The “Death” of High Concept
Every once in a while we aspiring screenwriters question our methods. If Hollywood is making a lot of “high concept” movies that fail, is the high concept movie dead? And in a world that is changing, where movies might soon be seen on iPods instead of in big-screen theaters, does that mean storytelling has to change too?
In the past few days I realized once again why the basics still apply and why no matter what the delivery system may be, the rules of writing stories that satisfy still hold.
1. This past weekend we saw Steven Soderburgh’s Bubble premiere. It’s a movie that will be best known as the first to be released in theaters and as a DVD on the same day. But the manner of distribution doesn’t matter if no one wants to see the movie — and Bubble has barely made a ripple.
2. I also got a lesson in sticking to my guns while out pitching this week. For as poorly as the typical “Hollywood” movie is perceived in any given year, the rules of why the good ones work still hold.
Having a pitch that is easy to describe is still the coin of the realm in Hollywood and my studio meetings this week confirmed this — again! My pitch to an executive must be translated to the studio head and, if we’re lucky, eventually pitched to moviegoers. Across the board the test is the same: Am I interested in this idea or not?
3. I was also teaching my screenwriting class at Chapman University this week. The students have GREAT ideas, several of which I think they can sell and get made. But in each case as we were going around the table, as each writer pitched their concept, the old saw still applied: Does it grab me? If not, no sale.
Your movie idea must follow the rules, too. The so called “death” of high concept is better understood as the hoped-for death of bad movies. And the way to test to see if your ideas are good or bad is the same as everyone else’s: Pitch someone. No matter how we get our ideas to an audience, you can’t get past having to come up with one that doesn’t make our eyes glaze over — whether in person, on your iPod, or on 3,000 screens.