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

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  • #46
    Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
    Sorry, cross-posted.





    Wait, what? Have either of you seen Adaptation?

    It's a meta film about the actual writer of the film - Charlie Kaufman - being hired to adapt an unadaptable artistic novel, while his brother finds success with commercial crap. Charlie tracks down the book's author and finds that the author is hiding the truth about the orchid - that it's a powerful mind altering drug. The author and her lover decide to kill Charlie to hide the truth about the flower. Charlie's brother dies instead, the lover is eaten by an alligator, and the book's author is jailed. Charlie finishes his screenplay.

    So the two of you wrote that script, then sat down to write the query letter. It went something like this:

    "Dear Sir or Madam:

    Enclosed please find my spec screenplay for your consideration. It's the story of a young man who struggles to overcome his self doubt and write his first script.

    Thank you for your consideration."

    You wouldn't sell it that way, you wouldn't pitch it to your friends that way... That's like saying "I wrote a story about a man and woman who fall in love" is how you'd describe Casablanca.
    Yet Charlie's internal struggle is similar to the example you threw out. And I'm not sure why you think that bare bones example proves your point since you made it up.

    What I found interesting is that the writers' instinct of some here was to put more story meat on that bone. Which is the creative process. Which is a component of developing a good concept.







    Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

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    • #47
      A logline describes a screenplay. There is no world where my logline would be used by a human to describe Adaptation. I found plenty of examples here and on other script database websites with similarly problematic loglines, but didn't want to call anyone out.

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      • #48
        Originally posted by Satriales View Post

        A group of explorers travel to a newly discovered wormhole in an attempt to find a new planet as earth becomes rapidly uninhabitable.

        In the wake of his brother’s death, a handyman must raise his nephew and deal with his own grief.

        This is just one example. One of these has an intricate and complicated plot. The other is simple and straightforward and very much low-ish concept. I see no correlation between plot and height (?) of concept.
        Satriales, this started with you because I said complex plots tend to be more toward the lower end of the concept spectrum where it would be a hard sell to market to an audience. Don't you think your second character driven logline fits this type of low concept and the first logline, in my opinion, is high concept, more of a plot driven story? "Ordinary People" is similar to the second logline. And I'm not saying there are no complex high concepts. Just speaking generally that low concept stories tend to be complex. More depth. More richness.

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        • #49
          Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

          I found plenty of examples here and on other script database websites with similarly problematic loglines
          I'm assuming by "problematic" you're speaking of business wise where they would not get read requests, or sell because of low stakes, derivative, not active protagonist, weak story engine, etc. I'm not arguing against this. Yeah, there are concepts that I would consider "bad." It's just I don't think it's cool to tell a writer it's "bad," because it's all subjective. I wouldn't tell a writer his story idea is bad and discourage him from writing it because I could be wrong -- and on many occasions, where I thought a film wouldn't make money, it did.

          That's how all this discussion on concepts came up. I saw members telling writers there concepts were bad and to write something better, i.e., high concept. I just thought this wasn't right. It's subjective. Who knows what will connect with an audience.

          And I'm not saying don't suggest that the writer heighten his story stakes, or have a more external goal to drive the story, etc. I'm just saying to the members don't tell him it's a bad story idea and he should write something better.

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          • #50
            Originally posted by JoeNYC View Post
            Yeah, there are concepts that I would consider "bad." It's just I don't think it's cool to tell a writer it's "bad," because it's all subjective. I wouldn't tell a writer his story idea is bad and discourage him from writing it because I could be wrong
            Literally every opinion that everyone gives about writing is subjective. When you criticize someone's dialogue or character or plot choices, you could be wrong. Every helpful suggestion could be making a script worse. (I see a lot of that.) Even praise can hurt - you might say something is great, so they don't change it, and it needed to be changed. Every note you give could lead a writer to make changes that will hurt the chances of the screenplay getting attention. Anything you say could end someone's chance of a career!

            If your belief is that you shouldn't express your opinion because it's subjective and could be wrong, then you should stop reacting to scripts.

            Or, you should trust that people should hear your true opinion, and let them decide whether or not it's useful to them.

            I told you what I thought of the logline of your current script, and you didn't throw it in the trash. You explained why you were doing what you're doing, decided not to change anything based on my opinion, and you're sending it out right now.

            You survived. Let everyone else who puts material out for reaction get their feedback.

            ----

            Originally posted by sc111
            And I'm not sure why you think that bare bones example proves your point since you made it up.
            Okay, here's a real one from this site. The writer hasn't posted here in 3 years, so hopefully I'm not hurting anyone's feelings by putting it up:

            "LOGLINE: A woman tries just about everything to sell a spec screenplay in Hollywood. Hilarity ensues. "

            I would not feel guilty offering the opinion that the writer might stick that one in a drawer and try something else.

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            • #51
              Jeff: I see now that your struggling to write her first novel example was in response to Joe asking for an example. So on that one, ignore my comment.

              Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

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              • #52
                Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

                Every note you give could lead a writer to make changes that will hurt the chances of the screenplay getting attention. Anything you say could end someone's chance of a career! If your belief is that you shouldn't express your opinion because it's subjective and could be wrong, then you should stop reacting to scripts.

                Or, you should trust that people should hear your true opinion, and let them decide whether or not it's useful to them. ... You survived. Let everyone else who puts material out for reaction get their feedback.
                I survived only because I'm not a newbie.

                The notes you are talking about is about when a reader is giving feedback on a writer's script in order to help make it stronger. Your opinion is that it's fair ground for the reviewer to also give the writer his opinion to not execute this concept. To abandon it and look for something better to write.

                This is the heart of the issue about my involvement in these concept discussions.

                Letting the writer know that the concept is not commercial and he'll have a hard time getting read requests from the industry, sure, but to encourage him to abandon it and write a better concept seems like going too far.

                I've mentioned before how M. Night Shyamalan doesn't put his concepts out for opinions because if there were any negativity towards it, he wouldn't write it. So, if a seasoned professional feels this way, how do you think a newbie would react?

                I know, if a newbie feels like M. NIght he doesn't have to put his concept out there. But he's a newbie. If he puts it out there for help to make it stronger, then help make it stronger. Stakes too low? Mention it. Weak Goal? Mention it. Hint of structure problems? Mention it. If it doesn't sound commercial. Mention it.

                But, unless he asks, is it really necessary to say that this concept is an uninteresting stinker and encourage him to write something better. Some members say, yes. It's just an opinion. A writer can take it or leave it. I just don't feel comfortable to encourage a writer to abandon a screenplay because of the subjectivity of the matter and to the fact of who actually knows what will connect with an audience until you put the product out there.

                There is a big difference in giving a note informing the writer that in my opinion I believe the stakes are not high enough and suggest a better solution, contrast with informing him that in my opinion the concept is bad and I suggest that he abandon the screenplay and think of a better concept.

                Well, I'm glad I got to put my point out there. Now I can move on to save the world.

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                • #53
                  Joe, you’ve been super clear. At this point, anyone who gives an opinion that a story is bad can’t say they weren’t warned.

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                  • #54
                    I feel like what would be more beneficial to a newbie's growth would be to encourage them to start off with objectively decent concepts. They're easier to make work and can build up better creative habits in their writing earlier that they can use later even if they don't.

                    A seasoned writer like Charlie Kaufman can write a movie about a guy struggling to write a screenplay and it not suck because he's written so much stuff already, he knows just what to do to make it interesting.

                    I think if a newbie starts off investing their time in questionable concepts, they can fall into that trap and never move on from it, then it becomes their whole identity as a writer. I've seen it happen.

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                    • #55
                      Originally posted by Prezzy View Post

                      I think if a newbie starts off investing their time in questionable concepts, they can fall into that trap and never move on from it, then it becomes their whole identity as a writer. I've seen it happen.
                      Prezzy, I get your point, but there are writers who just have a natural instinct, a passion, to write character driven Low Concepts. This is what they enjoy to write. This is what's in their mind, heart and soul.

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                      • #56
                        Originally posted by JoeNYC View Post
                        Prezzy, I get your point, but there are writers who just have a natural instinct, a passion, to write character driven Low Concepts. This is what they enjoy to write. This is what's in their mind, heart and soul.
                        But I don't think you do. I feel like you're under the impression that the only good concepts in my mind are high concepts. I watch tons of low concept stuff.

                        If a writer or newbie wants to specialize in low concept, that's perfectly fine. But they should be writing good low concepts. Not bad low concepts. There is a difference. Jeff's already attempted to demonstrate that point to you.

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                        • #57
                          A good while back I floated a logline here that I decided to shelve because it was "low" concept and unlikely to grab eyeballs in a cold query to managers.

                          However, the idea attracted positive (good) feedback even though everyone agreed it was low concept/Indie fare. I resurrected it and started working on it as a short novel/ longish novella.

                          The point is a character-driven "low" concept can still be "good" yet not the right idea to get you noticed out of the gate by an industry primarily looking for plot driven commercial concepts.

                          Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

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                          • #58
                            Originally posted by Prezzy View Post

                            But they should be writing good low concepts. Not bad low concepts. There is a difference. Jeff's already attempted to demonstrate that point to you.
                            "Write good low concepts. Not bad low concepts."

                            Oh my, I've posted like 6,000 posts on this and were back to the beginning.

                            Prezzy, in your post number 8, you define a "good concept" as the following:

                            "A good concept is anything a specific writer can turn into a well-written story that has the profit potential of resonating with a large enough audience."

                            ."turn into a well-written story"

                            You might perceive a writer's concept as bad, but the writer just may have the talent and passion to write a well-written story that may reach a enough of an audience to gain a profit. You're assuming, pre-judging before you see if the script is well-written where it would connect with an audience.

                            Jeff's position is that there are just some concepts that are so bad that no matter how well-written they are they will not sell. Yes, Jeff posted a bad concept about a woman's struggles to sell a screenplay in Hollywood, but -- my position -- is to tell the writer of it's flaws and weaknesses, to tell the writer it doesn't sound interesting, or commercial, but I'm not comfortable to say hey don't write that. Look for a better, a "good concept" to write because of the subjectivity issue I could be wrong. The writer may have the talent and passion to write a well-written screenplay that connects with an audience.

                            Yes, a concept may not sell, but it could be used as a sample to get work. Again, in my opinion, the Nicholl's winner's history have an abundance of uninteresting concepts, but their scripts were well-written where they connected with the judges. A few went on to be produced, but for the majority these validated scripts were used as samples to break into the industry and get work.

                            Prezzy, I do not understand why you have difficulty with my position. If you want to discourage a writer from executing a concept that you feel is a bad concept and to encourage him to write a good concept, then you're free to do so.

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                            • #59
                              I feel like I've repeatedly been straw manned in this thread, and it's kind of annoying.

                              We can agree to disagree. That's perfectly fine with me. But for the record, I'll state my position clearly.

                              Just because a concept doesn't sell doesn't mean it's a bad concept. Just because a concept is low concept doesn't mean it's a bad concept. Just because a concept is good in the hands of one writer doesn't necessarily make it so for another. Bad concepts exist.

                              Allow me to reminisce on my college days for a moment. One semester, a classmate pitched me an idea for a script. This was many years ago, but I remember this concept vividly due to how spectacularly bad it was. It went like this:

                              When Donald Trump deploys an army of Mexican rapists to enslave all of Black America, a lone college student rises up to stop him.

                              Joe, you have every right to give every writer the benefit of the doubt for every concept, and I'm not sure what you would have told him. But what I said to him was this:

                              "Dude, if you write that and show it to anyone, you're gonna get shot!"

                              He never wrote it. I like to think I saved a life that day.

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                              • #60
                                The more we talk about it, the more I think my advice to the OP is: a good concept is a good high concept idea. The more Joe describes the hurdles a low concept script has, the more I wonder why anyone would try to break in with one. "Sure, it'll never get requested through a query letter and it'll never get made, but maybe if you beat 5000 other scripts and win a contest, an agent will read it."

                                If you can write a good low concept script, you can write a good high concept script. Do that instead.

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