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High concept, in film or art in general, is a term used to refer to a succinctly stated premise describing the overall idea of production in just a few sentences or less.

In music, it has been applied to artist's works that go outside the boundaries of normal standards, e.g. the "boy-girl" dynamic in pop music. Examples of this would be "Kings of the Wild Frontier" and "Prince Charming" by the band Adam and the Ants, which include themes from 19th Century history and Native American history. The works of bands such as T.Rex, Pink Floyd, and Blur have also been described as high-concept. Again, pop music that goes past the standard topics of love or romance seems to qualify for this description.

The term is also applied, often disparagingly, to films that are pitched and developed almost entirely upon such a simply stated premise rather than standing upon complex character study, cinematography, or other strengths that relate more to the artistic execution of a production rather than simply an engaging high concept premise with broad appeal.

While nearly every production can be described in a briefly stated high concept synopsis, a movie described as being 'high concept' is considered easy to sell to a wide audience because it delivers upon an easy to grasp idea that is original, interesting, colorful, and sometimes humorous.[1]

An extreme example of a high concept film is Snakes on a Plane which put its entire premise in the movie title itself.

High concept movies typically feature relatively simple characters and a heavy reliance on the predictable conventions of film genre. Stylistically, high concept movies can be either big budget blockbusters or simple and cheaply made gag movies. In both cases, the movies often rely on pre-sold properties such as movie stars to build audience anticipation, and use cross-promotional advertising with links to a soundtrack, music videos, and licensed merchandise. They commonly apply market research and test screening feedback to alter the film to ensure maximum popularity. Some high concept movies are built as star vehicles for successful music and sports personalities to enter the movie business. Often high concept movies are pitched as combinations of existing high concept movies, or unique twists on existing titles.

The high concept style and mode of production was developed by Hollywood studios in the late 1970s. The term has also been claimed to originate from the marketing and management work of media executives Barry Diller and Michael Eisner at the ABC network in the 1960s. Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) and George Lucas's Star Wars (1977) are commonly referred to as the first high concept movies Template:Fact. However, some argue that some blockbusters from the past such as Casablanca were high concept movies in that they explored broad themes with a universal appeal. Template:Fact

High concept movies often have themes based on an existing area of popular fascination—such as sharks, dinosaurs, flying saucers, the Titanic, and so on—and thus 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.


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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


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high concept

high concepts

high concept (plural high concepts)

  1. (of a film, book, etc.) An appealing idea for a work that can be understandably summarized in a few sentences or less.
    • 1994, Justin Wyatt, High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood, University of Texas Press, ISBN 0292727941
      Spielberg's opinion relates well to the vision of high concept expressed by other Hollywood representatives: a striking, easily reducible narrative which also offers a high degree of marketability.

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