You’ve probably heard someone say, “that movie is so high concept,” but what does it mean exactly? Why are so many executives and studios looking for high-concept work? Today I’m going to break down what precisely high concept means and tell you how to find the high concept in your screenplay.
What Does High Concept Mean?
A “high concept” movie idea can be boiled down to a memorable and unique hook. It’s a film that’s more idea or world-driven rather than character-driven. It’s easy to communicate, and most of all, it’s original. A high-concept story will rift on a familiar idea, a norm, or sometimes a recognizable person. High-concept works can be of any genre but are frequently action, adventure, and comedy and are intended to reach a broad audience.
A sign of a high-concept idea is when somebody hears it and immediately gets it, they can visualize it, and they may even ask how this idea hasn’t been made yet.
Many high-concept films answer the “what if?” question. For example, “What if we built a theme park full of dinosaurs?” Or, “What if there was an exterminator-like business for getting rid of ghosts?”
Some examples of high-concept films include:
- Hook (1991)
Screenplay by James V. Hart, Nickle Castle, and Malia Scotch Marmo
What if Peter Pan grew up?
- Enchanted (2007)
Screenplay by Bill Kelly
An animated Disney princess gets transported to real live-action New York.
- Yesterday (2019)
Screenplay by Richard Curtis, Story by Jack Barth
A musician realizes he’s suddenly the only person who can remember The Beatles.
The Difference Between a Logline and High-Concept Pitch
A logline is the one to two-sentence summary of your film. I know a lot of writers struggle to summarize their projects in only one sentence. Writing a logline is a skill of its own. A high-concept pitch is even shorter! I’m talking about summarizing your project in a handful of words. High-concept scripts really let the idea do all the talking.
For example, a logline might say:
"When a man starts mysteriously walking on all fours, his faithful doggie sidekick gets to work in the human world to find a cure for his owner’s ailment."
Where a high-concept pitch might say:
“Imagine a world where dogs go to work, and humans stay home.”
How to Make Your Screenplay High Concept:
There’s no simple formula or way to make your existing script high concept unless it started that way. You have to take your idea back to the brainstorming stage and explore it further. Start by questioning everything.
Break out the “what if” questions to see what happens. What if you changed the time period? What if it took place in space? What if the exact opposite of what you think should happen happens? What if you focused on different characters? What if your characters were complete opposites?
In what ways can you raise the stakes?
How can your idea be more visual?
How can you increase conflict for your main character? What challenge can you pose for them?
How can you make your protagonist more relatable and empathetic?
Is your idea based on something super recognizable? Is there a way to put a dramatic twist on it to make it unique, like “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” written by Seth Grahame-Smith?
Push and pull at your idea. See how far you can stretch it. Keep poking and prodding until your concept feels original.
Writing something high concept can be tricky, but basically, what it comes down to is an idea that is original, highly visual, and easy to communicate. Should every script you write be high concept? Not if it’s going to feel impossible for you to do. What writers should take from Hollywood’s love of high concepts is that it’s vital to write uniquely from your perspective in a way only you can. Tell stories that feel important to you, where your unique perspective is essential. Don’t try to catch the wave of a popular idea; focus on what you're passionate about. Hopefully, this blog sheds some light on the whole “high concept” concept, and hopefully, you feel it encouraged you to be original and unique! Happy writing!