In brief, as Wikipedia defines it,
The plot of a high concept movie is easily understood by audiences, and can often be described in a sentence or two, and succinctly summarized by the movie's title. ... Often high concept movies are pitched as combinations of existing high concept movies, or unique twists on existing titles. ... High concept movies often have themes which tie into an area of popular fascination and have a ready-built foundation of subsidiary issues and ever-ramifying facts that can feed the marketing machine, from magazine articles to weblog chatter, on levels ranging from the superficial to the intellectually or factually exhaustive.Some of the high concept movies Wikipedia lists are Beverly Hills Cop, Home Alone, Jurassic Park, Speed, Star Wars, and Jaws.
On the other hand, screenwriter Steve Kaire defines high concept differently. To him, it's not just a story that can be pitched in one sentence; nor is it one film crossed with another film. In "High Concept Defined Once and For All," an article at the Writers Store website, Kaire says,
Story ideas, treatments and screenplays can all have High Concept premises. But only High Concept projects can be sold from a pitch because they are pitch driven. Non-High Concept projects can't be sold from a pitch because they are execution driven. They have to be read to be appreciated and their appeal isn't obvious by merely running a logline past someone.According to Kaire, there are five requirements for a high-concept story: (1) The premise should be original and unique; (2) The premise has to have mass audience appeal; (3) The pitch has to be story-specific; (4) The potential must be obvious; and (5) The pitch should be one to three sentences long.
Sidney Williams made several funny high-concept story suggestions in his blog. For example,
North by Northwest meets The Seventh Seal. (Think about it: Death in a crop duster chasing Cary Grant.)In the comments on Sidney's blog, the ever-inventive Charles Gramlich made some hilarious suggestions, including "Wayne Allen Sallee Versus Stewart Sternberg"--which is the topic of Sidney's followup blog post, "Manly Concepts"--including Sidney's verrrry funnny version of a poster for movie of same. (FMI, see Wayne's blog, Frankenstein 1959 and Stewart's blog, House of Sternberg.)
Play along at home if you like and stop chuckling. This is how Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man came about. Curt Siodmak was joking around about movie titles at the Universal commissary one day and wound up with an assignment.
A real-life example of high concept, and how it can sell your manuscript, is exhibited by a new book coming out this week. According to USA Today, first-time author Patricia Wood pitched her book Lottery as "Forrest Gump wins Powerball," and bingo! she hit the jackpot with a six-figure deal.
Now that's high-concept.