August 5, 2014

Learn How to Write a Logline for Your Screenplay Once & for All

LoglineIn my experience, writing screenplays and loglines is a lot like algebra and geometry: people typically excel at one while struggling with the other. Penning a screenplay is hard enough, but writing loglines can be difficult, because you have to strip your story down to its most essential parts, while still telling it in its entirety -- you're not given the luxury of playing the long game. If you're like me and struggle with writing up loglines, this Script Lab video explains in simple terms just how to do it.

It might sound strange, but for some of us, loglines are more difficult to write than the actual screenplay, which is unfortunate, because having a clear, concise, and interesting logline can mean the difference between getting your script read and getting it tossed in the trash. Readers have to comb through so many scripts per day, so giving every single one a chance to grow on them over several pages just isn't in the cards.

Loglines not only give readers a chance to sift through stories that don't seem interesting, but they also give screenwriters a chance to solidify the foundation of their story. It's often said that if you can't sum up your narrative in a logline, which is typically 1 to 2 sentences long (or 20 to 30 words), you need to start reeling things in and solidifying and simplifying the essentials of your script.

Speaking of solid, simple essentials, this video from The Script Lab explains how to write loglines in such a way. Seriously, how many times have you tried to learn about how to write a logline and walked away still not knowing how to write a logline? It's frustrating! But this video isn't.

So, now that you know the basic structure of a logline (the character, the goal, the obstacle), it'd probably be a good idea to make sure you know how to rack up points for style, too. Raindance Film Festival shared a post on its blog about how to do just that. They share 10 tips, but I'll just quickly share a few of them to get the ball rolling. (Be sure to check out the full article here.)

  • Instead of using character names, use terms that describe your characters. (e.g. instead of "V", say "a blog editor")
  • Use an adjective to give depth to your character. (e.g. "A very short blog editor")
  • Present the main goal quickly and clearly. (e.g. "A very short blog editor who wants to be drafted into the WNBA")

It might actually make the process easier to complete if you go step by step like this, so I really, really suggest giving that Raindance post a thorough read. And in the end, it's all about practice. If you can summarize your story in a clear, pithy summary right out of the gate, then -- please tell me how you do that. But if you're like me and have a little trouble, these tips will certainly help you put the pieces together.

Links:

[via Filmmaker IQ]

Your Comment

12 Comments

This was always my favorite breakdown of a typical log line:

(title) is a (genre) about (protagonist--one guy, no proper names) who must (goal) or else (disaster that will happen if he doesn't succeed).

Also, I like to come up with my log line at the beginning of a writing project, rather than after I finish my script, as it keeps me on task. (It's easy to tell if I'm drifting away from my core story / conflict during the outlining or writing phase, if I've already constructed a log line.)

August 5, 2014 at 9:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Trey

So simple and so helpful. Thanks

August 5, 2014 at 1:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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samuele

Just make sure the log line has no creativity whatsoever, and presents just another Hero's Journey movie in a bite-sized candy piece for those who want movies without thought. Honestly, how do you create a logline for Altman's Nashville? Or Anderson's Magnolia? Or Beasts of the Southern Wild? I feel like the more "artistic" the film, the more unlikely you can create an effective log line or marketing of any kind...

August 5, 2014 at 4:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Zelo

Zelo, couldn't agree more. Fuck saving the cat and fuck the heroes journey.

CInema lovers, share the good stuff with your friends and family. The world needs a good splash in the face with cold cinematic water.

August 5, 2014 at 4:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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TruthNuggets

TruthNuggets, I am a writer/director heading into meetings next week, and I'd like to ask for your permission to use your quote... "The world needs a good splash in the face with cold cinematic water." Please let me know if you'd be okay with that. Many thanks, Alex

August 9, 2014 at 1:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Alex ross

Alex, you are welcome to it, though I am not sure it would be a good thing to say in those meetings :P

August 13, 2014 at 8:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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TruthNuggets

Thank you. And I agree... risky. But like Woody Allen said: "If you act like an artist, maybe you'll be treated like like an artist". That's worth the risk...

August 26, 2014 at 5:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Alex ross

It certainly doesn't have to be either (artistic) / or (sellout). JAWS, GODFATHER, GOODFELLAS, etc. all have strong log lines, and don't suffer artistically. But if you're an unproduced screenwriter who only gets five minutes with a producer to pitch your script, and you can't summarize your movie in a way that makes them want to see it... hopefully you're just really charming and it won't matter. Both NASHVILLE and MAGNOLIA were made by writer-director's after they had made their breakthrough films, so they were granted a great deal of trust thanks to the financial success of their previous efforts. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD published log line was - "Faced with both her hot-tempered father's fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love." That's actually pretty close to the standard structure listed above.

August 5, 2014 at 10:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Trey

Excellent reply! I think you;re definitely right... I suppose Mash (Military doctors have fun) and boogie Nights (Porn: the Movie) are much more straightforward. And saying "Christopher Nolan's Interstellar" is enough to fill theaters because of his reputation. Perhaps I reacted a little strongly. Still though, art films face a tough market.

August 10, 2014 at 2:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Zelo

Absolutely agree about the difficult marketing of art films - imagine trying to pitch ERASERHEAD to a producer nowadays (especially as your first feature)! But when it comes to more mainstream / traditional stories, I always thought of the log line as just a structured way of telling a buddy about a movie. A concise answer to "what's playing tonight?... oh yeah? What's that one about?" Then your log line. It doesn't necessarily have to be about saving the cat or selling out. It's just a way of telling your friend or date what the movie's about, in a way that makes them want to see it.

August 10, 2014 at 11:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Trey

Logline for Nashville - Nashville.

August 5, 2014 at 9:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

"A short blog editor want's to become a long blog editor even though a brain injury has ruined his short term memory."

August 8, 2014 at 12:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rob