Joe Kondash is Chairman Emeritus of the Scriptwriters Network and Director of their 3rd Annual High Concept Screenplay Competition. When I first started writing my own scripts — and I know this must sound ridiculous — I never realized how important the concept was. I always thought I had to dig deep and tell a personal story. I still think that’s true, but the trick is trying to tell a personal story that appeals to a large number of people. That’s where the principles associated with the high-concept come in.
Many thanks to Joe for agreeing to the interview. Early registration for the contest ends September 30th, and the extended deadline is November 15th. For more information, please visit the official site.
10 Questions with Joe Kondash
1. Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Joe. Can you tell us a little about your background and what brought you into the world of screenwriting?
It’s my pleasure and the Scriptwriters Network appreciates your support. I’m an east coast transplant and a USC alum. I’ve worked in different capacities on a variety of television and feature film projects. I’ve always been interested in screenwriting from my earliest years of being engrossed in the storytelling mediums of radio, television, and feature films.
2. You guys are accepting submissions for the 3rd Annual High Concept Screenplay Competition. What makes a great high-concept screenplay?
A few of the elements of a great high concept screenplay are a great premise – the idea is king (Big), a memorable title (Wedding Crashers), and a plot that can be described succinctly (Home Alone).
3. What is the most common misperception about what makes a great high-concept script?
I would say that the most common one is that any true story is high concept. Some may be, but the majority are not, especially dramas.
4. When I first started working on high-concept ideas, the first real technique I grasped was the mash-up, or “this-meets-this.” If you take a tried-and-true story, let’s say it’s Romeo and Juliet, and mix it with something fresh and exciting, that’s a story people will pay to see over and over again. What other techniques can help you bring out the high-concept ideas floating around in your head?
Great question. Executing those ideas into a tangible script is the challenge for any writer. Writing techniques vary but I would always emphasize finding the theme to tie the ideas together and form the base from which to guide the structure and development of the plot.
5. Regarding the mash-up, one of my favorite films, Die Hard, has been ripped off more times than the white man at a Cherokee Nation casino. In fact, I think I just saw it again yesterday. They called Dredd this time. What are some of the best overlooked films and/or stories to study?
In my opinion, two of the most overlooked high concept films are “Seven” and “Liar Liar”.
6. Let’s talk about competition. How many great scripts are floating around Hollywood at any given moment? How long do you feel it takes these scripts to snatched up? Do you feel the majority of these are high-concepts?
There are many talented writers with many great stories to be told. Great scripts will get noticed eventually. It’s just a function of timing and how the project comes together. I do believe that high concept screenplays generate more interest from the powers that be.
7. What high-concept films or screenplays would you recommend the aspiring screenwriter to study? Why?
In addition to the films I have previously mentioned, I would add the “40 Year Old Virgin” because you can see the movie in the title and “The Godfather” because of the timeless story of the patriarch of a crime family that has clear conflicts, high stakes, and a unique point of view for achieving the American dream.
8. What are some of the best low-concept films or screenplays in recent years? What principles can aspiring screenwriters take from these?
I wouldn’t describe any film as low concept. It’s just not high concept! I would like to complement “Bridesmaids” and what aspiring screenwriters should strive for is the ability to affect an audience one way or another. People either loved this film or hated it. I thought it was hilarious and the writers “went for it”.
9. Robert McKee said, “Difference for the sake of difference is as empty as slavishly following commercial imperatives.” Personally, I think David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap said it best when he said, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” How thin is the tightrope when attempting to create unique and compelling stories?
Very thin. The test is believability. The writer must invest all the senses in the story so the audience can follow a singular vision. Otherwise, disengagement occurs and emptiness and disbelief will result.
10. With the amount of resources available on the Internet, and even DVD commentaries for that matter, many aspiring screenwriters are arming themselves with knowledge in numbers like never before. Does this make you optimistic about the future of storytelling on the big screen? Do you see any dangers?
Yes. The accessibility of resources for developing the craft will give aspiring screenwriters the confidence to bring different approaches, eclectic points of view, and new voices to the medium. I encourage all storytellers to never underestimate the uniqueness of your vision. The only danger is complacency in imagination!
3rd ANNUAL HIGH CONCEPT SCREENPLAY COMPETITION
The Scriptwriters Network is now accepting submissions for its annual High Concept Screenplay Competition, currently the only one of its kind. It emphasizes the “high concept” aspect of storytelling in writing for all genres. This sets it apart from other competitions due to the overwhelming demand by studios and producers for this type of motion picture material.
A high concept screenplay:
- has a great premise -the idea is king (Big)
- has a memorable title – it conveys what the movie is about (Wedding Crashers)has a visual logline – you can see the movie (40 Year Old Virgin)
- has universal appeal – all demographics “get it” (Star Trek)
- has clear conflicts, high stakes, a hook, a ticking clock and/or a twist (Liar Liar)
- can be summed up succinctly in 25 words or less (Seven, Home Alone)
The first, second and third place winners will be awarded cash and prizes valued at $2100, $800 and $500 respectively. Winning scripts will be read by over 80 industry professionals from companies including Lionsgate, Informant Media and Benderspink based on their request from interest in the logline and genre. In addition to the winners, finalists and semi-finalists will also gain tremendous exposure to the entertainment community by being listed on our website.
The 15 top ranked entries from the first round of judging receive free submission to Dreamago’s international screenwriting workshop “Plume & Pellicule” in a castle in Switzerland. “A life changing experience.” (Luke Yankee – High Concept Attendee)
To enter, please visit www.scriptwritersnetwork.org for further details.
- The EARLYBIRD DEADLINE is September 30, 2012. ($45)
- The REGULAR DEADLINE is October 31, 2012. ($55)
- The EXTENDED DEADLINE is November 15, 2012. ($70)
Winners will be announced March 15, 2013.