High Concept. It’s a phrase that’s tossed around a lot, but what does it mean?
– A good fucking movie idea? Sure.
– A killer pitch for a book or film? Yep.
– A succinct pitch that sells itself? Of course.
Okay, it’s all of these things. But what does it REALLY mean, EXACTLY?
Tada! May I present to you the execution / pitch time/space continuum…
Execution-driven <—————————————————–> Pitch-driven
Execution driven Pitch driven
You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the High Concept Zone!
Nah, we’re going to stay right here in this dimension. So here’s MY take on what High Concept is – from a writer who has never actually sold a high concept, concept. Anywayz…
In understanding what HIGH CONCEPT is, it helps to understand it’s antithesis. You’ve heard it called “low concept” – but I personally detest that term, why? Because some films I like would be considered “low concept” (SIDEWAYS, THERE WILL BE BLOOD).
You have EXECUTION-DRIVEN ideas on one end, and on the other you have PITCH-DRIVEN. It’s here in the realm of pitch driven that you find your high concept ideas.
EXECUTION-DRIVEN ideas generally must be written to demonstrate audience-appeal. Execution driven is a story that can be told in a variety of ways. Tone, dialogue, voice – these elements contribute to the overall concept rather than the concept itself (LOST IN TRANSLATION for example).
HIGH CONCEPT ideas can be sold from a pitch. You pitch the concept. You read the logline and it seems to just zap you. It’s immediate. You “get” it.
Take two scenarios…
When you pitch your story idea, do you get a response like…
“Mmm hmmmm hmmmm, that’s interesting.”
“WOW! And then this can happen, and that can happen, and wow – WHY HASN’T THIS BEEN MADE?”
Execution-driven peaks your interest.
High concept GRABS you by the throat, hook-line and sinker.
THE HIGH CONCEPT RECIPE
Here’s the recipe, there are a few different ingredients:
#1. HIGH CONCEPT takes the familiar and puts it on it’s head.
Check out this logline – it takes our fear of STDs and adds a supernatural twist:
IT FOLLOWS: When a young woman is followed by an unknown supernatural force after a sexual encounter, she learns the only way to rid herself of it is to pass it on to an unknowing sexual partner.
#2. HIGH CONCEPT is a story that writes itself.
Is the pitch visual? Do you see the movie?
This pitch certainly is…
JURASSIC PARK: During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.
#3. HIGH CONCEPT makes me jealous…
Does it have emotional resonance? Are you downright pissed for not coming up with it?
DEAR SATAN: The tale follows a 7-year old girl who accidentally misspells “Santa” in her letter to the North Pole and instead invites Satan to bring her a toy for Christmas.
This is a logline for a spec that sold back in 2012, and I’m STILL jealous about it.
#4. HIGH CONCEPT is…
Short and sweet.
In some cases, all you need is a TITLE.
THE FORTY YEAR-OLD VIRGIN: No logline necessary.
Seriously though, this is more of a general rule – whether you’re pitching an execution based idea or a high concept, keep your logline short. Tell it in a single sentence. Two sentences MAX.
Don’t tell the story, SELL the idea. That’s high concept.
Written by: Mich Medvedoff