High-Concept in Screenwriting

One of these days when I was approached by a mainstream, populist movie director for a movie script, he said he was looking for a high concept. Yeah, a high concept for his star-studded movie, by all reasons, because you need the high concept to back up the costs, not to mention the repute-stake of the star!

Just thought I should analyze this high concept business in screenwriting along with the same magic-word in the start-up spectrum, where the demand usually comes from the investor. Intrinsically in both cases, be it movie director or star or an investor, a high concept is something that has to evolve before the actual exercise of screenwriting or a start-up. That’s one side of it.

And more specifically, it has to impress someone before the said exercise can start. So a high concept is definitely meant to impress the investor or a stakeholder. It can either be a nod of approval to work on the screenplay or a story or a start-up business; or a first step to know more about what’s already worked out.

So, it’s clearly a pitch, rather a quick-short-pitch, just in one sentence, either to stir the curiosity to know more about what’s said or to give an affirmation to know more on the topic.

When we say we pitch something with just one sentence, it’s just marked that it needs to be clear-cut and revealing, quick and assertive to propose a whole lot of things that can surface, progress and ensue for something captivating and unfailingly immersive.

 Let me surmise what I said so far:

  • High concept is a short pitch to a decision-maker

  • High concept is mostly confined to just a sentence

  • High concept proposes fascinating possibilities and scope

  • High concept spins an instantaneous interest to the listener

When concept is King of movies these days, high concept makes the perfect royal vehicle. An absorbing hint in a few words and easily understood. Short and stunning!

The High Concept pitch actually summarizes a certain dream into a short, clear simple sentence:

  • None can beat this Girl in wrestling (Dangal?)

  • Snakes on a Plane (Snakes on a plane)

  • Dinosaurs are here mighty cloned (Jurassic Park)

In my analysis, a good high concept promises a great contrast. It is the extend of contrast that gives the high concept even greater ‘wow’ factor.

The core strengths of a great high concept in a movie story can be:

  • Looks to a massive, wider target audience

  • High possibility of development and growth

  • High scope to be exceptional

  • Generates emotional promise

  • Radiates potential entertainment

  • Absolute visual opportunity

  • Shows the potential of story prima facie

High Concept is short and focused, we find of course, but it doesn’t mean the shortness is the defining element. The scope and possibility of growth are. The hook of the sentence is.

Again, it is NOT just the concept of the story or a story-logline, which reveals the idea of the story in just a line. A high concept line is slightly different from pitch logline, too as most of the pitch-loglines are carefully written after the screenplay is completed.

A drunken father wins the love of his two daughters is just one sentence but it can’t be taken to be a high concept. Dangal meets Bhag Milkha Bhag or a perfect cross of Enthiran and Baahubali don’t make high concepts either.

A high concept draws an instant, wholesome appeal and an exhaustive scope for successful outcome in terms of industrial norms.

Another perspective to high concept is to define a low concept. A drunken father wins the love of his two daughters is a low concept for the sheer reason that it can’t be sold just by a pitch to any investor or decision maker. It’s more execution-driven and needs extended character details for the listener to get convinced about the prospects. Movies like Pink or A Wednesday (Hindi) or Bridges of Maddison County or Singing in the Rain can’t never be sold with a pitch.

When you say the one sentence, the faces around you just gleam and smile to say: ‘That sounds great! Why anyone didn’t think about it for a movie so far?’ That’s high concept.

130 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All