In case you’ve somehow been living in a cave and missed it, there’s a new Die Hard movie coming out this week, and in honor of that, let’s talk a little bit about high concept. Die Hard is arguably the movie that really solidified the term “high concept,” made it mainstream and made it a selling point that dominates the industry to this very day.
This is one question you’re inevitably going to be asked about your script by a producer, manager or agent:
“What’s the concept?”
With that question, you’re basically being asked to simplify your script to a level that your average third grader could grasp. It’s your script in a nutshell. The “concept” can be synonymous with your logline…it’s what your premise is, what the movie is fundamentally about.
High concept is another level…high concept isn’t just a premise that can easily be conveyed and understood…it’s a specific kind of character in a specific kind of setting in a specific kind of genre doing a specific kind of thing in a specific kind of way. Are you getting it? It’s about specifics.
A high concept script isn’t inherently good…it’s just inherently easier to pitch and market. Selling Die Hard on a mountain (Cliffhanger), Die Hard on a ship (Under Siege, Speed 2: Cruise Control), Die Hard on a plane (Con Air, Air Force One), Die Hard in the White House (Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down), etcetera, is a lot easier than selling a story about two friends who are obsessed with coconut milk and are trying to find their spirituality.
This doesn’t mean that the former is better than the latter or vice versa, but the chances are, the guys that wrote the script that can be pitched in shorthand are going to have an easier time getting traction.
If your script isn’t high concept and can never be high concept…fake it. Find a way to pitch it so that it sounds high concept. The important thing is to get someone of means to start reading it. Once they start reading it, you can win them over with your story, but if you can’t interest them and make them think that your project is commercially viable, they’re not going to give you the time of day.
Die Hard in Russia got made and is soon coming to a theater near you, for better or for worse. Die Hard in a coffee shop…in which John McClane eats a muffin on his day off and does the crossword puzzle while making conversation with a cute waitress…is not and never will be, even if that might be a better movie.
High concept. Say it until you’re sick of it, and then get used to it. It’s not going away.