Understanding How To Write An Effective Screenplay Query Letter: Logline, Synopsis, & High Concept
Updated: Jul 17, 2018
The following articles an interviews are from our older blog. Please find excerpts from 4 blogs that highlight how to write an effective pitch for your screenplay. Articles were written by Screenwriting Staffing's Founder, Jacob N. Stuart
WEAK LOGLINES MAKE FOR WEAK SCRIPTS [you can read the full article here: LOGLINES]
What is a logline? A LOGLINE is a one to two sentence version of your 100+ page screenplay. Many experts describe it as the mini description in the TV Guide. Since the Guide is now dead, think of it as the blurb you find under the poster on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Redbox. Your logline should resonate and reverberate in every single page of your screenplay. Your logline is the answer when someone ask you that banal question: “What’s your script about?”
Why do we need a logline? Two reasons. 1) They help you, the writer, realize the true meaning and premise of your story in its simplest form. 2) It opens doors, plain and simple. Industry professionals can’t read through 100 screenplays a week, never finding the right script. But they can read 100 loglines, and narrow down their search, utilizing their limited amount of reading time before requesting to read a script.
What is the difference between a logline and tagline?
Taglines are typically under 10 words. They are used during advertisements, specifically on billboards, movie posters, and fan pages (social media). Loglines should be under 65 words, preferably under 45 (no more than 2 sentences) and contain all the elements for telling a compelling story. They are used as a pitching device when getting your script read, produced, and purchased.
JUNGLE BOOK (2016) (according to IMDb).
TAGLINE:“The legend will never be the same!”
LOGLINE:“The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.”
What your logline should include:
— PROTAGONIST. This is your main character. The person we are cheering for. This should be established right off the bat.
— ANTAGONIST. The person standing in your protagonist’s way. The person we are supposed to loathe.
— GOAL. This is what your protagonist is trying to obtain, accomplish. This is the goal that drives the 2nd act, the meat of your story.
— OBSTACLE. This is where you list the central problem your character will face when trying to achieve their goal.
— WHAT’S AT STAKE. If your hero doesn’t overcome their obstacle, what’s on the line? Will the world be the same? Will your hero lose the love of his/her life?
— OTHER. Brilliant loglines also, while sometimes subtly, include GENRE, SETTING, THE HOOK, and CONFLICT.
EXAMPLES (courtesy of IMDb):
Note: not every logline will include EVERY bullet point above, but they should include a good portion of them.
THE BOSS (2016): A titan of industry [PROTAGONIST] is sent to prison [SETTING] after she’s caught insider trading [CONFLICT]. When she emerges ready to rebrand herself as America’s latest sweetheart [GOAL & GENRE], not everyone [ANTAGONISTS] she screwed over is so quick to forgive and forget [OBSTACLE & THE HOOK]. 36 words.
THE REVENANT (2015):A frontiersman [PROTAGONIST] on a fur trading expedition [GENRE] in the 1820s [SETTING] fights for survival [GOAL] after being mauled by a bear [CONFLICT] and left for dead [OBSTACLE] by members of his own hunting team [ANTAGONIST]. 30 words.
TITANIC (1997): A seventeen-year-old aristocrat [PROTAGONIST] falls in love [GENRE] with a kind, but poor artist aboard [CONFLICT] the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic [SETTING & THE HOOK]. 22words.
MAN ON FIRE (2004):In Mexico City [SETTING], a former assassin [PROTAGONIST] swears vengeance [GENRE & GOAL] on those who committed an unspeakable act [ANTAGONISTS] against the family he was hired to protect [THE HOOK]. 25 words.
Think of loglines like applying for a job. Your logline is your resume that you e-mail to an employer after seeing an advert. If the industry pro is interested in your logline they will read your synopsis. Think of the synopsis as the phone interview. If you piqued the pro’s interest with the synopsis, they will request the script. Think of this as the employer calling you in for a one-on-one interview in person. Loglines set the groundwork (just like submitting your resume) and nothing happens until there is a logline in place. Unless you know Spielberg, Scorsese, or Michael Bay personally, you will have to submit a logline first. It’s not up for discussion or a conspiracy; it’s industry standard. Sites like ScreenwritingStaffing.com, InkTip.com, Blcklst.com, VirtualPitchfest.com, and Networkisa.org all require a logline (limited word count) to be submitted to the industry pro. This isn’t because the above sites want to hinder your creativity, but because the pro has requested to read a short pitch before deciding if it’s worth their while to read the entire script. This allows the producers/agents to browse quickly and efficiently through scores and scores of submissions.
Having a high-concept, marketable logline isn’t just important to you as the writer, but it’s important to the producer. Most producers you submit your logline to are not the ones financing your script. They have to present your script to investors. And most investors won’t read the entire script until they’ve read a logline and synopsis. A producer doesn’t want to compose a logline themselves (or pawn it off to their assistant) they want this completed beforehand, by you. So even if your producer-friend tells you to send your script (without even hearing your pitch) they will still need to acquire a logline at some point in time if they want to move forward with your project.
There are many risks that come with neglecting your logline. A poorly written logline is a reflection of your script. If you can’t write a compelling sentence, why would they think you can write 120 gripping pages? If your logline is vague and spacey, there’s a good chance your script is too, and the plot still needs some serious ironing out. Remember, Spielberg said he buys 95% of the scripts presented to him based on concept, not necessarily the script’s content. He has the money to pay any writer in the world to take a concept and flesh it into a feature-length script. But what Hollywood lacks are memorable concepts. So sell your script through your query letter (logline, synopsis) first, you never know where that could lead.
If you are submitting your logline blindly, using a site like IMDb Pro to collect e-mail and fax information, there is a good chance the industry pro is not currently searching for a script. Most likely they have a slate of scripts already in development. However, there is a good chance they are looking to bring on a few more writers to help re-write their slate of projects. That’s where your logline and synopsis come into play. Showing a pro right out of the gate that you understand the art and business side to screenwriting may land you a job; or, at the very least, a meeting/introduction.
Agents and Managers will require you to have a logline. Whether you are seeking representation or already have one, they must have this available to pitch to their prospects. So just because you have literary representation already doesn’t make you immune to writing a great logline. Yes, your agent will read your script regardless (maybe) since they represent you, but at the end of the day they still need to attach a logline (description) when submitting your scripts to producers and buyers.
Most writers think of loglines as something that’s only used in query letters. WRONG. Loglines are also used as elevator pitches. Loglines can be your best friend when verbally pitching your script to interested parties. When you only have 30 seconds with an A-lister in Hollywood, you have to be able to pitch your story promptly and effectively. You won’t be able to sell your script in 30 seconds, that’s obvious. But what you can do is sell the idea, premise of your story. Get the Hollywood Executive thinking, pondering over the story. Get his hamster going. Make them want to know more, and the only way they can learn more is by requesting your script.
Your logline is your opening pitch when you come face-to-face with a decision-maker. This can be virtually (skype, etc.), at a film festival, a private meeting, a screenwriting pitchfest, an introduction, or standing in line at a coffee shop. Every day these folks run into someone – this could be their friends, family, or even just someone at the store – who tells them, “I have this great idea for a film!”It’s just long-winded, unfocused cliches, that will NEVER sell. Stand out from the crowd. Pitch your story in 30 seconds or less, keeping it at 2 sentences max. Even if the concept doesn’t interest them, it at least shows them you are a professional.
A good logline may lead to another logline request. What do I mean? If you are blindly submitting your logline online to producers, chances are your script doesn’t fit their current needs. But it’s not to say they aren’t looking. If you present them with a professional, trim, and riveting logline, they may just ask you for another one. It happens all the time!
THINGS TO REMEMBER:
— The shorter the better. Keep your logline UNDER 65 words. If you can keep it UNDER 45, that’s even better!
— NEVER give away the ending. The point of the logline is to get them to request the script, that’s where they will discover the ending.
— Try not to use your characters names. The only time this is acceptable is if you are writing about a famous person. You introduce your main characters names in the synopsis.
— Always check for grammatical errors and typos. Your logline is like a cover for a book. It’s the first thing they see. You only have one chance to impress and woo them.
— Verbs are your friends. Stay away from cliche verbs when describing your hero’s journey and conflict. This is a huge red flag for producers. Show them you are a wordsmith.
— Just like you go through many re-writes with your actual script, the same applies when writing loglines. You need to write, and then re-write again. Write several different versions. See which ones pop.
— You should have one go-to logline. This is the one you submit 99 times out of 100. But it’s okay to tailor and edit your logline to fit a producer’s specific needs and request. So keep a couple backup loglines in your arsenal.
— Try writing your logline before you write the script. Most successful screenwriters in Hollywood never dive into a script until a logline is written.
— When e-mailing your logline to industry pros, don’t send it as an attachment. Industry pros don’t want to open attachments from people they don’t know. They also don’t want any more clutter on their computer. Put it in the body of the e-mail.
— Loglines are not just for writers. If you are a filmmaker submitting your film to festivals, Film Freeway and Withoutabox require you to input a logline. In the event your film is selected, the festival will want a logline to showcase on their site and all press releases.
— Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. Learning how to write a logline is its own art form, and takes time and practice, but the payoff is well-worth your time!
GET YOUR SCRIPT READ WITH A GREAT LOGLINE; INTERVIEW WITH DOUGLAS KING
[you can read the full interview here: LOGLINES: BEAT THE COMPETITIONS & GET YOUR SCRIPT READ]
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Is the logline the most important part in pitching your script? And if so, why?
Douglas King: I believe it is. Most producers and production companies will not accept unsolicited screenplays, but through services such as Screenwriting Staffing and others, writers have an opportunity to reach these very same producers. Read almost any post on Screenwriting Staffing and you will find that almost 100% of the producers ask to only see a logline and maybe a synopsis before they decide on reading a full screenplay.
The reason for this is simple: it is easier to read one sentence to determine if they want to read more, than to commit to reading a 90 – 110 page script, especially when they are receiving hundreds of submissions. That means writers have 35 – 40 words to make a great first impression! That is why learning to write a compelling logline is so important. It literally could be the difference between having a producer read your script or having it languish on your computer’s hard drive. It should also be noted that most major screenplay competitions require a logline to be submitted with the script.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: How long should a logline be, and why?
Douglas King: A logline is only 35 – 45 words. It should be only one sentence. The reason for the constraint is both practical: they are easy and fast to read by those who must cull through hundreds of script ideas daily, as well as they fit into the description areas for sites like Netflix, TV Guide, RedBox, etc. More importantly, if a writer cannot communicate, in one sentence, the basic theme and story for a film, then it is most likely not well conceived by the writer yet and distilled down to its most fundamental elements. The ability for a writer to be able to portray their film in the simplest terms is an essential skill to be successful in pitching films. A logline should be thought of as the elevator pitch, the two-minute drill, of film making. It is the spine of the screenwriting process. A writer needs to be able to tell someone in 35 words the basic premise of their story in such a way that the listener (reader) is left with only one response: “I want to know more!” With that, you may be on your way to a sale.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What’s the #1 mistake you see writers make when writing a logline?
Douglas King: The number one mistake of writers writing loglines would have to be their attempt to describe, what they consider, to be every important detail of a film. Ultimately this results in a multiple sentence, rambling description of a story instead of a concise summary of the main theme, character and conflict. Writers get excited to describe their story and so they go on and on about all the “cool” story elements and forget to tell just the simple story that makes the film compelling enough to first, want to read, and second, want to see. I read far too many loglines, that are two and three sentences, which describe in excruciating detail a character’s features, back-story and inner thoughts because the writer believes all of this is important, and it is to the film, just not the logline. A logline should be just the basics, told in a dramatic and interesting manner to cause the reader to want to know more. That is the logline’s fundamental purpose: tell the story in as few a words possible to cause the reader to want more.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What do the best loglines include? i.e., protagonist, ending, adjectives, etc.?
Douglas King: A logline tells the reader the setting, genre, protagonist and antagonist, major conflict, jeopardy, and what the character must do to succeed. Never use rhetorical questions in a logline, such as, “What if you had all the powers of God?” Instead write, “When one man, struggling with life, complains once too often about God, he is given almighty powers, and must learn to use them properly while discovering how difficult it is to run the world.” (34 words. Bruce Almighty) In that one sentence, we know who the main character of the film is, the inciting incident, the conflict, and are given a hint and what the jeopardy is. (i.e. If he doesn’t figure out how to use the powers properly the world will be in chaos.) Never give away your ending, especially if you have a great twist. You want to leave the reader wanting more. Always use descriptive and action words to make the logline compelling and exciting. Use verbs such as “battle,” “grapples,” “jousts,” “duels,” “spars,” “scraps,” “clashes,” in place of “fights,” “opposes,” and “contends with.”
WEAK QUERY LETTERS MAKE FOR WEAK SCRIPTS [you can read the entire article (plus an interview) here: BREAKING & ENTERING]
I have surveyed/vetted thousands of initial e-mail submissions (screenplay query letters) over a very short period of time. From my days fresh out of film school, working entry level at some indie studio, to screening incoming submissions for specific industry pros via Screenwriting Staffing.
My conclusion? Every screenwriter submits differently. And that’s the good news!
I am a huge advocate when it comes to directly e-mailing the industry pro with your query letter or pitch (if requested). Just like our screenplays are unique and distinctive, so should our e-mail submissions to industry pro’s This is our chance, as creative writers, to add some flare and pop, hoping to stick out (in a positive way) among a pool of other talented applicants. That’s why at Screenwriting Staffing we provide the e-mail address of the industry pro (no standard, limited submission forms) to each lead we send out.
The overall consensus? It works! But how the writer SUBMITS can still be improved.
There is no one way to submit, but before breaking the rules, you MUST understand the fundamental, original rules. It should be noted that the submissions that stick out the most, the one’s where the producer requests the script right away, are usually the submissions that go back to the basics, keeping it simple, structured, and professional.
For educational purposes, I’m going to compose a standard “advert” you may find through Screenwriting Staffing (or a similar service) to reference.
John Producer, with Hollywood Production Company, is seeking a high-concept, contained HORROR screenplay, with a limited size cast. Script should be in the vain of “Saw” and “Insidious”. We prefer scripts that can be made for UNDER 1M. We will accept both WGA and NON WGA writers, but we will only review submissions from writers with produced credits.
Allow me to footnote this by saying if you don’t have a HORROR script you really have no business submitting to this lead.
OK – so while I’d suggest using the following guideline in EVERY e-mail submission, this guideline/template is meant for those who submit via Screenwriting Staffing.
Address who the e-mail is for. At Screenwriting Staffing, the contact person’s full name is listed, so there is no excuse to use cliches like, “To Whom It May Concern”, or “Dear Producer”.
Tell the industry pro where you found their advert. Folks, this is really important. With google and social media, it’s so easy to collect e-mail address. Producers, who are not even currently searching, are bombarded daily with unsolicited query letters. It’s in your advantage to tell the pro upfront where you found their script request, as they are expecting submissions via that platform and will immediately READ on.
Establish the GENRE & TITLE. Don’t waste the pro’s time if your script doesn’t fit their needs. If they are seeking a HORROR script and your script is a HORROR, establish this early and they will continue reading. Always refer to your script by its title, not my “screenplay”.
Think like a “producer” and separate yourself from the pack right out of the gate. This can be achieved very easily if you have what the pro is looking for. Boast about the fact your script can be shot on a low to moderate budget, and only features a few locations and characters.
ACCOLADES. Has your script won or placed in a contest? Has your script been previously optioned? Is there financing or talent attached? If you can answer YES to any of these, use this in your favor in the initial intro.
(NOTE: I provided a lot of info under this category, but keep in mind your intro should be around 3 sentences, 4 MAX. Don’t lose them with too much detail. But make sure you establish right from the start you have something worth reading.)
Your logline is arguably the most important weapon in your creative arsenal. Without one, no one will read your work. Keep your logline to ONE sentence, TWO at the very max. If you can’t pitch your script in UNDER 60 words, you may want to evaluate the premise of your story. (note: loglines are NOT taglines, make sure you are familiar with the difference).
Do not get bogged down with clutter and detail. Get to the point, fast. Try to keep your synopsis at ONE paragraph, TWO at the very max.
Take us on the hero’s journey. Hit the major turning points, and convey VERY clearly what’s at stake if your hero doesn’t succeed.
Don’t REVEAL your ending.
Producer’s love when a writer incorporates elements/factors from their advert into their synopsis. So don’t be afraid to tailor your synopsis for the producer.
(NOTE: A synopsis is NOT a treatment, be sure to know the difference.)
Bio’s DO matter, and too often writers neglect them. They shouldn’t be used to sell your story, your logline/synopsis should have already done that. Your bio is meant to add extra incentive to reading your story.
What should be included in a bio? Produced work. The advert above actually requests that the writer has PRODUCED work. This is where you briefly talk about it. What else should be listed? Awards, education, work-for-hire jobs, previous industry employment. Whatever it takes to show the producer you aren’t “new” to the game.
What if you don’t have any credits or experience? Well, first, you shouldn’t be applying to this specific lead, as the lead states “produced” writers ONLY. But for the sake of argument let’s say the producer accepts ALL levels of writers. Tell the producer why you are well-versed in the subject matter you are pitching. Did you play some college basketball back in the day and your script happens to focus on college hoops? Tell them! Are you a retired cop and your story follows the life of two cops in the inner city? Tell them!
(NOTE: Just like the INTRO, this needs to be UNDER 4 sentences, preferably 3. Remember, you are not applying for a screenwriting job; you are only trying to get a “READ” from a producer.)
Quickly let them know you would be happy to send the full-length HORROR script (TITLE) if they are interested in a read.
Be sure to provide them with the following: Full name, phone #, working e-mail address, and any relevant links… like a personal page or IMDb (don’t go overboard).
Practice writing your “query letter” in a word or google doc first. Your query letter should not be more than a page; if you can keep it at half a page, you already have a leg up.
QUESTIONS I HAVE FIELDED OVER THE YEARS… & THE ANSWERS:
Q: Should I start off with a catchy JOKE? A: NO. You are pitching a horror script, not a comedy. And even if you were pitching a comedy, the humor, if done correctly, will be found in your “concept”.
Q: Should I use special FONTS to stand out? A: NO. Make your story stand out by your themes and characters, not by BOLD lettering and UNDERLINING.
Q: If I know someone the producer knows, is it acceptable to mention this? A: YES. Finding that first or second degree of separation is key to success in this industry. But make sure the connection is solid and accurate.
Q: When do I follow up on my query letter? A: NEVER. It’s a query letter. They are not reaching out to you, you are reaching out to them. If they want to read your screenplay, they will contact you. Not getting a response means “NO”.
Q: How many LOGLINES should I submit at once? A: Just ONE, TWO at the very most (and that’s only if it’s the same genre, or the producer says they are open to ANY genre). Submitting 30 or even 40 loglines at once (I’ve actually seen up to 50 before) is a sure way to find your query in the junk folder.
Q: Should I compare my script to other commercially successful scripts? A: YES & NO. If a producer is seeking a 1 location, contained romcom, don’t say your script is similar to TITANIC. But if the producer is looking for a 1 location comedy, it may be safe to mention your script is in the vain of “Clerks”, for instance. I don’t typically use this selling/marketing device in my own personal queries, but I know people who do — and it sometimes works.
Q: Should I list my WGA registration #? A: No. It makes you look paranoid and amateurish. This typically is done by younger writers or those VERY new to the game.
Q: Should I tell them if I don’t sell my screenplay that I won’t be able to pay rent next month? A: NO. If you are living that close to poverty (which most writers are) find another form of income in the meantime. DON’T EVER SOUND DESPERATE.
Q: Should I tell them my script is EXACTLY what they are searching for? A: How can you gauge from of a few sentences what they are searching for? They may not even know exactly what they are searching for. Stick to being a writer, not a psychic
HIGH CONCEPT PITCHES & SCRIPTS, INTERVIEW WITH ROB TOBIN [you can read the full interview here: HIGH CONCEPT: THE SECRET TO SCREENWRITING SUCCESS]
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Once and for all, can you summarize the meaning of “High Concept”?
Rob Tobin: A high concept story is one that can be easily and quickly pitched in a one-sentence logline that captures the listener’s attention and makes the listener want to know what happens next.
So, “boy meets girl” is low concept, because we’ve been there, seen that. “Boy meets girl on the maiden voyage of the Titanic,” is high concept (at least it was at the time the film was produced). “A space alien lands on Earth” is old hat. “A little boy finds a space alien hiding in his closet” is/was high concept. “A top contender gets to fight for the championship” is ho-hum. “A down-and out club fighter gets a shot at the championship” is/was high concept. “A dishonest lawyer is magically forced to always tell the truth.” “A little boy wakes up in an adult’s body.” Quickly conveyed, easy to remember and repeat.
Here’s a quick test: if you can’t quickly recite your script’s logline smoothly and without any hesitation, in one sentence, and without any practice… your script may not be high concept. “Well, uh… there’s this guy…” is not high concept. “A badly wounded policeman becomes a half robot, half human super cop” is high concept.
High concept is often surprising, taking us in one direction and then forcing us in a completely new , unexpected direction. There is often contradiction and even irony in high concept: a lawyer forced to tell the truth; a down and out fighter who gets to fight for the championship; a little boy who has to help an advanced space alien get home; young romance blooming aboard a tragically doomed ocean liner.
There is, however, danger is in relying so heavily on high concept that you forget about the proper execution of that concept. As well, some of the greatest scripts ever written are “low concept.” Scripts such as “Steel Magnolias” or “Postcards from the Edge” are hard to pitch because they’re relatively low concept, but they are great scripts.
As well, remember that even low concept scripts have to be pitched, so it’s even more important to write a strong logline for low concept projects, using active words, and conveying the essence of the story in an exciting way. “An overprotective mother tries to convince her sick daughter not to risk her life to have a child of her own.” It’s not high concept, but it’s strong, and dramatic, with obvious conflict, and it makes us want to know how it turns out. So, the lower the concept, the stronger the logline has to be.
Finally, High Concept is relative: once done, it’s no longer high concept. Write a script about a young couple falling in love on a doomed ship today, and it won’t be considered high concept. A little boy finding an alien, or a club fighter getting a shot at the title – no longer high concept, simply because they’re no longer unique, fresh or surprising.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Can it be argued that the script’s “concept” is more important than the script’s dialogue, action, and visuals?
Rob Tobin: Absolutely not. Although high concept can help you get people to read your script, the execution will sell that script. The best script to write, in terms of commerciality, is a well executed high concept script:
“A marketing genius opens an amusement park featuring scientifically resurrected dinosaurs.” High concept, brilliantly executed, and thus one of the most successful films of all time.
However, the best script may be something like “Secrets and Lies,” or “As Good as it Gets,” which are not particularly high concept. Even a brilliant script like “Good Will Hunting,” which on the face of it is fairly high concept (A genius works as a janitor at MIT), depends almost totally on the execution, which was of course brilliant.
So no, although concept is important, it is not as important as execution. I’d much rather read (and produce) a brilliantly executed low-concept script that a poorly executed high concept script.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Why do Hollywood Executives religiously submit to the theory that a logline should only be 1-2 sentences?
Rob Tobin: It’s a test. If you can’t convey the essence of your story in one or (at most) two sentences, then it may not be structurally sound. A great one- or two-sentence logline indicates that the essence of your story is strong, and that you know what that essence is. If you don’t know your script well enough to pitch it in a sentence, then I probably won’t want to read your script.
Again, even a low concept script like “Steel Magnolias” is so well written that you can find at least the essence of it fairly easily. “An overprotective mother tries to stop her sick daughter from risking her life to have a baby of her own.” Bam. I didn’t have to think about it and it’s not even my script.
There’s also this: over the years I’ve pitched to countless producers and there’s this… glaze.. that descends over a producer’s eyes once she or he has decided that your story doesn’t interest them. You have a few seconds to catch them before that curtain descends. “A suicidally reckless cop gets partnered with an ultra cautious cop on the verge of retirement.” Bam. The producer’s going to at least ask questions. If you take three paragraphs to describe your story… maybe it’s not a story worth telling – or reading.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Should a screenwriter follow the current film market and mirror their writing based off what’s “selling” and making “money”?
Rob Tobin: No. Because, as I said in my last answer, the chances of making money as a screenwriter are incredibly small. There’s something like 100,000 scripts floating around Hollywood at any given time. Maybe 300 of them will ever get made and distributed. Most of those 300 will be written by industry veterans. It’s a tough game. And, by the time you’ve seen what’s “hot,” it probably isn’t hot anymore. By the time you saw “Twilight,” it was probably too late to write a vampire script that would sell, unless it was a brilliant script AND you had contacts in the industry who could greenlight your project.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: If the writer’s story is 100% original, will that qualify the script automatically as “High Concept”?
Rob Tobin: Not automatically, no. A story about a sign painter who becomes a multi millionaire by selling his signs to fast food restaurants and parlaying that money into a fortune through wise investments in hedge funds may be 100% original, but… It’s not the just originality that makes a story high concept; it’s the effect is has on the audience. Although I did not like “Titanic,” I have to say it’s perhaps the most brilliant example of high concept. It sets a traditional love story on the most famous doomed ship of all time. There is almost always a twist to high concept that intrigues us, catches us off guard, and makes us want to know more.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: In a few short sentences, what closing advice can you give ALL writers when it comes to writing a “High Concept” screenplay?
Rob Tobin: Execution. A high concept MIGHT get you an audience with or a read by an executive, but the execution is what will sell or sink the script. A high concept piece of crap is still a piece of crap. A low concept work of brilliance is still a work of brilliance. Try for the latter or, even better, try for a brilliantly written high concept script.
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This article was written by Screenwriting Staffing’s Founder, Jacob N. Stuart. Jacob is an award-winning screenwriter with over 20 scripts either optioned or produced to screen, airing in over 15 different countries. He is a graduate of The Los Angeles Film School with a degree in FILM/ENTERTAINMENT. Outside of judging and spear-heading multiple film festivals across the country, he is a regular contributor for FINAL DRAFT and CREATIVE SCREENWRITING MAGAZINE. You can follow him on TWITTER.
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