What is high concept? Is it the same as high stakes? If
your villain plants a bomb in Los Angeles, is it a high concept movie if it's a nuclear bomb
and a non-high concept movie if it's just TNT?
High Concept and High Stakes are two different things.
You can tell if a script is high concept if you pitch the logline to friends and they all want
to see the movie (or wish they'd thought of that idea). The *idea* is unusual, unexpected,
maybe even a little strange. In the Jim Carrey film BRUCE ALMIGHTY a guy is given
God's job for a week... and you thought people wanted favors from you at work! The idea itself
is interesting and compelling and cool. You don't need a nuclear explosion. You don't need special effects. The *idea* is the special effect.
Don't you wish you'd thought of that one? It's an idea that's easy to understand, is
something we've probably all fantasized about, yet would be really weird if it happened
in real life. A high concept is both unique and universal. The idea itself will not only be
so strong that we can imagine the rest of the script, it will be interesting and unusual.
"There's something you don't see every day!"
The great story part of "A great story, well told".
The IDEA is what makes a high concept story interesting - not the great characters or
story or dialogue or anything else. The script may have great characters (etc), but we
don't even have to explain them to interest an audience - the idea does it all! "Man
plays God for a day" is an interesting idea. I don't need to know anything else about the
story, and I'm already willing to fork over the $15 to see what happens. Our imaginations
can run with that idea and see a million fun possibilities. It's a great jumping off point. If you
don't know what kind of character Jim Carrey is playing, or anything about the story
itself... the idea is intriguing. If you were temping for God, what would you do? Try to
make the world a better place? Smite your enemies? Arrange the world so that life
made sense? So, the first test of a high concept - is your idea interesting on its own?
When we are pitching our script or sending a producer a logline, it's all about concept. The
concept is what gets them to read our screenplay. Dull concept = Few reads. We want to start with a great story (idea).
Turning that idea into a sophisticated and well structured screenplay is something else.
The "well told" part. The sophisticated element entirely depends on the idea and how deep into the characters
and conflict you dig... and your skills and talent as a storyteller. That's partially true with
the well-structured part as well - some stories are big unfocused messes and have no
protagonist and no central conflict. They really aren't good ideas to begin with. "A year
in the life of a suburban family" has no central conflict, no protagonist... it's a bad idea
because it's too vague. If you change it to "A 40 year old man with one year to live,
decides to live like a 17 year old, despite the objections of his family." You have a story
- we have a protagonist, a situation, and a conflict.
If he PHYSICALLY goes back to being 17, you have a high concept.
If he just acts like a 17 year old, you have an idea that isn't high concept, but has all of
the elements required for an entertaining full-length script... let's call it AMERICAN
AMERICAN BEAUTY isn't really high concept, Francis Ford Coppola's PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED *is* high concept. (PEGGY SUE also has Jim Carrey in a small role - coincidence?)
The IDEA of acting like a 17 year old isn't unique, the idea of bouncing back in time to
relive your senior year of high school knowing everything you know now is unusual - I
don't know anybody who has bounced back in time, do you? A good high concept is
fantastic and at least a little weird.
You can raise the stakes in a story, but that doesn't make it high concept. It may make
it more exciting and more commercial, though. If you don't have a high concept, look at increasing your stakes. In my BLACK THUNDER script I had a
pair of rival Air Force pilots fighting for the love of their commander (Steinbeck's EAST
OF EDEN in jet fighter planes) who must work together on a mission to recover a stolen
warplane that uses "active stealth" technology - it can bend light to outside the human
visual spectrum so that it becomes invisible. It does that Predator-thing and
chameleons with its surroundings.
That sounds high concept... but the story isn't high concept at all - only the plane is. The
story requires these two guys to work together and go behind enemy lines to a rogue
nation where terrorists train... pretty normal stuff. You've seen a dozen films where
people go behind enemy lines on some secret mission. That's a fairly standard idea. We have seen ot before. Nothing *unique* and *weird* about it.
So I made the device they were going after interesting and made the stakes high - the guys
who stole our plane are going to use it to nerve gas Paris while the President is there to
meet with World Leaders to discuss the very rogue nation that swiped our plane. High stakes. A cool McGuffin.
(Written and filmed in the mid-90s for Showtime and then remade 10 years later at 6 times the budget for Sony)
So, the fate of the world is hanging in the balance - if they blow the mission
these terrorists will take out Paris and the leaders of the free world. Those are high
stakes and make for an exciting story, and the plane (at least in the script) is pretty cool
- but the idea is still rather bland. The idea is still NOT high concept even with the plane
and the stakes. But if you have a non-high-con idea that calls to you, raising the stakes
and creating a high concept McGuffin is something
to consider. The great thing about my invisible plane is that most of the time it's visible -
just a regular plane. And the times it is invisible - a fairly inexpensive special effect.
Like a high concept story - it's the *idea* that is cool. We don't need to spend all kinds
of time on the invisible plane. If we see it work once, that "sells it". And those super high stakes?
The President and all of the World Leaders being nerve gassed in Paris? It's just an idea -
we never see Paris or the President or anything else. It's the thing that must be stopped, it's stopped,
so we have to see it! An *idea*!
Opening night of Noir City Los Angeles was KISS ME DEADLY, where the stolen item that everyone is
after is *nuclear material* - a great McGuffin because it creates high stakes! Do we really want nuclear material to fall into
the wrong hands? What if someone makes a dirty bomb? Those are high stakes! And the nuclear material? Just a lead case! A prop!
It *symbolizes* the nuclear material and the potential dirty bomb and all of the destruction that might case. Just a box....
Like that case in PULP FICTION...
Stakes can be personal (your protagonist is going to die, as in AMERICAN BEAUTY) or
global (if the two "brothers" can not learn to work together, all of the world's leaders will be killed, as
in my BLACK THUNDER). You want a conflict with consequences!
I think if you come up with a great idea, it's easier to turn it into a good script. It doesn't
have to be a high concept idea, it just needs to be an interesting idea. A great idea has
the central conflict and protagonist built in - it has the fuel for drama built in. Ideas that
are difficult to turn into sophisticated and well structured scripts (no matter how skilled
the writer) are ideas that are too vague or all over the place or have no protagonist or
no clearly defined central conflict. They are bad ideas. If you marry a witch who wants
to help you get ahead at work... that's not only high concept, it has all of the elements
necessary to write a good script. It can be a clever, sophisticated script like Rene Clair's
I MARRIED A WITCH (1942) or silly (but entertaining) TV junk like BEWITCHED... that's up to the writer
(and their skills and talent). The idea is only one part, you still must have writing skills
and the writer's talent. Once you have a great idea you still have to write the script...
But do you have a great idea?
Or high stakes?
Or a cool McGuffin?
We are *creative writers* - so make sure we create something imaginative and interesting!
The First Ten Pages Of Your Screenplay Are Critical, But What About The Last 10 Pages?
Creating the perfect ending to your story! This 100,000 word book shows you how to end your story with a bang, rather than a whimper. Everything from Resolution Order to Act Three Tools to Happy or Sad Endings? to How The Beginning Of Your Story Has Clues To The Ending (in case you were having trouble figuring out how the story should end) to Falling Action to How To Avoid Bad Endings to Writing The Perfect Twist Ending to Setting Up Sequels & Series to Emotional Resolutions to How To Write Post Credit Sequences to Avoiding Deus Ex Machinas, to 20 Different Types Of Ends (and how to write them) and much more! Everything about endings for your screenplay or novel!
Loglines, Treatments, Pitching, Look Books, Pitch Decks, One Pagers, Rip-O-Matics?
You have written a brilliant 110 page screenplay, but how do you get anyone to read it? You need to distill it down into some form of verbal moonshine or story rocket fuel that will ignite that bored development executive or manager or agent and get them to request your screenplay. But how do you shrink those 110 pages into a 25 word logline or a 2 minute elevator pitch or a one page synopsis or a short paragraph? This 100,000 word book shows you how! Everything you need to know! From common logline mistakes (and how to solve them) to how your pitch can reveal story problems to the 4 types of pitches!
Making Your Own Movie?
Writing An Indie Film?
Writing A Low Budget Genre Script To Sell?
Writing A Made For TV Holiday Movie?
You will be writing for BUDGET. On a standard spec screenplay, you don’t have to think about budget, but these types of screenplays writing with budget in mind is critical!
If you are making your own movie, budget, is even more important - and you need to think about budget *before* you write your screenplay... or you will end up with a script that you can’t afford to make (or is a struggle to make). Everyone is making their own films these days, and even if you have done it before there are lots of great techniques in this book to get more money on screen - for less money! You can make a film that looks like it cost millions for pocket change.
ARE YOUR SCENES IN THE RIGHT ORDER? AND ARE THEY THE RIGHT SCENES?
Your story is like a road trip... but where are you going? What's the best route to get there? What are the best sights to see along the way? Just as you plan a vacation instead of just jump in the car and start driving, it's a good idea to plan your story. An artist does sketches before breaking out the oils, so why shouldn't a writer do the same? This Blue Book looks at various outlining methods used by professional screenwriters like Wesley Strick, Paul Schrader, John August, and others... as well as a guest chapter on novel outlines. Plus a whole section on the Thematic Method of generating scenes and characters and other elements that will be part of your outline. The three stages of writing are: Pre-writing, Writing, and Rewriting... this book looks at that first stage and how to use it to improve your screenplays and novels.
Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?
William Goldman says the most important single element of any screenplay is structure. It’s the skeleton under the flesh and blood of your story. Without it, you have a spineless, formless, mess... a slug! How do you make sure your structure is strong enough to support your story? How do you prevent your story from becoming a slug? This Blue Book explores different types of popular structures from the basic three act structure to more obscure methods like leap-frogging. We also look at structure as a verb as well as a noun, and techniques for structuring your story for maximum emotional impact. Most of the other books just look at *structure* and ignore the art of *structuring* your story. Techniques to make your story a page turner... instead of a slug!
All Six Movies analyzed! All of the mission tapes, all of the “that’s impossible!” set pieces and stunts, the cons and capers - and how these scenes work, the twists and double crosses, the tension and suspense (and how to generate it), the concept of each film as a stand alone with a different director calling the shots (broken in the sixth film), the gadgets, the masks, the stories, the co-stars and team members (one team member has been in every film), the stunts Tom Cruise actually did (and the ones he didn’t), and so much more! Over 120,000 words of fun info!
*** HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE *** - For Kindle!
Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the *Master Of Suspense*; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?
This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!
All five "Bourne" movies (including "Legacy" and it's potential sequels) - what are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? Reinventing the thriller genre...
or following the "formula"? Five films - each with an interesting experiment! A detailed analysis of each
of the films, the way these thrillers work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical
statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.
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NOIR & MYSTERY80 minute MP3 packed with information on writing Film Noir and Mystery scripts. Using examples from CHINATOWN to OUT OF THE PAST to DOUBLE INDEMNITY you'll learn how to create stories in this dark, twisted genre. How to plant clues, red herrings, suspects, victims, spider women, fallen heroes, the funhouse mirror world of noir supporting characters... and the origins of Film Noir in literature Noir dialogue and how noir endings are different than any other genre. All of the critical elements necessary to write in this critically popular genre. The Noir & Mystery Class is only $10!
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IDEAS AND CREATIVITY - 80 minute MP3 packed with information. Tools to find ideas that are both personal *and* commercial. Hollywood wants scripts with High Concept stories... but not stupid scripts. Developing *intelligent* high concept ideas. How to turn your personal story into a blockbuster - or find your personal story in a high concept idea. Brainstorming and being creative. Ideas and Creativity is $10.00!
WRITING INDIES - Writing an Indie film? This class covers everything you need to know - from Central Locations to Confined Cameos. Using examples from SWINGERS, THE COOLER, STATION AGENT and others, this 80 minute MP3 is packed with information. How Indoe films challenge the audience (while mainstream films reassure the audience). Structures, using BOYS DON'T CRY, RUN LOLA RUN, HILARY & JACKIE, and others as example. Writing for a budget, writing for non-actors, getting the most production value out of your budget. Writing Indies is $10.00!
WRITING HORROR - The essentials of a horror screenplay - what do ROSEMARY'S BABY, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE EXORCIST, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE OTHERS and OPEN WATER have in common? This class will tell you! All of the critical elements necessary to write a script that scares the pants off the audience. Writing Horror MP3 is $10.00!
Why pay $510 for a used version of the 240 page 2000 version that used to retail for $21.95? (check it out!) when
you can get the NEW EXPANDED VERSION - over 500 pages - for just $9.99? New chapters, New examples, New techniques!
"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the
best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read."
- Ted Elliott, co-writer of MASK OF ZORRO, SHREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and the sequels (with Terry Rossio). (ie; 4 of the top 20 Box Office Hits Of ALL TIME.)
Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to
know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language,
to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and
networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between
a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you
are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal!
Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!
$4.99 - and no postage!
NO KINDLE REQUIRED! Get the *free* app (any device, except your Mr. Coffee) on the order page on Amazon!
This book takes you step-by-step through the construction of a story... and how to tell a story well, why Story always starts with character... but ISN'T character, Breaking Your Story, Irony, Planting Information, Evolving Story, Leaving No Dramatic Stone Unturned, The Three Greek Unities, The Importance Of Stakes, The Thematic Method, and how to create personal stories with blockbuster potential. Ready to tell a story?
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 85,000 words - 251 pages!
Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! A step-by-step guide to creating "take charge" protagonists. Screenplays are about characters in conflict... characters in emotional turmoil... Strong three dimensional protagonists who can find solutions to their problems in 110 pages. But how do you create characters like this? How do you turn words into flesh and blood? Character issues, Knowing Who Is The Boss, Tapping into YOUR fears, The Naked Character, Pulp Friction, Man With A Plan, Character Arcs, Avoiding Cliche People, Deep Characterization, Problem Protagonists, 12 Ways To Create Likable Protagonists (even if they are criminals), Active vs. Reactive, The Third Dimension In Character, Relationships, Ensemble Scripts, and much, much more. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 205 pages!
Expanded version with more techniques to help you through the desert of Act Two! Subjects Include: What Is Act Two? Inside Moves, The 2 Ps: Purpose & Pacing, The 4Ds: Dilemma, Denial, Drama and Decision, Momentum, the Two Act Twos, Subplot Prisms, Deadlines, Drive, Levels Of Conflict, Escalation, When Act Two Begins and When Act Two Ends, Scene Order, Bite Sized Pieces, Common Act Two Issues, Plot Devices For Act Two, and dozens of others. Over 67,000 words (that’s well over 200 pages) of tools and techniques to get you through the desert of Act Two alive!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is well over 200 pages!
Expanded version with more techniques to flesh out your Supporting Characters and make them individuals. Using the hit movie BRIDESMAIDS as well as other comedies like THE HANGOVER and TED and HIGH FIDELITY and
40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and many other examples we look at ways to make your Supporting Characters come alive on the page.
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 170 pages!
He's back! The release of "Terminator: Genisys" (now on BluRay) is set to begin a new trilogy in
the Terminator story... 31 years after the first film was released. What draws us to these films about
a cybernetic organism from the future sent back in time? Why is there a new proposed trilogy every few
years? This book looks at all five Terminator movies from a story standpoint - what makes them work
(or not)? What are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? How
about those secret story details you may not have noticed? Containing a detailed analysis of each of
the five films so far, this book delves into the way these stories work... as well as a complete list of
box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just
fans of the series.
Screenwriting books have been around as long as films have. This series reprints vintage screenwriting books with a new introduction and history, plus new articles which look at how these lessons from almost 100 years ago apply to today’s screenplays. Anita Loos book is filled with information which still applies.
In addition to the full text of the original book, you get the full screenplay to Miss Loos' hit THE LOVE EXPERT, plus several new articles on the time period and women in Hollywood.
Show Don't Tell - but *how* do you do that? Here are techniques to tell stories visually! Using Oscar Winning Films and Oscar Nominated Films as our primary examples: from the first Best Picture Winner "Sunrise" (1927) to the Oscar Nominated "The Artist" (which takes place in 1927) with stops along the way Pixar's "Up" and Best Original Screenplay Winner "Breaking Away" (a small indie style drama - told visually) as well as "Witness" and other Oscar Winners as examples... plus RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 200 pages!
Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
Expanded version with more ways to create interesting dialogue! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 50 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
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E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of
text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there
will soon be novels. E BOOKS: BLUE BOOKS & NOVELLETES
MY OTHER SITES
B MOVIE WORLD Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.
Every screenwriting book in the world! SCREENWRITER'S BOOKSTORE In Association With Amazon.com From the latest screenwriting book to
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BOOKLETS & PRODUCTS
FIRST STRIKE BLUE BOOKS
Each Blue Book is 48
pages and focuses on a different aspect of screenwriting. Dialogue. Visual Storytelling. Your First Ten Pages. Act 2 Booster. Protagonists. Great Endings. Seventeen Blue Books now available!
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