Screenwriting : Loglines: A Big Ol' Rant. by Ian Lynch

Ian Lynch

Loglines: A Big Ol' Rant.

You don’t have to read all this. I just need to get this off my chest, because it’s driving me crazy. Either there’s a handful of people targeting me who don’t understand what loglines are, or I’m missing something right in front of my face, and I don’t understand what loglines are. Let me explain. Now, from what I’ve read and been told, a logline needs three key points. 1) A basic understanding of the protagonist, 2) the protagonist’s goal and 3) what’s standing in his or her way. Is this wrong somehow? Because one of my loglines has gotten criticism for not containing things that go much deeper than the aforementioned three points. Here’s a logline for one of my scripts, called Daytime Noise: “When a hard-partying rockstar is kicked out of his band due to a drug addiction, he starts giving guitar lessons to fund his habit.” Now, in my opinion, this fulfils the three points of what’s necessary for a logline. We get an idea of the who the protagonist is. We know what his goal is: to feed his addiction. And what’s standing in his way is also his drug addiction. Anyone with a basic understanding of addiction can tell you that it’s both your highest priority and your biggest obstacle in anything you try to do. But apparently neither the goal nor the obstacle is in that logline, according to the fine people at logline.it, where I posted my logline. They also posted criticism such as “This is a situation not a story” or “This is not a plot. A plot is when critical circumstances change, forcing the character to change in some way.” Where to I even begin on these criticisms? I mean, god damn. Again, maybe I’m missing something that’s staring my right in the face. But I figured that the logline says enough about how the character would be forced to change. I mean, it’s a rich rockstar becoming a guitar teacher. Why do I have to spell out the way a person would need to change from that alteration in lifestyle? Surely the change in circumstance could tell you how a person needs to adapt? Let’s look at the Die Hard logline: “A New York City cop travels to Los Angeles to reconcile with his wife but learns she’s been taken hostage by terrorist in a skyscraper — and he struggles alone to save her.” The logline implies how the protagonist must adapt and change to overcome the situation. He has to go from average cop to hero. But apparently, people can’t understand the change of rockstar to guitar teacher, and how a person would have to adapt to that change in lifestyle? And that Die Hard logline is a “situation”. A building is taken hostage by terrorists, and the cop has to save the day. Just like my story is a situation. The rockstar is fired, and has to give guitar lessons to get drug addiction. Situations are stories to any storyteller worth their salt. I dunno. I figured that the logline was the hook. A little taste of what the story is and what it could be so that people would want to read/watch it. I don't want to give away the progression of the story and the character development of my protagonist. But according to the criticism I've received, I have to explain the protagonist, his goal, the inciting incident, the obstacles in his or her way, and the character development that must occur in order for the protagonist to reach his or her goal. I’ll say it for the third time: I could be missing something huge and fundamental here. Is my idea of what a logline should be completely missing the point? I feel like the goal and obstacle in my logline are made clear to anyone who’s able to put two and two together in relation to drug addiction. But do I actually have to spell it out? Do I have to spell it out in a medium that relies so heavily on subtext?

Michael L. Burris

It's vague and while maybe that is something that happens within the story it doesn't give a clear picture of what the story is about. If indeed the story is only about that then perhaps the story is too weak for screen. Perhaps giving an inkling of resolve or ending would help it. It just sounds like the first sentence of a premise not a concept if that helps.

William Martell

The main thing a logline needs to do is spark the readers imagination to "see" a movie they can't want to see... so they ask to read the screenplay. Story is conflict. All of the criticisms are correct. You have no conflict. I also don't see anything in what you have that would make me want to read your screenplay. My starting point on loglines is: Protagonist is forced to overcome emotional conflict (which gives us character arc) in order to resolve physical conflict (conflict that we can see) by deadline or very very bad things happen (stakes). Then I play around with that until I have something that a hundred million people would stand in line to pay money to see.

Leah Waller

I agree with both of the above, what's the story here? I think if you alluded to a possible conclusion that would help. Does he fall in love with a student and get clean? Does he spiral out of control? The log line is too vague on where the story is going to go - there are a ton of possibilities, so narrow the focus. Yes, drug addiction is a conflict, but it still needs to go somewhere. Let's go to the Die Hard log line: There is a clear cut story here. It's more then just conflict, it gives an immediate visual of a man struggling because he still loves his wife, then you get to feel his horror at discovering she's been kidnapped, now he must save her - alone. This is a great log line, it has all the conflict and it's still visual. You get an immediate sense of story and character. You know where the story is going from beginning to end, and you care. Your log line - “When a hard-partying rockstar is kicked out of his band due to a drug addiction, he starts giving guitar lessons to fund his habit.” The first part is headed in the right way, this guy has a problem, it has a conflict, but then he becomes a guitar teacher - cute, but what happens? Why do we care? I think of the Stone Temple Pilots (is that the right name?) they had a similar situation with their lead singer, they kicked him out. They disappeared off the map. If something happened to the lead singer and he clawed his way back ala Robert Downy Jr, then he'd be interesting and the band would be super famous - but he hasn't , no one remembers him or the band. SO....all that rambling to say this - give us a story. You have a good opening, but change your last sentence to give us a hint at what happens next. Make us care - but do it in one sentence! :) Gotta love being a screenwriter!! :)

Ian Lynch

Fair enough. How about this: After being kicked out of his band due to a drug addiction, a hard-partying guitarist must find a way to fund his habit as he adjusts to everyday life.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Sorry, I assume you came here looking for a safe place to rant, but I have to say, I think it does indeed need some tweaking. One problem might be that you're assuming too much from the logline reader. Either that they're smart (bad thing to assume) or that they'll do extra work to understand things you haven't spelled out. I'll address some points in the order in which you wrote them: 1. You say the goal of your protagonist is to feed his habit. Well, that's his short term goal, but what does he actually NEED to accomplish? Does the movie end with a triumphal scene where he finally gets enough cash to enjoy some blow? If not, getting high is not really the "goal". The goal might be to KICK his addiction, or to overcome the personal trauma that led to his addiction, or fall in love or to refind his love of the guitar or whatever. But I'd be very surprised if the story goal is actually "to get high". 2. You say, "Anyone with a basic understanding of addiction can tell you that it’s both your highest priority and your biggest obstacle in anything you try to do." Well, yeah, now that you mention it I guess I kinda sorta knew that. But I didn't bring that knowledge to the table when I read the log line so, for this reader at least, that addiction was the obstacle wasn't entirely obvious to me. I think you'd be well served to assume you're writing for an idiot (or someone in a rush). 3. "Rich rockstar"? You call him "rich" during your rant, but in the log line you just say "hard-partying". Maybe a "rockstar" (rather than just a rocker) is by definition rich, but I didn't bring this to the table. In my life I've known hard-partying rock band front men, but no rich ones. So it wasn't obvious to me that he was rich. Also, when people talk about a character arc, they mean the internal change that causes him to grow. Going from riches to rags sounds like the setup, not the final transformation. And if it IS the final transformation, you need to make us understand how the loss of money really changed him. Not "he teaches guitar". Something like, "finds the true meaning of music" or whatever it actually is. Change in PERSON, not just circumstance. 4. Your Die Hard comparison is a bit of a straw man. You say "he struggles alone to save her". But it's really more dynamic than that. "He must fight a dozen terrorists and foil the plot of a criminal mastermind to save her". Your logline doesn't have anything like this. "He must teach guitar" is not intrinsically an active thing fighting toward a strong positive goal. 5. "I don't want to give away the progression of the story and the character development of my protagonist." But the thing is, if you want to hook us, you have to. I hate giving away my story's best surprises in the logline and/or synopsis. But you eventually learn: you actually do have to do that. So in answer to your final question, yes, you have to spell it out better. Sorry, I'm always a fan of a good rant and will forever defend a ranter's right to rant. You may have suffered personal attacks on this other board -- which sucks -- but the fact is, there are substantive criticisms to be made here, and they should be taken seriously.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Darn. Lots of cross-talk while I composed my novel. For the record, my response is to your original post, not that updated logline.

Leah Waller

Much better! The new log line has a story I can visualize.

Dave McCrea

Hey dude. So the people who critiqued your original logline were right. Forget the character growth stuff. The problem is you've written a situation, but it's not a situation that leads to anything, it's a situation that flatlines. I think you really need to understand how movie stories are set up usually with a one-two punch in Act 1 that sets up a main conflict in Act 2. A good logline should tell us briefly the situation that kickstarts act 2, while also making it clear what the main conflict of act 2 will be.
You're hung up on a movie being goal and obstacle. There's more to structure than that. Act 1 often has a 1-2 punch to it. Michael Hauge calls what happens at the quarter-mark a "change of plans" Really try and understand how to make that change of plans hit hard and really illustrate the predicament the main character is in. If you study more movies, and you'll see that you're about 2 dramatic elements short of making a compelling story.
Okay so your revised logline shines more light on what your act 2 conflict will be - a guy trying to get money for drugs, "while he adjusts to everyday life". But what is "everday life" exactly? Be specific. A 2nd act struggle where it's all about him trying to find money for drugs is kind of a cool edgy concept and could be black comedic or "Withnail And I" type comedic, but I don't think it's enough, it's a bit of a weak concept. It needs an extra element. If he succeeds in funding his addiction, he's a satisfied addict. If he doesn't, he goes into withdrawals and gets dopesick. Who cares? However, the way you described it earlier was that in the story he gets his funding by guitar lessons - yawn, problem solved! That's not a movie dude! A movie is a guy with a big problem or a guy embarking on a risky course of action. Now okay what if one of his guitar students is a DEA agent who's trying to bust the local heroin ring - now that could be intriguing, just as one example off the top of my head. On top of that this DEA agent is a hot girl who he falls in love with. So you have to find that situation by digging deeper. Dig deeper and find a really compelling dramatic situation. A guy teaching guitar while he shoots up is not that.

Dave McCrea

Just so we're clear your revised logline is no good, Leah is too kind. John Totten's idea is good though. WHen you have parents paying a guy to teach their kids guitar and he's using that money to buy heroin, possibly shooting up in front of them or in the next room while they're there and introducing his kids to his dealer, etc., you can see parents having a fit about that. You can also see how one of his students might get hooked. And maybe OD's! Can you imagine the scene when Dad goes to pick up little Johnny from guitar lessons and finds him dead on the floor with a needle in his arm? That's interesting. And it sounds low budget as well.

Ingrid Abrams

What's standing in his way of giving guitar lessons? He gets paid, he buys drugs, right? Where's the obstacle? You have the Protagonist whose a drug addict. The situation: He's kicked out of the band, he gives guitar lessons to buy drugs. The obstacle standing in his way: is ?

Jazmen Darnell Brown

Ian, I understand your confusion, but my problem with your logline is that there's no obstacle. to the goal. Yes, addiction is an obstacle to overcome in life, but if drugs are this guys' goal, what is his obstacle to getting them? It would different if keeping his drug addiction is his goal. We can understand the obstacles in that. But in your logline, I'm wondering where's the conflict. He's teaching guitar to get money to buy drugs - then what?

Jazmen Darnell Brown

I could see this working as a TV log line though. The situation is ripe for conflict. I just think, when pitching a feature, you need to be clear what the conflict is.

Alex Bloom

hey Ian, I think the problem here is that you're taking criticism of the logline to mean "It's not a logline". In fact it IS a logline, just not a very good one (for mainstream Hollywood audiences that is. It's fine as a low budget, indie mumblecore film). The problem with the logline about a former rocker with a drug habit giving lessons to pay for his habit is that there are low rather than high stakes involved. Hence a lack of conflict, hence a lack of interest in the story. Hope this helps.

Jefferson Mouzas

Ian, people have different ways to write log lines. I prefer log lines that do not try to explain the plot or give the core conflict. I prefer those that put a very specific character in a very specific and ironic impossible situation and that let the reader fancy the story. A good log line to me is a teaser, not just a perfect short blurb of information about specific story elements. Generally log lines turn me off because they are too generic. You only get a kick out a written line if it's information rich - richer than real life - and log lines need to be short and really give a kick to the reader. Through your log line we can only assume there might be a good story behind. Your log line doesn't tell us that their MUST be an excellent story behind. Your log line lacks the kick but I believe you already have everything in your log line and your story to write it. Specifically, the tone / sense of genre of your story is missing to me. Usually you give out the tone through the adjectives you use but also the type of irony you display to introduce your story. You must give us your take on the irony of a drug addict rock star giving guitar lessons. Without it your log line feels flat and somehow blurry or disconnected. Ways of trying to fix it? make those guitar lessons more specific (to a group a deaf kids?), you must create in our mind the clash of two separate worlds and drive that vision. Even your lead character could be more specific as in the end you only describe the archetype/cliché of a rockstar. Is your rockstar world famous or block famous? Is it his idea to give guitar lessons or is it a court order? Make your story absolutely unique in one or two sentences then people will want to read what you write. Used this way, your log line could also be a tool to assess your story. It happened to me that a better log line made me rewrite a better screenplay.

Shelley Stuart

When I read the logline, I see this: Problem: hardy-partying rockstar loses his status due to his drug addiction. Resolution: addict teaches music lessons to fund his habit. So I'm seeing in this story that an addict finds a way to keep being an addict. The problem he's overcoming is income stream (lucrative rock star versus struggling music teacher). This is an unusual main character, but OK. I'll stick with it. Maybe it's a tragedy, maybe a social statement movie, maybe just an anti-hero tale. With you so far. I can see the conflict involved for a person switching between the two careers. So the conflict is there. But what about THIS character's conflict is interesting? I don't want to go to a movie to watch an everyday struggle. I want to see a struggle with just one thing that's going to make this person's journey different and interesting. A step above every day. Addicts find a way to fund their habits all the time. Going from rock star to guitar teacher's a natural progression in a downward spiral. What's the one thing that makes this guy's journey stand out (cinematically)? Rock star addict must do XXX to become a music teacher addict, where XXX is something intriguing, outstanding... the hook that seems to be missing from the logline.

Ian Lynch

Here's a new version of the logline, with an idea of what happens further into the story. I'd appreciate any thoughts on it: "When a drug-addicted former rockstar starts teaching guitar to a high schooler with a traumatic childhood, they form an unlikely friendship built upon helping each other move on from their pasts."

Boomer Murrhee

My thoughts...I don't see enough of an obstacle keeping the hero from his goal. The "move on from their pasts" doesn't touch me in a way that would make it interesting enough for a movie. Just an idea, if the high schooler began to use drugs and the rockstar had to face his own demons and chose the kid over his addiction, that could be the ironic twist or hook that could spark the story. Just an idea...Best of luck in your endeavors.

Dave McCrea

It's still a weak logline, A rocker befriends a kid, big whoop. That's a subplot not a plot.

Dave McCrea

Let me tell you something I learned about 5 years ago writing scripts, and it's very important so really take this on board: ALL movies are suspense movies. Not just thrillers, but all genres. Find the suspense in your concept. The burning question the audience wants to have answered. Otherwise you've got a snoozer.

Ian Lynch

So it's about what terrible thing could happen... Or what terrible thing will happen if certain conditions aren't met...

Dave McCrea

exactly... you got it. So ask yourself "what's the worst fear the audience would have watching this?" That he would OD? Okay but that's not enough to sustain a feature-length movie. he would need to have another goal. The key scene in most movies that really sets up the story is at the 25% mark. So you need something pretty interesting/cool at that mark. And meeting a kid he bonds with ain't it. Being kicked out of the band - nah. Now if the kid he was teaching shot up some heroin at the 25% mark, now you've got a movie. We can see the potential disaster down the road - the kid dies, the protagonist feels awful, the kid's father comes after the protagonist, etc... Another idea might be if the kid's parents is a DEA officer or is part of a community program trying to stop drugs in the area. You want to make the audience go "Whoa... how's THIS going to pan out...?"

Laurie Ashbourne

The stakes are missing (or aren't clear). In other words; what happens if he fails, why should we care?

Dave McCrea

Michael Hauge talks about a "change of plans" at the 25% mark. The protagonist is going in one direction in act 1 and then has a whole new problem to deal with.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Dave, I think a lot of what you're writing is genre-dependent. I write pretty hard genre stuff myself so everything you write would apply to me. But pick a movie: let's say, ONCE, which did pretty well for itself. What happened at the 25% mark? He met the girl? He and the girl started talking about music? I actually don't remember (embarrassed to say) but I'm quite sure there weren't life-or-death stakes involved. Some movies actually are just about people forming connections and helping each other grow a little. And some producers are looking for those kind of stories. I'm not saying there might not be room for improvement in the logline -- I honestly don't know -- but maybe Ian's story isn't about death or DEA agents. And if so, maybe that's okay.

Ian Lynch

This probably isn't the version I'm going with, but should the logline be more like this: "After a hard-partying rockstar is kicked out of his band due to a drug addiction, he discovers that he's completely broke, and must find a source of income before he goes through an excruciating detox." The first 25% would involve showing the protagonist's rockstar lifestyle, the incident that leads to him getting kicked out, and going back to his apartment. Then he gets the call from his accountant (or whoever) saying he has no money left, because he spent every cent as fast as he earned it while on the road. That brings us to the 25% change, where the protagonist has no money and only a small amount of heroin, so he needs to find a job within a few days or else he'll run out of heroin and go through what is a terrifying detoxification process, as well as running out of food etc... So he starts giving some guitar lessons, trying to pull some money together, and so on. Is that sounding any better?

Dave McCrea

Kerry I totally hear you and I was giving fairly blunt examples to hammer the point home - but the fact is there's a lack of urgency in the concept and I just wanted to point out how important that is even in a drama. Once was something that would be difficult to pitch in a vacuum - the fact is that was produced on a micro budget with Irish government money and it also featured the music of a very popular and talented Irish musician built in. But even in low-key dramas, In Dallas Buyers Club, he's dying and so are people around him, he has a mission he cares about. In Good Will Hunting, we feel that potential waste of a life if he doesn't let the shrink get through to him and if he doesn't accept the job or scholarship. In The Descendants you have that discovery that his wife was cheating on him which adds to the suspense. I still believe that all genres can benefit from cranking up the suspense - now, that doesn't mean putting a serial killer in a movie like Once, but there needs to be an urgency to things.

Dave McCrea

Ian yeah it sounds better. I see you're a Dub like myself :) So where is this set? Dublin or the U.S.? Don't sleep on the Irish Film Board.

Ian Lynch

I've gone back and forth trying to choose between setting it in Dublin or setting it NYC. The most recent draft is in New York, but it could be adapted for Dublin. I know the IFB are willing to give grants for screenplay development to writers, but from what I've read, you need a producer and director on board if you want them to fund the entire movie...

Shelley Stuart

A story's definitely emerging from your logline now, and it sounds truer to the story (and more intriguing).

Kerry Douglas Dye

Yeah, Dave, I don't disagree with anything you're saying. I guess I'm sympathetic to the problem of someone writing soft drama, which could make for a wonderful movie, but probably will never have an electrifying logline.

Ian Lynch

Kerry - Much like Inside Llewyn Davis. Good film, but it's hard to write a blockbuster logline for it.

William Martell

Which is why LLEWYN DAVIS was written/produced/directed by the same two guys. Small stories get to screen in a different way than stories that can please a mass audience. Instead of the screenplay selling, the filmmaker goes out and finds the money and makes the film themselves.

Dave McCrea

Ian, how old do you see the protagonist being? I have a feeling you might be a very good writer, but just need to step up your dramatic situation and story development game a bit. so you have at 25% his accountant calls - he's broke. To me that is not enough of a hammer even for a small drama, that's more of a 10% mark 'inciting incident' than a proper plot point 1. I think what's much more devastating is him losing his band which is what he loves to do, right? Remember in The Wrestler, when the doctor told him he can't wrestle any more? That was devastating - the only thing he loved to do. Being short of cash to feed your fix is a short-term problem. Being kicked out of the best band you've ever been in right when they're about to play Glastonbury? Now that's a kick to the stomach! The worst day of this guy's life. So another way of flipping your story might be as follows:
First 9 pages - he's in a band, they're doing just okay
10% mark - he does heroin for the first time
11-24 - as he increasingly becomes addicted (and hiding it from bandmates), simultaneously his band is getting serious breaks culminating in an opening slot on the Kings of Leon tour or playing some huge festival! But then:
25% mark - his heroin addiction is found out and he's kicked out of the band
now we can see that causality and we can see his dramatic need - to get clean and get back to playing music in this band. We're really rooting for him to be clean, back in the band, and get this jerk replacement outta there and reclaim his rightful place as their guitarist playing to adoring fans. But we worry that his addiction will overwhelm him, his self-esteem will plummet, he'll be incarcerated for his drug use, he'll OD, he'll get others hooked, and he'll die - in the bathroom of a bus station and nobody cares. Yes! You need to make it as dramatic as that! And the person who helps him get clean is one of his guitar students. He should also be as different from the protagonist as possible. For example, if the protagonist is a wild rock'n'roll dude, the kid should be a nerdy classical guitar kid who the protagonist doesn't think has any "edge".

Ian Lynch

The protagonist is in his mid-20’s. I mean, I’ve been told by numerous people to start the story as late as possible. Which, to me is when he misses an important gig and gets kicked out of the band. The story of his addiction is not the story I’m trying to tell, what happens to him when it’s taken all away is the story I’m trying to tell. 9 pages of everything being fine is something that wouldn’t hook me in a script, to be honest. This is a character who has lost his passion for playing music. He still loves music as a fan, but touring and the lifestyle has taken a toll on him, and he uses the drugs and partying to fill some kind of hole inside him. Being in the band is not good for him. So when he’s kicked out, it’s almost a relief. I believe I explain this pretty well in the opening pages of the script. We’re not rooting for him to rejoin the band, we’re rooting for him to be okay. I like to think I’m a decent writer, and I think I write the protagonist as a character worthy of our sympathy. He goes home, and he has to face his family, after missing countless important occasions. He’s sorry, and he wants forgiveness, but there’s no way they can forgive him while he’s still using. But detoxing is something that scares him. He was a rockstar, he knows the horrors of rehab. So then, when he finds out he has no money and may be facing detoxing on his own, both the character and the audience knows that’s his greatest fear come true. So, the guitar lessons start, with the protagonist working as a private tutor. One of his students is a young woman who has a difficult home life, and she starts using her guitar lessons as way to escape from the harsh reality of her personal life. He finds a bond with this student, able to relate to her demons. Her ability to get lost in the music is what helps him rediscover his love of playing. He realises that teaching music is how he can do what he loves for a living, but without the soul-crushing rockstar lifestyle. He also knows that if he wants to keep teaching and earn the forgiveness of his family, he needs to get clean. That gives him the courage and the motivation. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it after that, but that’s the first half of the script. I didn’t mean to write a synopsis of the first act and a half, but I had to explain what I’m going for. I know what my story is, and I know what story I want to tell. Yeah, it’s not exactly Avatar or the Departed. It’s not the most exciting or marketable story in the world. But it’s the story I want to tell. It’s a story that excites me.

Dave McCrea

Ok Ian then go with that if that is your vision. I think you should check out the movie "Light Sleeper" with Willem Dafoe, it's about a guy who is disillusioned, it's a bleak drama, a great film, I think you will enjoy it if you haven't seen it already.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Thing is, William, Ian is looking for advice on his logline. Not on the wisdom of writing this script at all, you know?

Geoff Webb

Well if you want to look at it from a theoretical POV then in Linda Aronsons' book she says that 'Protagonist' faced with 'problem' responds by ' series of actions' and finally deals with 'same problem as above' by 'climax'. So the theory seems to indicate your logline is missing 'climax'. Maybe some jeopardy would help? Personally, when I write a logline I will do maybe 30 completely different variations, then mix them up, mess about with them and hopefully a winner will emerge.

Laura Tabor-Huerta

Ian many new people have joined Stage 32 and I think they may not be clear on what a log line is-those answering here. Your log line is fine, too many inexperienced people is the problem. A log line is not a treatment folks. A treatment is where you have plot.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Ha! LOL, George. And thus we come full circle.

Kerry Douglas Dye

(I'm laughing because if you read Ian's original post, that's the site he's ranting against.)

Laura Tabor-Huerta

I have to apologize because I answered yesterday after lunch and I can get sleepy and stupid after lunch. I looked again at your logline - “When a hard-partying rockstar is kicked out of his band due to a drug addiction, he starts giving guitar lessons to fund his habit.”. The protagonist’s goal should be their inner goal not their outer goal. So the goal should be something bigger than the habit like "fund his habit but along the way realizes(something internal about himself).

Dave McCrea

lol Kerry

David Bryant

Ian, if you're still following all these, check out my post in here. It's about the fundamentals of how to write a logline. http://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/how-to-write-a-logline/

Stacey Stefano

If that is its logline , it is too weak to captivate the interest of a reader. And it can never make a hit on screen , because there isn't an impressive conflict in it !

Jill Pekarek

I don't think your logline is bad, maybe just missing something. I get that his goal is to spend the rest of his life high, but does he change or do we just follow him for 90 minutes teaching, getting paid, getting high? Does he teach a 12 year-old who has a better grip on life more than he does and it changes him? I don't agree with the comment, "this is a situation not a story," it definitely is a story but maybe you're just missing the "and he struggles alone to save her" piece like in the Die Hard logline. What does he have to overcome? His drug addiction is standing in the way of what? If he gets teaching jobs to fund his habit, all is right in his world, there's no personal growth or change.

Marla Young

I agree Jill… think you're almost there, but my question is… 'and then what happens.?' He starts giving guitar lessons… to who? (ROUGH EXAMPLES, BUT… ) A 12-y-o autistic boy with genius musical talents who helps teach the rockstar even more…. An imprisoned drug dealer who learns about more than music and turns the rockstar around…. ETC. What does your character learn through lowering himself to teach guitar? Good luck. Keep working!

Roger Stone

I've heard and read a lot of differing explanations as to what a log-line should be, but in the end it always comes down to one thing: a tool to get someone to read your spec script. Until it accomplishes that, it needs to be re-written.

Barry J. McLoughlin

Ian I understand your frustration. My immediate reaction is that - the way you've written it - it appears his goal is to continue his addiction.? Surely he must have a larger goal/vision/mission in his life? Isn't his addiction in fact the barrier that he must overcome to reach that goal? You've identified it as both his goal and his barrier. That is at the heart of the problem IMHO. I am interested in your take on this issue as I am developing a script about a real life rockstar who struggled with addiction. It was a profound obstacle in his personal and professional life, and even though he craved his daily fix it was not what he was trying to accomplish with his life. So those comments are not '"criticisms" (even though they might feel like it). The log line is not the 'plot points' as you've clearly figured out. Ideally it should capture his goal and his journey that he sets out on to accomplish that profound goal. Hope this helps.

Annette Stewart-Colon

There are Literary Agents that requires more information. Who introduced your character to drugs? Will he finally seek help to kick his addiction or will he succumb to his addiction?

Gail Clifford

Logline: antagonist struggles (or similar verb) in (world) to (accomplish goal / character arc). While I understand your frustration, perhaps this may better clarify for you what those people may want from you? Situations can become stories, the plot has to be obvious to the most idiotic (in your opinion) person with the checkbook. Some compare situations to episodes (like a TV show) but they always come back to the main THEME - that is true for each episode of each TV show. Hope it helps.

Deborah Hyatt

Ian, IMO, the difficulty with your existing logline is that there's not much of a hook, and it doesn't give the reader any real sense of what the movie will be like. Is it a drama? A comedy? Also, to be blunt, the idea of a musician giving guitar lessons or an adict wanting to stay addicted are not exactly gripping. Your script itself may be amazing, but it's just not coming across in that logline. Look again at the logline for Die Hard: The threat is deadly; the location is contained but enormous; and the hero is all on his own ... That sets up a real sense of drama, not to mention positioning the lead as a headstrong kind of guy willing to wade into situations that would send most people running the other way. The reader knows immediately that it's an action movie with an action hero. Hope this is helpful.

Charles Liburd

There is nothing wrong with your logline- but unfortunately sometimes it's not good enough to be correct. As Deborah Hyatt (previous post) said, we need context. Rock star- teacher- we can visualize as a comedy ( because guitar teacher is unsexy!- and that's funny). But there is no indication that your piece is a comedy. Then is it a drama, thriller or action movie? You haven't used any contextual words that indicate what we are dealing with. BTW I liked your intro to this post! It was the intro of an honest and funny person- who was aware he could, with his rant, bore us all. Well done! You didn't. You made me write something.

Geoff Harris

I don't believe it. There's now rules for loglines! So many forums, not necessarily here, to find and pick holes in the minutiae of screenwriting. Well wake me up when an answer is revealed. The purpose of a log line is for the writer to attract interest from a producer or director. Like a trailer, I'm sure there's rules for those too. A well written logline will do this, a poorly written one won't. End of!

William Martell

Here is the only rule for a logline: It needs to make the producer say: "I need to read that script right away and then buy it because I believe tens to hundreds of millions of people will stand in line to pay and see that!"

Boomer Murrhee

Ian, I'm interested in your process with this thread? I found this thread to be illuminating on many levels.

Jaeson Finn

Sounds like like your critic is just trying to justify his self-invented job. Your synopsis had me interested & would make an excellent character study with a broad range of drama.

Felipe Grossi Togni

I can't remember where I got this definition, but "plot is a series of events put in a certain order". I like criticism. It gets people to think. And that's how we get better conclusions. From what I understood, a situation is part of a plot, a smaller bit. I've been studying Orson Scott's book Characters and Viewpoint, and there's something in the book that leads to series of steps that include a situation. First you have to ask yourself, how do I get a situation? Then, perhaps you will find your motive. But after the situation you can understand "the way your character reacts to outside events" (Scott pg. 107). When you find that, you will be on the verge to the action itself. And at last the outcome. The situation is the stem of this process. And I would say that the plot is a series of situations. Back to the outline. That's how you hook someone. I can see the inciting incident on your line, but I can't see the outcome. Is he going to die trying to fulfill his addiction? Is he going to start selling drugs to his students and get busted? What happens in the end, Ian?

Dave McCrea

What William has said several times about the only goal is to get a producer hyped - that's the best way to look at it, BUT they're not going to get hyped if they don't see some sort of forward motion in your story. Forward motion is created by either:
The protagonist has a mission, which if they fail to achieve could result in disaster
OR
The protagonist deliberately places themselves or finds themselves in a situation that could very easily lead to disaster.
(this type is much less about actively pursuing a goal and more about using the suspense of the situation) (e.g. Wedding Crashers, Enough Said, Cable Guy, Tootsie, Yes Man, Revenge)
In either scenario, we can easily imagine from the situation what MIGHT go wrong down the line... if we can't imagine that, it's not a good concept.

Todd Sorrell

Hi Ian! Because you are the writer, you know intimately all the twists and turns of your story, and are aware of the tension in the plot. Your logline readers do not. You must somehow inject the tension of your story in that small bit of information. The Diehard example is in stark contrast to your own. There are stakes involved and the little cinema in our minds can imagine the drama. Yours is missing that in this current version. Remember, the logline is BAIT. Also, understand that most people are offering critiques, not criticisms. As my pastor used to say, "Chew the straw and spit out the sticks." If their words hurt you below the belt, spit it out.

Jace Serrano

Hey, Ian. I get your dilemma. You've written a character-driven drama where the protagonist undergoes a change after being re-inspired by his student. It kinda reminds me of the plot of "Half Nelson", a great movie starring Ryan Gosling as an addict. The logline of that movie (per IMDB) is as follows: "An inner-city junior high school teacher with a drug habit forms an unlikely friendship with one of his students after she discovers his secret." That logline tells you what the plot is, but it doesn't tell you what Ryan's character's goal is or what's at stake (in the movie, it is keeping the girl from telling anyone about his addiction or he'll lose his job). The people who made this movie could get away with this logline because they already had connections in the industry. You, as a newbie screenwriter, cannot. You need something flashier to get people's attention. You need to tell us what the specific, big goal is that the protag wants to accomplish by the end of the story, and what the specific, big conflict gets in the way of that goal throughout the story. I've seen you mention two goals so far for your story. One is that the rock star "wants to be okay". This is too vague -- like I said, movie goals need to be something specific. How can we know definitively at what point he's "okay"? The other is that he "wants to maintain his habit so he can avoid detox". The problem here is that this is not a sympathetic goal, or even a relatable one. Why would an audience root for a character to avoid something that would cause the character to become better? It's counter-intuitive. (The only way I would see this working is if it were a comedy). So, I honestly think you may need to do some tinkering with your story and come up with a more relatable reason for the rocker to start teaching guitar lessons. This would make the goal much more compelling. The drug addiction can represent the conflict that makes it difficult for him teach the lessons and thus accomplish his goal. Here is an example of a compelling logline that your story could have based on your premise: "When a washed up rocker realizes he's broke, he's forced to teach guitar lessons to make ends meet, but struggles to keep the job in the face of a difficult student and a spiraling drug addiction." This logline is strong because it tells us: a) The catalyst: Someone realizes he's broke. b) The protagonist: The person is a washed up rock star, meaning it is not easy for him to make money. c) The goal: Keeping the teaching job. d) The stakes: Survival. If he doesn't keep the job, he won't have any money, and he can't eat. e) The conflict: A difficult student that makes the teaching lessons stressful in some way (maybe she argues too much with him due to her passion or just doesn't care at all) and a drug addiction that grows due to his unhappiness with having to stoop to such lows after being a rock star. BTW, I don't know who you were talking to, but it's never a good idea to start the story as late as possible. To the contrary, it's best to start it as soon as possible, because when a producer/studio exec is reading your script, they will likely give it no more than one, five, or ten pages before they decide whether it's worth it or not. No one's gonna wait until page 15 or 20 for the action to start.

Ian Lynch

Jace, thanks for your advice, I'll take it on board. Although, when I said that you should start a story as late as possible, I didn't mean start the plot late into the script. I mean, start the script as late into the story as possible. As in, put in the inciting incident early rather than building up to it too much.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hi Ian, IMHO: A- you give only the first of the three elements you listed : you say "he starts giving guitar lessons to fund his habit.”. And then? What is his real goal : fund his habit? regain the leadership of his band? something else? What is really standing in his way: his addiction? his band? something else? So your logline rather sounds like a setup, or a short. B- A classic logline structure is something like "when A occurs, B is confronted to C and must do D in order to obtain/avoid E (before F)", or " B doing/being something (introducing subplot, flaw or other important information) is confronted to C when A occurs and must do D in order to obtain/avoid E (before F)" in which: A = inciting event (you have it) B = flawed hero (you have it) C = antagonist / problem (maybe you have it but it's not clear) D = goal (you don't have it) E = stake (you don't have it) F = time limit if it exists (you don't have it). Some of these éléments may be implicit, provided that being clear, but all are important. Your logline should also tell us the genre of your movie (is it a drama, a thriller, an action movie?) and it would be better with a hook. You'll find all these points in your screenplay, otherwise your problem is in it. C- Your logline for Die Hard is one of the many we find on the internet but doesn't seem to be genuine and is not one of the best. I didn't find the genuine one. Here are two inspiring genuine loglines by Alfred Hitchcock : Classic : FAMILY PLOT 1976 (51words) "A bogus spiritualist and an amateur actor (B) hope to con a wealthy woman out of $10,000 (E) by locating her sole heir (D) — a nephew given up for adoption under shady circumstances — but find they are in deep water as the nephew turns out to be a kidnapper who’d rather not be found (C)" The inciting event is suggested (when the heroes meet the wealthy woman...) as well as the genre (black comedy), we also learn more about the heroes (they seem to be two misfits), and the hook is the humourous tone. This is a long logline inappropriate for a spec. A shorter version (28 words) could be something like “Two misfits hoping to wangle a wealthy woman by locating her heir find they are in deep water when discovering he’s a kidnapper who’d rather not be found”. Non classic : THE BIRDS 1962 (11words) "Acting in concert, birds start attacking people for no apparent reason" This one is closer to your and doesn't give explicitly most of the informations we want, but ... : A = "Acting in concert, birds start attacking people for no apparent reason" B = ? (maybe people) C = ? (maybe the birds) D = ? (maybe escape the birds) E = ? (maybe avoid injuries or worse) F = ? (maybe before to be dead) Genre = ? (maybe drama, mystery, horror) Hook = ? (maybe: birds can be aggressive and dangerous. If all of them begin to attack in concert for unknown reason, it's scary, right?) There are a lot of other interesting things to tell about this movie ans its logline, but it's not the place here. Please excuse any mistake as English is not my native language. Hope to be helpful. All the best.

Jace Serrano

Ian: Gotcha about the plot -- my mistake :) Alle: Good point about pitch loglines.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Hello Alle, It seems like you're a very special and kind person in the entertainment field. I would be very happy to work with you.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

@ Ian, I just read completely your post and all the 70 comments : You're really missing something huge and fundamental here. 50/70 comments explain you why and most of these are obviously by writers who have faced the same criticism. You can write a logline you like ... for yourself and be happy, or write a logline that sells ... for your customers and I bet you will be even happier because it will be better. Please tell me : why don't you want to give away the progression of the story and the character development of your protagonist? Are you afraid of something?

Ingrid Abrams

When I was in my short film class for screenwriting, the textbooks said that loglines were originated at the studio level so that they could file and categorize their scripts they owned. They used to write them on the spines of the printed scripts. Then at some point, it turned into a gigantic marketing tool.

Oriel Kerr

I totally get where you're coming from. Writing a logline is no easy feat. I'm having this same issue myself and even did a posting on it in the screenwriting lounge. Were you able to resolve your issue?

William Martell

The only thing they ever wrote on the spine of a script is the title. Studio readers still create loglines for their coverage. All scripts will be condensed down to a logline whether you like it or not. Producers are used to reading loglines and often making decisions based on those loglines. Since they already make decisions based on loglines, the best way to get someone to read your script is to use the medium they are used to to describe your screenplay? You get to control what that logline says (at this point) and use your writing skills to create a compelling logline.

Ingrid Abrams

Actually, I have seen photos of the loglines on the side- the one liners in the textbooks and files they gave us in film class. But anywho.... this is what Dan Hoffman said about loglines when asked about logline services: "The reason why I don´t offer a logline service is simply that In the professional world, the Log line means nothing. Its a lot of hype created by people who have no connection to the industry and no professional would ever actually offer a log service. The very notion is absurd."

William Martell

If you are sending an equery, it's all about the logline. Hard to imagine writing more than a couple of words on the spine of a script... the uneven pages make for difficulty in writing large letters, let alone the smaller print that you'd need for 25 words. Loglines end up on coverage (and sometimes logbooks that list scripts submitted). Without a great logline it's difficult to get anyone to read your screenplay. (I have no idea what a "logline service" is.) Scripts: http://www.sattler360.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/scripts.jpg

John

try this: imagine someone asks you what your movie is about? and in 10 seconds or less (time it), you can tell them the whole story and they: understand it. can visualise it. want to see it. have to see it. are excited, then that's the right logline. if they look confused, bored, interrupt you to ask a question, you've lost them, then that's the wrong logline. don't over analyze it with formulas and statistics. the hidden message here is 'they'. you need to test it on other people who will give you honest feedback.

Dave McCrea

John thanks for that comment - I actually copied and pasted it on my computer for future reference on what to shoot for in a logline!

John

hi Dave, thanks for the kind words and happy to contribute :)

Geoff Harris

Wow, a popular thread! John's piece is good, simple and to the point. William Martell's a revelation! I never knew producers took note of log lines, and I am one! I guess it's obvious really, give them something shorter than a script or treatment to judge your script by and they will! Another reason to give some thought to your log line, and make it encapsulate the story as well as sell it.

Dave Vaughan

I think most people would find more fault in that your protagonist appears to be a very unlikeable person who only cares about feeding his habit. Does his arc involve recovering? If so, you should say so. And the roadblocks to reach his goal.

Shelly Paino

I dig the log line, I think it gives a visual understanding of what the movie is. It reminds me of Weeds, but there is a key element - it is not just about a suburban mom selling pot. She's selling pot because she's a widowed mother trying to provide for 2 boys. Knowing why makes me want to watch.

Simon © Simon

I gotta state that the input from others is nothing short of constructive criticism. From reading others posts / questions and the GREAT replies and examples have really been informative. I read your logline and it may seem clear to you. However there is no motivation to watch / read your movie. Who cares that a drug dealer goes from stardom to bust and now is like most of America; getting by? As Oliver Stone stated:"How does the story change the Protagonist?" He is a drug user who continues to use drugs. Maybe if he were to do something profound and do a 180 due to a life changing event, you would have that arc and the third part of the formula. Might I recommend reading others posts about the myriad of loglines shared and asked about, to then get a better idea of how to incorporate it into your synopsis.

Dave Vaughan

Rule of thumb. Do not write a script nobody would be interested in. If you can give the protagonist a positive arc, excellent Or if he fights against all odds to achieve a positive arc and almost succeeds, excellent.

Richard Koman

When a drug addicted former rick star starts giving guitar lessons to a troubled teen, they hit the road with their new act -- and have to keep one step ahead of the cops! (Or something like that)

Richard Koman

ipad typo ;-)

Richard Koman

Ricksaw? Is that like a cart that cuts the road as it runs?

Richard Toscan

Ian, after two months, you're probably bored with this subject, but if not, look at the loglines of the 50 top screenplays (out of 7,000+ submitted) in this year's Nicholl Fellowship competition. I think you'll gradually understand how the Die Hard logline works and is substantially different from yours.

JR Kingsbury

it's boring, where's the conflict? Mix it up a bit...

Jovan Lopez

i think its a good concept, but the guitar lessons to get money for the addiction, i feel isn't enough, like Jeff said, that would be the boring part, i'm trying to give you some constructive feedback. i think if you show an honest story of the Musician truly going down the bottom hole of addiction, getting to the point where he can't come out would be worth it, also what if right after he was kicked out of the band, his band mates got signed based on their "1st Album" and the tragedy is that his band mates try to find the addict Lead Singer who has fallen deeper and deeper down the hole,living on the streets, leading into the Addicts overdose with out him ever finding out about the success of the band, a true tragedy. feel free to use this if you feel its a good direction, i'm good at expanding stories & wouldn't mind to see your take on what i added to your concept.

Jean-Marie Mazaleyrat

Happy New Year!

Deryn Warren

It is fine but needs to go further. For example: “When a hard-partying rockstar is kicked out of his band due to a drug addiction, he (starts giving) GIVES guitar lessons to fund his habit AND DISCOVERS THAT HIS STUDENTS HAVE LESSONS TO TEACH HIM.” Let me know if you ever need a script doctor.

Annette Stewart-Colon

I find it very difficult to write a logline because, it's hard for me to sum the story up in a few lines.

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