High Concept is a term that’s commonly used in Hollywood to refer to a film or story that contains specific characteristics.
Steven 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.
High Concept, at its most basic, 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 out there, 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 unique combinations.
Jurassic Park, is based on one of the most successful high concept ideas of all time.
Jurassic Park is a classical monster movie, but the idea that the monsters spring from the DNA of prehistoric animals, which has been preserved in tree resin, was new and unique at the time.
Wide 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 visualise the general thrust of the story, while being intrigued by the idea of the murder plot being based on biblical sin.
High Concept is a sentence, describing the 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 effectively utilised High Concept to achieve enduring popularity.