Screenwriting : The logline by Michael Khamis

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Michael Khamis

The logline

I'm constantly thinking of a screenplay idea with this big secret that wouldn't be revealed until later in the script. The problem is it's the secret that would make the good pitch if I included it in the logline. Does this happen to others? Should I use it in the logline to try and sell it?

Rick Reynolds

A vague reference to the whole picture is a logline. If you can make the line inviting and compelling without the big reveal, the I wouldn't include it. Allusions can be power.

Lauren Lindsey

HI Rick, I like what you wrote about log lines. I think your advice is good. I recently got a bunch of people commenting on my loglines that seem conflicted about what a logline sould be. Would you mind taking a minute or so to check out my logline? thank you! Lauren

R.B. Ripley

Loglines exist to get someone to read a script. If the secret helps with that, put it in. A well-written script will still surprise, even if it's in the logline.

Michael Khamis

Ripley that is a good way to look at it I guess. Thanks for the comment and thank you rick as well. Is there somewhere a guy can submit just his logline and get feedback?

Michael Khamis

That's what I did with my first screenplay but I wanted to try it this way this time cause that's what every book tells you to do.

Michael Khamis

Sid field books and also save the cat. Also this screenwriting seminar I took. They say it helps give you direction while your writing.

Monique Mata

Here's an executive's take regarding your question (from Christopher Lockhart's logline article): DRAMATIC QUESTIONS Screenplays ask dramatic questions throughout the course of the story. These questions create tension and motivate the reader to turn to the next page. A logline does the same thing in miniature: it raises questions that evoke curiosity and stir up potentiality. In THE WIZARD OF OZ logline, one may be curious about the “mysterious land” or wonder what the “dangerous journey” entails. Perhaps, an executive will be motivated to know if the lonely farm girl meets “the wizard” and wonder what he may be like. Hopefully, the executive will want to learn whether or not the girl finds her way back to Kansas. For this reason, a logline should avoid revealing the script’s conclusion. This should remain part of the intrigue. Writers often claim the best part of their screenplay is the “surprise” ending, and they feel the need to include it in the logline. A well-known screenplay with a surprise ending is THE SIXTH SENSE. An effective logline for this story may go: A psychologist struggles to cure a troubled boy who is haunted by a bizarre affliction – he sees dead people. David Benioff’s STAY also has a surprise ending. The logline could read like: As a psychiatrist races against time to prevent the suicide of a patient, he unexpectedly finds himself trapped in a surreal and frightening world. In these examples, the “surprise” ending is not included. A good logline (like the screenplay itself) should boast a story that is not dependent on its ending. Providing too much information in a logline can backfire by giving the executive more information in which to find fault. A brief but well constructed logline should tease and raise many questions to successfully pique the interest of the executive.

Michael Khamis

Peter Corey, I don't have an example from Syd Field however I can assure you Blake Snyder does. The argument is that the logline also helps stay focused on what you are planning to write, kind of like the theme. If you try the Save the cat program you can't even start your outline until you have a logline written down. I'm not saying I agree with it, but that is in fact what they suggest.

Richard Toscan

Once more, Peter Corey nails the logline thing.

Natalie Farst

Hi Michael, I am having the same issue when writing the log line for our screenplay. I definitely didn't want to give away anything but still make it pop. Not an easy task but once you can grab someone's eye, it makes all your hard work worth it.

Michael Khamis

Peter, I agree that the logline is in fact a marketing tool and not a creative one, however if you are writing to sell than you have to aim for the market. You have to know what you are writing about. You do need to know Who and what it's about before you write and you need to express it in one sentence. That doesn't mean that you can't revise it as you create your screenplay. I do believe that some people pitch ideas before their script is actually written. Save the cat, page 4. Snyder says Forget about your screenplay for now and concentrate on one sentence. One line. Then he goes on to say "because if you can learn how to tell me "what is it?" better, faster, and with more creativity, you'll keep me interested. And incidentally, by doing so before you start writing your script, you'll make the story better too." Again if you actually see the Save the cat app. You'll find that it doesn't allow you to start your beats until you write a logline. I don't really like the "paint by numbers" method but I thought I'd try. Scriptologist.com says "your logline is step number one in planning your screenplay. Before you even begin to write, you must write down this one key sentence-the logline. Keep it in front of you while you write your script it will keep you focused." Again I'm only proving what I read not completely siding with this argument. I didn't do this with the last script I wrote. I do agree with what you're saying, but I can also see the flip side. I do appreciate the comments I get from all and knowledge I gain from these discussions. Thanks Peter and thanks to the rest of you. I have gathered that I will leave the big secret out of the logline.

Yasmin Neal

Maybe you can use "elements" of the "secret" in the logline without telling the secret

Yasmin Neal

For example: A reclusive sociopath must fight his way across the wasteland of a dangerous postapocalyptic America to protect a sacred and mysterious book that holds the key to saving the future of humanity. (The Book Of Eli) The big secret with that movie was that he was blind the whole time, but they didnt need to tell us that to sell the movie

Yasmin Neal

yeah lol he was blind the whole time, and yes the book was in braille...thats how he could read it because he was blind. He was blind during the whole journey; the only thing guiding him was GOD...

Danny Manus

Always write a logline first. who says its only a marketing tool? why can't it be a creative one! it should be! if you don't know what your story is about or if you can pitch it, then youre wasting a lot of time. I'm not saying its not fluid, but who are u going to listen to - Snyder, Field, and most working screenwriters... or Peter Corey?

Eric Alagan

@Yasmin - you're right - many thanks for pointing out.

Yasmin Neal

if you dont have the logline...and you dont have the script......Why clutter your brain about a one liner for an unwritten story? You dont have a story to pull your logline from. I have to agree with everyone here, write the story first, logline later. I have found that a logline comes to me when I start writing after the first few pages...

Michael Khamis

Yasmin thanks for the tip. It helped put things in perspective as far as keeping the logline mysterious. Not giving away the secret. However I am agreeing with Danny Manus on this one. You mentioned that you don't have a story to pull your logline from. You're not using your logline to tell your story. That is the screenplay's job. You're using your logline to tell your plot. You must have a plot before you start writing. Whether you decide to write a logline first or not you must know what you're planning to write about. Your logline should tell what the story is about which is basically act 2 the confrontation. Im not trying to say you must do it this way, but I am saying you can.

Yasmin Neal

Honestly, I have never written my logline before I finished my full feature... Cause during the thinking process, I keep thinking of all of the twists and turns I wrote into the story that my logline changes ten times before I decide on the perfect words to describe the story.

Danny Manus

Um, its called the Outlining process. If you're a pro writer whose been doing this for 10 years and you're sold and produced and rep'd and you don't outline - hey, good for you. But for everyone on this site who isn't that, if you're NOT outlining your plot and structure before you write, you will get stuck. your story with suffer. And part of that outlining process is your logline. You can have a character in mind but even fleshing that character out takes Outlining and profiling and if you don't know what they NEED to do in the story before you start writing you can't know how they will react or act on everything they come across or that occurs. If you are not outlining in some way before you write, you're making a big mistake that will cost you time energy and frustration later, especially as you Rewrite!

Gordon Olivea

If you write the logline first then it will be the one thing that holds the whole story together. I had to eliminate a two characters and a scene because they didn't serve the story. They were great for character development and they served the Big Idea, but 2 out of 3 isn't good enough. I was able cut them and the story didn't suffer, so I had too. The logline told me that.

Kevin Isaacson

Make sure your story is so focused that you can nail it in one sentence and if the big twist is a huge selling point, include it in the logline. Movie-goers will never see your logline so it will be new to them. Before you can shock the movie-goers, you have to hook the people that you want to make your movie and it may be that big twist that hooks them.

Danny Manus

well yes, the logline is based on the story. but its based on your concept/idea for the story and character...not based on the story that is already completely written and done.

Michael Khamis

Very well said Danny.

Michael Khamis

It was never my intention to say that you write a logline then try to develop a story out of that. Your logline is based off the story that you decided you want to write. This prevents you from going astray.

Michael Khamis

Very true Ron. The story itself has to be strong enough on its own without the twist. That is something I need to develop.

Michael Khamis

Peter, it's obvious that you don't like to sum up anything to one sentence.

Robert Leslie Fisher

Michael has to put the twist in the logline because he won't get anywhere without first getting to first base. But if the story is weak except for the logline he won't get beyond first base. He has his work cut out for him! Keep at it and eventually you will succeed.

Jay Goodman

I would go out on a limb and use two sentences. The first about the story and then the second one build a teaser to the twist with out revealing it. Get some curiosity going.

Jeff Bollow

To the original poster, it sounds like your pitch would be most effective if you used the surprise in the synopsis or script. Check out my video on loglines: http://youtube.com/watch?v=KJxS4p8ZzZc and then decide whether you can exceed that surprise in your script, or whether that surprise can exceed an equally compelling logline that doesn't include it. To the discussion in the comments about writing loglines before or after, there are actually two different kinds of loglines -- story development and sales. Write one to guide your story development. But to sell your work, you'll need to know what your final script actually delivers in order to know how to guide producers into it. Hope this helps!

Michael Khamis

That makes sense jeff. Thank you very much. And I will definitely check out your video.

Jeff Bollow

No worries. Good luck with your project!

Michael Khamis

And thanks to jay as well

Shankar Pandalai

Monique Mata: Could you please give me link to Christopher Lockhart's article on Logline writing?

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