Peggy Bechko Ponders ‘High Concept’

  by Peggy Bechko

This is a whole ‘nuther kind of high concept, yeah, Rihanna?

If you write for the screen you’ve no doubt pondered the High Concept, what the heck it is, and how you can spur your latest creative endeavor into being that High Concept.


Because high concept by definition appeals to a wide audience and we all want that, right? If not all of the time, then at least some of the time because after all, in appealing to that wide audience the concept must be unique and fascinating. I’d venture to say that means you’re being creative and original. It also means great box-office potential. That’s a key ingredient to spurring a successful screenwriting career. All that’s good!

So, what does that mean for the writer? Simply put, the High Concept script needs a universal theme. You know, the great escape, or a family flick, or love, greed or vengeance. You get the drift. But the writer also needs to throw in that much sought after twist that turns a character or an action on its head or some other body part, thrusting the observer into the unexpected. Surprise! We all love to be surprised.

One way to push your basic idea into the High Concept arena is that old fall-back question, “what if”.

Here are a couple of examples:

What if the bank vault being robbed turned out to be a portal to another dimension from which the wealth in that bank came and into which????

What if the guy who gets stabbed and dies didn’t know it but turns out to be immortal? (remember that one?).

What if a hurricane was just the beginning of a chain reaction that circled the globe with monumental disasters…and it was triggered by one man? What if that man was not human? What if that man wasn’t human?

And on and on…

Additionally, think about working with a concept that fascinates you. It’s only natural to be more excited, more involved with ideas that you just can’t learn enough about or use that ‘what if’ question enough on.

All this applies to TV as well. Want to sell that series idea? Then go for the High Concept. How about the new show Midnight Texas? Think about it. Midnight Texas: The welcome mat’s out for supernaturals. If you’re a vampire, a werebeast or see ghosts, this town’s for you.

That’s just my take on it off the top of my head.

Okay, so now you, as the stunning writer you are, have to come up with a great title. One or two words are really best. I mean, think about it. Jaws, Alien, Die Hard, Twister, Sharknado (LOL) and my TV example Midnight Texas …all very short titles. Very punchy and very clearly tell what the story is about.

Oh, and after all that, remember the High Concept idea needs to be pitched in one sentence. If fact, if you’ve come up with a true High Concept, that will allow the idea to be couched in one sentence. Notice the one I came up with above for Midnight Texas the TV show.

How about The Martian: Help is only 140 million miles away. Or The Martian: He was left behind…on Mars.

Or Passengers (again off the top of my head): He fixes things and she’s a writer in stasis on a ship to the stars. There is a reason they woke up.

If you’re going to take a run at writing High Concept you have to have it clear in your mind what it is. It must be strong, original, captivating and if it is that means money for producers and studios and, best case scenario, you.

This has been just a teaser, a hint at what you’re looking at. Want more? Check out other posts here on TV Writer – and do some more research until you’re confident in your High Concept ideas and the loglines you create for them.

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.