Skill Mastery Sheet
Skill Mastery Sheet for
HIGH CONCEPT SELLS
By Hal Croasmun
WHAT IS A HIGH CONCEPT?
When a studio or production company refers to a High Concept, they mean a
story idea that has ALL THREE OF THESE COMPONENTS:
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.
THE HIGH CONCEPT SCALE
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 movie.
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
7 or higher.
If you want Hollywood to embrace you, you need a 9 or 10.
OVERALL PATTERN FOR DEVELOPING HIGH CONCEPTS:
Seed idea –> Fascination –> apply Formats –> generate new ideas
KEY POINT: Take the fascination through the 12 HC Formats, not the
DISCOVER THE FASCINATING CORE
To discover the Fascinating Core, take each of your seed ideas and ask:
A. “What fascinates you about this idea?”
B. “What could be fascinating to an audience about this idea?”
Two keys to a Workable Fascinating Core:
1. The fascinating core is boiled down to its essence.
2. There are no story details around it to restrict my creativity
as I brainstorm concepts.
THE 12 FORMATS FOR BRAINSTORMING HIGH CONCEPTS
FORMAT #1. Take to an extreme
You want your concept to be as dramatic, interesting and moving
as possible. Make it “larger then life.”
Examples: “Jurassic Park” and “Shallow Hal.”
FORMAT #2. Put two opposites together
Opposite characters or situations often raise the level of
Examples: “Pretty Woman,” “Rocky,” and “Passion Of Mind.”
FORMAT #3. Increase the stakes
Look for what can be threatened that matters most or could
possibly have even larger ramifications.
Examples: “Air Force One” and “12 Monkeys.”
FORMAT #4. Unique environment/background
The environment/background can be a key player in your concept.
Search for the most compelling environment for your concept.
Examples: “Hart’s War,” “Red Corner,” and “GI Jane.”
FORMAT #5. Select right main characters
What main characters are perfect for this concept? Select
characters that will increase the conflict, make it more
compelling, and be more appealing to an audience.
Examples: “Sugar and Spice” and “Liar Liar.”
FORMAT #6. Special Character Relationships
Create a unique relationship that intrigues us more than
the two individual characters.
Examples: “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Wag the Dog.”
FORMAT #7. Unique Dilemma
This conflict is unique and the story couldn’t exist without
it. Often, it is about some wide-scale emotional concern or
Examples: “John Q.” and “Red Corner.”
FORMAT #8. “What if’s”
Take your present conflict and ask “What if it happened a
different way?” Keep “What ifing” until you have a powerful
Examples: “Arlington Road” and “Seven.”
FORMAT #9. Give it a twist
Start with the familiar and twist it in a unique way.
Examples: “Ransom” and “Grosse Pointe Blank.”
FORMAT #10. Change sex, race, age, species, etc.
Sometimes, switching the sex, race, age, or species will
make a major change in the concept.
Examples: “The Contender” and “GI Jane.”
FORMAT #11. Reverse the norm
Find out what the “normal” story is and reverse it.
Examples: “Forrest Gump” and “The Family Man.”
FORMAT #12. Unique Plan/strategy
What amazing strategy can your main characters apply to
achieve their goals or solve their problems. If that
plan or strategy is compelling enough, it can raise your
story to a High Concept.
Examples: “Momento,” “Wag the Dog,” and “Risky Business.”
THE SIX RULES OF GREAT CONCEPTS:
RULE 1: Make sure your concept is unique/special in some way.
The easiest way to do this is by running the concept through
the 12 formats:
– Take to an extreme
– Put two opposites together
– Increase the stakes
– Unique environment/background
– Select right main characters
– Special Character Relationships
– Unique Dilemma
– “What if’s”
– Give it a twist
– Change sex, race, age, species, etc.
– Reverse the norm
– Unique Plan/strategy
RULE 2: The concept must provide a Setup / Payoff experience.
The Setup is the 1st Act setup for the story.
The Payoff is the “And then what happens?” that usually
gives the main conflict or dilemma.
RULE 3: The concept must generate story questions.
True story questions center around conflict that shows up in
RULE 4: The concept must not generate confusion or questions about itself.
If they have to ask “What do you mean?,” then the logline has no
RULE 5: The concept/logline should have us see the whole movie.
We should be able to predict what the first, second, and
third act of the movie is.
Remember, that can be done in as little as four words.
RULE 6: You must test your concept to see how an audience will respond.
A. Call your friends and ask them for a 1 – 10 response.
B. Every time you are introduced to someone, give them a pitch.
C. Pitch people at 7-11’s, grocery stores and gas stations.
D. Use clubs, organizations, and parties you attend to get
E. Pitch screenwriters you trust.
F. Call five production companies and pitch the assistants.
FORMATS FOR PRECISE PITCHES
KEY: Find the essence and deliver that in the fewest words possible.
ONE CAUTION: When these work, they are great. When they don’t
work, they fall on their face. So if you have a short pitch that causes
confusion or doesn’t vividly give the concept, don’t use it.
SPY KIDS: CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG meets JAMES BOND.
FORREST GUMP: BEING THERE meets the ’60’s.
2. “A (descriptor)__Title____ movie.”
GIRLFIGHT: A female ROCKY movie.
THE CONTENDER: A female Clarence Thomas scandal.
CLUELESS: A modern day EMMA.
3. “__Title___ in an __environment__.”
LEGALLY BLONDE: CLUELESS goes to Harvard.
HART’S WAR: A courtroom drama in a Nazi Prison camp.
4. “What if ___unique conflict_____?”
AIR FORCE ONE: What if Terrorists hijack the Presidents jet and
hold his family hostage?
ARLINGTON ROAD: What if your next door neighbor was a terrorist?
5. One sentence most unique component.
LIAR LIAR: A fast talking lawyer has to tell the truth for 24 hours.
SUGAR + SPICE: Cheerleaders as bankrobbers.
6. “Imagine this…”
JURASSIC PARK: Imagine this: A theme park full of dinosaurs cloned
from petrified DNA.
END OF DAYS: Imagine this: “Schwarzenegger versus Satan.”
10 COMPONENTS OF MARKETABILITY
These are the ten items that producers make business decisions based upon.
C. Timely — connected to some major trend or event.
D. It’s a first.
G. Wide audience appeal.
H. Adapted from a popular book.
I. Similarity to a box-office success.
J. A great role for a bankable actor.
Copyright Hal Croasmun 2002, 2014, all rights reserved
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