10 Ways To Generate a High Concept Movie Idea
It’s one of those Hollywood terms without a widely accepted definition. But most filmmakers learn quickly that they need a high concept movie idea to succeed.
“Something unexpected” doesn’t quite explain it.
“Something unique or original” doesn’t either!
“Hook” is another common film term – but what exactly is a hook?
Maybe this will explain it better:
“Guy wants to see his kids” is a conflict and a premise, but it’s not high concept.
“Guy wants to see his kids, so he dresses up as a woman and lies to his ex-wife to get a job as their nanny.” Now that’s high concept! (It’s also the plot of Mrs. Doubtfire, in case you weren’t around in the 90s.)
A strong hook doesn’t require that a person make an unorthodox decision – but that’s one way to get there. Here are some others to help you brainstorm:
How to come up with a high concept movie idea
Swap a person in a movie you already love
So many movies have been made about white men. What if you took the same concept and plugged in someone different as the protagonist? Of course other things will change as a result of your choice – but that’s part of the point. It won’t be a copy – it’ll be your own unique take.
Set a movie you love in a new world
The same goes for settings. Whiplash is a great movie about ambition and mentorship in the world of music. What if you put the same basic setup in the world of dance or baseball or online gaming? Pick a world you’re passionate about!
Make someone else the lead
Common advice for writing villains is that an antagonist should think they’re the hero of the story. Well, what if they were? Write one of your favorite stories from another character’s perspective!
Rewrite your life
Do you ever look back on a moment in your life and wish you had said something else? Or made a different decision? Great movies can stem from your character making the bold or unexpected decisions you didn’t make.
Most of us have never met genies – but they make for great movie fodder. If you have an idea for the theme or message of your movie but can’t think of a plot or hook, consider giving a character a magic power, wish, or curse of some kind.
Let them lie
Sometimes we love our characters so much that we don’t want them to have flaws or make mistakes. Don’t be so nice! Let your characters mess up. In fact, a big lie could be enough to launch your entire concept. Lies can also lead to more lies – and crazy actions meant to cover up the lies.
What if your biggest dream came true? What if your biggest fear came true? What if your childhood dream – something you no longer want – came true? What if something mean you said to someone else came true? Our own imaginations are already full of high concept ideas if we let them run wild.
Robots, Aliens, Zombies and Monsters
Why limit yourself to humans? Okay, it might be expensive to make a movie about robots, aliens, zombies AND monsters – but any story with one of these elements can get you on the path toward your high concept movie idea.
Many writers start with the “guy wants to see his kids” part and don’t get as far as the “so he dresses up as a woman” part. I like to think of this as the “and THEN” – or perhaps more accurately, “SO then.” (Your character should make a decision as a direct result of the conflict they’re facing.)
Start with the issue – sometimes it’s a problem the character has (like a hurricane is coming), while sometimes it’s a goal (like a championship she wants to win). AND THEN what? What does the character DO because of this issue? Write out 10 issues and then see if you can come up with 10 “And Thens!”