Loglines describe a movie (or series) idea in a quick sentence or two that provide enough of an idea of what it’s about to (hopefully) seem like a grabby, fresh and commercially viable concept. They present a compelling situation for characters one can imagine audiences caring about. And they lay out a central challenge to solve that situation which sounds really difficult, and entertaining to watch.
Basically, people who hear the logline should think, “I’d like to see that!” It should be obvious that it’s a good idea, and clear what the idea is. There should be enough there that they can really picture the story. They shouldn’t need to ask a bunch of questions to understand what you’re talking about. They should instantly “get it.”
This is not easy to do – especially with ideas that have some sort of fantastical underpinnings that have to be explained, before a reader or listener can grasp how it all works, and why. Traditionally those “rules” need to be laid out first, in such an idea, for people to be able to buy into what’s being pitched.
But even with non-fantastical ideas, loglines can be a struggle for writers.
The real difficulty, though, is not in crafting those couple of sentences to describe a script that’s been written. It’s in making sure your idea is clean and workable enough – and is based on something that could be easily pitched in a logline that works – before you commit to writing it.
This is why Blake Snyder in Save the Cat recommends spending a lot of time on the concept first, and even pitching it to people to see if they get it and think it sounds good. He would even do that with strangers, and watch their eyes as they took in and responded to his couple of sentences.
I highly recommend this – and think the biggest mistake writers tend to make is to begin to write a screenplay based on a concept that may never quite be “sellable” in a logline. It can lead to a lot of wasted effort. Because ultimately this central concept is where most scripts are going to live or die, in terms of moving a writer’s career forward. It’s probably the most important part of the process – the very first part – and the hardest to get really right. It can take lots of work, on lots of different possible ideas. It’s worth spending the time.
The issue I see with many loglines (beyond describing a concept that maybe can’t really sell itself in this short form) – is that it’s hard to really picture the movie from them, and to really grasp what the writer is saying happens in the movie, or what its central challenge is. This could be partly due to a misunderstanding of the function of a logline. It’s not meant to “tease” someone and leave them wanting more, the way advertising tag lines for movies sometimes try to do to potential audiences. The logline’s job is to clearly communicate to industry professionals the big idea behind the movie you’re proposing, so they instantly “get it.” And you don’t get a lot of word count! Twenty-five words, maybe. If it will fit in a tweet (140 characters, including spaces), even better! If it sounds great at that length, people will want to read more. If it doesn’t, they probably won’t.
Basically, a producer or executive looking at a logline wants to be able to imagine the poster, the trailer, the audience, and the genre. They want to be able to see how this idea clearly fits a certain type of movie that tends to work with audiences – and that it’s a unique and engaging variation on that.
A good logline include includes three basic elements:
- A very quick sense of who the main character is
- The Catalyst that sets the story in motion (their big “uh oh”)
- The nature of the challenge they now must face, and its huge difficulty
That’s really it.
The key thing that’s often missing is number 3. That’s really the most important thing to get across. Great movie ideas have a “mission” of some sort for the main character, which will take the whole movie to accomplish, be incredibly difficult, and go very badly for most of the movie. An audience is meant to become emotionally invested in this character and mission, while also hugely entertained in some way.
There might also be an “inner journey” the character goes on – an arc of growth and change. But that is not what loglines are meant to communicate. This is more secondary, in terms of presenting your concept to others. It’s more implied. The logline should not focus on what the character has to “learn”. It should lay out what they want and what’s in the way – in terms of outer life circumstances and interactions with others – which will make people think, “What an enormously difficult and fun-to-watch challenge that sounds like!”
I also recommend my "Ten Key Principles Successful Writers Understand", and my series of audio downloads. And if you'd like me to read something you're working on, check out my consulting page.