Why I Harp on Concept
One of the many disciplines Save the Cat! endorses is the cultivation and clear enunciation of your ideas.
It’s not enough to be inspired, it’s not enough to “see” your movie.
Can you get someone else to see it, too?
Screenplays are blueprints for further action. And action starts with the idea.
If you can get yours into a form I find intriguing, I will ask to see that script.
If the script is well told (and that means well-structured, another STC! principle), I as producer will ask: Who is this for? And can it be made and released for a price that will make back an investment?
And finally, once I’ve asked for your script, bought it, and made it into a movie, I now have to tell others about it, and tell your idea a third time in a smart advertising campaign. It’s a $30 – $50 million investment in P & A (prints and advertising) on average for the typical major studio release.
But just because we’re “only the writer” doesn’t mean this information cannot inform what we do, too.
One of the better articles about this rollout can be seen in an essay in The New Yorker by Tad Friend that writer Dianna Ippolito brought to my attention. I have since suggested it to other writers, and now you:
The article details the challenge of testing, marketing to, and rousing an audience into action. And by the way, this is not meant as a negative by any means, but as a reinforcement of the pressing need to be clear when we lure audiences to our scripts — be it one decisionmaker or millions!
Pitch, is all I’m saying. Put your movie idea into a form you can tell others about… and get them interested. Whether it’s a lively poster line that sums up your movie in a catchy slogan; a tight logline that hints at the beginning, middle, and end of your hero’s adventure; or a treatment that grabs our attention — grab it! Not only will you have a better chance of selling your project, but the discipline of clearly stating what your movie is about will make the writing of that story that much better, too!
P.S. And speaking of the discipline of writing a better logline, the avalanche continues on our STC! Contest. Our judges are overwhelmed with the hilarity. Keep ’em coming. But please note the rules of the contest; some of you are missing the assignment! Like all our contests, this one is both for fun and for developing the writing muscles that are vital to our careers!
P.P.S. I have heard from several teachers (two I spoke to at Screenwriting Expo this fall) that both Save the Cat! and Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies are being used as the sole texts for college and high school film courses. I would be interested in hearing from any teacher using Cat! and would be happy to speak to your class via speaker phone as I have done over the past few months to great results! I am also pleased to report that Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies especially is selling off the hook, another printing has been ordered, and it’s reached “best seller” status faster than the first book! Thanks to all who have made my second book as great a success as the first, and please let me know if I can be of help answering questions or appearing — even virtually — in your classroom.
- Jon Carlson
Also in regards to those rules. Contestants are ADDING a letter to the title rather than CHANGING a letter as the rules state.
- Martin Blank
Thanks for the article in the New Yorker. What a GREAT read. I think back to being a play producer in NYC, and it’s true, you really have to go out in a very competitive market and sell to win audience. Thanks for continuing to remind me of the importance of concept and log line. Harp on! -Martin
- Rob M
I think you hit on something key Blake – find a way to pitch your film that makes it memorable. there isn’t a formula everyone has to follow, but just get it into someone’s head no matter what.
I was once told the parking lot test for a title: Imagine you’re in a parking lot and you see FILMMAKER X but separated by hundreds of cars, on the weekend, with traffic everywhere; you have one shot to get them to hear your great title.
You scream at the top of your LUNGS!
Would it be enough for them to stop traffic and come back and listen?
There’s more than one way to make a rubber chicken dance ;)
- Steven hammon
I totally agree about concept is king. It’s what sells. Sometimes producers will buy bad scripts based on the concept alone and get in their own writers to fix it, just because the concept is a gold mine. Reverse that where you have the best script every but it’s impossible to market or pitch, and it’s dead before you even start.
I do have 1 question though. Say you get a high concept by watching a documentary about the possibility for a freakishly fast ice age and think “A family-man scientist struggles to convince the world that an epic ice age is about to strike the northern hemisphere, and his resourceful son is trapped in the middle of the super storm.” Should you bother writing it even though you pretty much know some huge producer has just watched it too and probably already has a writer in mind who he will pay for the writing assignment?
- Rob M
I think you gotta write what you love. Crunch the numbers my friend. How many screenplays can you get done a year? How many can you outline?
If the concept is really something you want to pursue, then go for knowing that 1 of your 5 or 6 screenplays a year will used up on the idea. If you’re not that into it, just do an outline, a beatsheet or an entire board and file it away; then come back to it if you really love it and see how you can make it better.
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And I’m trying to get STC! added to yet another curriculum. I told the program director it would be at great disservice to his students to not add it. Especially with so much of your terminology entering the Hollywood vernacular.