What Is A High Concept Screenplay?

It is a term  often bandied about, but poorly defined. Many executives claim they know it when they see it.

  • has an unique premise – the idea is king
  • has a memorable title – it conveys what the movie is about
  • has a visual logline – you can see the movie
  • has universal appeal – all demographics “get it” (four quadrant)
  • has a simple throughline, clear conflicts, high stakes, a hook, a ticking clock and/ or a twist
  • can be summed up succinctly in 25 words or less

High concept stories revel in their simplicity and elegance. They tend to be more plot/action rather than character based and therefore easier to pitch. These scripts tend to be more attractive to studios and often lend themselves to astronomical budgets and a visually stunning canvas.

Low concept scripts are usually character based dramas or comedies. They tend to be low budget (under $5 million) and populate the festival and film society circuit. I call these vertical stories because little happens in terms of plot or character trajectories. They tend to be exploration of feelings, attitudes and character.

Their relative lack of kinesis makes them less cinematic and visually appealing according to the box office. However, sales at this year’s Sundance suggests the tide may have turned in their favor.


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