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

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  • Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

    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.
    "derivative" isn't indicative of something being low concept. There are both derivative low and high concepts. Derivative is an indication that a film's commercial potential may be affected. I feel a "true" high concept will be unique, even though there have been derivative high concept films that made a ton of money, but this is after-the-fact and not when a writer is trying to sell a derivative high concept spec screenplay to a buyer.

    The "high" in high concept means everything is elevated.

    Its hook will be more exciting. It's appeal to an audience will be more broad, making for a greater commercial potential. The story will be unique. Loads of compelling conflict, etc. Not low, medium -- HIGH!

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    • Originally posted by JoeNYC View Post

      "derivative" isn't indicative of something being low concept. There are both derivative low and high concepts. Derivative is an indication that a film's commercial potential may be affected. I feel a "true" high concept will be unique, even though there have been derivative high concept films that made a ton of money, but this is after-the-fact and not when a writer is trying to sell a derivative high concept spec screenplay to a buyer.
      I agree that being derivative is not indicative of something being low nor high concept. But it has nothing to do with commercial potential. A script or movie can be derivative and wildly successful.

      I think you're generally misinterpreting what derivative means within the context of criticism. Calling something derivative, to me, is probably one of the worst critiques I could get. It means the artistic product is blatantly copying something else without adding anything new. In screenwriting it's learning the basic structure of a script and then copying the beats and stories of a favorite writer. That is fine if it's part of a growth and learning process. However, at some point the work needs to take those pieces of what inspires you, and use it in your own new way. It's the old adage I think is attributed to Picasso - Bad artists borrow, good artists steal. It means great artists/writers take from the best and make it their own. Bad artists take from the best and kind of just make a copy of the original.

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      • Originally posted by zetiago View Post

        I agree that being derivative is not indicative of something being low or high concept. But it has nothing to do with commercial potential. A script or movie can be derivative and wildly successful.
        Yes, a derivative movie can be "wildly successful" and this has been proven to be a fact. This was discussed in earlier posts. It's also a fact that a working professional writer, Jeff Lowell, has pointed out it's harder to sell a derivative screenplay because if it's too familiar, it'll reduce the audience interested in seeing it, thus affecting its commercial potential. Yes, a lot of plot and stories have been told, so you're gonna have some familiarity, but this is where the brainstorming comes in. The work. The blood and sweat to dig deeper and find something fresh.

        In developing my screenplay, I presented a logline that was derivative. The concept was too familiar to "Some Kind of Wonderful" and the members called me out on that. They were right and I knew they were right, but you always hope you can get away with something so you don't have to roll up your sleeves and go back to work. In the end, I'm glad they said something and suggested that I put a spin on it so it wouldn't be so familiar. Readers may find it still somewhat familiar, but I know it won't be at the same level as before.
        Last edited by JoeNYC; 01-14-2021, 07:37 PM.

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        • This is all getting away from one of the core advantages of writing a high concept movie: if you can explain the movie clearly and quickly to the executive or agent or producer you're submitting it to, they know it can be clearly and quickly explained to the potential audience. If your logline make the script sound interesting, the ads can make the movie sound interesting.

          I sold a spec and had a movie made because the concept could be gotten across in seven words: First Wives Club in high school. Obviously that pitch relies on the fact that it's derivative, but it's got a twist on it so it didn't hurt it's commercial potential.

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          • There's nothing wrong with a high concept script that's slightly derivative. What is everyone always saying that Hollywood wants?

            Same but different.

            Honestly, I think it can sometimes make pitching and marketing a script easier than a unique concept provided it's not too derivative.

            I alluded to this in an earlier post, but when you have a concept that lacks something that you can draw a parallel to, it can be somewhat harder to get the complete idea across from a conceptual and tonal perspective, which I think is just as important.

            Although, maybe communicating tone as a part of the concept isn't as much of a concern for non-comedy writers. I'm sure one could tell me.

            When the person you're pitching your concept to doesn't have a reference point to go off of, I feel like it can create a hesitancy about the entire concept, even if it works in the context of the script.

            A couple of my recent scripts fall into that boat. I can boil the concepts down into a logline easy enough, but I personally don't feel like that may be enough in a query.

            I'd be much more comfortable marketing the script I'm finishing right now where I can say something like, "It's like 'Always Sunny' meets 'Bojack Horseman' (without the animal people)" because I think having those reference points paints a clearer picture when I'm trying to sell someone on the idea.

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            • Originally posted by Prezzy View Post

              There's nothing wrong with a high concept script that's slightly derivative.
              Just saying, the more a spec script copies an original produced film, the weaker its appeal and commercial potential it becomes, though there are exceptions that prove otherwise.

              Sequels, by its nature, are derivative of the originals. So, great effort needs to be applied to find a freshness in each sequel. There were some franchises that stalled because the product they were putting out was inferior. When some found fresh voices, they were released again.

              There are some super characters that can sell anything, such as, Bond, James Bond.

              You also have the remakes.

              For example, in 1987 the teen romantic comedy, CAN’T BUY ME LOVE, was released. Rotten Tomatoes: 48% Critics. 74% Audience. It was a commercial success: budget $5,000,000, box office $32,000,000 (1987 dollars).

              16 years later, in 2003, a remake was released titled LOVE DON’T COST A THING, staring Nick Cannon, though instead of “remake” Warner Bros. advertising referred to it as a modern update. Rotten Tomatoes: 13% Critics. 65% Audience.

              65% is only slightly lower than the original because romantic comedies have a strong fan base. This is why I felt comfortable that my teen romantic comedy, 34 years later, was derivative of SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, but thankfully, some members knocked some sense into me to find some type of spin, anything, so it wouldn’t be so familiar -- to the old geezers anyway.

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              • I feel like this entire thread is beating a dead horse, but this notion of derivative discussed here strikes me as completely wrong. Derivative in art criticism is like saying your work is s&*t. It does get thrown around unfairly and probably too much, but it's definitely an extremely negative reaction. I would add there are no degrees of derivative. It's binary. And as I said before it's not on it's face an impediment to success or a sale, especially in film and TV. In a lot of ways being derivative is rewarded. Much of network TV is derivative, for example. Derivative is a safe investment for a producer.

                To further illustrate look at Jackson Pollack. Before he started doing his drip paintings that broke free of the proverbial canvas restraints and reoriented notions of abstraction, he was doing work largely seen as middling copies (derivative) of what other popular artists were doing at the time.

                Also, a person can't be derivative of themselves. Like Pollack who landed on a new technique then went on to produce hundreds of variations of the same thing. He had his own voice and no critic would ever say he was being derivative of himself. They may say they are not growing as an artist, but that is different critique completely. In film a good example is David Lynch. All of his movies, except Elephant Man and Dune which were not his own material, are variations of the same sets of themes. They are very similar to each other but not derivative. Just like a sequel is not derivative. In the same way a second episode of a series is not derivative.

                Finally a disclaimer. I'm speaking in generalities and not any poster's specific work, which I have not read and have no opinion on.

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                • Originally posted by zetiago View Post

                  I feel like this entire thread is beating a dead horse. ... Derivative is a safe investment for a producer.
                  You're entitled to your opinion. So, I'll move on and give that poor dead horse a break.

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                  • What else do we have to do but beat a dead horse? Besides maybe it's not dead yet...

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                    • it always comes back, one last time. After all, this is Hollywood.
                      "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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                      • Originally posted by JeffLowell View Post

                        I'd go farther and say that writers who can do that will be stars, not just sustain a career. But I wonder if you're underestimating just how difficult a standard that is.
                        No doubt. Anything worth doing in life is extremely competitive and difficult. And you're right, that standard we reach for, that's the difference between the Lebrons of the world and a 10th man in the rotation who is out of the league in 4-5 years. For some of us to get to where we want to go, we need to active that fire. Mamba mode. You never know if it'll lead you to the place that you want--you could fail, you could come up short.

                        You write a great script, get it made, or get an award, whatever it may be. Ok, do it again, do it better. Write a big blockbuster movie. Fine. Do it again. Win an oscar. That's great. Do it again. You hit a midlife crisis. You get torn down. Your writing suffers. Ok fine, look at it like an injury set back. Like a torn achilles. How do we build it back up. How do we come back stronger. When you complete one of your missions, like writing fade out, or getting your movie made, or winning a championship, the goal is to look at them as milestones in a much larger context of what you want your legacy to be. Kobe already had 3 championships and multpile all-nba team selections by the time he went up to Gary Payton and asked, "how do I become 1st team all defense?"

                        The only way to become great at anything in life, is to continue to learn and execute what you've learned at a high level.

                        Just my two cents/personal philosophy. Everyone's different.

                        Good luck everyone!

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                        • As a Boston fan all I go say is "Go Pats!" But as a sports fan I get it. Actual I grew up a Michael Jordan fanatic and being that in Boston in the 80s was a rare thing. Larry Bird was the best player of all time according to any Boston person from 1980-1992.

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                          • 6 months late to the party. A lot of good responses already.

                            There's a script on the 2019 Black List called "The Traveler". A few pages into the script, a guy is driving his car and suddenly phases one day into the future, with no memory of anything that happened in between. Interesting, but not amazing. Then a day later the same thing happens, except this time he skips two days into the future. That's the actual "holy ****" moment because you realize that his jumps are going to double every time, and that he's soon going to leap very far into the future. Questions immediately flood into your mind. How will it affect his marriage? How will it affect his relationship with his young son? Before long he is jumping weeks, months, and years into the future, absent from his family almost all of that time.

                            The script is pretty cool. I don't know if I loved every single choice the writer made, but if I were a studio exec I would buy the script just on the basis of the concept. It's such an evocative premise that it instantly creates a wave of intrigue, anticipation, and suspense once you understand the core premise. To me, that's a good example of a great concept. It's a premise so compelling that it instantly evokes a narrative arc replete with possibilities.

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