Day 11: Testing Your Concepts
It is very exciting to come to this part of the High Concept class because it means that many of you are going to have breakthroughs as you discover how people respond to your concepts.
In this lesson, we’ll work with three processes:
1. How to test.
2. The Cycle of Testing
3. Your Decision Making Process
But before we do all of that, a quick and very important note…
I can certainly understand if anyone is struggling or not feeling like you’ve got this process down, yet. That’s totally okay. Some people “get” this process during this modules. For some, they get it when we get to the Marketing Your Script class where we work with pitching your script. And for a few, it takes actual contact with producers and agents for them to really see what this module is about.
Whatever your learning curve, just be okay with it.
AFTER you’ve completed the ProSeries, the mathematics of concepts is:
49 to 99 poor concepts + 1 great concept = success.
25 average concepts + giving up = a mistake.
But for the ProSeries, the best thing to do is…
Learn what you can and choose a concept you love.
CAUTION: Don’t get into the “I have to have a perfect concept for the ProSeries” trap. It just doesn’t make sense because the purpose of the ProSeries is to learn 300 skills NOW, not to be a perfectionist. Trying to be a perfectionist right now will mainly teach you how to get “writer’s block.” So give yourself freedom, knowing that you can become perfect at all of these skills later.
THE HIGH CONCEPT SCALE
The concept is the “big idea” of the story. In the High Concept process,
we’re looking to PINPOINT the main uniqueness of your story or to EXPAND
the concept so it becomes one of the most unique/special stories we’ve
One thing that is helpful is to gage what we believe is the quality level
of the concept. Here’s my scale for that process:
Any concept can fit on this scale and it will tell you where it stands.
10 — Very unique, extremely appealing, and one sentence shows whole movie.
7 — Unique, appealing and one sentence shows whole movie
5 — Somewhat unique, somewhat appealing, and one sentence shows whole
3 — An interesting spin, but been seen before.
1 — Totally so what.
What are we trying to create?
If you want to have a chance at selling to Hollywood, you need
6 or higher. And if you want them to love you, a 7 or higher
will produce that result.
So your job in using these 12 formats is to:
1. Make the concept as unique as possible.
2. Make the concept as compelling as possible.
3. Find the best one sentence pitch you possibly can.
You are either looking for the big win with one format or an amazing
combination of two or three of these formats.
Remember, we are looking for 6’s to 10’s, not 4’s and 5’s…
…and many times that means you go through a lot of 4’s and 5’s to find a
10. Or you run the same idea through the formats 10 times. Or you keep
thinking about it, working with it, considering completely different
options that suddenly, you have a major breakthrough.
DEFINITION OF “UNIQUE”
Let me quickly define “very unique, unique, and somewhat unique.”
SOMEWHAT UNIQUE = We’ve seen it before, but it has a new spin.
UNIQUE = There is some part of this that makes it completely different,
even though it might be a similar story.
VERY UNIQUE = The part that is unique is so special that it stands out from
everything else that has even been seen before.
And remember, just changing or adding details doesn’t bring a story to a
high concept. The change needs to be spectacular in some way.
If you want to raise your concept to a High Concept, usually it means
having one or two of the formats at a 10 level, not a mish-mash of 4’s.
If you have conflict at a 4 (interesting, but not unique), characters at a 5
(somewhat unique), stakes at a 5 and a strategy at a 6 (high, but only
somewhat unique), you still usually end up with a 5 or 6 for the overall
HOW TO TEST YOUR CONCEPTS
I went over this in detail during the teleconference, but here’s the steps:
1. Make a list of the friends you have who enjoy going to movies and are not writers or highly critical of you.
In this list, you are looking for people who naturally express a range of emotions. You don’t get much from pitching to monotone (either flat or 100% supportive, which is also monotone).
2. Select TWO concepts you are going to pitch to the first three on your list today.
You want to do two at a time so you don’t irritate people. If you want to practice with a lot of concepts, that’s fine. Either select more groups (3 or 4 people per concept) or call the same people back a few days in a row.
3. Call each person and say “I’m working with a couple of movie ideas and I wanted to run them by you and get your reaction.”
Don’t ask them to rate your concepts. Don’t ask them to discuss your concepts. You don’t want anything to distract you from what you’re about to learn from them.
4. Then say the first concept and STOP TALKING. Really, read the 10 – 20 words of your concept and don’t say another word. Let them respond.
If you find yourself saying or adding anything after you tell them the concept, chances are that *your reaction* just made a statement about how you feel about your concept — like it is not good enough to stand on its own.
5. Pretend that you don’t know their language and listen only to the emotion in their voice.
If the emotional tone is bland, no matter what words they use, then the reaction shows a 4 or below. If it is somewhat excited, then that indicates a 5 or 6. If it is pretty excited and/or very curious, that indicates a possible 7. If it is astounded, then you may have an 8 or above.
6. Once you’ve listened to their emotion response for the first concept, do #4 and #5 for the second concept.
7. Thank them. Ask permission to try others on another day. And exit the call.
8. Take notes on how each person responded to each concept and what you think it means about that concept.
IMPORTANT: This assignment is about discovering how people respond to different concepts. Just doing the assignment will be valuable for you, even if you don’t get positive responses. What matters most is that you get the experience of testing concepts. Over time, if you do this much, you will start to get a good understanding about how people will respond to different concepts.
THE CYCLE OF TESTING
You don’t just test and leave it. There’s actually a testing cycle that has your concepts get better and better.
1. Test the concepts.
Positive result = Keep the concept and consider in the “Decision Process.”
Not positive result = Move to #2.
2. Reconsider the concept and make a choice — either discard or rework the concept.
If the concept shows promise or is one you love, move to #3.
3. Take the concept through the four levels until you have elevated it.
4. Test the elevated concepts.
Positive result = Keep the concept and consider in the “Decision Process.”
Not positive result = Return to #2.
YOUR DECISION MAKING PROCESS
In three days, we’ll ask you to make a decision about which TWO concepts you’re going to bring into the one-on-one coaching calls.
By then, you will have tested all of your Top 10 concepts with your friends and have an idea of how people respond to them.
Remember that this program is primarily about learning 300 screenwriting skills so that you have them for every screenplay you write for the rest of your life. You’ll be using your “ProSeries script” to learn these skills.
Here is the hierarchy I’d consider as you make this decision:
Best choice: A concept that you LOVE and that is marketable.
2nd Best Choice: A concept you love.
3rd Best Choice: A concept that is marketable that really intrigues you.
4th Best Choice: A concept that you believe you could grow to love as you add details.
Worst Choice: A concept that you absolutely don’t care to write, whether marketable or not.
Having said that, remember that you are free to write anything you’d like in the ProSeries. But you can make that choice in the final assignment of the High Concept class that comes in three days.
1. Using the process listed above (How to test your concepts), test at least two concepts per day for the next three days.
2. List the concepts you’ve tested and with each one, tell how you would rate it on the High Concept Scale.
3. With each concept, give a two or three sentence explanation of how people responded to it.
4. Answer the question “What I learned doing this assignment is…” and put it at the top of your work.
Subject Line: [ProSeries 50] (Your name) Concept Test Scores
Deadline: 2 days
Above all, have fun with this. Even if all of your concepts test poorly, there are still opportunities to elevate them. In the long term, what matters most is that you have this experience to draw upon.
So please relax, enjoy calling friends, and allow yourself to learn from this process.
Copyright Hal Croasmun, 2002, 2014, all rights reserved.