HowTo: Pick the Right Screenplay – Part 3

Of Loglines, High Concepts, Premises and Themes; What are they and why are they vital to the Right Script?

“So…Whats it about?”

Producer

So... What's it about?

It’s the first question you hear from a producer or investor when you mention your hot new project. The answer you give in the first 30 seconds will determine whether or not your project gets picked up.  Make sure you know what he or she wants to hear. Make sure you know the difference between Logline, High Concept, Premise and Theme and how to use them correctly. If the project you’re working on does not have these basic tenants, go back and re review your choices or dig them out of the story.

Let’s start with the answer to the first question, “What’s it about?”  This is the place most screenwriters,directors, actors or anyone pitching a film idea, trip over their own tongues. This is where you start babbling incoherently, spitting out whole scenes out of context, character descriptions, plot turns and surprise “twists” that you are in love with from the script. And this is why your project will FAIL with big capital letters. The Right Script has all four of these tools.

When a producer (or potential investor) asks you, “What’s it about?”, this translates roughly into human terms as,  “Tell me how I’m gonna make a million bucks if I back your project?”.  They really don’t want to hear what it’s about, they want to know WHY they should back it. If your script has the right logline, high concept, premise and theme it will fare much better in the market (and your success). Make sure every project you work on has these four major  sound bytes and that they are crafted well. Here’s how to tell the difference.

(NOTE: For the purposes of this article we’ll use a new project of my own that is getting fantastic response from a variety of producers / investors entitled ONCE MORE EDEN. We’ll examine each of the elements mentioned above and show how and when they are used effectively)

High Concept for ONCE MORE EDEN:

“The true story of a humanitarian army nurse who risks her life to prevent the nuclear holocaust at Hiroshima.”

What would you do?High Concept = The Headline:  The high concept is perhaps the most misunderstood element in filmmaking. Everyone has their own idea of what makes a great high concept. Entire books and blogs are dedicated to the art and craft but there really is only one clear definition. High Concepts are what sell your project. This is what every producer worth his or her gold neck chains wants. The High Concept is NOT the logline, the premise or the theme. It is the shortest presentation of WHY a producer MUST buy your film. I purposely use the word “Presentation” because a High Concept pitch is not explained but presented…. like an eye-catching headline on the cover of a magazine.

Let’s look at why ONCE MORE EDEN is a great high concept.  a) it is a short blurb… only 19-20 words. b) The story’s commercial appeal is immediately evident (nuclear proliferation is a current and global topic of interest) , c) As a “true story” we  know that it is  UNIQUE and ORIGINAL. We haven’t seen this story a million times before. In fact no one  has ever seen this story before, and d) You immediately get a mental image of who is the “A” list star.

When a producer or investor asks you, “What’s it about?”, your answer is your High Concept pitch. Polish it. Practice it. It should roll off your tongue like honey and be just as irresistible.  The High Concept pitch tells the producer, in a single breath that your story has tremendous commercial appeal, is original and  who he needs to call next (the “A” list actor or director) to get the project moving WITHOUT ANY EXPLANATION. If your project can only be presented with a lengthy explanation than it is most likely NOT a High Concept story.

Logline for ONCE MORE EDEN:

 “The true story of  a humanitarian Army nurse on the Manhattan Project who battles the entire US military risking her life to prevent the nuclear holocaust at Hiroshima”

The spine of your storyLogline =  The Spine. As you can see from the short sentence above. The logline is sometimes very similar to the High Concept. This is a good thing but it is also why so many people confuse it with the High Concept. The difference is that the Logline is  the boiled down essence of your project. It outlines the plot, main characters, principal conflict and the stakes. The logline serves two purposes a) it is the heart of your project guiding the story execution. Every scene must address at least one or more of the loglines four (4) main elements (ie protagonist, antagonist, conflict and stakes). b) the logline is the pitch that sells your project to the AUDIENCE. When someone, looking to buy tickets to a movie, or is looking for what to download off the net, the Logline is the short encapsulation of why they should buy your film.  the High Concept sells the producer while the Logline sells the audience. This is why they’re often confused. 

Theme for ONCE MORE EDEN:

“What would you do?”

Theme = HeartTheme = The Heart. Very often the theme ends as the image on the movie poster or as the “Tag Line” on the movie poster. It’s a short statement about the emotional core of the project. Every story whether it is a drama, comedy, horror or thriller has to have an emotional core to be successful. Without the emotional core, your film is just a bunch of images moving in the dark. With an emotional core it can “move” people and stir the exact feelings you want to drive.  The theme in ONCE MORE EDEN is the emotional question, “Would YOU risk your life to prevent the vaporization of a million innocent souls”. There is no right  or wrong answer. Everyone is touched by this theme because it goes beyond logic to morality.

The emotional core is why we “care” about the characters on the screen and get personally involved. The theme should be imbued subtly in the story. No one wants to be preached to in a film. We want to FEEL it through our eyes and ears. Even the current horror phenomenon PARANORMAL ACTIVITY contains a very deep theme which raises it above the other horror films in theaters today.  The theme is encapsulated in a single quick shot early in the film. The Director, Oren Peli holds in Close Up on a photo of the happy couple smiling and much in love… with a shattered frame. The heart of the film is the total and horrifying destruction of the family unit by an overpowering, unrelenting and unseen force.  

Premise for ONCE MORE EDEN:

“If someone had the opportunity to prevent the annihilation of a million innocent civilians, then would they risk their life to do it?”

brain

Internal Logic

Premise = If/Then. Internal Logic in a story project does not refer to its degree of reality. It refers to its degree of believability based on the premise of the story. Does the story “Make Sense” based on the initial idea? does it hold together from beginning to end? Does the main character’s arc make sense. In ONCE MORE EDEN the main character starts out as a timid but deep feeling humanitarian nurse who spends her days saving lives. Through the course of the story she finds herself in a position to actually save the lives of millions of people.  Her actions make sense based on the premise.  Premise is usually stated in an “if/then” proposition. Even in fantastical horror films like ALIEN, the premise is solid. “If a smart and strong-willed female space pilot was confronted with an indestructible alien menace, then would she step up to the challenge? Thanks to Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver, we know the answer.

CONCLUSION

High Concept is the short presentation you give to a producer or investor that will compel them to invest in your project. Logline is the short statement that is the spine of your story project and gives your audience the “whole story” in a single sentence. Theme addresses the emotional core of the project. It’s the “Why we care” of the project. Premise is the internal logic of the story. Does it “make sense” based on the initial idea. Make sure you fully understand all of these parts of the project and when to use them properly and you’ll find your success greatly improved – MP

Next Up: 4) Of Characters and Character how to tell the difference

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