Friday, January 5, 2007

Dissecting the High Concept Logline

I've been wondering what makes something high concept versus anything else.

According to the Unknown Screenwriter a HIGH CONCEPT must follow these guidelines:

* The story idea is unique.
* The story idea appeals to a wide audience.
* The story idea can be said in ONE SENTENCE and you can INSTANTLY visualize the entire movie in your mind’s eye and that alone would entice you enough to go see the movie. (logline)

Hmm, high concept includes a logline. The Inside Pitch, says a logline must contain:

who the story is about (protagonist)
what he strives for (goal)
what stands in his way (antagonistic force).

In general, it is acknowledged that LIAR LIAR, starring Jim Carrey is HIGH CONCEPT. But there seems to be a wide variety of loglines associated with the movie that are sited as examples of a high concept logline.

-A-An attorney, because of a birthday wish, can't tell any lies for 24 hours.

-B-The story of an attorney who suddenly couldn't tell a lie...

-C-What if a lawyer who lied for a living couldn’t lie for one day?

-D-When his son wishes he will only tell the truth, an attorney, and pathological liar, is magically compelled to be honest for one day and struggles to win the biggest case of his career - without telling a lie.

Let's go through the checklist. Logline first.

A) Has a who and an antagonistic force, but no goals. NOT A LOGLINE.

B) Has a who and an antagonistic force, but no goals. NOT A LOGLINE.

C) Has a who and an antagonistic force... and barely has a goal. BARELY A LOGLINE.

D) Has a who (a laywer), a goal (win the biggest case of his career), and an antagonistic force (he can't lie).

On to the next check list. Is it HIGH CONCEPT?

Both have loglines. Check.

C) The story is unique. Would a mass audience want to see it... I don't think so. Mainly, because the goal is so amorphous it is hard to care for the character.

D) The story is unique. Would a mass audience want to see it? Can we really answer this? I'd say, yes. In retrospect, the box office agreed with me.

Only one is a HIGH CONCEPT LOGLINE, but all four "loglines" are from the SAME movie (and two aren't even loglines). Great... Now I've made things even more confusing.

Let's look at what a LOGLINE is...

A protagonist, with a goal, with some force opposing his goal.

That's pretty basic. I mean, if your story doesn't contain this...
So, maybe it is just the ability to write loglines that is the culprit here. Maybe this is why so much weight is put on loglines? If a writer can't put together a simple thesis statement of what his screenplay is about... maybe they shouldn't be writing?

So you're a writer. You can do the logline thing. Okay, then that leaves high concept.

The story is unique.

Isn't this sort of a given? I mean, the only way for it not to be unique is to violate copyright... Right?

That leaves us with only one possibility of what makes HIGH CONCEPT...

The story idea appeals to a mass audience.

That's it?


Dave said...

I think A, B & C are really concept ideas. The kind of thing a couple writers are batting around while spitballing... Hey, wouldn't it be funny if a lawyer can't lie? Yeah, and he's a huge liar... etc. You need a ticking clock, so you make it 24 hours.

I think the last one, D, is really the closest to a writing logline where you can see the beginning, middle and end of the story (from his perspective).

Great article. Nice inclusion of several other articles as well.

Anonymous said...

Nice collection of ideas about loglines. You've clearly broken it down, even if you didn't tell us how to write a good one. To be fair, I haven't found a site that can tell you how to write a good logline. (Must be an insider secret! ;)

One pet peeve, but not against you... everyone uses LIAR, LIAR as an example. (Which is why you were able to find so many loglines for it.) I love that movie, don't get me wrong, but from a logline standpoint, it's lame. And Dave pointed out just why. It's spitball with no suggestion of what the whole movie is about. If you watch the extras on the DVD, you'll also see that the star and director had a big problem with the concept: how do you keep the "can't lie" gag from getting old. They succeeded, but it's because Jimy Carrey is amazing and he hooked up with an equally amazing director. (I did not read the original screenplay, so I can't comment on what it did or didn't add to the overall story. At the very least, it came up with the hook and that's a good thing.) But those LIAR, LIAR loglines are just good hooks. I'm certain a good hook is all it takes when you have Jim Carrey on speed-dial, but the rest of us need a more complete pitching tool.

Anyway, this is another addition on my quest to write a good logline.