High and Low Concept



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  • High and Low Concept

    I've been working on my third spec since January, and I'm getting ready to start circulating it. I've been keeping in touch with a young producer at Universal, asking him how to circulate it. He said I should avoid query letters, because no one ever reads them. He said it's more important to have contacts...well, I have those. But most importantly, he added, I need to have what the studios want.

    He used Bruce Almighty, and the "Jim Carrey plays God" hook as an example of what the Studios want, because that's what makes money. He said that if I didn't write that, I'd either a.) Have a hard time selling it or b.) It could sit on the shelf for years, and not be made at all. I have to admit that "B" doesn't bother me because I really want the money to live comfortably. I was inspired by Richard Lester's comedies from the 1960s, but I'd like to think that the closest cinematic cousins (recently released) to my movies would be Down With Love, Win A Date With Tad Hamilton (It's inspired by old romantic comedies), Amelie, and High Fidelity.

    Now, while I can accept that high concept films sell the easiest, is there still room for movies like mine to sell? Should I get discouraged?

  • #2
    Um I don't think anyone will really tell you to be discouraged.
    That's kind of your choice but it won't help you any.

    High concept usually refers to big ideas that everyone in the world can relate to. Using your example of Bruce Almighty, hasn't everybody dreamed of having power to change their life and do what ever they want? Of playing God in some way?
    We are intrigued by these movies because we harbor a secret desire, fear, or wonder of the subject matter.

    You've all ready answered your own question.
    The movies all got made didn't they?

    Study those movies and identify what elements contributed to them selling. Read the scripts. And find out the back history of those movies. What was their journey like? Who are they by, who pushed em along and why.
    I'm certain others on this board can give some more details.

    I wonder if what you are REALLY asking is, "Am I capable of writing the type of story that has a solid chance of getting produced?"

    Well, the only way you'll know that is to write em and try to market them.
    So, um, why are you still here?
    GET WRITING!!!!!!


    • #3
      "High concept" is all about marketing -- what studios feel they can easily market and make money on. It translates to "what's the poster" and "what's the 30-second trailer"?

      This also means that it is easy for producers and studio types to can quickly and easily "sell" it to their bosses as it goes up the ladder for approval.

      It's one of those challenges we writers need to face - how to sell your idea. Most producer/executive types I've met judge ideas very quickly and know whether or not they can sell it in about 30 seconds.


      • #4
        High concept can be summed up in three words COMPELLING, CLEAR and CONCISE.

        High concept is concept that is COMPELLING, the drama is CLEAR and can be expressed CONCISELY.

        A man falls in love with a mermaid.

        That is high concept because it is an interesting idea with obvious drama as they struggle to make their relationship work despite the obvious obstacles and the entire thing is expressed in a brief statement.

        "An ordinary man is given God's power" is high concept because it is an interesting idea with obvious drama that can be expressed briefly.

        My take on it.


        • #5
          High concept can be summed up in three words COMPELLING, CLEAR and CONCISE.
          I'm not sure if I agree, or maybe I just don't understand. Are you stating these three components make up a 'high concept' script? Well, no kidding, but these should be elements in EVERY script, not just high-concept ones. Who does not strive for compelling, clear and concise? Strange, guess you just confused me. Then again, that's not very hard to do


          • #6
            There are many stories where the drama is complex and difficult to explain clearly in a concise manner. There are also many stories where the drama does not hinge on the concept, or that the concept is not in fact driving the drama. There are also many stories that excel in their execution not because their concept is compelling (grabs your attention and imagination).

            In The Bedroom is an execution script. The concept is not particular compelling even though it can be expressed clearly in a concise manner. The strength of the story is not in the concept but in the execution of it.

            As Good As It Gets is not a particularly compelling concept but the execution of it makes the film very entertaining.

            Movies like Red Violin, Lock Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels and Pulp Fiction are difficult to clearly express the drama in a concise manner

            Not all stories are high concept, nor should they be, but it really helps improve your odds with your spec if it is high concept.

            When you combine the three aspects of COMPELLING, CLEAR and CONCISE what you end up with is a story that can be told in a single breath and is so immediately accessible and appealing that it is able to make non-creative people imagine the film and want to know more.


            • #7
              When you combine the three aspects of COMPELLING, CLEAR and CONCISE what you end up with is a story that can be told in a single breath and is so immediately accessible and appealing that it is able to make non-creative people imagine the film and want to know

              I just fell in love with that. I'm planing on memorizing it.


              • #8
                WIN A DATE does have a high concept - small town girl wins a date with big movie star.

                HIGH FIDELITY (based on a novel), AMALIE (foreign film - funded by the French government), DOWN WITH LOVE (I think that was an indie, but I also think it has a high concept).

                Before the audience pays $10 to see the film, the make a decision based on 30 second TV spots and 3 minute trailers... which do little more than get the basic idea of the script across. So the basic IDEA of your story is very important. Your basic idea also shows your creativity... Why write a script based on a bland idea?

                Romantic comedies always have something that keeps the couple apart (or else the film would be over in five minutes) - and usually what keeps the couple apart is something either high concept or an idea that is universal - but no one has ever used before. So in 50 FIRST DATES we have a guy who falls in love with a woman who has short-term memory problems, and he has to win her over every day all over again. In SERENDIPITY fate has brought the couple together and now fate is *actively* keeping them apart. In SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE we have something we all understand - modern communications allows us to fall in love with someone who lives on the other side of the country, without ever meeting them face-to-face (universal - but never done in a film before).

                So what is the creative idea behind your romantic comedy?

                The problem is, the script will sit on *your* shelf (unsold), not their shelf. There are 50,000 scripts registered with WGA every year, ad since they don't self destruct at they end of the year, there may be half a million scripts out there right now. Why would someone buy a well written script with an okay idea when they can buy someone else's well written script with a great idea?

                - Bill


                • #9
                  High concept is like pornography. You know it when you see it.


                  • #10
                    The definition of High Concept is a bit too broad in this thread.

                    A High Concept pitch refers to a movie you haven't seen yet.

                    There are elements common to most all movie stories: three distinct acts, a Main Character on a mission/journey, opposition, resolutions, etc., etc.

                    When you pitch a Logline you have about twenty-five words to tell as much of the story as you can in hopes it will click with listener. You hope the listener will fill in all the blanks (anticipate all the elements) and be interested enough to request your script.

                    Now ... if you can do the same thing with six (or less) words, you have a High Concept story.

                    You can't come up with a High Concept pitch for a movie you have already seen - for a movie where you already know all the elements. That would be cheating.


                    • #11
                      I have to disagree

                      It's not the specific number of words. Alliens attack! is a two word pitch, but it is not original or clever or appealing. If your idea is brilliant, though, and makes people immediately want to see your movie, nobody is going to quibble about a few extra words.


                      • #12
                        Re: I have to disagree

                        I've learned over the years that there is basically one quick definition of "High Concept" in the minds of producers;
                        A "high concept" script is one whose premise:
                        &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp is universal 
                        &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp has a fresh twist 
                        &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp involves an empathetic hero who is dealing with a BIG problem 
                        &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp &nbsp can be summed up in a 25-word log line that gives a good picture of 
                        the entire movie.
                        WriteCraft Writer's Resource Center has an entire article on it: www.writecraftweb.com/articles/wcLowDown.html


                        • #13
                          Re: I have to disagree

                          It's not the number of words alone. It's the number of words along with the potential of those words to inspire the "listener" to visualize the concept of the entire story.

                          You're right. "Aliens attack" is two words and is not a High Concept pitch. These two words do nothing to suggest (in my mind at least) what the entire story ... all the elements ... will be about.

                          High Concept pitches are not used on the general public. Nobody will risk using just a few words to get people to buy a ticket.

                          A simple movie poster with a tag line is much much more than a High Concept pitch. (Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words.)

                          And how many "words" are there in a 30 second TV spot or a 3 minute trailer?


                          • #14
                            We agree on this

                            We agree it needs to be brief and clear and attractive to an audience. We agree it's often told in a visual, like the huge elf among the little elves (the one-sheet.) My only quibble was about a specific word count.


                            • #15
                              "A High Concept pitch refers to a movie you haven't seen yet."

                              Not entirely true.

                              High concept is pretty much what Deus said.

                              "Die Hard on a boat" is a "high concept" explanation for Under Siege.

                              I've seen Die Hard.

                              I've seen Love Boat.

                              I've seen Steven Seagal movies.

                              But, I suppose I haven't seen all three in one.