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

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  • #61
    Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
    If you can write a good low concept script, you can write a good high concept script. Do that instead.
    Probably the best two sentences in this thread for anyone who wants the best chance of making it.

    Get noticed with your high-concept script, then go for your Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club low-concept diversion after you've made it.

    Or, y'know, if you're insistent on going low-concept, produce it yourself and win a film festival and get noticed that way. They're mostly all indies anyway.

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    • #62
      Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post
      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.
      Jeff, more than once over these different threads on concepts, I mentioned the best chance to break into the industry is to write a unique High Concept screenplay. I mentioned if you are just as passionate to write a low concept and a high concept, then write the high concept because of the better odds in getting read requests.

      But, there are just some writers who's nature it is to write character driven low concepts.

      Just like with high concepts, some will fail, but for those who achieve success by winning a Nicholl Fellowship, well... let me just say if one of these writers had Prezzy for a friend and he told the writer "Dude, if you write that and show it to anyone, you're gonna get shot," will still be in his mom's basement typing out spec's instead of working in the industry.

      Yes, Prezzy, I know, you're talking about only the bad low concepts, not the good low concepts.

      If I lay out 40 of the most uninteresting low concepts that were entered into the Nicholl Fellowship over the years, 20 winners and 20 losers, could you be 100% accurate that you would be correct in choosing which were the bad low concepts and which were the good low concepts? All you need to do is be wrong on one and if you had discourage that writer not to write it and encourage him to write a "good low concept," then you made him miss out on writing something wonderful.
      Last edited by JoeNYC; 10-13-2020, 03:45 AM.

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      • #63
        “I’m passionate about low concept ideas.” - No one ever

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        • #64
          Originally posted by Satriales View Post
          “I’m passionate about low concept ideas.” - No one ever
          Come on, Stariales, really? The history of the Nicholl Fellowship winners tells you that there are writers passionate about low concept ideas.

          The majority of writers want to write commercial material. I suggest that writers write commercial material. This is what the industry wants. This is as far as I go.

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          • #65
            Originally posted by JoeNYC View Post

            Come on, Stariales, really? The history of the Nicholl Fellowship winners tells you that there are writers passionate about low concept ideas.

            The majority of writers want to write commercial material. I suggest that writers write commercial material. This is what the industry wants. This is as far as I go.
            The vast majority of Nicholl winning loglines while not overly commercial are at least elevated and generally have obvious dramatic irony. There’s a lot of people with terminal illnesses from marginalized communities, sure. But I read the loglines and I don’t think they are terrible, like 99% of amateur loglines.

            Writing a Nicholl-bait script is a legitimate way in. But you’re putting an awful lot of eggs in that one basket. Get one crap read - deserved or not - and you’re stuck.

            The odds of writing a high concept idea that gets notified are much better. Way more kicks at the can. Also, for an amateur it will be easier to make compelling.

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            • #66
              Satrialees, I'll leave it at: you're entitled to your opinion.

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              • #67
                Originally posted by Satriales View Post
                “I’m passionate about low concept ideas.” - No one ever
                I can't imagine anyone using those words either. I could however imagine someone saying 'I'm passionate about character driven cinema' or 'I'm passionate about the art of cinema.'

                David Lynch, Noah Baumbach, Jim Jarmusch, Miranda July, Mike Mills, Charlie Kaufman, and countless other writer-directors would neatly fit into that mold.

                I do agree that there a lot of bad concepts out there - low or high. And if that is your opinion you should say so, but always with some explanation why you've come to that conclusion.

                This thread seems to have gone from concept to logline. In my mind they are two different things. A logline could be an encapsulation of the concept, but not always.

                To illustrate, earlier in this thread I posted a very high level overview of one concept I've used. It's basically just a framework. I think about structure a lot, some pieces start there, and others start with characters and scenario. When describing a piece to another writer I might talk about the structure but to a layperson it would be about the story in logline-like form. Lost Highway is an example of a movie where the structure is very important part of the story but not the way it would be sold or described to the general public.

                I very much gravitate towards low concept ideas but I think there are very important limits to how far anyone can go in that direction. There has to be something unique or interesting about it, which I believe has been illustrated through pretty bland loglines cited here.

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                • #68

                  Random musings:

                  1) The stated concept for Kangaroo Jack has uniqueness, can be visualised, triggers the imagination for all manner of set pieces, a ticking clock, antagonists and hints at both the stakes and the genre. Ditto for the lawnmower concept. It is not a bad concept. A bad concept, as has been explained ad nauseum, is one that lacks these elements.

                  2) Just because M Night Shyamalan is a pro doesn't mean he is tougher-skinned than an amateur and that what works/doesn't work for him will be the same for amateurs. As an amateur with just one script under my belt, I went straight to Craig Mazin for his unfiltered opinion at a time when he was terrorising and traumatising members who couldn't handle unsweetened feedback (calling him rude and obnoxious). The worst thing for me would to have received a softened, PC, diplomatic, subtext-filled response.

                  3) Low concept doesn't equal dull, boring, uncommercial. In addition the films I listed earlier, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Magnolia, Glengarry Glenn Ross and Steel Magnolias are all low concept good concepts. There's no need for anyone to avoid low concepts - they just need to avoid bad concepts.

                  4) Whilst all opinion is subjective, any amateur stubbornly disagreeing with an established pro - especially on the basis that someone, somewhere could write a good script from a concept and that someone, somewhere would produce it, and that somehow, somewhere critics and audiences are going to enjoy it, is on a fool's errand IMO.

                  5) If you want to stick to your guns and write a particular script or take a particular action with it then go for it but to argue on and on, in a bid for validation, is not going to change anything or improve the chances of success with your script. All that time fighting to 'win' an argument could be spent writing instead.

                  6) You can't wrap people in cotton wool. Yes, someone may not like being told their script isn't good enough or that their concept is weak but that's life. It's far better to have pros bestowing the benefit of their experience and wisdom than a carpet blanking of anything other than positive feedback.

                  7) Decision makers do make mistakes. Record producers, film execs and Dragon's Den investors turn down people that go on to be market leaders but that just means they're not infallible. They still make more correct calls than incorrect ones.

                  8) Citing Nicholl doesn't justify bad concepts. Few finalists go pro, few Nicholl scripts get made, the Nicholl is geared towards the artsy/ luvvie and by extension is more forgiving of bad concepts, and all of the finalist scripts have those requisite elements to avoid being bad concepts (even if that only elevates them to unwatchable and unproducable).

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                  • #69
                    Originally posted by zetiago View Post

                    I can't imagine anyone using those words either. I could however imagine someone saying 'I'm passionate about character driven cinema' or 'I'm passionate about the art of cinema.'

                    David Lynch, Noah Baumbach, Jim Jarmusch, Miranda July, Mike Mills, Charlie Kaufman, and countless other writer-directors would neatly fit into that mold.

                    I do agree that there a lot of bad concepts out there - low or high. And if that is your opinion you should say so, but always with some explanation why you've come to that conclusion.

                    This thread seems to have gone from concept to logline. In my mind they are two different things. A logline could be an encapsulation of the concept, but not always.

                    To illustrate, earlier in this thread I posted a very high level overview of one concept I've used. It's basically just a framework. I think about structure a lot, some pieces start there, and others start with characters and scenario. When describing a piece to another writer I might talk about the structure but to a layperson it would be about the story in logline-like form. Lost Highway is an example of a movie where the structure is very important part of the story but not the way it would be sold or described to the general public.

                    I very much gravitate towards low concept ideas but I think there are very important limits to how far anyone can go in that direction. There has to be something unique or interesting about it, which I believe has been illustrated through pretty bland loglines cited here.
                    Everything I write is character driven. If you aren’t writing character driven stuff...it’s a long road. But it’s also either high concept/commercial or true story with a compelling hook.

                    I had an exec recently remark that they thought I was making a calculated pivot away from true stories to my last two projects that are sociopolitical thriller and grounded/socially relevant horror. And they said after reading that there was no marked departure from what I was previously doing. It’s all using character to explore complex issues. And I appreciated that they got that.

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                    • #70
                      Originally posted by JoeNYC
                      But, there are just some writers who's nature it is to write character driven low concepts.
                      Originally posted by zetiago View Post
                      I can't imagine anyone using those words either. I could however imagine someone saying 'I'm passionate about character driven cinema' or 'I'm passionate about the art of cinema.'
                      Agree with Satriales - I have no idea how "character driven" is somehow the exclusive property of low concept scripts. It's hard to think of a movie that's more character driven than "Jaws," to cite the film that probably ushered in the idea of a high concept blockbuster.

                      I'd say the percentage of great characters is equal in low concept and high concept scripts I read. The bonus of going high concept is that if your characters aren't great, maybe someone will buy your concept.

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                      • #71
                        Perhaps we should define " low" concept with examples.

                        Is Good Will Hunting a low concept? The blue collar, working class protag has a genius level IQ but does that elevate it to high concept?

                        Considering the movie is driven by his therapy sessions and not proving string theory, I'd say it's low concept or slightly tallish at best. Especially since he rides off into the sunset to be with his true love at the end. Standard for a drama.

                        How about Precious or Slumdog Millionaire? Low concept? Technically, yes. Though both give a look into the struggle of non-white cultures, they're not high concept.

                        Would anyone say these are bad concepts? Of course not. However it's hard to overlook, as the decades roll on, fewer films like these get made each year. And when they do get produced they're usually adaptations of best selling books or based on true stories.

                        It's simply the reality of the film industry in the now moment. If you're a writer who resists developing a high concept, breaking in is harder. It is what it is.

                        Will it change? Personally, I don't think so considering real life at the moment. I think current events are so overwhelming, audiences seek total escapism.

                        I see it in myself. Stuck in a pandemic with politics going absolutely crazy, and a shaky economy, with a wide choice of things to watch including Netflix and Amazon and On Demand, I'd rather watch The Boys than a drama about someone's personal struggle. And there was a time when I was the prime audience for those low concept personal dramas.

                        I don't know what brought to mind American Beauty the other day but I thought to myself, "How quaint. The midlife crisis of a man who achieved the suburban American Dream." Would that film get made in the midst of current events? I doubt it.


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                        Last edited by sc111; 10-13-2020, 12:17 PM. Reason: Typo
                        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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                        • #72
                          Originally posted by sc111 View Post
                          Is Good Will Hunting a low concept? The blue collar, working class protag has a genius level IQ but does that elevate it to high concept?
                          I think "blue collar guy is torn about leaving his friends behind and escaping to a white collar existence" is low concept. I think "once in a generation level genius" makes it more high concept, and if memory serves, when it was first made, the NSA wanted him to be a spy?

                          How about Precious or Slumdog Millionaire? Low concept? Technically, yes. Though both give a look into the struggle of non-white cultures, they're not high concept.
                          Precious, 100%. Slumdog Millionaire? He wins Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and was arrested for cheating, because a lower class person in India can't be smart enough to win. Absolutely a high concept idea. His life story without that framing device would have been low concept.

                          As you point out, both of those are from books. A lot of other good ones listed are from books or plays (Glengarry Glen Ross, Steel Magnolias) or real life (Three Billboards). My favorite example of a low concept film is Kramer vs. Kramer, and it was a bestselling novel. I think low concept has always had a better shot with that kind of pedigree - it's not just a modern phenomenon.

                          It's simply the reality of the film industry in the now moment. If you're a writer who resists developing a high concept, breaking in is harder. It is what it is.
                          I just don't totally understand the resistance. You can have the exact same characters in a low and high concept movie - one takes place on a day like a lot of other days, the other takes place on a day unlike anything anyone's experienced.

                          For example: a middle class woman is pushed by her mother to marry for money, even though she doesn't really love the guy - then she falls in love with someone poor and has to make a decision. Could be a Harlequin romance novel, right? (I think it's all of them.) Now try this: a middle class woman is pushed by her mother to marry for money, even though she doesn't really love the guy - then she falls in love with someone poor ON THE TITANIC and has to make a decision.

                          Or - a gifted cop with an attitude is recruited by the CIA and is partnered with a by the books veteran, as they try to stop a terrorist plot to destroy the world. Could be one of a thousand b-movies. But how about: a gifted cop with an attitude is recruited by the MEN IN BLACK and is partnered with a by the books veteran, as they try to stop a ALIEN plot to destroy the GALAXY.

                          If you can write one, you can write the other. And you've got a much better shot at a career.

                          I don't know what brought to mind American Beauty the other day but I thought to myself, "How quaint. The midlife crisis if a man who achieved the suburban American Dream." Would that film get made in the midst of current events? I doubt it.
                          Well, not with the same cast.

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                          • #73
                            There's good thoughts in this thread. I do believe that Slumdog and Good Will Hunting were both high concept. In my opinion.

                            I think the main thing for writers, those who like to write heavy drama pieces, is to remember that as artists, our goal is primarily to entertain our readers/audience. It is important, likewise, to engage them, to inform them, to empower them, to enchant them... but most of all, to entertain. If you're a pure drama writer and don't like action or comedy or horror or sci-fi, just make sure you find a way to write something that I'm not going to put down. And I'm turning every page, on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what happens next.

                            My two cents.

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                            • #74
                              Jeff: You're correct on Slumdog. Foggy memory.

                              Agree 100% on elevating the height of concepts in the ways you explained.

                              I did consider adding Kramer v. Kramer to point out it resonated with the zeigeist of the 1970s shift in gender roles. Today, it's a quaint idea.

                              Frankly, I find these discussions often sound like we're talking about the film industry of the past.

                              Right now, the TV/Film industry is laying off a lot people. The loss of jobs extends to every type of career dependent on the industry.

                              I read that Regal Theaters are being closed forever, here and in Europe. An entire theater chain, gone.

                              We talk about querying scripts as if the person we're emailing is living in the 1990s, unaffected by what's happened in the past 30 years. Unaffected by right now.

                              I'm thinking that the only way to break in right now is to write a high concept script they can't get anywhere else from anyone else. That's a tall order.

                              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.-

                              Comment


                              • #75
                                Originally posted by sc111 View Post
                                Jeff: You're correct on Slumdog. Foggy memory.

                                Agree 100% on elevating the height of concepts in the ways you explained.

                                I did consider adding Kramer v. Kramer to point out it resonated with the zeigeist of the 1970s shift in gender roles. Today, it's a quaint idea.

                                Frankly, I find these discussions often sound like we're talking about the film industry of the past.

                                Right now, the TV/Film industry is laying off a lot people. The loss of jobs extends to every type of career dependent on the industry.

                                I read that Regal Theaters are being closed forever, here and in Europe. An entire theater chain, gone.

                                We talk about querying scripts as if the person we're emailing is living in the 1990s, unaffected by what's happened in the past 30 years. Unaffected by right now.

                                I'm thinking that the only way to break in right now is to write a high concept script they can't get anywhere else from anyone else. That's a tall order.
                                That's sad about the theaters. I really hope they come back, at some point in the future. I suspect they will. But may take awhile.

                                Are you interested in writing film or TV, or both? Because breaking into TV isn't nearly as difficult -- there are hundreds and hundreds of TV shows, and writer rooms are full of writers who are at all different levels/points in their careers. I won't sit here and say that you're going to sell your feature scripts, because as you said it's very hard, but I absolutely believe you can and will break into television if you lived in LA and you really wanted it, and attacked that goal like crazy. The talent gap between some writers on this site, and entry level TV writers, is not that big, trust me. It's just a differently structure beast than film, so it does take quite a bit of time to learn.

                                Despite theaters going away, writers will always be in demand. Remember this. There are more streaming services and more small studios opening up now than ever before. The market always is going to need material. Always. People are glued to their black screens. Television viewing and movie viewing from home is at an all time high. Opportunities are there. We just have to be ready for them when our number is called.

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