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Monday, March 4, 2013

Concept, Concept, Concept or My Dinner with Bill

by Craig

It’s been a decade now, since I had a fateful dinner with Bill.  I had completed a four-year run with Dreamworks SKG and successfully sold my first feature film, world-wide.  

Bill had recently lost his job of more than 7 years.  I could tell he was uneasy. We had never met and he didn’t know anything about me.  

I had been writing artsy indie scripts, having tired of the studio formulaic blockbusters.  Bill had a similar outlook.  LIke me he was opening his own "indie" film production company.  We started with a quick intro from a mutual friend (MSU Alumni) and eventually got on the subject of story and Bill said something that would change my life.

“Concept, Concept, Concept.  If you have a strong concept and a weak screenplay I can still do something with it.  But if you have a weak concept...even with strong writing it is almost impossible to sell.”

Now, you might be thinking this is not eye opening, especially coming from someone who had recently lost his job and was just starting an “indie” film production company.  But Bill knows something about story.  You probably don’t know his name or recognize his face, but Bill Mechanic KNOWS story.

Bill Mechanic took a doormat studio all the way to number 1...in THE WORLD!  Along his journey he was responsible for films such as X men, Ice Age, Braveheart and a little film called Titanic.  He hired James Cameron, fired James Cameron then hired him back again.  Bill also was responsible for a film starring some guy named Brad Pitt titled Fight Club.  This same film just happened to be largely responsible for Rupert Murdoc firing Bill Mechanic as the CEO and Chariman of Fox Studios.  (even though it garnered $37 million) Since leaving Fox, Bill has produced The Oscars and the animated film Coraline.  

Some of you might be wondering what this has to do with writing a children’s novel or picture book.  I believe everything.

At the time I was dining on chicken cordon bleu with Bill, the film industry was going through a similar constriction as the publishing industry is right now.  The bigger “houses” were reducing their slates, making fewer films.  Agencies were reducing their client lists, keeping only those A listers with proven box office history.

Is this sounding at all familiar?  

The indie film production segment was forced open by the emergence of technological advances like the DVD, Non linear film editing software and Digital Video Cameras which allowed smaller companies to create quality products at a much lower cost.  

Again, a similar change is occurring in our publishing world with Ebooks, Augmented Reality and Smartphone Apps.
But back to Bill and his wise words.  Three short months after our dinner, I penned a Horror screenplay with a focus on concept.  Not only did Script magazine give it an award but it gave me a shot at a three picture deal with Brillstein Entertainment.  

It has been a decade since all of that water passed under this bridge but one thing remains true.  All these events and advances will never take away that story counts.  So, no matter how your story finds its way to the reader, to make your life a bit easier, start with a great concept.  


  1. Great advice! Now I just need to find that concept!!! Maybe Kristen Crowley Held has some fancy software for that. :)

    And, Craig, what ever happened to that screenplay?

  2. I know the concept you need to be writing, Amy...and you know I know the concept you should be writing. I also know you know that I know...um....I forget where i was headed...

    That screenplay got optioned by a big agency, then a celebrity who was to star in it died suddenly...the rights were tied up for another 2 years. I used the prequel as my Mentorship MS for the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Terri Farley helped me get it into shape.

    I might just dust off both the screenplays and the manuscript and sub those out...


    I have a really hot concept I am working on right now.

  3. I am glad to hear someone else ate Chicken Corden Bleu.

    Wise words.

    1. Yes, Chicken Cordon Blew is a very wise meal.

      Oh...or did you mean???

      Thank you, Hazel.

  4. I really liked the "concept" explanation. No matter a book or a movie, that is so true. Interesting!

    1. Well EJ, for me it's all the same now. Movies, TV, Books, Games...all tell stories and all need concepts that are clear and ring with the audience.