The only guide to writing a logline you’ll ever need – Part One

Do you want to know how to write a logline? Do you even know what loglines are? Chances are, if you’re an aspiring screenwriting you will have heard of them. But even prose fiction writers and novelists can use loglines.

The ability to write a logline is one of the most important skills you can learn as a writer. Having used them with a pretty good success rate, I thought I would share with you my observations on how to create a compelling, marketable logline. That’s why this post is longer than normal. In fact, it comes in three parts.

Here is the first…

WHY USE LOGLINES?

Loglines evolved out of the old Hollywood practice of studios and producers asking writers to pitch them their story in 25 seconds or less. Nowadays, loglines are used to SAVE TIME. This is the major concern of most professionals. In Hollywood, time is severely limited.

A logline is a powerful selling tool

A logline is usually the first thing a potential buyer of a (TV or film) script or novel looks for. It tells them whether or not they wish to read the entire work.  So the better your logline, the better your chance of getting your movie made, your script sold, your book published etc. etc.

As nobody has any time to read in Hollywood, it can also tell someone whether they want to buy it!

It also shows the decision-maker how they may be able to sell it to others (including collaborators and studios).

Finally, a logline is a good indicator of the writer’s skill level. If he or she can’t stitch together a decent logline, they’re probably an amateur.

All this from two sentences max!

You would think that people would take more time of something so important. However, about 98% of all loglines are poor. Most are terrible!

This means that by taking the time to craft a compelling, marketable logline, you can instantly rise above 98% of everyone else out there who is clamouring for attention. A good logline can show a producer, agent, publisher, or manger that you are professional enough for them to invest at least a little more time in you.

The good news?

Loglines are easy!

In it’s simplest form, the logline is a one or two sentence pitch for your story. 

Look at the TV guide. You will see dozens of loglines. They are a BRIEF summary of the film. Something that helps you decide if you want to commit to watching the whole thing.

If they can do it, you can too!

As with most things except particle physics, the more you practice, the easier it becomes. And loglines have another purpose. They can be your guide as you create and rewrite your script or novel from initial concept to finished screenplay or manuscript.

WHAT ARE LOGLINES NOT?

i) TAGLINES

Look on IMDB.com and you will see taglines for many movies. For instance, the famous tagline for JAWS 2 is “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…”

It’s a great tagline, but it’s not a logline. It reveals nothing about the story.

A great tagline is almost a dare to go see the movie.

Here’s another: “Whoever wins… We Lose.” (Aliens vs Predator)

Great tagline. Tells you absolutely nothing about the film.

So why use them? Well, posters and other marketing materials such as TV spots and trailers should have already clued the audience in as to what the movie is about. The poster for Jaws makes it pretty obvious what is going to happen in this movie. It’s about a killer shark. A logline doesn’t have that. It’s the sprinkles on the icing on top of the cake.

A logline must be SELF-CONTAINED.

ii) TEASERS

Too many times I see loglines that hint at the story… loglines that say ; “If you just read this mysterious script you will eventually figure out what is going on. But as the writer, I created this mystery, so I want to tease you and incite your curiosity without giving away the bast part.”

Wrong.

A logline is not a teaser. You need to reveal the WHOLE STORY. By that, I mean the ESSENCE of the concept and the plot.

Can we see what the movie is going to be about just form the logline? If not, the logline is not working.

For instance, here’s the first draft of a logline I worked on for a script I wrote called DEMOPHOBIA.

A man with a phobia of people must search a crime-infested city for his missing girlfriend, only to come into conflict with a mysterious entity controlling the homeless population.

What do you think?

Here’s what I think.

It’s too vague. What is the “mysterious entity”? And how is it connected to the search for the girlfriend? It’s a mystery, right? Therein lies the problem. What is a producer going to think when he or she reads that? Probably: “What the hell is this story about?”

Does it tell them what to expect? Is this a comedy or a horror? Is it big or low budget? What is the mystery about?

It’s not just a tagline; there’s at least a hint of story there. But nor is it a fully developed logline.

iii) THE MOVIE CROSS

This is sometimes used in addition to a logline. However, you still your basic logline. Otherwise it tells the listener nothing about the story. Sure, it may “The Graduate” meets “The Matrix”. But what is it about?

Nevertheless, some people find them useful.

For me, it has pros and cons.

The pros are that Hollywood always loves a remake, reboot, or whatever you call it. It gives the decision-maker an excuse if things go south. “But Ghostbusters was a massive hit, so how was I to know a film about a team of dedicated fairy hunters wouldn’t work?” etc etc.

The cons are that you have to get it right.

Choose a movie that didn’t do well, and you’re sunk. Also, the movies you choose must be the same genre/tone to your own. And at least one must be recent. By that I mean it was produced in the last year. This could be tricky if your movie breaks new ground (unlikely) or if you choose a movie that gives a false impression about your script (more likely).

There is no right or wrong answer. It’s a judgement call. I’ve used it, sometimes to great effect, sometimes not. For instance, I pitched my “Demophobia” script as “It’s Inception meets Scanners” to mixed results.

You may have heard that “Alien” was pitched as “Jaws in Space”. Great story. But I would watch out for anecdotal evidence. Ridley Scott was famous for being a commercials director. You are not… unless you are, in which case, go ahead!

SO WHAT IS A LOGLINE, REALLY?

So far we’ve covered the basics. What is a logline used for? What is a logline not? We’ve discovered that vague or incomplete loglines do not work. We’ve discussed the merits and perils of the dreaded Movie Cross.

But how do I write the perfect logline, I hear you scream?

In the next post, I will answer that question…

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