So....what's a good concept?

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  • #16
    Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
    Yeah, something like the new Mel Gibson movie, Fatman. Big idea... but boy oh boy is it gonna be tough to pull off. Such a tiny target. I'm curious.
    I remember reading up on "Fatman" a while back. Seems like the type of dark comedy I'd enjoy.

    I mean, a little kid putting a hit out on Santa for not giving him the right gift? That's a good starting place as far as I'm concerned.

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    • #17
      Exactly. When someone asks "wha's a high concept movie," that logline should be all the explanation needed.

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      • #18
        Originally posted by zetiago View Post

        You're basically taking this whole conversation back to high vs low concept, and seem to be asserting that only low concept ideas rely on execution. I thought this thread was about ideas/concepts and what is good vs bad. I started off by showing how a low concept can also be 'good' but requires more description than something that is high concept. That is basically one of the main distinctions between the two.

        I'm also saying even high concept ideas are only good when executed well. An idea, generally summarized in a sentence can sound good, but the proof is in the finished product. Here's an example. Jaws is generally looked at as the original modern summer blockbuster and is obviously high concept. The basic concept of a shark terrorizing a quiet tourist beach community sounds pretty good. However, someone could take that concept and make a gory horror fest or turn it into those Sharknado spectacles. That would be bad execution of a good concept. In my mind if you gave that concept to 100 writers most would 'f' it up with tons of extraneous garbage, instead of the more restrained version we know today. There are also high concepts that to my mind are bad on the surface. The concept for Speed is mentioned in this thread. That kind of idea where some madman toys with the hero to me is the stuff of bad writing. It's the kind of thing that is lampooned in Austin Powers. Instead of killing this person and being done with it, they concoct some elaborate scheme to belabor the point.

        I do think a good concept is major hurdle and the starting point for a good end product. But writing is about taking a good concept and turning it into a compelling complete story. It's a case of inspiration vs perspiration. The hard part is the perspiration.

        It's like line that everybody has one good novel or screenplay idea, but most people never actually write it. And those that don't have any ideas for a second. The reason is ideas are easier than the work of bringing those ideas to life.
        People are generally bad at generating ideas for movies so I’ll disagree with that bromide.

        If we can’t agree that Speed is a brilliant idea for a movie I don’t know what the eff we are doing here. It’s genius.

        We know an idea has to be done properly for it to be good. That’s the obvious point.

        Saying something is execution dependent is an easier way of saying “well if you write a great script and we get bankable talent interested and we put a filmmaker on it, it could be something.” It’s a much more narrow target. Like JoJo Rabbit? You better stick that landing. Fortunately, he’s a genius.

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        • #19
          Simply... An idea people will pay money to see. There are innumerable scripts that would make movies people will pay money to see. One I always think of is PINCUSHION by John Raffo that was on the 2011 Black List. Man, I love that script. he wrote "Jenko Vega and the Jennifer Nine." What happened to him?
          "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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          • #20
            Originally posted by zetiago View Post

            saying a concept depends on execution is like saying the sky is blue.
            The critical and commercial success of a screenplay’s concept depends on how well its execution is achieved, but there’s another meaning of “execution dependent” that I suggest non-pro writers understand.

            The OP mentioned the Hollywood phrase “Concept is King.” Hollywood is a business. What they value is commercial product to sell to an audience. First importance is commercial. Second is art. I’ve seen plenty of screenplays with woeful art, but they were produced because of its commercial potential.

            The industry’s thinking is the higher the concept the better, i.e., unique story idea, big hook, simple plot, universal themes, broad appeal, loads of conflict, likeable hero character, happy ending, etc.

            When a writer sends a query letter off to industry people, or he meets them in person at a party, supermarket, or wherever and the writer presents his logline, if it’s a unique high concept logline, there’s a good chance he’ll receive a read request.

            This read request was not “execution dependent” of the screenplay. It was only dependent on hearing the concept. Once the writer (screenplay) is in the room, then its execution will come into play.

            For concepts on the lower end of the concept spectrum, an industry person hearing these concepts, for the majority anyway, there will not be any read requests.

            In order to get read requests, it is gonna depend on the concepts’ execution, where an industry person hears that it’s a script worth reading.

            The industry person will hear this from credible big competitions, from a person that the industry person respects their taste, from “A” list actors or directors championing the script, etc.

            zetiago made a keen observation that this thread is just another version of the Low Concept vs. High Concept discussion, but disguised as “Bad Concept vs. Good Concept.”

            When you hear a concept -- I’m talking about a well constructed concept with a protagonist, goal, conflict, story core, etc. -- that doesn’t have a chance to sell, you’re gonna perceive this concept as “bad.”

            The one big competition that is a must for the industry to look at is the Nicholl Fellowship.

            Why?

            If you take a look at the history of the Nicholl winners, you would have a hard time to find more than two high concept screenplays. The majority are unsellable low concept screenplays.

            The main reason the industry looks at the Nicholl competition is not for product, but for great writers with a fresh voice.

            It’s a known fact that the Nicholl doesn’t judge on commercial appeal, but on the quality of writing and it just so happens low concepts depend greatly on the caliber of writing, where there will be complex plots, complex characters, deep themes, rich dialogue, etc.

            These are not bad concepts. Unless, that’s how you are defining “bad” concepts, i.e., unsellable concepts/screenplays.

            The competition to work in the industry is fierce. Your best chance to break in is writing what the industry wants: unique high concept material.

            It’s just I don’t like to see people tell writers that the concept that they were passionate about to write was bad. Like they did something wrong. Yes, it’s a non-commercial concept, but that doesn’t mean it’s a “bad concept.”

            I’ve seen many so-called “bad concepts” that were critical and commercial successes, or got writers agents and managers.

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            • #21
              Originally posted by zetiago View Post
              I'm also saying even high concept ideas are only good when executed well. An idea, generally summarized in a sentence can sound good, but the proof is in the finished product. Here's an example. Jaws is generally looked at as the original modern summer blockbuster and is obviously high concept. The basic concept of a shark terrorizing a quiet tourist beach community sounds pretty good. However, someone could take that concept and make a gory horror fest or turn it into those Sharknado spectacles.
              You're missing the point - one that isn't that hard to understand. Yes, every idea needs good execution, that goes without saying, but the idea of Jaws, A Quiet Place, Snakes on a Plane, Speed, all sell themselves. They can be visualised, trailer moments abound, and the idea attracts the interest of prodco readers and film-goers alike. They do not require consideration of actors, character depth, directorial handling and degree of social commentary in order for the idea to be imagined and intriguing.

              Yes, Jaws could have been a Sharknado-esque film rather than the celluloid classic that it is but its concept would still trigger the imagination and attention of the jaded prodco reader and spoilt-for-choice film-goer and prompt them to make a beeline for it. IMO anyone who doesn't get this is doing so out of a misplaced desire to defend their own mis-aligned views rather than face up to being wrong. That's fine, no one is being forced into changing their perspective - after all, we're just a couple of posts away from blaming the industry for its evil, insidious plot to dumb down audience expectation and standards via cookie-cutter formulae, because that tired avenue also allows the writer to avoid admitting to being wrong but by the same token, the prodco readers and film-goers are free to pass them over.
              Last edited by SundownInRetreat; 10-11-2020, 06:57 AM.

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              • #22
                Originally posted by JoeNYC View Post
                It’s just I don’t like to see people tell writers that the concept that they were passionate about to write was bad. Like they did something wrong. Yes, it’s a non-commercial concept, but that doesn’t mean it’s a “bad concept.”
                But here's the rub that's caused hundreds of posts: there are low concept ideas that *are* bad. The loop donedeal keeps getting stuck in is someone saying "that's a bad idea," and the writer saying "you're just saying that because it's low concept!"

                Not always! (And I'm not referring to any specific script or poster.)

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                • #23
                  Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

                  But here's the rub that's caused hundreds of posts: there are low concept ideas that *are* bad.
                  How are you defining "bad."?

                  It doesn't sound compelling? That's getting into commercial material. Also, even if it's not commercial, that didn't stop them from advancing in the Nicholl, which means they must have been compelling. You believe there's no core story value to it? That's subjective. The story's core is not authentic? There's no substance? It's a stale mission statement that rings hollow? Stale emotional message?

                  How are you defining "bad"? Could you give an example of a well constructed logline, but it's a bad concept? And not bad because it sounds uncommercial.
                  Last edited by JoeNYC; 10-11-2020, 02:38 PM.

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                  • #24
                    A young woman struggles to overcome her self doubt and write her first novel.

                    It's got a protagonist, a goal and an obstacle. But it's crap.

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                    • #25
                      Originally posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
                      You're missing the point - one that isn't that hard to understand. Yes, every idea needs good execution, that goes without saying, but the idea of Jaws, A Quiet Place, Snakes on a Plane, Speed, all sell themselves. They can be visualised, trailer moments abound, and the idea attracts the interest of prodco readers and film-goers alike. They do not require consideration of actors, character depth, directorial handling and degree of social commentary in order for the idea to be imagined and intriguing.

                      Yes, Jaws could have been a Sharknado-esque film rather than the celluloid classic that it is but its concept would still trigger the imagination and attention of the jaded prodco reader and spoilt-for-choice film-goer and prompt them to make a beeline for it. IMO anyone who doesn't get this is doing so out of a misplaced desire to defend their own mis-aligned views rather than face up to being wrong. That's fine, no one is being forced into changing their perspective - after all, we're just a couple of posts away from blaming the industry for its evil, insidious plot to dumb down audience expectation and standards via cookie-cutter formulae, because that tired avenue also allows the writer to avoid admitting to being wrong but by the same token, the prodco readers and film-goers are free to pass them over.
                      I don't think I'm the one missing the point. This thread started out asking what makes a good concept or something along those lines. You're in essence saying a good concept is something that is eminently marketable. That takes us back to high vs low concept, which was discussed to death in another thread and keeps popping up here. Also, I disagree on selling themselves, which goes back to my earlier point. A good or intriguing concept can open doors or pique interest, but execution of that idea can go a number of ways.

                      I can say it again. Good vs Bad is not the same thing as High vs Low.


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                      • #26
                        Originally posted by zetiago View Post
                        You're in essence saying a good concept is something that is eminently marketable.
                        Except I didn't mention marketing. I discussed intriguing, enticing, easy visualisation, and obvious appeal where the ideas make you think 1) 'sounds great' and 2) 'why didn't I think of that?' There's some crossover to low vs high concept but it's not the same thing.Swimming with Sharks, The Player, Stand By Me and Rain Man aren't high concept yet tick all of my boxes of 'good concept'. Now contrast them with Jeff's idea about a woman struggling to write a novel.


                        I disagree on selling themselves, which goes back to my earlier point.
                        I was speaking figuratively, not literally. Of generating interest and of seeing the potential in an idea.


                        A good or intriguing concept can open doors or pique interest, but execution of that idea can go a number of ways.
                        Hence you miss the point.


                        Good vs Bad is not the same thing as High vs Low.
                        Agreed. But you still miss the point (see above).

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                        • #27
                          Just to throw a wrench into the artsy only camp, or a grenade in this case. Armored penned by James Simpson is a popcorn action thriller that was up for finalist placement in the Nicholl competition before Simpson pulled it from the competition to sell it in a bidding war.

                          And congratulation Vango.


                          Hey! You might do it in your house, but in this house we don't lick our butts. -- Mother Teresa

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                          • #28
                            Originally posted by Mark Somers View Post
                            Just to throw a wrench into the artsy only camp, or a grenade in this case. Armored penned by James Simpson is a popcorn action thriller that was up for finalist placement in the Nicholl competition before Simpson pulled it from the competition to sell it in a bidding war.
                            Except that's not a wrench or a grenade but simply one of the outliers (as mentioned in posts that were moved) that occur very occasionally.

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                            • #29
                              I think it's pretty easy to see if a concept is bad or not. I think there are three versions of bad concepts.

                              1) The concept that sounds like a snoozefest because it was probably coneived by a writer who thinks their boring personal life is worthy of 50 million dollar budget.

                              2) The concept that sounds culturally tone deaf because it was probably conceived by some White guy in his 60's that isn't aware that gay and interracial marriage are a thing now.

                              3) And my personal favorite, the concept that sounds like a ridiculous trainwreck because it was probably conceived by a thirteen year-old boy on meth.

                              There are probably more versions of bad concepts, but I think that's good for starters.

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                              • #30
                                Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
                                A young woman struggles to overcome her self doubt and write her first novel.

                                It's got a protagonist, a goal and an obstacle. But it's crap.
                                By "crap," I'm assuming you mean it's a "bad concept."

                                Is the only reason you feel it's crap because YOU believe it's uninteresting and therefore not commercial? This is my point about the majority of low concepts. They just don't sound interesting and they don't sound commercial, but who actually knows the story will be a loser until the movie is presented to an audience. For something like this (arty) the budget is low for a niche audience. Maybe the caliber of writing is so strong where it advances or wins in the Nicholl and the writer scores an agent and gets work in the industry.

                                Great female writers like Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, author of "Jane Eyre," suffered self-doubt. For the logline you present, the story could be in this vein.

                                Who actually knows the outcome?

                                Yes, this logline in a query is not gonna get any read requests, so the writer would have to work harder to get it read.

                                Jeff, you're a sly one. The logline you present is weak because you used the protagonist's internal struggle as the engine to drive the story, but again, in the right hands of someone with the passion to tell this story, who knows if it works until it's completed and presented to an audience (readers/viewers). I'm sure there is probably a concept similar to the one you presented that was produced and was critically and commercially successful.

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