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Logline it! – Black List – Week 14

Writing loglines is an essential skill for screenwriters, from early development through to the pitch. In this section, we review the loglines and short synopses of the screenplays that made it into the Blacklist 2012. Learn from the feedback and perfect your own loglining skills.

by The Judges 

THE WINTER KILLS

[box]”A disgraced cop pursues the serial killer who murdered his partner ten years ago, has resurfaced, and is killing again.”[/box]

Steven Fernandez: Firstly, the biggest problem here is the ten year gap. That’s too long a gap and really undermines the urgency of the disgraced cop hunting the serial killer down.

Secondly, I consider a stronger and more dramatic motivation for the disgraced cop to be for him to right the murder of his wife or daughter or son by this killer. (In this alternate scenario, a few-year gap could work. As the depth of his loss – and the strength of his desire for vindication – would still be real after, say, three years.)

“The ten year gap is too long and really undermines the urgency of the disgraced cop hunting the serial killer.”

The loss of the cop’s partner, by contrast, is much less interesting. Unless … The partner was killed partly as a consequence of something the disgraced cop can feel guilty about. Such as not backing up the partner due to taking time out to take an alcoholic swill. (Which would make the story have a nice element of personal redemption, rather than be a case of straightforward revenge.)

Either way – whether by death of a loved one or of a work partner – the logline could better emphasise the disgraced cop’s journey of redemption by telling a bit more about how the disgraced cop was, for instance, partly at fault. (Or, in the case of a loved one, emphasise the tragedy more by describing how the cop was going to gift something significant had the murder not happened that night. For example, a graduation gift for the cop’s daughter.)

In summary, the main improvement needed for this logline (apart from ridding the ten year gap) is to make the murder of the cop’s partner or loved one particularly poignant. Even better would be to tie the cop’s specific disgrace to being a contributing factor that allowed the murder to happen.

Zane Pinner: Succinct, immediately identifiable narrative. Perhaps too familiar – I’m sure I’ve already seen this film!

“Succinct, immediately identifiable narrative.”

I think you could drop the “has resurfaced and is killing again” part as it’s implied in the fact that the cop is pursuing him – perhaps a change to “before he kills again” to keep the story in the present?

“A disgraced cop must stop the serial killer who murdered his partner from killing again.”

Again, it’s a pretty standard crime thriller scenario, but fans of the genre love this stuff as long as the characters are interesting

THE PORTLAND CONDITION

[box]”Set against the backdrop of rainy Portland, Oregon, a young man finds himself falling in love for the first time – only to receive a letter from his future self, warning him of impending heartbreak.”[/box]

Steven Fernandez: In essence I believe this story has the potential to have depth and wide universal connection with audiences, depending on how well the script fleshes out the two lovers and how deftly it treats the knowledge from the future angle. If there is a fresh, thought-provoking, life philosophy or theme underpinning this story, then this film could be a real winner – both artistically and commercially.

The logline hints at this potential, but does not capitalise on it. This is its first (and most important) failing. Particularly in the case of an underpinning theme, the logline could better intrigue the reader by teasing more about what big life-lesson the letter from the future provides for the young man. For example, “warning him of the need to truly know himself before he gives her his soul.” (That is, hints at it, but does not tell everything.)

“In terms of improving the dramatic tension in the story, there should be something to oppose the young man from simply adopting the wisdom from his future self.”

Secondly, the whole “Set against the backdrop of rainy Portland, Oregon” phrase should be deleted as its completely unimportant and uninteresting compared to the great connection potential of the love and life-lesson journey.

While some may be inclined to argue that films about having a second time to right a regret have been done too many times already, I would disagree. Essentially because everyone has had the ambivalence of wondering if they could have made a past major decision better. The only proviso I have on this point is that the life-lesson being suggested is NOT one that we’ve all heard before, such as ‘be grateful for just being alive’.

In terms of improving the dramatic tension in the story, there should be something to oppose the young man from simply adopting the wisdom from his future self. The most obvious (and, in fact, the most compelling) form of opposition should come from within the young man himself. For example, if the logline initially described the young man as stubborn or obsessive or completely down-to-earth, then it would neatly set up the conflict of whether the young man is willing to believe the ‘magical’ gift of the letter from the future.

On the whole, the logline needs sharpening. But the story has great potential, so long as there is not anything trite in the script.

DPG: The premise touches upon a universal experience. Therefore, for the purposes of a logline, where it takes place (“Set against the backdrop of rainy Portland, Oregon”) is extraneous, nothing special. The selling point is a story about love, not about the weather in Portland.

Bad: “finds himself falling in love…” Better: “falls in love…”

“His future self” How far into the future? A few weeks, months, years, decades?

“What’s at stake? Is the protagonist going to have his naive heart broken? (small stakes).”

“Warning him of impending heartbreak”. In real life, as intoxicating as it is, “falling in love for the first time” doesn’t last, doesn’t work out, for most people. So what’s the big deal about a “I-told-you-so” letter from the future forecasting what is likely to happen anyway? What’s really unique, what’s the twist?

What’s at stake? Is the protagonist going to have his naive heart broken — but that’s life. Live and learn; life goes on? (small stakes).

Or is his first love going to have immense consequences that will destroy his chances for love, happiness, a successful career, financial security for the rest of his life — the whole enchilada? (big stakes)

So what is your verdict? Would you want to see these films? Why (not)? Did the judges get it right? How would you improve the synopses/loglines and what do you feel might improve the stories behind them?

To read the full reviews and those from casual visitors, go to www.logline.it.

The Judges (click for details)


About the Author

Cameron Pattison

Comments 1

  1. With regards to “The Portland Condition”, there is one thing I would like to add that I had thought I should not while wearing my critic’s hat (which I’m not doing now): It is the kind of film that I would like to direct myself and a film that – I dare say – would really work in my directorial hands. I would majorly rewrite the script, mind you, and I would likely make some key changes (including the title), but the potential of this feature concept remains high. I believe in it. Problem is, Yours Truly does not have the time to dedicate to this project (Arrgh!). Steven.

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