How to Create Bullet-Proof Loglines for Screenplays
By: Lenore Wright
All screenwriters use loglines to sell their scripts.
We use loglines in query letters to impress agents we've never met. We enter them in script competitions to entice judges to read our screenplays. We post them in script registries to attract producers who live 3,000 miles away.
We ask a lot of our loglines. We need loglines that ROCK!
THE FIRST STEP TOWARDS A SCRIPT SALE:
In some situations, loglines work better as a sales tool than screenplays do. Agents and producers look for easy outs when dealing with unproduced writers. Loglines provide LESS for them to say no to than a detailed synopsis or a complete script does. This can be a plus.
The logline introduces the story to them, offering a taste of the movie without forcing them to devour the whole script. As they become familiar with the movie idea, they exercise their own imaginations. This brings them a step closer to asking to read the script.
CREATING A DYNAMIC LOGLINE:
Logline techniques vary among screenwriters but most will agree with this warning from the American Association of Screenwriters, "If you can't say it in three sentences, you don't know what your script is about."
Some writers simply summarize their movie: set-up, conflict, and resolution.
Other writers create a one sentence TV Guide style logline emphasizing both the external storyline and the internal one.
An example would be this logline for E.T.:
"A shy, alienated boy bonds with an extraterrestrial child who's been stranded on earth; the boy defies the adults to help the alien contact his mothership so he can go home."
My suggestion: Don't limit yourself to the set-up or the plot, emphasize the unique elements of your script that enable audiences to connect with the situation and identify with the hero. Think of the logline as a commercial for your movie.
I'll show you what I mean by creating loglines for two popular movies:
LOGLINE FOR A CHARACTER-DRIVEN MOVIE - RAIN MAN:
The set-up: A young, self-centered hotshot goes home for his father's funeral and learns he's been cut out of the will. The family wealth goes to an older sibling - an autistic brother he never knew he had.
Imagine we were making a commercial for Rain Man. What clips would we use?
To create IDENTIFICATION with the star we'd show moments emphasizing the contrast between the brothers and dramatize the star's frustration with this unexpected obstacle to his ambitions.
To create CONNECTION with the star's situation we'd show the ACTION he takes to get what he wants - the family money. How does he try to get control of the inheritance? He kidnaps the autistic brother. Since the brother is afraid to fly, they drive cross-country. They visit places (Las Vegas, fancy shopping malls) where the hotshot feels at home but which the autistic brother finds challenging - comically and touchingly.
To highlight the POTENTIAL CRISIS the hero faces, we'd focus on moments that dramatize the unexpected relationship developing between the brothers as the hotshot realizes how unusual his 'savant' brother is.
To emphasize what's at RISK for the hotshot, we'd hint at the secret that binds them and threatens the grandiose plans he has made.
LOGLINE FOR RAIN MAN:
"A self-centered hotshot returns home for his father's funeral and learns the family inheritance goes to an autistic brother he never knew he had. The hotshot kidnaps this older brother and drives him cross-country hoping to gain his confidence and get control of the family money. The journey reveals an unusual dimension to the brother's autism that sparks their relationship and unlocks a dramatic childhood secret, which changes everything."
That logline would convince me to read the script.
LOGLINE FOR A PLOT-DRIVEN SCRIPT - SOME LIKE IT HOT:
The set-up: Two male musicians witness the St. Valentine's Day massacre. When the mobsters pursue them, they try to elude them by joining an all-girl band headed for a gig in Miami.
What film clips would we use to create a commercial for this classic comedy?
We want to emphasize the accelerating COMIC COMPLICATIONS that result from the cross-dressing.
- The sax player falls so hard for a sexy girl in the band that he creates a new male identity so he can pursue her.
- The bass fiddle player struggles to keep from blowing their cover as he dodges the comical romantic advances of the aging, nearsighted playboy his pal is impersonating.
We want to reveal the DANGEROUS COMPLICATIONS that the mob massacre promised upfront. We must reveal that the mobsters show up at the Miami resort where the 'girls' have a gig because their arrival complicates the love stories and pressures the heroes.
LOGLINE FOR SOME LIKE IT HOT:
"Two male musicians accidentally witness the St. Valentines' Day massacre; to elude the mobsters who pursue them, they dress in drag and join an all-girl band headed for Miami. One of them falls for a sexy singer and poses as a Miami playboy so he can woo her; his pal has to dodge the amorous advances of the nearsighted Miami playboy he impersonates. Love conquers all - till the mobsters show up at the same Miami resort for a convention."
Who wouldn't want to read that script?
CHECKLIST FOR YOUR LOGLINE:
- Reveal the star's SITUATION
- Reveal the important COMPLICATIONS
- Describe the ACTION the star takes
- Describe the star's CRISIS decision
- Hint at the CLIMAX - the danger, the 'showdown'
- Hint at the star's potential TRANSFORMATION
- Identify SIZZLE: sex, greed, humor, danger, thrills, satisfaction
- Identify GENRE
- Keep it to three sentences
- Use present tense
How can you pack all that into three sentences? If you think of your logline as a commercial for the movie you've seen in your head as you've been writing the script, you'll breathe life and personality into those three sentences.
Try it. Your logline will ROCK!