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



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  • #91
    Originally posted by Prezzy View Post

    I think a concept being "execution dependent" cuts both ways and can apply to high concept scripts as much as low concept scripts.
    The commercial success of every film is execution dependent. There are some films where critics killed its execution but were commercially successful because of its marketability i.e., “Paul Bart: Mall Cop,” “Dude, Where’s My Car,” “Kangaroo Jack,” etc.

    When I speak of “execution dependent,” I’m speaking of if a writer has a low concept, he’ll need strong execution to get referrals and top contests’ advancements (ideally semi-finalists or higher) in order to get the industry doors to open for your screenplay.

    When I speak of “execution dependent,” I’m speaking of if the film is low concept, it’s execution will need to get favorable critical acclaim and great moviegoer word of mouth to get people into the theater and become a commercial success.

    If the story idea is a unique high concept, the writer will get industry doors to open for his screenplay to enter and get reads.

    If the film has a cool high concept, moviegoers will go to the theater to see it.

    For example, there’s a novel titled “Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick” written by Joe Schreiber. Hypothetically, let’s imagine a non-pro wrote this as a spec screenplay.

    I don’t want to spend the time and energy to come up with its concise, marketing logline, but the story premise is its protagonist is a male high school student whose parents take in a female high school, European exchange student (Lithuanian). She’s geeky and an introvert, but she’s actually a beautiful trained assassin with 5 hits to complete in Manhattan on prom night.

    The protagonist’s mother forces him to take her to the prom. The assassin gets the protagonist to leave the prom and take her to Manhattan where she changes from her geek look to a hot assassin (oh my) and carries out her mission.

    This is a high concept action comedy where just its logline could get industry reads. If its execution is bad or fair, this is a type of concept that could get the screenplay sold and the buyer would put it into development to make the execution stronger.

    This is the type of concept where upon hearing it, I immediately said, “Damn, I wish I thought of this idea.” Part of my pitch would be: It’s “La Femme Nikita” in high school.

    A decade ago, Paramount bought the screen rights and the novel’s author, Joe Schreiber, wrote the screenplay, but there’s still no movie. I’m surprised since this has sequel potential.

    My teen romantic comedy is not high concept. It’s gonna be an execution dependent situation in order to get industry reads.

    I’ve received my evaluations from the Black List web site on this screenplay and sometime in the coming week I’ll post a thread about it in the “Sites, Services...” forum.


    • #92
      Here's my newest thought on high concept/low concept:

      A good high concept screenplay is like a well constructed joke. When you hear a good joke, every word of it is in service of setting up the world, getting the audience to have a certain expectation, and then subverting the expectation. It's clean, it's not confusing, it's satisfying. That's what a good high concept idea is - the drive is clear, so it's easy to be setting up/paying off that great core idea.

      A low concept (or "execution dependent") screenplay is a shaggy dog story. ( )

      The charm of a shaggy dog story is the details along the way, even though they often aren't in service of the story. Sometimes you love the digressions so much that you love the movie. But it's a lot harder bar to clear, IMO.

      It's why I can usually tell if a script is going to be a mess just by hearing the author pitch it. A great idea can be pitched like a great joke - in very few sentences, with the stakes and drive immediately clear. It's a satisfying little nugget, all by itself. But when the pitch meanders around and pulls in details that are unrelated and doesn't clearly lay out a drive...

      Joe, FWIW, I've never thought your idea was a "low concept" idea. I've always thought it's a high concept idea, but (per your assessment) a familiar one. That means it really needs to be perfectly executed to get attention, but not because the idea at its core is low concept. If I wrote a spec that was "A husband and wife keep their secret jobs as assassins from each other - until they're both given orders to kill the other one," it's not low concept, it just has a high bar to clear because Mr. and Mrs. Smith exists.


      • #93
        Basically you have to work much harder when your idea is low concept vs high concept. In the actual writing and most important getting someone to want to read it (pitching/selling side of things).

        Of course each writer is unique and same ideas will come out a million different ways -- hence why we all can write a romantic comedy spec forever and ever and ever.

        I like the joke analogy. If you have to explain a joke -- you failed. Same with screenplay ideas. I like it.


        • #94
          Just to be clear -- a high concept script is just as hard to sell. It's not like high concept = success. But low concept = harder to find success.


          • #95
            Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

            Joe, FWIW, I've never thought your idea was a "low concept" idea. I've always thought it's a high concept idea, but (per your assessment) a familiar one.
            I've mentioned this before, in my opinion, there's a lot more range on the concept spectrum than low or high. You got low on one end, high on the other end and there's the in-between. My original concept was below average for a teen romantic comedy. After feedback and rewrites, I've changed the title and logline to be more indictive of the story, but still, this only brings it up to average, not to the high end of the concept spectrum.

            Yes, Hollywood is averse to extreme low concepts because of it's uncommercial elements i.e., dark themes, unlikable characters, complex plot, unhappy ending, niche, not a wide audience, etc. and desire high concepts with it's simple entertaining plots, universal themes, likeable characters, lots of conflict, unique story hook, happy ending, wide/broad appeal, etc.

            In-between the low and high you got commercial concepts that will interest Hollywood if the execution is there. The writer's screenplay will need to be vetted to demonstrate that the execution is strong enough for the professional industry people to request it to read and evaluate. A writer can achieve this with different roads such as: The Black List web site, top contests, networking, etc. and because of the subjectivity issue I suggest that writer use as many of these roads as possible. You don't know where you'll find that right person where your screenplay will resonate.

            For those of you who say "just write a great script," I suggest you check out my past thread on the topic of REJECTION.


            • #96
              After all this going around, it's amazing (but maybe not surprising) that we all still can't get on the same page for high and low concept. Literally everything you list under "extreme low concept" could absolutely be part of a high concept ida - except for "not a wide audience," which isn't really an element of a screenplay. High concept ideas can have dark themes, unlikeable characters, complex plots, unhappy endings and be niche. The screenplay that got me most of my screenwriting jobs was a black comedy about Hollywood where the main character claimed responsibility for a murder he didn't commit because he thought it would help his career - but it was definitely high concept.


              • #97
                I have an idea for a screenplay. It's an almost word for word copy of Christopher Nolan's "Inception", except all the characters are racist and Leonardo DiCaprio spontaneously combusts immediately after being reunited with his family. It's super low concept.


                • #98
                  One thing is for sure -- if a writer doesn't finish a screenplay or works on it for 10 years -- high concept or low concept -- that's a waste of time. So at least write a lot. Maybe one will be high as you are when you wrote it.


                  • #99
                    Okay, so catching up. The new "day" job has been murder on my writing, 12-14+ hour days 7 days a week. But, ****, at least I have a job I love. Haven't written since September-- it's killing me slowly.

                    The reason I mentioned JK Rowlings was BECAUSE the script: WHEN LIGHTING STRIKES 25-year-old Joanne Rowling weathers first loves, unexpected pregnancies, lost jobs, and depression on her journey to create Harry Potter made it on the Annual Black List, I kinda assumed everyone else knew as well. Now, I don't know about you, but as a woman, this is something I can relate to, even though I'm the Bourne Ultimatum (through and through) type. Anyway, I think it's a good concept. One that would probably make an okay film. Started reading it then, you know, COVID hit.

                    That's why I mentioned. Good. Bad. Or otherwise. To me, it's an interesting concept. High concept? Well, no, but a good concept. Like some people thought Blonde Ambition was a good concept.

                    Here's the thing about ADAPTATION people who aren't in the industry, who aren't writers, or serious movie fanatics, didn't know it was about a REAL writer. It was a good movie, for me, BECAUSE I could relate to it because I was a writer. But it also has appeal to the movie going public because it's about having a deadline that you can't meet about something you have to do that you have no idea how to accomplish it... it is the epitome of the modern-day human condition.

                    So while the original idea: JK Rowlings Takes 10 years to Write a Harry Potter doesn't seem interesting, it's the "spin" or the POV that makes it interesting and her celebrity that elevates the concept. Adaptation isn't "high concept' but it is about universal human feelings, hopes, fears and aspirations. I think, in a general sense, this is why many films translate well to the international market.

                    Hope. Fear. Aspirations. Are among many universal story engines that entice us into watching dramatic films because we WANT to be INSPIRED.

                    As writers, it's never the "first" idea that is necessarily the BEST idea. BUT, there are things we can consider as we are developing a concept that might just increase its commercial appeal, increaase its marketability, or level up the concept itself.

                    • Take an element within the concept to the extreme
                    • Utilize opposites
                    • Increase the stakes
                    • Take it up to a global scale or reduce it to a one-on-one personal level experience
                    • Change the setting to a unique environment or time
                    • Make the antagonist the Hero of the story
                    • Find and explore interesting relationships
                    • Create dilemmas where there is no good outcome. Any choice that is right, has severe consequences
                    • Troubleshoot out of the box, "what if" scenarios
                    • Twist an expectation or take one expected element and twist it into something unexpected
                    • Change the sex or race or identity of the main character(s)
                    • Make your third act climax your first act turning point (this is my favorite and forces you to really think about how you can escalate the story when the worst possible thing/confrontation happens in the first quarter of your film. I've done it, and it's scary as all ****.
                    • Have your character make the wrong choice and have to pay for it dearly
                    Take this for example:

                    "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.
                    Now, this could be more interesting? What if the young man was an academy award winning writer? What if he/she is coerced by a threat (raising stakes)? What if he was just paid the highest amount ever paid to a writer to deliver a draft? What if he wasn't a young writer (i get so tired of being excluded from the conversation) but the POTUS with terminal cancer, three months left to live, and is a famous ghost writer with a threat of exposure that would threaten his political legacy? Silly? Maybe. But it's that kind of "open mindedness" trouble-shooting that might just yield the best concept. And it's not his FIRST script, but his LAST script. We're talking about pressure and how we, as human beings, deal with it. It is very universal.

                    Okay, moving on...

                    The difference between high concept, good concept and lower concepts (that are still amazing stories) has to do with how unique, appealing and simply the concept can be communicated to the receiving audience whether that is a show runner, producer, director or the general movie-going public. High concept is it's own animal-- it's not like other concepts.

                    High Concept scale: this is solely a commentary about HIGH CONCEPTS (not great stories or good concepts which make amazing films, too)
                    • High Concept? Very unique, extremely appealing, commercial to a wide, international market, and movie can be seen in a single sentence
                    • Strong concept 7+? Unique in some way, universally appealing, one sentence shows the whole movie
                    • 5 ish? Somewhat unique, appeals to a broad segment of the population, and still... one sentence communicates the whole story
                    • Level 3 on the High Concept scale? An interesting spin on what we've already seen before, but still one sentence communicates the whole store
                    That's my take. After two tawny ports, three slices of bacon, okay 4, and no food all day. 😋

                    Post Edit: welcome back, Bono, we've missed you.
                    Last edited by Done Deal Pro; 01-13-2021, 07:32 AM. Reason: Added in quote coded closing tag.
                    "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso


                    • Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

                      we all still can't get on the same page for high and low concept. Literally everything you list under "extreme low concept" could absolutely be part of a high concept idea - except for "not a wide audience,"
                      ”except for ‘not a wide audience’”

                      Don’t you believe possessing great commercial potential (universal appeal) is a key element that defines a story idea as high concept?

                      Yes, you can have unlikable characters in high concept stories i.e., “Scarface,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” American Psycho,” etc. A couple of years ago, I did a thread on this topic titled “Creating The Anti-Hero Protagonist.” “Scarface” has dark themes, unlikable anti-hero protagonist, etc., but you know this bad ass story has potential to be commercially successful.

                      Back in 2017, I wanted to know exactly what high concept means, so I researched it and posted a thread on the topic.

                      The term High Concept is used as a marketing tool to pitch a script/movie in order to entice the industry people such as, agents, managers, producers, studio executives, etc.

                      I’ve learned -- to them -- when you say high concept, it means:

                      High Concept is a story idea, referring to the hook, that clearly and immediately conveys a must see unique movie with plenty of conflict that possesses great potential to achieve commercial success.

                      Does the following logline sound high concept where it possesses great potential to be commercially successful:

                      An old geezer must ride a lawnmower across the Midwest to fix his relationship with his dying, estranged older brother.

                      This story possesses a great likeable character, it’s unique and has a hook (uses a lawnmower for a roadtrip), but it’s not high concept because its appeal is not universal. It’ll only attract a niche audience (low concept). Never mind high concept, this logline wouldn’t even be considered commercial, but still, it was produced and released into the theaters in 1999, titled “The Straight Story,” staring Richard Farnsworth. It was a critical success, but a commercial failure.

                      Jeff, in your post #92 you gave an example of a derivative “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” screenplay concept that would be a tough sell because of this. This story idea would not be considered a true high concept because it’s not unique, therefore, it could possibly hurt its commercial potential.

                      Let’s look at the following logline:

                      When an underachiever teen falls for an overachiever girl during the summer, he must conquer her heart before she leaves for England to attend college.”

                      This is a generic romantic comedy concept. This logline in a query letter is not going to excite an industry person to request the writer’s screenplay. This is where the importance of “execution dependent” comes into play. This logline is “Say Anything,” which was a critical and commercial success.

                      The title of this thread is: “So...what’s a good concept?”

                      I’ll use my own teen romantic comedy logline as an example in discussion of this topic. In a past concept thread, I posted the following logline:

                      When a Goth’s secret metalhead crush is obsessed with the hottest girl in high school, she helps him score a date so he can realize she’s not his true love, but will her plan backfire?

                      When I posted it, I was the first to admit that it’s derivative (”Some Kind of Wonderful”), non-high concept, predictable and formulaic.

                      Being non-high concept, predictable and formulaic didn’t bother me because you’ll find this in the majority of romantic comedies. It’s the genre’s nature. (Yes, I realize there are a few romantic comedies that prove otherwise.)

                      Romantic comedies have a strong fan base. What’s important to them is the dramatic and emotional journey of the protagonist, or protagonists’, toward their end destination. True love has a strong universal appeal.

                      So, back to the topic, after hearing the members’ opinions, I felt my logline was not a good concept because of the “derivative” factor (I’m sure Jeff’s derivative example in post #92 was for my benefit).

                      I didn’t want to hear that this is a bad concept and be advised to abandoned it and write a “great concept” and thankfully nobody did, as I can recall. I had a strong passion to write this story.

                      What the members advised was to put a fresh spin on this familiar story. This is sound advise, but nothing came to me, so I thought to send it out for its first round of feedback and maybe I’ll get a creative spark from their notes.

                      One note mentioned how there was a scene that reminded this person of “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” So, I thought that’s the direction I could go in the rewrites. She realizes she must stop being an accomplice and break them up.

                      Title: He’s My Man, Bitch!

                      “Some Kind of Wonderful” meets “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

                      The new logline is as follows:

                      When a Goth’s best friend is obsessed with the hottest girl in high school, she must find a way to dropkick her swiftly out of his head and get him to see she’s -- the one.

                      This is not the strongest spin, but it's better than the original. This is not a low or high concept. This is an average/ordinary romantic comedy concept. It’s going to be execution dependent to get read requests.

                      This script could be viewed in the "Sites Services..." forum where I posted a link in a thread titled "My Black List Experience."
                      Last edited by JoeNYC; 01-17-2021, 05:58 AM.


                      • I'm looking for new things we haven't talked about 1000 times before and I came up with this: What was high concept and sellable in 1995 isn't in 2021. What was high concept and sellable in 2010 isn't in 2021. The world changes. The taste change.

                        To me when I say high concept I'm not just thinking just about the idea itself -- but also about the current landscape and what can sell. So JAWS is high concept, but a killer shark movie written today is still a high concept idea but done so many times before that it's not going to help your chances of selling it.

                        Many of my high concept comedy ideas are made to sell from 1995 to 2005.


                        • Originally posted by Bono View Post

                          What was high concept and sellable in 1995 isn't in 2021. What was high concept and sellable in 2010 isn't in 2021. The world changes. The taste change. ... So JAWS is high concept, but a killer shark movie written today is still a high concept idea but done so many times before that it's not going to help your chances of selling it.
                          I would never suggest or encourage a writer to write something derivative, but sometimes it happens and sometimes the film is commercially successful.

                          For example, there was a 1997 novel by Steve Alten titled "Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror." Meg is short for a 75-foot-long Megalodon shark. Screen rights were bought in 1996 by Disney and put into development. After many different studios and many different writers, the movie titled "The Meg" was finally released in 2018 staring Jason Statham. Worldwide gross of $530 million.

                          You also got the derivative "Die Hard's," and so on.
                          Last edited by JoeNYC; 01-13-2021, 07:57 PM.


                          • Spec land vs IP land (books like Meg) aren't the same thing. Also it sold as you said in the 90s... even if it took 20 plus years to get made -- it sold a long time ago...

                            Anyway -- just pointing out that it's much harder to see Die Hard derivatives now than it was 10 years ago simply because they've made so many of those movies already.

                            But if you want to write a guy is stuck inside a giant killer shark -- that I haven't seen...


                            • Someone on one of these threads said something like: a low concept movie is about a day like any other day, and a high concept movie is about a day unlike any other day. I think all these other complications (likability, box office potential, freshness) are getting away from the core. "Human Centipede" was a high concept idea, even though it obviously failed a lot of tests people are talking about. Napoleon Dynamite may have turned out to have commercial appeal and be original, but it's obviously a low concept movie.

                              If I sent a script out tomorrow with the logline: "an off duty soldier is taking a tour of a nuclear reactor when terrorists take over to steal the uranium," it's a high concept idea. It's also derivative of Die Hard. But that doesn't make it a "low concept" movie, just a high concept one that I'm going to have a hard time selling because we've seen it.

                              We don't have to fit all the elements that go into a script being salable into the term "concept." To me, high and low concept is about the... I know this will sound crazy... concept.


                              • Everything Jeff said above is correct. However -- you have to agree that some posters are really not debating low vs high more trying to say "I think all my ideas can sell regardless, here's why...." So I was just pointing out that don't be fooled into thinking high concept idea are the only thing you have to worry about when writing.

                                At the end of the day - if it's successful -- then your idea was the right one. But you won't know that until after you write it. It's a lot of revisionist history when we debate some of these ideas. Die Hard could have been a flop and we would never mention it again.