5 Reasons Why Loglines Are Incredibly Important

loglines

Loglines can predict failures. This week, I watched a movie where the writer had not adopted critical notes. The film failed. I’m not saying that it would have succeeded if he had heeded the advice. If only things were that simple.

The draft I read could be summarised in a one sentence logline. Based on that logline, I predicted the film would fail.

I am not the only one who makes snap decisions based on the logline alone. In fact, EVERY busy film executive does this – every day. And everyone I know in the film industry works incredibly hard to make a living. They have absolutely no time to waste.

Within this context, loglines are the only tool that allows you to make decisions quickly, and efficiently.

Many writers think they can write loglines. The truth is that only a very few understand this very specific skill. If more writers did, there wouldn’t be so many flawed concepts floating around. I’m not talking about execution now, merely premise.

I have been studying loglines for a long time now, and five years ago I decided to launch Logline It. Since then, it has grown into the leading website and a community dedicated to the promotion of effective loglines. Today, we have over 4,000 loglines on the site, and over 20,000 reviews to learn from.

Thanks to this site, many writers have perfected their loglining skills, and are now able to judge early on whether they have a story idea that could fly.

A properly written logline allows you to make a reliable snap judgment on the prospects of a project. This is one reason why the logline is the most powerful instrument to gauge the quality of a screen story.

1. A Snap Decision Tool

The logline is the smallest recognised industry format that allows gatekeepers to make snap decisions. Based on it, they may either eliminate a concept from their list, or allow it to jump to the next level (usually the synopsis).

For this reason, loglines are the most common summary in trade publications at the most important annual film markets: Berlin, Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, AFM.

2. Loglines Test Uniqueness

A properly written logline describes a screen story uniquely. Using three key story elements, it triangulates a film so effectively, it will differentiate your project from every other film made, or story told.

Using the power triangle of main character, inciting incident and story goal, you lay the basis of the logline – and that of your film’s 3-act structure.

3. It Shows Inherent Structure

Following the right logline format, you will give the reader an exact idea of the key information that will be conveyed in your story’s first act, and a promise of what may be expected in act two.

Most writers who don’t understand this, capture only about the first ten minutes of their story. They’re not to blame; most teachers don’t understand the function of a logline, and teach a format that is way too loose.

4. Loglines Express The Writer’s Vision

Until you understand your story thoroughly, it is impossible to write a logline that does service to it. For this reason, it often takes weeks, sometimes months before a writer is happy with their logline.

By the time the script is finished, the writer MUST be capable of conveying the essence of his/her story in one sentence.

5. Loglines Are A Guide Through Development

Robert McKee talks about the Controlling Idea, and John Truby discusses the Premise Line, but neither are particularly useful when you have to create them yourself.

These gentlemen provide us with extremely vague guidelines, and their examples fail completely and utterly in capturing consistently what is unique about the films they describe. While some of their examples hit the mark, others don’t. This proves that their approach is not systematic, not reliable – and therefore useless for the working writer.

I’m proud that I have developed a format that is used by every professional writer who has studied with me. Some use it as a basis to build their own version, but they all stick to the foundation I teach, because it is so simple and at the same time effective.

A properly written logline not only helps you capture the essence of your story, it guides you through the writing process. It helps you make tough decisions during development, and ultimately keeps you on track.

If you don’t already master this skill, it’s about time you get to it.

Test your own logline during the Logline It fifth anniversary event!
More details here.

Happy Loglining!

-Karel Segers

1

Screenwriter At The Movies: Casablanca (1942)

Last week, at my local cinema, I had the privilege of seeing a digital restoration of the classic film Casablanca. I’ve seen it a million times, but this was my first time seeing it in a theater. It was just as awesome as you’d imagine.

A million authors have written about the genius of Julius K. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch‘s screenplay; over 75 years it has become an ingrained part of cinema history and culture. Though its influence on today’s popular culture has waned, for screenwriters, it’s an enduring touchstone for lessons in screenwriting. Which is what got me thinking – what did I learn from Casablanca this time?

Actions speak louder than words

That’s the yardstick when you want to know how to judge a person’s character. Watch what they do, not what they say. It’s one of the Golden Rules of screenwriting, too. It’s the backbone of what makes a character feel relatable and realistic to an audience.

So when I look at Humphrey Bogart‘s character, Rick Blaine, in Casablanca, what kind of person do I see at the beginning of the film? Is he a ‘changed man’ by the end? Do his actions support this, or just his words? Let’s look at the evidence.

Rick is described as cynical by Ugarte (Peter Lorre) in the beginning of the movie. More than once we hear Rick himself say, “I stick my neck out for no one.” By the end of the film though, Rick seems a changed man.

I stick my head out for nobody

He sacrifices his own happiness for that of his former flame, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), so she and her husband, WWII resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Heinrid) can escape the Nazis and continue leading the movement from the safer shores of the US.

That seems like a pretty cut-and-dried character arc. Rick goes from selfish and cynical, to hopeful and selfless. Job done. Arc complete.

But did he really? Was his inner transformation as a person really that profound? I don’t think it was. I think this guy was just bitter because he got his heart broken, but that heartbreak didn’t really change who he was on the inside, despite what he told others.

Rick’s Redemption

That’s why Lazslo comments that Rick sounds like someone who’s “trying to convince themselves of something he doesn’t really believe” when Rick professes to be motivated solely by self interest. The evidence is in his actions throughout the movie:

  • Rick helps a young Bulgarian couple after the wife has admitted she slept with Captain Renault (Claude Rains) to secure transit visas for her and her husband.
  • When Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet) offers to ‘buy’ Rick’s piano man, Sam, Rick refuses to participate in the ‘trading of human lives’, and proves it by giving Sam the final say in whether he wants to ,work for someone else.
  • When Captain Renault closes down Rick’s cafe, Rick keeps his entire staff on full pay, even though it could bankrupt him.
  • Rick’s past running guns for the losing sides in other wars is further proof he’s a sucker for the underdog.

Captain Renault is right – Rick is really a “rank sentimentalist”, so I think we can say that the change he achieves is more of a simple but very relatable kind: he gets over his broken heart.

Rank Sentimentalist

When confronted with Lazslo’s selflessness, Rick realizes he’s just being spiteful because Ilsa deserted him in Paris to be with a man who is a better version of himself. Any man’s ego would be wounded by that.

He’s also confronted with Ilsa’s selflessness. Remember the young Bulgarian wife who slept with Captain Renault to get the visas? That was a minor but important B-plot that foreshadowed and built sympathy of Ilsa. She asks Lazslo indirectly if he could forgive her for doing such a thing, and he indirectly says yes.

Rick recognizes this when she claims to still be in love with him. It’s what he’s always dreamed of, having Ilsa back in his arms, but he knows what she’s doing. My God, between Lazslo and Ilsa, how could Rick not feel like a heel for hanging on to those letters of transit!

The Beginning Of A Beautiful Friendship

Being the good guy that we know he really is, he decides enough is enough; a little closure has helped heal his broken heart and he can do the right thing – he let’s Ilsa go with Lazslo to America.

I’ll never forget the impact that final moment of goodbye between Rick and Ilsa had on me the first dozen times I saw the film. Rick’s heroic sacrifice pulls at your heartstrings, but when you examine his change of heart in context, you see why this is such an enduring masterpiece of a film. Rick’s change was something we could all recognize from our lives.

We’ve all had our hearts broken and eventually gotten over it, but how many of us have done it for such a noble reason? We like to think we could, that’s why we love heroes like Rick.

-Phil Parker

1

Is It Done? 7 Signs You’re Ready To Sell Your Script

There’s no greater insecurity than the doubts that keep you from selling your creative work.

Is it good? Is it great? Or is it useless? Should I show it to anyone? To whom? Is it ready to sell?

I have found that as someone’s experience grows, often so does their insecurity about the state of their scripts. Many newbies are overeager to market undercooked scripts.

Why?

They don’t know their own abilities. They don’t understand what constitutes a great script, and they hope someone else will tell them.

If you feel this strong intuitive urge to get validation from a producer or agent, you’ve got to ignore it. Do more work yourself: read great scripts, keep writing, and over time you’ll separate the wheat from the chaff.

True intuition is built upon experience.

What Does Your Screenplay Need To Achieve?

Whether you are ready to sell your script – or not – has a lot to do with your intended objectives. If you need to make a living from your work, perhaps you have no choice. Cashflow forces you to get it into the market. Sometimes even premature scripts sell. (Seen any superhero comic book adaptations, lately?).

Suppose you’re not 100% happy with the story, but your writing style is supreme. If you need work urgently, your script may become the writing sample that will get you other work. So you go and sell. Story ready or not.

In all other cases, if you can afford to wait, then do so while you perfect story and script.

No Such Thing As The Honest Truth?

sell your screenplay - liesEach has their own opinion about when a script is done.

If you ask a script consultant, they may argue that your script needs more development. It is in their interest to keep taking money from you. Never ask a consultant who is desperate for clients. Instead, go to the busiest consultant you can afford.

Better even, affiliate yourself with an industry professional who can read scripts.

In fairness, not many can. And those who can, are often too busy. Find someone you can trust. This could be a producer, a director or an actor.

Your English teacher friend is not the person to ask. You may turn to them for a proofread on typos, spelling and grammar, but don’t expect them to understand the intricacies of a screenplay.

Everyone has an opinion. Not everyone has a clue.

 

Ready To Sell Your Script? Here Are The Signs

  1. Your mom/partner/best friend loves it sell your screenplay - confidence

    Non-professional readers will read a script like a novel, without understanding the nature of drama and tension. Their feedback is hardly vital.
    There is a good reason to have your fans at home read your work, though: to keep your confidence up. They should support you, and encourage you to rock on when times are tough.

  2. Your gut tells you it’s ready to sell

    It may be more reliable than your mom, but it’s surely not the #1 indicator to go by. Your gut instinct will give you a clue as to whether you have a gem or a dud. But don’t bet the house on it. Your intuition will get better over the years.

  3. Your friend/manager/agent/producer is excited

    sell your screenplay - agentsNo industry friends (yet)? Get networking! If you’re lucky enough to work with a manager, it’s easy. They will give you useful feedback, and tell you when they are confident the script will generate results.

  4. It’s a really fast read.

    The quickest reads are typically the best. I have found that really bad scripts can take up to a day to read, partially because it takes time to decipher, but also because of reader procrastination.

  5. Feedback is about taste, not technique.

    If most of the feedback comes down to a matter of the reader’s taste rather than specific craft-based notes, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being unprofessional. Everyone has a subjective opinion, even pros. And everyone will try to give you some advice, even if they’ve run out of objective notes. Could this mean it is time to sell, and send your script into the world? Possibly…

  6. You are shortlisted in a big screenwriting contest sell your script - awards

    There are many contests, and thousands of writers enter every year. Fortunately you don’t need to worry about most of them, as only a few are truly relevant.
    The best will introduce winners to agents and producers, and some real players do keep an eye on the award lists.  So, winning an important contest is a big deal. Keep entering every year, and make sure your results keep improving.

  7. Everyone talks about it.

    You are very lucky when you find people become aware about your script, and talk about it. When I hear industry folk bring up my clients’ projects in conversation, it’s mostly a good sign.

There are probably tons of things about your script you can still improve. If you didn’t read any screenwriting books until this point – Good! You didn’t need them – this may be the time to check a few things that matter to readers. Look at the ebb and flow of your tension in the story. Weigh up the balance of description vs. dialogue. Check, double-check and triple-check grammar, spelling and punctuation.

These are the areas most beginning writers can improve the most without professional help. Use apps, take online  classes. Become the very best.

You Make The Call

When you feel that the law of diminishing returns is taking its toll, it may be time to consider the 7 points above. And remember: you will never get unequivocal proof that your script is market-ready… until it is sold.

Until then, it’s merely a decision.

And that decision is yours.

-Karel Segers