High Concept or Not High Concept Just Let Me Get Some Sleep


Camden over at Cine-A-Craze posted a piece today regarding loglines; and if I’m not mistaken he also answered a question I had regarding how to “pitch” (although I used the term loosely) something that may be “high concept” or “complex”. His response, although certainly dead-on, left me incredibly confused. I realize, and am now ready to admit, that I have no idea what the fuck “high concept” is supposed to mean anymore. And I think this is true of most writers. I think it’s a term that gets applied to a number films, but I believe we each tend to extrapolate what it is that makes a film “high concept” without sharing any central determinable value.

Typically when I’m confused I walk over to Accounting and ask Donald, but he looked busy and didn’t seem to want to get off his conference call. So I asked some other people, but they too looked at me dumbfounded before returning to their “important sales call”. So I ate some Otter Pops. And then it hit me. We’re all confused on the term “high concept” because the term means THE EXACT FUCKING OPPOSITE OF WHAT THE WORDS THEMSELVES MEAN! No wonder it causes such a kerfufle; surely nutritionists would be confused if the words “High Vitamin” were applied to things like plastics and wood. Because words have meanings!

My understanding of “concept” was that it dealt with abstractions. Abstractions as ideas with values intangible and typically cerebral in nature. A concept is that which cannot be pointed to and simply stated as that, and in essence can mean a multitude of things to different people. (which is probably why 99 percent of our political bickering is as a result of conceptually-based ideas, such as life, liberty, and happiness) Take for instance the game Pictionary, wherein teams strive to decipher pictures which are meant to visualize words. If given the opportunity, you as the drawer for your team would probably much rather have the word “church bells” as opposed to “democracy” because democracy is a concept and those are really hard to explain. However, in the film realm of high concept, the word “democracy” would be the word you would want to choose, because it would be the easiest to convey to many different people with the least amount of information as possible. “Democracy” is simple to get across, right? Uh…right?

I decided to do some research on “concept” as it pertains to the history of art, and I found these three definitions of high-concept film  online (courtesy of “High Concept Defined Once and For All“):

1. Anything that can be pitched in one sentence

2. One film crossed with another film

and the author’s definition –

3. Original, unique, has mass-appeal, is story-specific, potential is obvious, and can be summarized in one to three sentences.

Some examples the author provides of films which are NOT high concept are Star Wars, Pulp Fiction, and Sideways. I find this ironic, because the examples of high concept cited online are Die Hard, Deep Impact, and Snakes on a Plane – none of which do I think artist Henry Flynt had in mind when he wrote about the artist challenging the viewer’s beliefs by driving an idea when he coined the phrase “concept art” in 1960. It would explain what Mel Bochner wrote in 1970 when he described the term “concept” becoming synonymous with “intent” thereby making most of what is “conceptual” far removed from “concept” as it applies to its aims and properties.

Although certainly concept as it pertains to the idea is the driving force behind a film such as Die Hard, I take issue with the term “high” being used to describe it. While certainly conceptual in the traditional, 1960’s sense of the word, I just don’t see the Greeks sitting around pondering Bruce Willis dangling from a fire hose at Nakatomi Plaza. Although I’m beginning to get a better grasp of this whole “high concept” thing. And it goes like this:

Simplicity > Idea > Execution >Everything Else

In the words of OpIvy, “All I know is that I don’t know…all I know is that I don’t know nuthin…and that’s fine”










One thought on “High Concept or Not High Concept Just Let Me Get Some Sleep

  1. I’ve always taken it as a sarcastic usage that everyone has forgotten as such, and a tremendously overused buzzword of little importance.

    All I need to keep in mind is that there’s three basic target zones for a script.

    Stop or My Mom Will Shoot. While I am impressed with Snyder’s sale and actually kind of liked the film, this is your mass market formula area.

    Ocean’s 11, 12, 13. Somewhere in the middle of things. Not exactly formula, not exactly Hamlet. Maybe not the best example. Let’s just say Clive Owen on a good day territory.

    Frost/Nixon. Good Night and Good Luck. That sort of serious calculated attempt at the Oscars or what everyone is going to think is a calculated attempt no matter what they say.

    I’d rather see more dialogue and situation driven stories set in the here and now rather than concept driven anything. I think that’s where episodic Internet movies are going to really get viewership that lasts while high concept will be CollegeHumor.com level stuff at best.

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