For some screenwriters, penning an original high concept movie is the holy grail. And that can be a good thing or a bad thing. These days, the majority of Hollywood high concept movies seem to focus on the concept and leave out those little things like character development and basic storytelling. I think the root cause of this boils down to the eternal struggle of many screenwriters which is whether to write for love or write for money.
If we’re fortunate enough to have a well-paid “day job” and this fulfills us then we probably aren’t worrying about paying the bills and so have the freedom to write movies that we want to see or simply embark on stories that we are interested in exploring, without the terms “marketable” or “box office success” influencing us.
But for the vast majority of writers, we do have to pay the bills and so there inevitably comes a time when somebody, perhaps a friend or agent says to us.. why not write something that is going to sell? And they have a point. Sometimes you have to remember that screenwriting is a business as well as an art form and that people, including you, need to make money. The problem is, if we set out to write a script purely to sell it, our heart and soul – two key prerequisites for any successful writing endeavor – may not be invested in the project one hundred percent and as such it may ultimately lack passion.
But you can still be interested in writing a commercial film and develop great characters and an original, engaging story without feeling like you have betrayed your artistic integrity. Perhaps you really want to tell one story that is close to your heart and have shopped the idea around for a while but nobody seems interested. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea or it won’t sell, but maybe you need to make your mark with another project first and then use the success of this to garner interest in your personal project. It’s also about timing among a multitude of other factors.
The problem is, some writers never think about writing what they know and don’t want to tell personal stories, they just want to make money and become famous. And most of these writers think that writing a high concept blockbuster is the solution. Well, good luck to you. Go for it! It may work. But I personally think you should strike a balance in your writing between commerciality and originality. And when I say originality I don’t mean an original high concept movie I mean an original voice.
So the next time you think about the concept of your next screenplay, think about where you are in your writing career and what may help you get onto the next rung of the ladder. If a high concept movie is the answer then great, write one but approach the genre with respect and don’t just see it as a potential pay check. The idea is to apply all of the tools of the trade to your high concept project so it includes in-depth character development, clever plot choices and original dialogue.
How’s that for a high concept