How to Write a Logline (With 11 Attention-Grabbing Examples) - Careers in Film
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A logline may not be part of a screenplay, but it’s a fundamental part of screenwriting.

Why?

While a solid script is a must to get a Screenwriter noticed and their work produced, a well-crafted logline can be a valuable tool used during both the writing process and pitching stage.

Let’s find out why, shall we?

As we delve deeper into the world of writing for film, we’ll hear from Screenwriter Justin Malen (Yes Day, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Father Figures) and Writer/Director Thomas Bezucha (The Good House, Let Him Go, The Family Stone, Big Eden).

What Is a Logline?

To know how to write a strong logline, you first need to know what it is! A logline is an extremely brief—usually a single sentence—summary of the script’s plot that includes the story’s central conflict1.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s just as important to know what a logline isn’t, as it’s not the only scripting tool used for screenwriting and marketing purposes.

How do you write an amazing logline?

Justin Malen (Yes Day, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Father Figures)

I definitely look at precedents. There are a lot of good sample loglines available online. Since I mainly write comedies, I usually try to convey the basic premise as succinctly as possible while still getting across that it’s going to be funny. It’s always helpful when the basic premise itself is funny.

I actually like writing at least a draft logline before I commit to writing a script because it’s a good test of how marketable the concept is. If writing the logline is really difficult, it tells me that it will likely be a harder sell, given what studios/Producers tend to look for.

Also, I read my draft loglines out loud to confirm they’re simple enough and would be easy for an Agent/Producer/Exec to pitch over the phone.

Tagline

Whether part of the screenwriting world or not, many, many people confuse loglines for taglines. Taglines are strictly used as marketing tools and more closely resemble catchphrases than succinct narrative descriptions.

Two of the most famous taglines are “You’ll never go in the water again” from Jaws (1975) and “In space no one can hear you scream” from Alien(1979)2.

Successful taglines are designed to elicit an emotional response but not necessarily to inform potential audiences of what the film is about. In contrast, while loglines should similarly engage readers, their primary function is to inform and tell the film’s story.

Synopsis

In terms of function, a logline and a synopsis are much more alike than a logline and tagline. In terms of length, it’s the opposite.

As mentioned, one key element that every Screenwriter must keep in mind when crafting a logline is length. Loglines are short. One sentence is the golden standard. Two sentences if you absolutely must but never longer than that.

Synopses on the other hand can be several sentences. Maybe even an entire page. While by definition they’re still meant to be on the shorter side—certainly briefer than a treatment—synopses are always longer and more detailed than loglines.

Why Do Loglines Matter?

When it takes so much time and effort to write a great script, is it really necessary to focus on a logline, too?

Fair question. And the answer is yes. While it may seem like a chore, having a solid logline can be a legit game-changer as you move forward in your screenwriting career.

The screenwriting process

We really can’t overstate how easy it can be to lose track of the story you’re trying to tell as you write that feature script.

Though having a beat sheet, treatment or outline can be immensely helpful while completing that first draft, even they can prove a problem if you don’t have a clear guiding light while writing them. Enter the logline.

Does it get any simpler than a single-sentence description of your script? No, which is why a well-crafted logline that accurately describes your narrative can be an incredible touchstone to come back to while you write your script, outline, or any other longer-form document3.

The pitching stage

Another thing we can’t overstate? How important it is to have a quick pitch ready for anyone who wants to hear it.

If someone asks what your script is about, how will you answer? Unless you already have a meeting set up specifically to discuss your screenplay, you likely will have just mere seconds—not even minutes!—to get them interested in your story. And that, friends, is when having a compelling logline can be that aforementioned game-changer.

If you can’t hook someone immediately with a great logline, they won’t be asking to read your script. Fair or not, this is a circumstance where first impressions do matter.

What Are the Elements of Logline Construction?

Now that we’ve discussed why you need a great logline, let’s chat about how you go about making one!

The elements of logline construction include:

  • Protagonist
  • Inciting incident
  • Goal
  • Stakes/conflict

How do you come up with screenplay ideas?

Justin Malen (Yes Day, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Father Figures)

Coming up with ideas is my favorite part of screenwriting. Sometimes, the ideas come just by going about my normal life and trying to be observant–and asking, “Is that a movie?” (and I make sure to email myself those ideas whenever possible, before I forget)…other times, I’m actively trying to think of movie and TV ideas.

Since 100% original ideas are unfortunately difficult to sell, I do find it’s helpful to look at successful movies and question how they could be tweaked or modernized or combined with a different movie (Movie A meets Movie B) or done in a different genre.

Another thing that can help is walking through book stores and libraries (while they’re still around, at least), and seeing all the stories out there. Maybe you’ll come upon IP no one has optioned…or see something that sparks an idea for a movie (e.g., a travel guide to Greece could inspire a story, similar to actually traveling there–and it’s cheaper!)

Thomas Bezucha (The Good House, Let Him Go, The Family Stone, Big Eden)

You definitely listen to conversations. Everything I do is very character-based. I’m not a conceptual guy that’s like, “There’s a comet that’s going to hit the Earth.” I’m sort of like, “A woman’s just left her husband and there’s a comet that’s going to hit the Earth.” I always start with the character.

I feel like the ideas have found me more than I’ve found the ideas. You’re talking to somebody and you hear a story about a friend of theirs and you’re like, oh my gosh, that’s interesting.

Protagonist

When it comes down to it, a great script or movie needs a strong central protagonist. The character that leads the narrative and gives potential audiences a reason to watch and invest in that film for two hours.

For the purposes of a logline, including the protagonist is key. That being said, be careful to avoid using proper names—unless you’re writing about a famous or historical figure!—as they will hold no meaning for the reader.

Inciting incident

Why are we entering the life of the protagonist at this moment in time? What has happened that they are now setting off on this particular journey? What these questions are getting at is the inciting incident. Always include it in the logline as a way to provide the reason for the journey to follow.

Goal

What does the protagonist want? Love? Justice? Revenge? Every great script and movie has not only a compelling protagonist but also a protagonist who is actively going after a want. That’s why they’re on this journey in the first place, right? Make sure to include that goal in the logline.

Stakes/conflict

How exciting would it be if the protagonist fell in love and lived happily ever after 10 minutes into the film? Or if the person who murdered their father, husband, or son was immediately caught and sentenced to prison a few pages into the screenplay? Not very exciting at all.

That’s why scripts—and loglines—need conflict. There must be obstacles to the goal the protagonist is chasing. Including conflict in a logline is fundamental to creating stakes within the description and giving the reader a reason to want to read the entire script.

As mentioned, the trick with loglines is that you need to tell all of the above in just a sentence or two. Shorter is better.

While there is no single hard and fast rule to logline construction, the above elements can help in pointing you towards a formula of sorts. If it’s helpful to have a shorthand description of how to write a logline, you can follow something like [protagonist] + [inciting incident] + [protagonist’s goal] + [central conflict].

Remember, simply plugging in those elements does not automatically make for a great logline. Just like with a script, it takes time to get it to a place where it is both accurately describing the premise and providing a compelling hook to get the reader wanting to know more.

What Are Some Logline Writing Tips?

As you write screenplay after screenplay, your level of confidence and skill will increase. The same goes with writing loglines. With seemingly so much on the line, it can probably feel a little overwhelming to knock out a great logline on the first try. But we’ve got some tips that can help you create loglines that are strong and memorable4.

Are screenwriting classes worth it for beginners?

Thomas Bezucha (The Good House, Let Him Go, The Family Stone, Big Eden)

Absolutely. The more you can educate yourself the better. It’s a vocational skill. If you wanted to be a Plumber, you’d go apprentice with somebody.

It’s a unique format. You’ll learn things like how you start a scene at the last possible minute and end it at the first opportunity. You don’t need to see the guy park the car, walk up to the house, and go into the house. He can pull up in front of the house and then you can cut to him in the middle of a conversation in the living room.

And you understand what happened in between. You learn rules like that if you take classes.

Justin Malen (Yes Day, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Father Figures)

I think it depends on how you learn best…and who is teaching the classes. A bad Teacher or an environment that doesn’t make you feel comfortable to fail in or take risks could be counter-productive (successful Writers fail all the time–both in micro and macro senses–it’s part of the process, and that needs to be accepted and embraced). I’m sure a great Teacher and supportive environment, though, would be amazing–I just didn’t take that route.

It’s also tough because this isn’t a field where there is usually a clear, correct answer or right way to do things. It’s so subjective. A good Teacher recognizes that.

I found it very helpful to read a ton of scripts and compare them to the ultimate movies (I used to love having the script out while the movie played and reading the dialogue and action along with it)–but, in the end, writing and rewriting a number of scripts helped the most.

Read other loglines

If you’ve never crafted a logline before, don’t go into it blind. Screenwriters are often told to read other scripts as a way to learn and grow their own craft. It’s no different with loglines. Take some time to analyze other loglines through the lens of the above construction instruction to figure out how great ones are made.

Active voice

Reading other loglines will likely help you separate the good from the bad, but it’s never a bad idea to keep some pointers in mind. For instance, using an active voice when crafting that logline.

Remember when we talked about including a dynamic protagonist who is chasing after a goal? That needs to come across in the logline and the best way to do that is by making sure the copy you write is in an active voice. Have your protagonist doing something rather than having something done to them makes all the difference.

Evocative/visual language

As a Screenwriter, your goal is to have your script made into a film, right? Well, film is firstly a visual art form, which means that your logline should help someone reading it to envision that protagonist and conflict you’re talking about.

Hand in hand with using visual language is using evocative language. Why say “walk” when you have other more compelling and descriptive options like “strut,” “saunter,” or “trudge?” When crafting your logline, always utilize language that brings greater specificity and energy to it.

How Can You Refine Your Logline?

You used the tools and maybe even the formula above, and you wrote a logline. Now you’re done, right? Just like any other part of screenwriting, of course not!

No one is saying that you shouldn’t focus on writing the actual screenplay, but it would be a shame to have that great script in hand and a poor, rushed logline that doesn’t accurately describe just how awesome your story is. So while you may have completed that first huge step of writing a logline, it’s the following tips that can make it just as vivid and compelling as the screenplay itself.

Rewriting

If you’ve just completed your logline, you may want to step away from it for a few days or even weeks so that you have time to analyze it with fresh eyes. But make no mistake, do come back to it!

The life of a Writer means rewriting. Could your logline be more concise? Could you use more vibrant language? Most importantly, does your logline reflect the story told in your script? All of these questions are important to ask during the rewriting process5.

Feedback

Yes, getting feedback on your loglines is important. Because if the people you know don’t find your loglines compelling, will anyone else?

You don’t have to necessarily implement every single note you get on your logline. But if you notice a pattern within the feedback you receive from multiple individuals, that information can prove invaluable, as it’s probably pointing to a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed.

Logline Examples from Famous Films

We mentioned reading loglines as a way to learn how to write them, and here are some examples to start you off!

Rear Window (1954)

A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.

The Godfather (1972)

The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.

The Exorcist (1973)

When a teenage girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.

Jaws (1975)

When a killer shark unleashes chaos on a beach community, it’s up to a local sheriff, a marine biologist and an old seafarer to hunt the beast down.

Ghost (1990)

After a young man is murdered, his spirit stays behind to warn his lover of impending danger with the help of a reluctant psychic.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.

Jurassic Park (1993)

A pragmatic paleontologist visiting an almost complete theme park is tasked with protecting a couple of kids after a power failure causes the park’s cloned dinosaurs to run loose.

Groundhog Day (1993)

A weatherman finds himself inexplicably living the same day over and over again.

Good Will Hunting (1997)

A young janitor at M.I.T. has a gift for mathematics but needs help from a psychologist to find direction in his life.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

When their relationship turns sour, a couple undergoes a medical procedure to have each other erased from their memories.

Django Unchained (2012)

With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

Conclusion

Though a single-sentence logline cannot possibly encapsulate the intricacies of a 100-page script, it can provide both a critical litmus test for making sure you’re writing the story you want to tell and be the proverbial foot in the door tool to get people interested in your screenplay. By giving your logline the attention, time, and critical eye it deserves, it can become a hugely helpful aid in launching your screenwriting career.

Screenwriter/Director Thomas Bezucha and Kevin Costner
Thomas Bezucha

Thomas Bezucha recently adapted the neo-noir western Let Him Go, from the novel by Larry Watson. Bezucha also directed and produced the film which starred Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, and Lesley Manville for Focus Features.

Bezucha’s debut feature Big Eden, remains the most-honored film in the history of Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals and landed him on Variety’s list of 10 Screenwriters to Watch in 2000.

His follow-up, the hit holiday comedy The Family Stone, featured an ensemble cast led by Diane Keaton and also starred Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, and earned Sarah Jessica Parker a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by a Female Lead in a Musical/Comedy in 2006.

Bezucha also directed Selena Gomez in Monte Carlo for 20th Century Fox and wrote the screenplays for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, directed by Mike Newell and starring Lily James, and The Good House with Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline, which will be released in 2021 from Tribeca Films and Amblin Partners.

Prior to his career in film, Bezucha spent a decade in Creative Services at Polo/Ralph Lauren, setting visual direction for store and environment design worldwide.

Screenwriter Justin Malen
Justin Malen

JUSTIN MALEN is a comedy writer who recently wrote the 4-quadrant feature film YES DAY for Netflix, which he sold as a pitch based on the children’s book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. The film stars Jennifer Garner and Édgar Ramírez and will be released on March 12, 2021.

Justin previously served as an in-house writer for Illumination, working on several animated projects. Prior to that, he worked on CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG for Paramount Pictures and wrote a sequel to BAD TEACHER at Sony. His original spec BASTARDS was produced by Alcon Entertainment and Montecito Pictures. It was directed by Larry Sher and stars Owen Wilson, Ed Helms, J.K. Simmons, and Glenn Close, and was released by Warner Bros as FATHER FIGURES.

Previous to this, Justin co-wrote OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY for DreamWorks Studios, with Paramount Pictures releasing. It stars Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn, Jason Bateman, T.J. Miller, and Kate McKinnon, and was directed by Will Speck & Josh Gordon and produced by Scott Stuber & Film 360.

  1. 1Maio, Alyssa. "What is a Logline? [with FREE Logline Formula Template]". StudioBinder. published: 27 April 2020. retrieved on: 8 March 2021
  2. 2Armenise, Alessia. " The 40 greatest movie taglines ever". ShortList. published: 30 April 2012. retrieved on: 8 March 2021
  3. 3Segers, Karel FG. "5 Reasons Why Loglines Are Incredibly Important". The Story Department. published: 27 April 2017. retrieved on: 8 March 2021
  4. 4MasterClass. "Screenwriting Tips: How to Write a Logline". MasterClass. published: 8 November 2020. retrieved on: 8 March 2021
  5. 5King, Douglas. "Logline Progression: Rewriting Tips for Screenplay Loglines". Script. published: 8 July 2015. retrieved on: 8 March 2021
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