Day 6: The Quantum Leap
It is very exciting to watch this group progress. You are doing so well, and I’m sure you’re going to love going through this part of the High Concept process.
In LEVEL 1, we worked with the components that already existed in your concept. You identified three or four components of your idea and brainstormed different versions of each.
In LEVEL 2, we worked with the Marketing Formats to find a more marketable way to express your concept. These marketing formats are the ways that studios sell movies to audiences, so the better you are at them, the easier it is for a producer or studio to see your concept as marketable.
The Level 2 formula is: Seed Idea expressed through Marketing Formats = more attractive concept.
In LEVEL 3, we’re going to find the inspiration (fascinating core) for your idea and use that to create 12 new ideas. So rather than focusing on the details of your seed idea and ending up with a better way to say it, you’re going to end up with 13 concepts — the original idea and 12 brand new ideas that all come from the most interesting part.
Level 3 is all about stepping outside your creative box. It is about discovering something surprising. It is about letting go of a good idea in order to find a great idea.
The Level 3 formula is: Fascinating Core X Marketing Formats = 12 NEW exciting concepts, one of which may be a High Concept.
HERE ARE THE STEPS FOR HAVING A QUANTUM LEAP:
The Level 3 process can be brought down to three steps.
1. Start with a Seed Idea.
2. Discover the Fascinating Core of the Seed Idea.
3. Run the Fascinating Core through the 12 Marketing Formats to create 12 NEW concepts.
That is a very different process than coming up with an idea and filling it
with story details. What we want to do here is STAY ON THE CONCEPT LEVEL.
If all of this doesn’t make sense yet, just stay with me. Below, I’ll give
more explanation and some examples. But if you just do the assignments,
you’ll have a breakthrough that will change your writing forever.
Today, we’re going to do the MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THAT PROCESS.
So pay close attention and make sure you get this. I can’t emphasize
enough how important this part of the process is. It is the first step in
thinking on the CONCEPT LEVEL and not just the story level.
THE FASCINATING CORE
For a concept to stick in the mind of a Studio executive or to cause
movie-goers to put up their $10 for a movie ticket, something about that
concept needs to fascinate them.
Remember when JURASSIC PARK came out. Hundreds of thousands of people
rushed to the theater just to see the dinosaur theme park. They were
fascinated by it. The same thing happened with THE FULL MONTY when people
all over the world went just to see if these guys really bared it all.
Think about INDEPENDENCE DAY where space ships 16 miles wide hover
over major cities, ready to destroy them. Or even LIAR LIAR, where
everyone who had ever met a lawyer wondered if it would be possible for an
attorney to tell the truth for 24 hours.
All of those movies had something fascinating that could be expressed in
Essentially, a concept is the “big idea” of the movie. A High Concept is
the “big idea” of the movie that is highly marketable because it meets
1. It is unique.
2. It appeals to a wide audience.
3. It can be said in one sentence and…you instantly see
the whole movie.
Where does “fascinating” fit in? Really, in all three. Whatever is unique
about it needs to be fascinating. To appeal to a wide audience, we need to
experience the Fascinating Core. When it is said in one sentence, it needs
to instantly cause the listener to be fascinated. Make sense?
IT ALL STARTS WITH THE WRITER
Yes, the end product needs to be fascinating to audiences, but for
a writer to create an amazing story, there needs to be something
fascinating at the core.
Just as important, finding the thing that fascinates you, the writer,
will turn on your own creative processes and increase the chance
that you’ll discover something truly special in the story.
LET’S SEE IT IN ACTION
We are looking for the one thing that will get a writer out of
a creative box and into a place where they can discover something
In one of our previous High Concept programs, we had a writer who came in
with five WAR ideas that were already well formed loglines. At the end of
the program, his ideas had improved by about 5%, but they were basically
He was the only one who hadn’t had a major improvement in his concepts.
So I called him. We explored what mattered to him in his stories
and he gave me a whole list of details — what war is like, the relationship
between a Private and his superiors, dealing with fear, etc.
After talking for a bit, I asked him what was so fascinating about these
stories. He thought for a minute and simply said “the prospect of someone
very close to death who comes back to save the day.”
He had written multiple stories about war, but had never questioned
what fascinates him. Now, for the first time, he knew.
That was a breakthrough for him. Suddenly, he had the freedom
to create outside the box of a “war story.”
I asked him to take that through the 12 formats. Two days later, he
returned with eight completely different ideas, two of which were
High Concept. I want you to see the difference.
5 concepts about War that didn’t change and weren’t marketable.
– An afterlife story
– An abandoned space station
– A drowning victim who discovers something on
the bottom of the ocean
– A modern version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” with a twist
– and two others I can’t mention because they are High Concept.
He was overjoyed about the results.
Before we found the Fascinating Core, he was stuck. Every way of
expressing his idea turned into a war story. In fact, he wasn’t
brainstorming the fascination at all. Instead, he had become lost in the
war setting and was brainstorming war ideas instead of High Concept ideas.
Are you getting this? His Fascinating Core was “a person on the edge of
death coming back to save the day” and once he started brainstorming that,
instead of war ideas, he found true creative freedom!
HOW DO YOU DO THIS?
All you are looking for is the part that fascinates you. It might be
a theme or an aspect of character or a specific dilemma or anything;
so long as it inspires you.
Take each of your seed ideas and ask:
A. “What fascinates me (or what do I love) about this idea?”
B. “What inspires me about this idea?
C. “What do I truly love about this idea?”
You are looking for that one thing that truly turns on your creative
Once you’ve done that with three ideas, you’ll most likely have at least
two or three areas of fascination you can use to brainstorm High Concepts.
Here’s a typical concept that gets submitted every ProSeries.
IDEA: A screenwriter goes through Hell trying to sell his
script only to discover that the landlord who is
evicting him is married to a producer who ultimately
buys the script..
FASCINATING CORE: Success is right under your nose.
That could be the thing that fascinates you or the same concept
could have a completely different fascinating core.
FASCINATING CORE: Being blind to the life’s solutions.
FASCINATING CORE: To get to Heaven, you gotta go through Hell.
FASCINATING CORE: It’s never where you think it is.
…or a bunch of others. What matters is that you find something
that inspires you and you can use to create 12 new ideas.
Each of those Fascinating Cores can yield hundreds of concepts.
BTW, this kind doesn’t work:
FASCINATING CORE: The difficulty of selling a screenplay
while trying to make a living.
That traps you in the details of the story, not the Fascinating Core.
1. Take THREE Seed Ideas and list what fascinates you about each one.
Use this format:
IDEA 1: A dog gets lost in the woods, fights other wild animals,
almost starves, but finds her way home.
FASCINATING CORE: Listen to your internal guidance system.
IDEA 2: Arnold Schwarzenegger runs for President…and wins!
FASCINATING CORE: Illusion really can defeat reality.
2. Answer the question “What I learned doing this assignment is…?”
Subject Line: [ProSeries 50] (Your name) Fascinating Core.
As in: “Marc’s Fascinations”
Send to: mailto:hal@ScreenwritingU.com
Deadline: 6 PM Pacific Time tomorrow
Since you are bringing new ideas to this class, you are about to experience
something magical. You’re going to watch normal ideas evolve and grow into
amazing ideas and finally into highly marketable concepts.
You will be surprised how much creative freedom this gives you.
Tomorrow, you’ll select the most fascinating of the Fascinating Cores
you’ve listed and we’ll take that through the 12 HC Formats.
Okay, take three Seed Ideas and find what is most fascinating about them.
Copyright Hal Croasmun, 2002, 2014, all rights reserved.