Film Concept: These 15 Points Guarantee Impact and Success

Film concept: these 15 points guarantee impact and success
"The Shallows" | Movie Poster by Chungkong

The film concept must be the focus for every communication measure with moving images. Because one can claim with a clear conscience that a film or a video, at least from the client’s point of view, can only be as good as the “construction plan” behind it.

There are countless ways and means of conceiving a film or video and putting it into writing for the purpose of coordination and approvals.

Whether like the commercial with the Director’s Interpretation (also called DI) and a good storyboard, whether as Exposé, treatment, story outline or quite simply a sheet of paper headed “concept”, each of these documents has one common denominator: it must be able to provide answers to exactly 15 questions that will help determine the fate of the later work.

You need to know

  • When developing a film concept, the distinction between storytelling and storyforming helps.
  • First, make up your story in the chronological order in which the fictional things happened. What happened first comes before what follows. That’s storyforming.
  • The common thread is the core message of the story. The point of view from which you let the audience experience the story, the narrative perspective.
  • In storytelling, you then determine the order in which you tell the events. This may or may not be in chronological order as in storyforming.

What must a film concept be able to achieve?

A film concept is not a script, not a detailed construction plan, but the basis for further ideation. It is the first step on the way to the finished film, which from the point of view of effect follows the theory of effect equivalence in all further steps.

At the same time, and this is important, a film concept must serve as a checklist for all those involved to ensure that the brief has been properly understood and that implementation is on the right track. It also gives it the character of a milestone.

Within a film concept, two stages can be distinguished: Storyforming and Storytelling. Storyforming is the answer to WHAT the story is. Storytelling explains HOW the story should be told.

It’s not just younger writers and less skilled talents who often confuse these two aspects of a story. The distinction between forces one to become aware of the differences and to decide specifically on a narrative dramaturgy. After all, storytelling is not possible without storyforming. They both have an influence on the film costs.

Depending on the complexity of the task in the film concept, both stages can either be considered simultaneously and interlinked or in successive steps. These two steps are independent of the question “what is a video” or a film.

The 15-part checklist

The checklist for evaluating a film concept for film and video makes a clear distinction between storyforming and storytelling. And it, like all the articles on this forum, focuses primarily on commissioned films.

Because commissioned films also have to survive in the battle for attention and online, the distinction also makes sense here for the film concept. Just as every movie can’t help but have a point of view, the viewer is looking for a story in every movie.

No.Film concept: Storyforming
1Key message
2description (course of action)
3characters in the story
4To do
5Do not

Source:, Summer 2016

No.Film concept: Storytelling
6Narrative dramaturgy
7Narrative perspective
8Audience guidance
9Off-voice and voice figure
10story values
11look and feel
12Montage, Rhythm, Cut
13Music and sound design
14Animation 2D/3D
15Graphic elements (title, logo, etc.)

The level of detail and language is in the nature of a checklist: Keywords help to check whether the essential issues have been mentioned and considered in a film concept. The list cannot replace the competence and experience of a film production.

The difference between storyforming and storytelling

The film concept: a young woman surfs the ocean on a remote beach with friends. After her colleagues are killed by a shark, the woman flees to a rock far from shore. The shark forces the woman to spend the night on the stone. To draw attention to her desperate situation, she records a call for help with an action cam, and throws the camera into the water with a plastic helmet like a message in a bottle. A child finds the camera and the woman is rescued.

That’s storyforming.

If the movie The Shallows were a true incident, the sequence of events would probably come across as a movie concept in something like this order in a police report.

Chronological order and the linking of action and reaction characterize storyforming. Storyforming is the story, told nicely one after the other. As if a camera had always been there from A to Z.

For the film concept of a film production, whether feature film, web video or image film for a company, these chronological events are not much more than information. In order for this information to be told to the audience in an exciting way as an image, storytelling is needed.

You can’t stop a clock. What happens always fits into a timeline and thus forms the story (hence: storyforming) for the film concept. With narration (and nothing else is called “storytelling”) it is completely different: The narrator may, indeed he must, set gaps, he can tell events backwards.

Storytelling is telling a story in such a way that the audience is intrigued and, without realizing it, identifies with the plot. This is where talent, younker and artist differ from the craftsman and wannabe.

Storytelling shows who has mastered the dramaturgical tools of the filmmaker’s trade. For the young woman, the movie audience, and the hungry shark, storytelling means that the story doesn’t start with the trip to the beach for tension-building purposes. But with the fact that the helmet with the action camera, and thus the call for help, is found on the beach by a boy. No sooner has the film begun than we as viewers know: help is on the way. Boring?

Nothing of the sort! Because, on the one hand, the fish is surprisingly creative in its attempt to rope in the beautiful leading lady Blake Lively. And since on the other hand flashbacks draw the character more and more multilayered.

The difference between storyforming and storytelling
“The Shallows”: $17 million production costs, $110 million box office | © Sony Pictures

The viewer knows that help is coming. But not whether in time.

It is exactly this storytelling that makes the tension in the film concept almost unbearable. The audience knows how to thank you: the survival thriller is reaching the 100 million mark at the box office these days. Thanks to storytelling!

Jürg Ebe sums up storytelling in a film concept as simple as it is concise: “Storytelling means nothing other than telling a story well!”

Storyforming and storytelling can also run parallel in a film concept in large parts. As evidenced by the terrific series Mr. Robot.

Explanation of the film concept

The points refer to the respective no. in the checklists for the film concept.

  1. The core message is the essential message of the film or video. In the film concept, it will always consist of a mix of information and emotions that the film has to convey.
  2. Content description is the core of storyforming. The content may correspond to real events or be invented. If you jump straight to storytelling without storyforming, you bake the cake before you’ve bought the ingredients.
  3. Instead of characters, locations and other factors can also be important for story shaping. In this case, these elements also belong under this item.
  4. To Dos: Particularly in corporate communications, desired statements in the film concept are usually quite consciously integrated into a larger whole and also aligned with other channels, media and forms of distribution. This is usually accompanied by a whole series of points relevant to the success of the image film, which must be observed from the start of the project. These are the to-dos.
  5. Don’t: are the counterpart of to-dos. “What is the worst thing this movie could do and trigger?” – that’s the question the Don’ts answer. Together with the other first five questions on the list, they form the framework within which storytelling may be set up when making a video.
  6. Narrative dramaturgy explains, whether in words, without jargon and in German, or already in the form of a synopsis or story outline, “how” the story can be told and effectively presented to the audience.
  7. Narrative perspective is the point of view from which the story is told. In the film concept, it does not automatically result from storytelling or storyforming, but must be consciously chosen. “Shallows,” for example, without fundamentally changing the elements and dramaturgy, could also be told from the point of view of the rescuer, or the shark, instead of the surfer.
  8. Many films and videos spend all their energy on working out the narrative perspective and the main character – forgetting that when communicating with film and video, the audience has a right to be guided by the filmmaker and sender of the film. The audience management question ensures that there is a plan for audience management as well.
  9. Moving image competence always shows in the handling of the “speaker’s voice”. Many commissioned films also rely on off-voice and off-commentary to convey content. Their integration into a film concept does not belong in the editing room, but planned from the beginning. In the case of international films made in the German language, the question of subtitles or dubbing always arises.
  10. Story Values are the content equivalent of the somewhat more familiar Production Values in film. In both cases, the issue is the allocation of resources to achieve optimal impact. Story Values are meant to indicate which story points the viewer’s attention should focus on during the narrative. Production values, on the other hand, answer the question of where a maximum effect can be achieved with what budget (note: important scenes in a film are not automatically the most expensive to produce).
  11. Video and film means image. How should the visual world of the film come across? How does it feel to the viewer? That’s thelook and feel.
  12. Rhythm and editing: see four-part article series Editing Movies and Video.
  13. Sound design and music are a universe in themselves. Therefore, it will not be discussed further here.
  14. It comes in two forms: hidden and without the viewer even noticing it, or as an element of film communication. Regardless of how they are realized: Animation is costly. A film concept that makes no statement in this regard can lead to many a surprise for all involved.
  15. As part of the brand, graphic elements often identify the sender of a film or video. The integration of the client’s logos and titles into a film should therefore not be regarded as a minor matter.


In the grey area between content, form and technique are the questions about film formats and video formats. They help determine the look and feel of a film and are therefore dependent on the content, but also have a high technical component.

On the question of length, see: How long does a video need to be. In TV, depending on the concept and genre, there is even an interaction between voting behavior and TV consumption. And in particular: content and film technology ideally merge into one another. A good example of this is the immersive 360 film “Pearl” by director Patrick Osborne.

Supplementary articles on the subject of film concept

How and why to create a concept. And 7 reasons why you should get to know the DANIELA-Principle®!

A fine example in which no distinction is made between storyforming and storytelling is the feature film “Zwingli, the Film“. Here, also because of this factor, an opportunity was missed.

See also the checklist on briefing image film with a focus on the production aspects of film making and the article What does an image film cost. There is also an article in Filmpuls on the two ways of determining prices and the question of what films cost.

For more books on film concept and storyforming, see the article Good Film Books.

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

Philippa von Wittgenstein
About Philippa von Wittgenstein 12 Articles
Philippa von Wittgenstein ist Produktionsleiterin und Producerin für Film und Fernsehen.

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