by Steve Kaire
High Concept has been a Hollywood term that's been misunderstood and used incorrectly more than any other I can think of. Ask most writers how they would define it and most will say it's any project that can be pitched in one sentence. A boy searching for his lost dog is one sentence but it's not even close to being High Concept.
The premise or logline is the core of High Concept. The premise is a condensed summary of what your story is about. My definition of High Concept is comprised of five requirements. They are in descending order of importance. Numbers one and two are the most difficult requirements to meet. But meeting only several of the requirements is not enough. All five requirements have to be met for success in trying to achieve the "slam dunk" project everyone is looking for.
YOUR PREMISE MUST BE ORIGINAL
A logline is generally one to five sentences with the average being around three. Therefore, you have to pitch your material in a compressed, economical manner which captures the essence of your story and highlights its originality. Writers should practice pitching their work by boiling down their story into only one sentence regardless if their story is High Concept or not.
In seeking originality, we are not talking about reinventing the wheel. We can take traditional subject matter that's been done before and add a hook or to it which then qualifies the material as original. There have been dozens of films which covered the subject area of kidnapping. In the comedy, "Ruthless People". Danny Devito plays a wealthy man whose wife, played by Bette Midler, gets kidnapped. Challenging convention, Devito refuses to pay the ransom because he hates his wife and sees this as the opportunity he's been waiting for to finally get rid of her. Now, the bungling kidnappers are stuck with an impossible woman that they have no idea what to do with. It's that unique hook that makes this a High Concept film.
YOUR STORY HAS TO HAVE WIDE AUDIENCE APPEAL
That means it's possible to meet Requirement #1 by creating an original story that's never been done before. But its appeal exists only in the mind of the writer who created it. An example would be a man who thinks everyone in the world is out to get him and refuses to leave his home ever again. While it's true that it's never been done before, who cares? Wide audience appeal means that virtually everyone you pitch your story to would pay ten dollars to see your movie first run. You have to decide either you're writing for your own enjoyment or you're writing to sell.
YOUR PITCH HAS TO BE STORY SPECIFIC
That means that within your pitch, you have to have specific details which make your story different. Let's take the bank robbing plot. If you came up with a story about three people who want to rob a bank by digging a tunnel underneath it, the response would be, "So what?" A twist on that genre is the old James Bond classic, "Goldfinger." The pitch would be, "What if a villain interested in world domination decided he was going to bankrupt the U.S. economy by robbing Fort Knox of all its gold."
Now that's not only unique but it contains specifics within the pitch that are not generic.
THE POTENTIAL IS OBVIOUS
If you're pitching a comedy, then the potential for humor should be obvious within your pitch. People should smile or laugh when you tell it. If you're pitching an action movie, the listener should be able to imagine the action scenes in his head as your pitching. I sold a screenplay to Interscope called, "Worst Case Scenario." It was an action thriller about a government think tank that comes up with worst case terrorist and disaster scenarios. Its most brilliant member turns traitor and plans to pull off the worst terrorist act in American history using all the inside information he's gathered. The potential for action, thrills and big set pieces is obvious to anyone who hears that pitch.
YOUR PITCH SHOULD BE SHORT
Most pitches should 1 to 3 sentences long, five maximum. You are not telling what happens in Acts 1, 2 and 3. You are giving the essence of your story.
I've had thousands of projects pitched to me in over twenty years and writers mistakenly think that the longer the pitch, the better the story. No one wants to listen to a rambling pitch that goes on and on without any direction or focus. When you're pitching, you are telling what your story is about, not what happens in the story. The reactions you want to hear when you pitch is "Wow! Why didn't I think of that?" or "Why hasn't somebody made that movie before?" When the faces in the room light up after you deliver your pitch, you know you've got them. That's the sought after "slam dunk." That's what High Concept is all about.
STEVE KAIRE is a WGA screenwriter who has sold/optioned 8 projects to the majors including Warners, Columbia, United Artists and Interscope without representation. He's been featured in various industry publications and is a sought after speaker on the lecture circuit. He's also taught writing classes at the American Film Institute.
For more articles by Steve Kaire or to find out more about his groundbreaking CD entitled, "High Concept: How To Create, Pitch & Sell To Hollywood," go to: http://www.SteveKaire.com