Every writer has a dozen or more new story ideas tucked away in a file on their computers. But a good idea isn’t enough to break into Hollywood. The most marketable films are high concept ideas. How do you take a basic idea and turn it into high concept screenplay? Studios know high concept films put people in the seats. They want a twist on an idea, something that will make it more commercial and compelling. High concept is just that—a film that appeals to a wide audience. A high concept pitch allows an executive to immediately visualize the entire movie.
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Here are five ways to turn your basic movie idea into a high concept film:
1. The “What If” Premise
High concept movies always answer the question “what if?” For example, what if we put a shark in the waters of a beach town in the peak of the summer tourist season? But don’t just stop there. How can you raise the stakes? Keep asking “what if…?” Exploring your story concept with those two simple words will get you closer to a high concept movie. Don’t just do it with the overall concept, take the characters and the events and keep asking, “What if…?” until you have successfully twisted them into something original.
2. Opposites Attract
Take two characters who would normally never be together and put them together. Buddy cop movies and romantic comedies often use this as a premise. In the movie Speed, it’s Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. In Lethal Weapon, it’s Danny Glover and Mel Gibson.
Work with a concept that fascinates you. Your interest will elevate the story. Think about hobbies or even your bucket list. Make a list of things you always wanted to explore and then dive in. If you’re fascinated by it, chances are other people will be too. Above all, write it in a way only you could write it. Let your passion for the project show.
4. Ticking Clock
To create high concept fiction, brainstorm ways to make your original premise more unique. What could happen in the world you set up that is totally unexpected? It could be adding a ticking clock element to the story—a deadline that must be met. Or you could literally create your own ticking clock by setting a timer for 15 minutes and write a bullet list of possible ideas. Most won’t be useable, but all you need are a few. Keep resetting the timer until you come up with a high concept document that you can use to elevate your original story idea.
5. Known Quantity
High concept films contain a twist on someone or something recognizable. The recognizable element gived it an element of believability even if it’s an unbelievable concept. Think of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or Cowboys & Aliens. Remember, high concept movies are simply taking an original idea and putting a twist on it.
Put all these tips together and you get a high concept film, like Jaws: When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
For more help on writing high concept movies, download our free High Concept Scorecard to test your screenplay ideas and get tips as to what makes a movie a high concept film.