Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What is High Concept?

What is High Concept?

For more information visit: Story Talk: High Concept—Yes—It Actually Means Something! & High Concept Defined Once and For All
- On the digression of the imagination's burden: The Wolf of Wall Street VFX Highlights

For those of us interested in a life beyond indie cinema, or maybe in a life of big budget indie cinema, there is a question about this widely used term and why it's taken hold of us and the industry we're plying ourselves to.

From the articles above you'll notice that neither one brings the concept itself to one or two lines.  Everything has to be explained.  So how is something so dense used to attribute pitches meant to be so simple?

Fabricating something High Concept, rather than letting it speak to you through childish inspiration will always be complicated.  But it's that complication which is a clue.  If it were so simple that a child could get behind the idea and call it love or hate, hope or something funny, you'd be on to something.  Except it couldn't have been done before in the way you're doing it.  That poses a problem because then you're thinking about everything that's been done instead of what you could be doing.  It's a trap.

I think high-concept will take care of itself when appropriate.  And it's possible that people who use it are just challenging you to make sure you've done homework on how marketable your vision is before they invest; i.e. can you prove two dads and a baby is a novel idea?  Can you prove a robots vs. monsters idea is something that people have to go see - AGAIN?  Oh this time the monsters are the good guys?  Try again.  You wanna swap out robot for machine and make man the ultimate design of an alien race which has a locked potential that must now be released to combat a brutal menace?  Well I'm curious.  It's a metaphor for individual capacity and deep down all of us want to be super.

And there's the thing: producers can sell easiest a truly original concept because no one knows what to expect from the story and everyone's curious.  No one will ever have that nuanced stage set for that concept after you do it and if it's cool enough it's money because you're banking on curiosity which is perhaps more primal and unique to the human condition than anything else.  We dig possibility.

That said, I look at the VFX highlights from the 'Wolf of Wall Street' and while I'm not certain if glorifying a villain isn't something we've done for decades with dracula among others, just witnessing where we can go now using technology - or rather where we can take others, astounds me.  These guys make it look so easy.  Even more it's revealed an overall shutdown to my imagination since life hit with all it's requirements and distractions, and it challenges me to keep my vision clear and open.

You can change the world and reconstruct it to suit your tastes for the purposes of the story.  You can truly bring audiences where you want to take them.  The more power you have the more complete the transformation.  It's an amazing process and one through which we should all be filled with hope and awe.

It's in that moment of wonder that the child awakens and begins to ask the "what if" questions and for the purposes of writing, pitching and selling your script I suggest you listen to it because somewhere inside all of us are the "what if's" we share and would pay money to have answered.

As a last note I used to think High-concept was something that required a $200 million budget and a star attached with half or more of the environment as CGI.  But now I think high-concept is closer to something obvious, forgotten and waiting to be rediscovered.

Let's get what we came for,
C.M. Sanchez III

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