I find there is one really easy way to tell whether someone understands story or not. Can they write a logline? I am not saying that writing a logline gives you the ability to write great scripts, but at least you will be able to tell whether a concept works — or sucks.
A good logline is the DNA of the story.
I know, it’s a tired metaphor, but here I mean it quite literally. If you have a strong concept, the logline already contains – or implies – all the critical ingredients of the story. In other words, I believe that for each logline there is one best way of developing that story.
Looking for example loglines on the web, you’ll find any kind of short summaries: Theme statements, tag lines, paragraph summaries, short pitches, teasers etc.
They each fulfill a function in their own way. But they certainly are not loglines.
There are instances when nothing else will help you. All you really need is a concise, one-sentence summary of your story.
There are two main instances when you need a logline.
1. when you are developing your story
2. when you are marketing your story
For each, you may need a different type of logline. You will have to rewrite your logline in accordance with the intended audience for it.
For instance, when you pitch to a producer, you will need a different version from the one that will go on the cover of the BluRay disk.
Audiences can sometimes be teased using colourful details about aspects other than the story. Producers need to know as much as possible, in as little time as possible.
Your logline must cover the full story.
Many flawed loglines only set up the inciting incident. They cover the ‘what if’ event that kicks off the story, but don’t promise us much for the second act, where the meat of the story should sit.
When you’re pitching to Hollywood, and the movie is an adventure, you don’t need to explain that there will be a happy ending. Mostly if the hero’s goal is clear, we will assume they achieve that goal.
However, where you have a twist, or a bittersweet ending, the producer needs to know.
To cram all this into 25 words can be a challenge.
This is why you need to start building that skill. Right now.
For me, loglines don’t have to be limited to 25 words. Often, the 35-word version sounds much better. Still, you need to train yourself in concision. You may have to condense further, as most festivals or film market impose word count limitations.
It always depends on what the purpose of the logline is. If you only need to tease, of course you don’t give the full story.
However, until your film is made, those you pitch to will want to hear it all… despite what some experts say.
Should I use the logline during a pitch?
A top Hollywood screenwriting teacher advises not to use loglines during pitching. I disagree.
When I organised a pitching event a few years ago, the first thing the producer on the panel asked the writer:
“And what’s your logline?”
Over the years I have come to realise that the logline is more important than any other summary form of your story. It helps you understand your story, and it helps (others) assess whether it has a chance to work.
A simple, clear and powerful logline will help people to talk about your movie concept, and to create buzz. A long, confusing sentence will put people off. Your story won’t be mentioned.
The stronger your concept, the easier it will be to write that one-liner. The more your story is execution-dependent (a way for producers to say, they’re not interested), the more words you will need to set your story apart from the rest.
Yes, there is a formula. And it’s simple.
I use a formula that is super powerful, because it immediately tests whether your concept has the critical components that make up a screen story:
When [a major event happens], a(n) [flaw + main character] must ([overcome the flaw], and) [do/pursue the main action/goal].
The character journey is hinted at through the flaw, but you can emphasise it further if you wish.
For Jaws, this becomes:
When a swimmer is killed by a great white, a bureaucratic sheriff must take responsibility, protect the people, and kill the shark.
Obviously this formula sometimes results in a clunky first draft. Still, I insist that beginning screenwriters stick to it. First make sure your logline contains all the critical components, then start polishing.
In a future article, I will explain why to include just these story parts, and what other variations you might consider.
In your early career, you may benefit more from sharing your concepts than from being secretive about them. Get feedback, improve, iterate.
To help you with this process, visit http://logline.it, the world’s only website exclusively dedicated to helping writers create the best possible logline for their work.
Join up, it’s simple and fun. Read other people’s loglines, and post your own. Go back, refine your loglines (in the comments section) and see how fast your loglining skills will improve!
Now go and logline!