This is the second in three posts on how to write a logline.
In the first post, we looked at what a logline is and, more importantly, what it is not.
We learned that a logline is a basic selling tool for your screenplay or novel. It is a one or two sentence pitch that aims to tell the reader about your story in a succinct manner in order to save the reader TIME.
We also talked about the difference between a logline and a tagline, a teaser, and a movie cross.
Now comes the meaty part. This where we break down what goes into a good logline.
The NUMBER ONE MISTAKE writers make when pitching their story is that they do not invest time in their marketing materials. Incredible as it seems, they spend months or even years honing their script, then hammer out a logline in minutes and wonder why nobody wants to read it. However, a good logline can open doors, create working relationships, and get your project sold or made.
Sound good, right?
Then read on!
ELEMENTS OF A GOOD LOGLINE
A good logline gets a producer, agent, manager, executive, publisher etc. to continue their relationship with you. Ideally, it gets them to read the script. To this end, you have to ask yourself “What is a producer etc. looking for?”
ANSWER: something they can sell.
Okay. Not very helpful. But you should already have done your research on them to check if this is their kind of project. More on that another time. For now, let’s look at things from their point of view. How do they know if this project is the right thing for them? Bear in mind that they have many, many submissions to go through every single day?
ANSWER: by ensuring it contains the following:
A great TITLE.
Who is the HERO?
What is the CATALYST?
What is the nature of the CHALLENGE they must face?
And for added points:
The Hero’s JOURNEY.
Who thought loglines could be so complex? Actually, it’s simpler than you might think. Most of these are intuitive anyway.
But let’s go through them one at a time, just to make sure you have them:
It sounds obvious, but a movie should have a great title, something that sets it apart from everything else. Ideally, it should also inform the audience aboout the subject matter. I’ve noticed that many well-made but obscure movies don’t do as well as they could have because they have a generic title that says nothing about the subject or the plot.
For a recent example, how about “Edge of Tomorrow”? A title so generic they had to rename it for the DVD release. It doesn’t say anything about the plot or the characters.
Or how about: “John Carter”. This assumes that you already know who John Carter is. For my money they should have gone with: “John Carter: Warlord of Mars”. Now that would have piqued my interest.
One of the best movie titles is “Ghostbusters”. It’s funny and tells you the entire premise. It gives away not just the concept, but also the fact that this is an action-comedy movie.
You can sometimes even give this away in the title, as with “Ghostbusters”. Otherwise, you want to indicate it in the logline.
To use my the example of my own script “Demophobia”, can you tell what genre this is:
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.
Clearly something speculative is going on. But is it a sci-fi? A fantasy? A horror? I would say the logline implies that this is a straight story, not a comedy. But to make it clearer what kind of genre we’re talking about, I added:
When his girlfriend goes missing following a clinical drugs trial, 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.
There. That hints that this is a sci-fi thriller, which indeed it is. Maybe there’s a little horror thrown in there too. It’s okay to have more than one genre in your logline, BTW.
Okay, so my own logline isn’t perfect yet. But there’s a way to go before we’re done. In any case, giving the GENRE away in the logline will allow your producer to see at once whether your script is right for him or her.
This is one of the main stumbling blocks, and something that’s talked about a lot when discussing a “high concept”.
QUESTION: What is a “hook”?
ANSWER: A hook is the kind of thing you use to catch a fish. It’s a shimmering, bright, dancing object that teases your target into wanting to know more, until they request the script and… ulp! They”re hooked!
So much for metaphors. Now let’s get more serious:
Sometimes the hook is a fantastic concept that’s never been done before. For instance, “An ocean liner capsizes in a storm. The survivors must fight their way out through the sinking, upside-down ship to survive.” (The Poseidon Adventure)
Sometimes it’s just a catchy idea. Something that’s both new and familiar at the same time: “A father loses the right to see his children, so he dresses up as a woman to become the ideal nanny.” (Mrs. Doubtfire)
One of the easiest ways to ensure you have a hook is to use IRONY.
Irony is defined in the dictionary as: “A situation that seems funny or strange because things happen in a way that seems the opposite if what was expected”.
In a logline, it could appear because the hero has a specific occupation, and get to see the opposite of what we expected to see happen to her unfold in the story.
Or, if the hero has a particular character FLAW, you can play on this by making the worst thing possible happen to them.
Some “high-concept” movies do both.
For instance: in “Liar Liar” an attorney is forced to tell the truth after his kid makes a wish that comes true.
This logline tells us a lot about the movie. It’s funny. So it’s probably a comedy with a hit of satire. It’s not necessarily going to cost a fortune to shoot, unless we get someone like Jim Carrey in the lead. And it’s IRONIC. An attorney (who, it is implied, lies for a living – it is a comedy, after all) is forced to tell the truth! It’s irony based on occupation and character flaw (he lies a lot). Classic high concept!
Movies are often mythic stories. Especially high -grossing ones. As a result, producers like to see a central hero.
Most of the above examples make it pretty clear who is the hero of this movie. However, what do you do if you have an ensemble cast? For instance, The Poseidon Adventure doesn’t have a central hero.
ANSWER: The easiest fix for this is to pick out one character and make them the hero.
“Ocean’s Eleven” is about a group of con artists who rob casinos. All of the eleven are part of the group. But who changes the most? Either that, or who is the central focus of attention? It’s got to be Danny Ocean himself. So a logline for this might read:
“An ambitious ex-con gathers together a team of experts to rob three Las Vegas casinos at the same time.”
So there you are. We’ve covered TITLES, GENRES, the HOOK, and the importance of a central HERO. But we’re not done yet…
There’s a lot to digest in this post. So next time we’ll take a look at the rest of our logline ingredients: the CATALYST, the CHALLENGE , the Hero’s JOURNEY, and the ARENA.
See you there!
Thanks for writing this, I enjoyed it and it was good advice as well. I agree with everything you’ve talked about, you know your stuff! 🙂
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