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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Screenwriter's Guide to Success Part 3: High Concept and Logline

So you finally have representation, you’ve got your ear to the pavement and you know what’s selling and what studios are looking for. So what’s next?

Welcome to the world of High Concept and Loglines.

Defining what makes High Concept is a little bit like trying to capture the wind. It’s very hard to put into words exactly what it is because what makes a concept high can change very quickly. The Concept is the basic idea behind the story. It is not the story itself. It’s what makes your story stand out from all the others. The “High” means that the concept is unique enough, yet familiar enough that the top studios will sit up and take notice. There in lies the challenge. High Concept is something that is unique yet at the same time familiar. It has to be new yet not so new that nobody knows what it is. It’s also important to note that High Concept is fit to take out to major studio. A lot of beginners make the mistake with their concepts. They aim too low. They do variations of things from the DVD row or the Sci-Fi Channel. Those areas are the Low Concept neighborhood and ironically it’s an even harder world to break into than the higher end. The pay scale is very low so many reps won’t bother with them. As a result those companies rely almost entirely on writers they personally know. So aim high with your concepts. Go with something you can see on a multiplex poster.

Concept is not the story however. That’s why there are loglines.

Loglines are a cause of constant confusion among beginners. But it’s easier once you’ve come up with a good concept. Your logline is basically your concept put into action. Say your concept is Beagle Detective (I know it stinks, play along). So your logline has to take that idea and make it a story. You can be lazy and say the Beagle Detective tries to stop all the crime in Dog Town. But the hallmark of a good logline is that there is tension (dramatic or comedic) inherent in it. So a much better logline would be Beagle Detective tries to stop all the crime in Cat Town. And it’s even better if you can add some personal stakes. So for example, in order to fulfill his father’s dying request, the Beagle Detective goes to Cat Town to fight crime. Then you need to throw in the main complication. To fulfill his father’s dying request the Beagle Detective goes to Cat Town to clean it up only to find out that his girlfriend is secretly the crime boss. You want to give the logline enough information so that it is “off and running.” A lot of beginner loglines, and even some from experienced writers, just sit there. They don’t move. It doesn’t give any idea what the story is what or how it’s going to play out. You may be saying, couldn’t they just read the script? That’s the whole idea behind loglines. It’s impossible to read every script that comes down the pipe. Execs need a 25 words or less “snapshot” of your story so they can decide whether the whole thing is worth their time. You need to give them that reason to read the whole thing in the logline.

This is very hard to do by yourself. This is where good representation is vital. You need someone you can bounce concept ideas and loglines off of. Somebody once explained psychology to me like this, what is obvious to me is oblivious to someone else. And that is very true when it comes to concepts and loglines. What you think is a great concept might elicit a “Come on, dude,” from a seasoned manager. So you need to fire back idea back and forth until you hit something that you both love. Remember your rep’s best asset is passion. If they get truly excited for your work, there’s a good chance it will become contagious. If they’re indifferent chances are they won’t even bother with it. But yes it is dangerous to bounce around concepts with somebody you barely know. That’s why you need to do it with either very trusted friends or your rep.

Concept and logline are the keys to modern Hollywood. Truly great loglines will get reads virtually anywhere. Concentrate on perfecting your concepts and loglines and you will find doors opening to you.


  1. top notch advice yet again. well put! and now if you'll excuse me, i'm off to write a logline...


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