Troubleshooting High Concepts
Troubleshooting concepts is an important skill. So far, you’ve learned
the 12 Formats, the Sic Rules, and you have the High Concept Scale.
Now, let me give you a list of problems and solutions that show up with
most concepts so you can easily troubleshoot them. They are:
1. PROBLEM: Not unique/special enough.
SOLUTION: First, make sure you really nailed the fascination. Then go
back through the formats and take one of them to an absolute extreme.
2. PROBLEM: Too many details.
SOLUTION: Answer these questions to discover the story on a concept level.
A. What is the absolute essence of this story?
B. What would be an OVERVIEW of the story minus the details?
C. What details can I cut out of the concept that might stay in the synopsis?
3. PROBLEM: Half of the logline is great, the other half doesn’t fit or
SOLUTION: Simply brainstorm the last half and come up with something that
fits the first half better.
4. PROBLEM: Vague or no ending.
SOLUTION: Realize that it is important for a producer to be able to
imagine the whole story. Then, generate a list of possible specific
endings that make this logline great.
5. PROBLEM: Logline doesn’t give us the conflict.
SOLUTION: Sometimes, a High Concept doesn’t need to express the conflict
because we can automatically visualize conflicts that fit, but most times,
you need to express the conflict. Look at the story idea and determine
what is the overall conflict. If it isn’t unique/special, brainstorm
6. PROBLEM: Half a logline.
Usually, this happens when someone has either a great character or a great
situation they are expressing, but it doesn’t fully express a story.
SOLUTION: If it is a great character you’re pitching, search for the most
conflict oriented situation to put them into. If a great situation, search
for the perfect character or the perfect conflict for that situation.
7. PROBLEM: Genre confusion.
You tell your horror concept to someone and they laugh. Or you tell your
comedy idea to someone and they get all engaged in the conflict, but don’t
see the humor.
SOLUTION: If it is a comedy, make sure we can understand the
humor. Usually one or two word change can cause us to realize that it is a
comedy. Better yet, if they laugh when you tell them the concept, you’re
in. Whatever the genre, it should be clear from the concept.
Of course, the other way to do it is simply to say “I have a thriller about
8. PROBLEM: A whole bunch of 5’s don’t add up to a 10.
This usually happens when someone puts together a bunch of good parts, but it never rises to the point of being great.
“A Mafia guy saves a priest from being stabbed by a transvestite and gets to meet the Pope on a TV show where the Pope gives absolution publicly for his sins.”
Notice that adding together Mafia guy, priest, transvestite, Pope, and TV don’t make this a good concept. Often, this happens. Just adding in another interesting element doesn’t increase the quality.
SOLUTION: Find the one part that could be elevated to a higher level. A high concept is usually one part taken to an extreme — the conflict, dilemma, unique plan, etc. So you want to look for the one thing that can be taken to a new level and brainstorm multiple ways to do it.
Before you send out a query letter or pitch a concept, please check this
list to make sure your concept is the best it can be.
Copyright Hal Croasmun 2002, 2014, all rights reserved
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