Jargon of the Preferred Newsletter
“Sir, what you had there is what we refer to as a focused, non-terminal repeating phantasm, or a Class Five full-roaming vapor. Real nasty one, too!”
– Ray Stantz, Ghostbusters
“Reverse the polarity, prepare for antilepton subspace flux, and set phasers to stun!”
Today, we’re going to talk about the jargon you’ll find in the leads of our newsletter. Like many other industries, the entertainment industry has their own terminology that can be confusing.
Filmmakers use these terms for many reasons, but the most important are that they’re concise, specific, and require a level of expertise. That last one is important for you because it’s an indicator for professionalism.
So what are the more common terms in our newsletters?
High concept – You’ve probably seen this one before, and the definition is somewhat flexible depending on who you ask. The most widely agreed element is that you can explain the entire concept in a sentence or two. Additionally, a story that is high concept has broad appeal and a very strong hook.
However, just because you can sum up your story in one sentence doesn’t make it high concept. Most dramas are not high concept. A struggling musician tries to get his big break is not a high concept script. A struggling musician realizes he’s the only person in an alternate world who remembers The Beatles and uses their music to rocket to stardom is. Adding the Beatles element to the story turns it high concept and is the hook behind the film Yesterday.
Elevated – This one is somewhat similar to high concept, but it’s easier to explain. An elevated story has multiple layers, and more specifically, it has more layers than a popcorn flick*. The Silence of the Lambs is one example of an elevated story. It’s not just a cop story or a serial killer story. It’s a cop using a serial killer to find a serial killer. Coincidentally, The Silence of the Lambs would be considered high concept.
*Bonus definition! A popcorn flick is a movie that is entertaining to watch but not necessarily high in quality or emotionally/intellectually rich.
Contained – If your story is contained, that means it takes place in a single location. Panic Room is a great example of this as 99% of the story takes place in a townhome. Snowpiercer and Paranormal Activity are two other examples.
By this point, you're probably feeling a bit like this:
We're almost done, I swear.
Grounded – You’ll commonly see this used as a qualifier for science fiction, but it can be used for other genres as well. Typically, a filmmaker asking for a grounded story means that it has a strong basis in reality. An example would be Ex Machina. Although it deals with science-fiction concepts, it’s still heavily based in the science part. On the other end of the spectrum, Star Wars is not grounded at all. Grounded has a connotation with lower budget, but there are high-budget, grounded movies like Children of Men.
Character/plot-driven – An important note about these two is that they aren’t mutually exclusive. A plot-driven story needs strong characters, and a character-driven story needs a forward-moving plot. When a lead is looking for a character-driven story, they want a story that is moved by the decisions and development of a character. Good Will Hunting is pushed forward by all of the decisions that Matt Damon’s character makes (or doesn’t make).
On the other hand, a plot-driven story is a story where characters respond to some kind of major event or crisis. Marvel movies are all plot-driven, even though they have memorable characters. Die Hard is another plot-driven story.
Female-driven – While we’re on the subject of driven, a female-driven story means exactly what it says on the tin; your protagonist is a woman. If your female lead shares equal time with a male lead, it isn’t female-driven.
You’re sure to consistently see these bits of jargon in our newsletters. We can’t cover every piece here, but if you ever have a question, contact us at Jerrol@inktip.com.
Originally from St. Louis, Sean Thompson studied screenwriting for six years, earning a BA and MFA from Webster University and Chapman University. He recently started overseeing the Marketing Department at InkTip. When he’s not writing, he’s keeping his cats, Simba and Scar out of trouble.