The Secret to Understanding What High Concept Means in Hollywood

Do you know the secret to writing those industry-coveted “High Concept” screenplays and loglines that managers, agents, development executives, and producers yearn for?

Most screenwriters don’t have a grasp of what the industry term High Concept really means — most industry insiders can’t precisely define it either. Yet it’s a term that industry insiders continuously use in emails, meetings, memos, script notes, and directives within Hollywood.

The secret to understanding what High Concept screenplays and loglines really are and how you develop them lies within two additional terms — gimmick and concept — and the differences thereof.

What Is a Screenwriting Gimmick?

By definition, A gimmick is a trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or trade.

In the context of screenwriting, a cinematic gimmick is a situation or idea that clearly piques the interest of the general reader or potential audience member.

A woman wakes up with superpowers. 

A stay-at-home father discovers that he’s actually an assassin whose memory was erased.

A gamer realizes that his game console controllers can actually control the real world NFL team that he plays as in his Madden Football game.  

A woman realizes she can’t age or die. 

A suburban family man uncovers the truth that he is actually living in a computer simulation. 

These types of gimmicks are the roots of what High Concept really means — but are not yet solid concepts for your next script. As is, they are nothing more than hooks that may attract initial attention and interest.

Make no mistake, gimmicks are interesting, but too many screenplays in the script market today rely solely on them — any script reader, producer, manager, agent, or development executive can attest to that fact.

Gimmicks are excellent story prompts as you decide what you’re going to write next. They are often (hopefully) intriguing and can come from any number of sources and methods of conception.

You can find them simply by asking yourself What If questions.

What if superpowers were real?”

What if you aren’t who you think you are?”

What if your game controller could control the outside world?”

What if you couldn’t die — no matter what?”

What if our lives were nothing more than a simulation?”

Creating gimmicks is a vital part of the creative process when you are conceptualizing ideas and stories for Hollywood. But those gimmicks can’t carry a whole film. You can’t just rely on showing the audience the implementation of those creative and initially intriguing gimmicks from beginning to end. There has to be more.

This is where High Concepts are born.

What Is a Screenwriting Concept?

By definition, a concept is a plan or intention.

In the context of screenwriting, a cinematic concept is a plan or intention that takes a general idea or gimmick and forms it into a cohesive narrative-based story.

It is more easily deciphered as the definition of how the gimmick applies to the protagonist’s life and the various major conflicts that the protagonist will face.

A woman wakes up with superpowers and must use them to save the planet amidst an alien invasion as she learns that the origin of her newfound powers may have a connection to her unknown past.  

A stay-at-home father discovers that he’s actually an assassin whose memory was erased by a secret government organization that wants to use him and his embedded skills to assassinate the President of the United States

A gamer realizes that his game console controllers can actually control the real world NFL team that he plays as in his Madden Football game, seducing him into the criminal underground of sports betting where he gets rich quick until a demented crime boss discovers how he keeps winning

A woman realizes she can’t age or die but is forced to live on the run and evade a government agency that discovers her unique situation and wants to study her for science to create super soldiers.    

A suburban family man uncovers the truth that he is actually living in a computer simulation while his body is kept in suspended animation during a long single-astronaut exploration space flight to the ends of the galaxy

The plan or intention of these concepts is to take what would otherwise be classified as mere gimmicks and add weight to them by planning or intending a narrative that best delivers the gimmick in cinematic and storytelling fashion with conflicts and themes that audiences can identify with.

While it would be fantastic and exciting to wake up with superpowers, what would happen if we were tasked with using them to save the world and were then shocked to learn that maybe our origin isn’t what we thought it was?

While it would be intriguing to discover that we lived a prior life as a skilled assassin, what would happen if the people that erased our memory in the first place came back and wanted us to do a final deed against our will?

While it would be cool to see that our Madden skills are translating to the actual players on the live professional games we’re watching on television — and while it would be equally cool to benefit from that monetarily — what would happen if the bets we placed drew the attention of the criminal underground that wanted the technology for their own use and was ready and willing to eliminate anyone who knew about it?

While it would be amazing to discover that we couldn’t age or die, what would happen if someone found out about our secret and wanted to poke, prod, and maybe even dissect us to unlock the genes that can be used to create the ultimate super soldier that can never age or die?

While it could be mind-blowing to realize that our whole life was a simulation, what would happen if we discovered that our real self left our family behind to explore the stars and that they were likely long gone after years of space travel?

Concepts are the result of the integration of conflict, characters, and overall narratives with initial gimmicks meant to draw in that necessary interest for industry insiders to read your script.

Gimmicks and Concepts Combine to Create High Concept Screenplays and Loglines

Gimmicks are necessary for High Concept screenplays. They entice the inquisitive mind. But they are not enough to sell a script or even get one read. You need a solid screenplay concept built around that gimmick to really flesh out an impactful screenplay.

Dinosaurs being manufactured today by scientists wouldn’t have been enough to entertain us in Jurassic Park.

Characters not being able to make a sound wouldn’t have been enough to thrill us in A Quiet Place.

Neo waking up to the fact that he was living in a simulation wouldn’t have been enough to blow our minds in The Matrix.

There are so many screenplays out there that rely solely on the gimmick or don’t put enough work into the characters and the conflicts they face around that gimmick.

When you form solid concepts using the gimmick as the hook — as we did in the above concepts — you’ll soon realize that it’s a quick and easy way to form interesting high concept screenplays and loglines.

Loglines are those necessary selling tools that embody the core concepts of your screenplays. You can read endless formulas and directives on how to write the most effective logline, but most of them overcomplicate the process.

High Concept is a debatable term but basically encompasses an intriguing centralized gimmick that the concept is centered around.

All that you need to do to create effective High Concept loglines is feature the engaging gimmick and then include the core conflict that a protagonist must face while dealing with the consequences of the gimmick at hand.

A woman wakes up with superpowers and must use them to save the planet amidst an alien invasion as she learns that the origin of her newfound powers may have a connection to her unknown past.  

A stay-at-home father discovers that he’s actually an assassin whose memory was erased by a secret government organization that wants to use him and his embedded skills to assassinate the President of the United States. 

A gamer realizes that his game console controllers can actually control the real world NFL team that he plays as in his Madden Football game, seducing him into the criminal underground of sports betting where he gets rich quick until a demented crime boss discovers how he keeps winning. 

A woman realizes she can’t age or die but is forced to live on the run and evade a government agency that discovers her unique situation and wants to study her for science to create supersoldiers.    

A suburban family man uncovers the truth that he is actually living in a computer simulation while his body is kept in suspended animation during a long single-astronaut exploration space flight to the ends of the galaxy. 

While these loglines may not be perfect in the eyes of some, they represent the ideal integration of gimmick and concept — and that’s all you need for a compelling High Concept screenplay and logline.

High Concepts catch the eye of both the buyer and the audience. While smaller character-driven scripts can showcase the plights of characters dealing with loss, addiction, love, and other aspects of real life, High Concepts deal with those intriguing ideas that the audience wants to see take form because such concepts are at another level of reality that people don’t generally get to experience — or one that is impossible in the reality that we do know. A higher reality, if you will — as in High Concept.

How often do we get to see dinosaurs come to life in the present world? How often do we get to see a family forced to live a life of silence amidst terrifying alien creatures hunting them? How often do we get to see a character awaken from an other-worldly slumber only to realize that all they’ve known has been nothing more than a simulation — a lie?

And, in turn, how often do we get to see a regular person wake up with superpowers, discover an erased identity and skill set, attain an ability to control reality with a game controller, realise that they can’t age or die, or awaken to find the family life they knew was, again, a simulation?

High Concept screenplays and loglines deliver in the form of intriguing gimmicks and the equally intriguing concepts built around them.


When you know the difference between gimmicks and concepts, you’ll understand when an idea needs to be developed more and when one is ready to write. And when you’ve found a good pairing of a gimmick and surrounding concept (character and conflict), you’ve created the most coveted prize in Hollywood — a compelling and engaging High Concept screenplay and logline.


Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures. Make sure to read his growing archive of posts at ScreenCraft for more inspiration.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies


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