

I don't think it's a good idea to write ONLY for love or ONLY for money. I think the first script should be a love child -- something you can put your heart and soul into, without regard to marketability. If it's good, you may have what it takes. If (after many drafts, feedback, rinse, repeat) it still sucks, it's not going to get any better when you're doing it for the money.

But after that, I think it makes sense to write both passion projects and ones with an eye on the market. And I think anyone with a rep is going to be told to write what the market wants, and it ain't historical epics (or westerns).

That's not to say write a genre/story you hate. I don't see how anyone could do well at that.

Though not being any kind of a zombie movie fan, I surprised myself by winning a rewrite gig for a zombie movie.... So you can fall in love with a story even if you aren't initially in love with a genre.

sc111
07-24-2013, 11:06 AM
I don't think I (or anyone) can write any genre. For example, I think I'd be lousy at girly rom-com or R-rated comedy or a Smurf movie or gangsters or a slasher flick, for example.

I agree it takes time to build skills. I've written 3 modest-budget contemporary thrillers now, and the latest one is the best (IMHO).

I don't think it's a good idea to write ONLY for love or ONLY for money. I think the first script should be a love child -- something you can put your heart and soul into, without regard to marketability. If it's good, you may have what it takes. If (after many drafts, feedback, rinse, repeat) it still sucks, it's not going to get any better when you're doing it for the money.

But after that, I think it makes sense to write both passion projects and ones with an eye on the market. And I think anyone with a rep is going to be told to write what the market wants, and it ain't historical epics (or westerns).

That's not to say write a genre/story you hate. I don't see how anyone could do well at that.

Though not being any kind of a zombie movie fan, I surprised myself by winning a rewrite gig for a zombie movie.... So you can fall in love with a story even if you aren't initially in love with a genre.

You mention marketability a lot in terms of selling. But the first stage of marketing for a newbie is positioning ourselves above every other spec going wide. Specs written by pros and newbies alike.

This is the first market we have to conquer.

We have to convince every professional -- reps, producers, studio readers -- no one else on earth could have written this particular script. There has to be a spark in the writing that makes them sit up and take notice. That's a tall order because these readers have seen it all. It takes a lot to impress them.

It doesn't matter if our thriller is just as good as the one written by a pro, in such a highly competitive field, established pros will always have the edge over a newbie. Experience gets extra points.

As a newbie, we're an unknown quantity riddled with risk. The only way to mitigate that perceived risk is to infuse our writing with enough spark to blow away all other specs, pro and newbie alike.

Speaking for myself, alone, I know the only way I can consistently write at the top of my game is when I'm writing something I love.