What in the World is a Logline?
A logline is a written pitch that sums up your script in 25 to 40 words. If you aren’t lucky enough to get “in the room” to deliver a verbal pitch, it is these 25 to 40 words that stand between your script and someone reading it. Readers and executives pour over loglines to see if anything intrigues them enough to pick up the script and read it. It is bait. Writing a logline is a task that many Writers loathe, but if you put the same heart into it as you put into your script, it’s more likely that your story will catch someone’s eye.
In this blog, we’ll discuss the following elements of a logline:
- Who is the story about?
- When and where in the world are we?
- What does the character want?
- What is getting in the character’s way and how does he or she change?
- Present tense and voice.
I can’t count the number of times someone has asked me to read a script and can’t answer the question: What’s it about? I have heard everything from, “Just read it, it’s the best script you’ll ever read,” (uh, I read The Godfather) to “It’s a cross between Die Hard and Star Wars,” (uh, I never saw Die Hard.) Now, I understand that a lot of Writers are shy and prefer to be alone in a room with a keyboard, but if you want your script to be made into a movie, you absolutely have to learn to pitch it and get people interested in reading it before someone invests millions of dollars to make it.
Here’s something that no one wants to admit: Nobody wants to read a screenplay. It’s a task. Screenplays are hard to visualize (that’s why a Director gets so much credit) and there are so many bad ones out there that most people in Hollywood just expect the worst. They are looking for reasons to not read it. It’s your job as the Writer to convince people to open your script to at least page one.
In order to do this, you need to not only know your story inside and out, you need to be fueled by passion when you are telling someone about it because that’s what inspires people to want to know more. The same goes for your logline.
So how do you do that in 25 to 40 words? It seems like the odds are against you. But they’re not. Think about your favorite movies. Don’t you love to share them with your friends and colleagues? You know there’s no way your friends are going to settle for “See it. It’s awesome.” They want to know what it’s about to see if it will resonate with them before they waste 90 minutes of their precious life watching it. It’s this excitement you need to muster up for your own story to entice readers.
Who is the Story About?
In literary terms, this is your protagonist – the main character. Who is this person and what is important about him or her? There is no need to name your character here. You are better served telling us something relatable about the character so readers can identify with him or her. Who is this person compared to you and me? Use words that imply things about who they are socially, economically or emotionally. For instance, there’s a big difference between a frustrated Waiter and a Career Waiter. What can you say in a word?
Take the example: A bookworm gets a boost of confidence when a football star asks her out. This tells us much more than: A football player asks a classmate to go to the dance. When you give us information about the character we can start making inferences and we can anticipate where the story might go. It sets up an arc. Will the shy girl become more gregarious, or will she discover she is fine just the way she is?
Now, I understand that a lot of Writers are shy and prefer to be alone in a room with a keyboard, but if you want your script to be made into a movie, you absolutely have to learn to pitch it and get people interested in reading it before someone invests millions of dollars to make it.
When and Where in the World are We?
Do not go overboard here. Think about what is important about the location and if it is a period piece, give us the pertinent information. If the location is not important, leave it out and (save the words!)
Very often a location has an impact on the story. Take the example from above — if our protagonist is in a prestigious high school in a big city, the story could be very different from a small town in which everyone is in the same school together. A Waitress in a diner, where they sling burgers, is quite different than a poised Waitress in a fine dining establishment. These details will allow readers to anticipate things about the story and fill in the gaps that you can’t write in a few words.
What Does the Character Want?
Sometimes this is implied. One might assume that the bookworm wishes she were less invisible by stating she gets a confidence boost by a date. But you might need to tell us more. Maybe the bookworm has had a crush on the guy for years and wants him, or maybe she wants to run for office and thinks going out with him will get her more votes. Or maybe she just wants to be liked. You know your story, boil it down to its essence.
Let’s expand our example: A bookworm, invisible in the halls of a prestigious school gets a boost of confidence when a football star asks her out. Running for office, this is her ticket to more votes.
Once you write your logline, you will read your script with a new perspective and start to notice where your script lives up to the logline, or perhaps where it doesn’t. It is a great tool for a rewrite.
What is Getting in the Character’s Way and How Does He or She Change?
It is important to get a sense of conflict in a logline without all the details. But the conflict isn’t necessarily the meat of what you are trying to get across. What does the conflict mean? Usually, our hero has a belief that changes. This is why we watch movies, so the fight itself isn’t as important as how the character changes. That is why heroes go on journeys, after all. So ask questions. If there are mean girls, what does that mean to your protagonist? If there is an ex-girlfriend fighting for the guy’s attention, what does that mean? What are the consequences of the conflict? Maybe this bookworm in our example discovers that nobody really likes this football star! And her perception changes about popularity and how we judge what we see.
A bookworm, invisible in the halls of a prestigious school, gets a boost of confidence when a football star asks her out. Running for office she thinks he’s the ticket to more votes… until she spends time with him.
It Should be Written in the Present Text and Have A Voice
Stories are happening right now, so keep your logline in the present tense. The tricky part about a logline is that it’s your job to get the basic elements of your story on paper in an unreasonable amount of words, and at the same time make it intriguing and interesting. It is, without a doubt, a challenge. But you have done this throughout your screenplay. Tap into your genius of brevity. This is what you are good at. So make sure you don’t settle for “just the facts.” Inject your voice in your logline and it will make a difference, even if it is one carefully selected word. Remember, writing is rewriting and you should employ the same tactics with a logline. Let it sit. As you stew about your story, things will bubble up that are even better each time you approach a draft.
A Good Logline Can Change Your World
As I mentioned above, the main goal of writing a logline is to get someone to read your script, but it serves another purpose. It reacquaints you with your story from an objective point of view. Once you write your logline, you will read your script with a new perspective and start to notice where your script lives up to the logline, or perhaps where it doesn’t. It is a great tool for a rewrite.
The gift of writing a logline is that you are forced to distill your story down to a concise statement. Make sure you can translate this to something that rolls off your tongue because it will become your “elevator pitch.” Remember the question, “What’s your script about?” You will get this question every time you take a meeting. It will happen at the script level, it will happen at the fundraising level, it will happen during production of the film and in the marketing of the film. So don’t doubt the importance of having the answer. If you are clear from the start, then everyone from the Intern who first reads your logline up to the Director and the Producer, who love your story enough to make it, will be clear on what it is about and your script is less likely to be turned into something else down the road.
Yes, the right script and a well-constructed logline can open doors. Be ready to take meetings and talk about your story without hesitation. Take pleasure in it. Learn to expand on your logline as you relish opportunities to tell people about your screenplay by breathing theme and mood into it. The more executives like what they hear, the more likely they will be to ask more questions. You know you are on the right path when you hear, “Tell us more” or “Then what?”
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