This post is in response to a request by Russ, one of this blog’s regular readers, that I say something about High Concept. High Concept is a term that’s commonly used in Hollywood to refer to a film whose story contains certain characteristics. Spielberg has referred to High Concept as a high-level idea that can be expressed briefly, allowing one to hold the entire story in the palm of one’s hand.
At its most basic, High Concept entails three crucial aspects:
1. It contains a core concept that is unique.
2. It appeals to a large audience.
3. It can be stated in a single sentence, allowing us to “see” the overall story at a glance.
Of course, no story is truly unique. We’ve often heard that there are only so many stories in existence, and they’ve all been told before in one way or another. But this does not mean that elements within these stories can’t be arranged in a unique combination. Jurassic Park, for example, is a classical monster movie, but the idea that the monsters spring from the DNA of prehistorical animals, which has been preserved in tree resin, was new and unique at the time.
Wide-Spread Audience Appeal
This is one of the most difficult elements to pin down. After all, if we knew beforehand precisely what would prove popular with audiences or readers, we’d all be millionaires. Having said that, there are sources that we can look to for hints. The top ten most popular books and movies is a good place to start.
Can Be Stated Succinctly
How is it possible that one can encapsulate and visualise an entire story in a single sentence? Well, that’s what’s so marvelous about High Concept – it’s a pithy statement that allows one to intuit the overall shape of the story in a few bold strokes. The movie Seven, for example, very much a high concept story, can be stated in one sentence: A serial killer selects and murders his victims based on each having committed one of the seven deadly sins. Although the details are missing, we can easily visualize the general thrust of the movie, while being intrigued by the idea of the murder plot being based on biblical sin.
High Concept is a single sentence, describing a story in broad strokes, which encapsulates an element of uniqueness and appeals to a wide audience. Some of the most popular books and movies of all time have utilised High Concept to obvious effect.
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