Logline hell

In today’s world you live and die by the logline.  Nobody wants to read your screenplay.  Trust me.  They don’t.  So you have one sentence to encapsulate your story and hook them into actually reading the screenplay.  It’s that one sentence you’ll utter when you casually meet s0-and-so producer in passing; or include in your query letter when looking for an agent or manager.

So what makes up a great logline?

Blake Snyder spends a large chunk of Save the Cat stressing the importance of a great logline.  He says it contains four elements.

  1. Irony (aka the hook)
  2. Presents a compelling mental picture
  3. Hints at the audience and cost
  4. A killer title

David Freeman gave this handy little template at the Screenwriting expo.

MOVIE TITLE is a GENRE about a PROTAGONIST who is involved in an INCITING INCIDENT that is COMPELLED into ACTION with a DESIRE that is OPPOSITE from the ANTAGONIST.

I don’t disagree with either one.  That’s all good knowledge.  However as I started to build my own loglines I found it rough going.  I discovered I was always torn between two different ones.  The first was a very short logline that focused on the most basic info and the hook of the story.  The second was longer and presented much more of the story – but I couldn’t remember the wording ten seconds after I wrote it.  Truth is, a logline might look great on paper but if someone asks you, “What’s your story about” you better be able to spit out quick and hook them.  If it interests them they’ll always ask questions.

Terry Rossio talks on his blog about something he calls “the Warner Bros. hallway test” which basically equates to someone sees you reading a screenplay and asks, “What’s it about?”.  And then the reader/intern/assistant proceeds to summerize your screenplay in one line.  Much like a logline.  Hmmm… And then that exec or director judges the whole screenplay based on that one line.

Terry’s point was (I believe) you live and die by your idea.  My point is a logline is probably best if short and memorable.

That’s when I found a wonderful blog by Mr. Christopher Lockhart.  In it there is a great – and very long – article about crafting loglines.  He says:

“A logline conveys the dramatic story of a screenplay in the most abbreviated manner possible.”

Now we’re talking.  Shorter is better.  Though he goes into great detail about it, the nuts and bolts are broken down into three elements.

  • the main character
  • the goal
  • the antagonist

It’s short.  It shows the conflict in the story.  It tells us the two biggest roles – which means we picture stars to fit them.  At the very least we can picture it, or movies like it.  We’re either on the boat or not at that point.  I don’t believe in a logline that attracts all audiences.  If you write a zombie pic don’t try to write a logline that illustrates the love story that happens in it.  Be true to your story.  Embrace your genre.  Use your short and simple logline to interest the right person to read it.