The single most in-demand quality of a script is for it to be “high concept.” But what does that really mean?
That demand comes from producers, directors, financiers, studios and, most importantly, the audience. Yet I find it extraordinary that I’ve never seen a satisfactorily clear definition of “high concept,” or a good working method for achieving it repeatedly.
A typical reason for getting a pass on a project is that the fundamental idea didn’t have a strong-enough “hook” or a “high concept.” But if you ask the person who just rejected your hard work what you could do to improve it, they often have no idea. All they ever provide are those same vague words—”hook,” “high concept,” “it’s not grabbing me,” “it needs another level,” and the like. In other words, they know it’s not interesting enough to them, but not how to direct the filmmaker to improve it.
When we make films that don’t end up connecting with an audience, we sometimes have a tendency to blame the audience. I don’t believe in that perspective. I know I can prove why there are some films that should never have been made in the first place. My principle covers both character-driven and plot-driven stories, and it works whether you make a Hollywood or an indie film.
When I tell people this theory, some try to disprove it by citing examples of successful films that weren’t high concept. Sure, many great movies are not high concept, but in those cases the cast and filmmakers often leveraged their own past successes as a means of getting a greenlight, as well as finding an audience. If you have that currency of reputation to spend on getting your movie made, spend it. If not, you better figure out a way to make people sit up and take notice based solely on the idea itself.
I must properly credit Levan Bakhia, my dear friend, producing partner and director of our first film together, Landmine Goes Click. He shared the fundamentals of this theory with me—a theory he developed over two years. When he told it to me, it was like lightning striking. I have never used another method for developing story since. Over the last two and a half years, Bakhia and I have worked on dozens of concepts. We have built a treasure trove of high concept films that we plan to bring to you. Through that process, we’ve continued to add to and refine that theory.
There are four main components needed to create a high-concept story:
1. Build a puzzle that you want to solve.
Think of a book of puzzles: mazes and other visual mind benders. Remember how these books always have solutions in the back pages? Imagine flipping such a book open to one of the first few pages and seeing a puzzle. It’s very simple. In fact, it’s so simple that you can see the solution right away. Boring. This is not a puzzle you want to solve…