We’ve touched on macro elements like Genre and Sub-genre, and gotten somewhat more specific with Paradigm.
Now let’s talk about Hook, which might be described as “the big idea of the movie” or “what the movie is about.” But Hook can also be seen as the “what makes this script/movie unique,” i.e. what sets it apart from all of the other scripts and movies in the same space.
Because: simply going through the motions of plugging in the standard beats of a paradigm, checking off all the boxes, isn’t a hook; it’s just an exercise. The older industry term for a script/movie of this nature is “programmer,” a programmer being a project that fulfills the needs of its genre and/or sub-genre, but doesn’t do so with a big hook, concept, idea. It’s painting by numbers, and there’s a reason you don’t see any paint-by-numbers works of “art” hanging in the Louvre.
Let’s go back to the example of the “on-the-run” thriller paradigm. Back when I first started managing, I took out an on-the-run thriller spec. It checked all the boxes, the writing was good, the execution professional. I liked the script, and I liked the writer.
But I didn’t get any bites; the script didn’t sell. Why didn’t I set up this perfectly good script that fulfilled the needs of the on-the-run thriller paradigm? The execs told me it didn’t feel “special.” It wasn’t driven by a high-concept hook that made it pop, that felt unique enough to grab an audience’s interest and pull them into seeing the film. So they understood why I liked the script and took it out… but they all passed nonetheless.
So what constitutes a hook that’s big enough to pop and make the script feel special? Well… that’s where we get into high-concept, and high-concepts can’t be taught; they have to be caught in the wild. High-concept is (sometimes literally) the million-dollar question. Because a high-concept hook is almost always the element that gets traction under a spec script.
For example, in Paradigm we touched on the high-concept of GROUNDHOG’S DAY. That’s such a huge high-concept that it became its own paradigm, as evidenced by films like BOSS LEVEL and EDGE OF TOMORROW. In the action realm, the same can be said for DIE HARD and TAKEN.
A good hook plays on the foundation of the genre and paradigm, while finding a fresh way into both. That is: we instantly get what the movie is going for – what kind of movie it is – but this unique, specific take feels fresh and interesting. It’s the “Oh, that sounds cool!” element. In a sea of one million scripts, why this this particular script stand out?
For example, one paradigm is the mystery-thriller about a detective who solves a case. By itself, that’s as programmer as programmer gets. But what if it takes place in the future? Now it’s BLADE RUNNER. What if he’s an old hippy stoner? BIG LEBOWSKI. And so on… That’s the hook.