Screenwriting & Developing Marketable Ideas

Whether you have just started out or you have been a successful screenwriter for several years, the task of developing a marketable screenplay idea will be ever present.

Let’s start with two industry words that most represent the definition of a marketable screenplay:

High Concept

What is High Concept? 

Generally a studio or producer would consider a screenplay being a “High Concept” idea, if it contained all four of these components:

1. It is unique.
2. It appeals to a wide audience.
3. It can be explained in one sentence.
4. You can instantly visualize the whole movie.

You would have a much better chance of securing financing or optioning a high concept script as opposed to shopping around a Character Drama. Generally the studio’s decision to move forward with a script would be dependent on the marketability and the distribution aspects of the project. A producer would be looking at how and where the project would generate the most revenue for the studio. That is why it is much easier to market a project that is high concept. When you hear of the six-figure sales of a screenplay, it’s almost always a high concept script.

When you consider writing a high concept screenplay, day-to-day activities will prove to be a goldmine of ideas. Since every story needs conflict in order to resolve to a happy ending, you will want to consider all conflict around you as possible ideas. Every situation and issue you encounter in everyday life should be looked at carefully to pinpoint possible elements for a high concept story.

Have you ever passed an interesting character on the street in the town where you live? Maybe you have seen a street performer, musician, poet, or just someone that dedicates their day to opening doors? What if that character was performing that same routine, not just days, weeks, or months, but continued this pattern for years. Would you wonder? Is there a layered story there that is worthy to be unraveled and written into a screenplay?

In order for a story to be considered High Concept, you would want to start with the most unique or unlikely scenario. If you are truly creative, this task may be only a small challenge. Can you visualize and create story concepts based on what you see and hear in everyday life? A spoken word by an interesting character that you meet may be the only thing it takes for you to start your journey. Can you storyboard in your head? If so, you probably have an analytical way of thinking that will definitely help when it comes to structuring stories.

Let’s take a look at a logline that is NOT High Concept:

NOT High Concept:

Every morning for years, a musician performs for a coffee shop crowd. He eventually meets, falls in love with a barista and they open their own coffee shop.

This sounds like a scenario that has played out on every other block in Seattle. A guy plays his guitar outside the coffee shop, while attempting to gain the attention of the cute barista that works there. The hook is not powerful enough to even consider reading the entire story.

Now take a look at a logline that might be considered High Concept:

High Concept:

A passer-by drops a winning lottery ticket into a musician’s guitar case; the musician celebrates his new found wealth while hiding out from Don Ciccone the head Mafia Boss that dropped the winning ticket.

This logline meets the criteria of the High Concept story idea:

–      The story is unique

–      May appeal to a wide audience

–      Was explained in one sentence

–      Could visualize the entire story

Have you ever heard of such a story playing out in real life? Imagine the excitement and fear the musician would be experiencing. Are you thinking about all of the characters that would be coming out of the woodwork to get that money back for Don Ciccone?

There are a plethora of stories out there just waiting to be found and an endless amount waiting to be created. Sometimes you will need to dig deep, ask questions, and elaborate on certain elements of a story to get what you’re looking for. From a marketing perspective, the concept for the story that you choose is generally the most important.

Be Creative, Be Original, Be Proactive.

– David L. Spies

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One Response to Screenwriting & Developing Marketable Ideas

  1. Biagio says:

    David,
    Great post, and here’s why: not enough creative types take the time to consider if their idea is sell-able. There’s nothing wrong with throwing your heart and soul into a passion project that is not commercial…just don’t ask anyone else to pay for it! If, on the other hand, you would like to see you idea funded and put into the world with someone else’s money, pitching ideas that have appeal to more than the art-house crowd is crucial. This goes for everything from movies to reality TV (one of our specialties.)

    You also touch on a great point: there’s LOTS of amazing ideas out there. A while back, we wrote a post discussing why one big idea is not enough. Even if your idea is high concept, it’s important to keep the creative gears turning, and look for high concept ideas everywhere you go. Great post!

    Biagio
    twitter: @jokeandbiagio

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