Friday, February 13, 2009  

Script Tips - Defining Premise

The premise of a film or screenplay is the fundamental concept that drives the plot. Most premises can be expressed very simply, and many films can be identified simply from a short sentence describing the premise. For example A lonely boy is befriended by an alien; A small town is terrorized by a shark; A small boy sees dead people.

The uniqueness or compelling nature of a film story's premise is often a key element in selling it, especially during the initial pitch. However, coming up with a compelling and original premise is very difficult after over 100 years of film making. Often, premises are either derivative (Die Hard in space) or contrived (two black guys must dress up as white girls -- White Chicks). Naturally, the quality of the premise isn't necessarily a good predictor for the quality of the screenplay or film.

A story which has an easily understood, compelling premise is said to be high-concept, whereas one whose premise is not easy to describe, or relatively small-scale or mundane, is said to be low-concept. A low-concept story is highly execution-dependent because the commercial viability of the project will depend largely on the quality of the creative endeavors of those involved, whereas a high-concept story may pull in audiences purely based on a simple premise. High-concept movies aren't necessarily expensive or effects driven, however. One of the most successful low-budget independent British films of recent years, The Full Monty (1997), had a very simple premise a group of male steel workers decide to become strippers.