Screenwriting : What is the secret of a perfect logline? by Jerry Doubles

Jerry Doubles

What is the secret of a perfect logline?

I don't know why it is difficult for me to be great in writing down perfect loglines for my screenplays. I find it pretty challenging, more than writing the screenplay itself. I use to think I am okay. What is the secret? How did you become good in yours? Teach me!

Stacy Gentile

Try this A _________ wants ________ by ________ from/because/so _________

Stacy Gentile

Example Die Hard in that formula: A renegade cop wants to get back with his wife by rescuing her from terrorists on Christmas eve. Example Shindler's List: A German businessman wants to save as many Jews as he can by finding them jobs because the Nazies are assholes. Play around with it...have fun.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Stacy, not a bad formula, but I think it depends on whose actions drive the story: the protagonist or the antagonist. For genre stuff, thriller, horror, action, it may be more like When [antagonist] [does something], [hero] [must respond by] [doing something] or else [something awful]. I'd rewrite your logline for DIe Hard to something along the lines of "When terrorists seize an LA highrise, a wise-cracking New York cop must stop them to save his wife and 50 other hostages." Because it's really the actions of the antagonists that kick off the story, you know?

Stacy Gentile

Love it !

Rick Reynolds

Great thread! Thank you.

D Marcus

There isn't a secret formula. Stacy's is a good formula. However, the "secret" is in the story. That "Die Hard" example is a good one because the story is interesting. Use a different formula and it's still compelling.

Jerry Doubles

Stacy, thank you so much!

Jerry Doubles

Great addition, Kerry! Gracias.

Pierre Langenegger

I don't have a problem with your template, Stacy but I have a problem with your Die Hard logline. "A renegade cop wants to get back with his wife by rescuing her from terrorists on Christmas eve" reads like he is only there to rescue his wife from terrorists because that seemed like a good opportunity to get back with her and that's not the story at all. If I read that logline then reviewed the story, I would tell the writer to change the logline because it does not reflect the story. A slightly lengthier but more accurate version could be - A New York cop travels to LA to reconcile with his wife but when a terrorist takeover of her office building threatens their lives he must use his street skills to save the hostages. Sometimes loglines just need more words.

Laddie Ervin

Rewriting.

Jerry Doubles

Pierre, what happens to "don't make a logline bagged with lot of words". Your point is really great, but could you shed more light? Will appreciate.

Jerry Doubles

Stuart, that was a powerful 4-paged revelation. Thanks so much!!

Pierre Langenegger

Keep loglines brief, they have to be brief but if it's so brief that it indicates a different story then obviously you need more words. A logline should sum up your story in as few words as possible but it also needs to be an accurate representation of your story. I don't think my example is bagged with a lot of words. It's 34 words. There's no rule that says it must not exceed a predetermined word count but you'd be better off not exceeding mid thirties in your word count and yes, the shorter the better. Just to add more detail, Die Hard is the story of reconciliation between John McClane and Holly Gennaro, it just so happens a bunch of terrorists got in the way, temporarily.

Stuart Wright

Writing for others is always easier :)

Danny Manus

I would suggest not using "want" because that's hypothetical. A character wants to do something? who cares? But if a character MUST do something or is forced to do something, it inherently creates tension or conflict and stakes. My core formula that I use in my classes is: When/After THIS happens, THIS Person (adjective & profession) must VERB THIS before (or else) THIS consequence occurs.

John Orland

Yes, the industry is faced with a tsunami of unsolicited scripts, but scripts are the lifeline of the movie industry. I think loglines containing just a few words to describe a concept is rediculous . A short one page synopsis should be the acceptable form of submission to the industry and not a logline that can be misleading or misunderstood.

Marisa Torre

What is the secret of a perfect logline? Concise compelling brevity, that's it.

Jerry Doubles

John, very true.

Jerry Doubles

Marisa, could you explain further??

John Orland

Of course the industry is MONEY. But their game is not working very well. A lot of crap is being made. Producers should pay folks to read a one page synopsis instead of dismissing something because of a rotten log line. Some good projects are falling by the wayside, trust me.

Stuart Wright

No good project is falling by the wayside because of a bad logline ...

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Irony -- that's the essence of it.

Stacy Gentile

Just watch The Chair documentary .... watch what happens to writers. OK John.... how do you know? Sorry I had to ask.

Kerry Douglas Dye

@Hunter, John. I like that cynical edge. You should write noir. There is a ring of hyperbole... the script being 5% of the production budget and assistant directors having script input are I assume intentional exaggerations for dramatic effect. But mainly I wanted to point out: yes, money drives the industry, but so do screenplays. They're two key pillars. Remove either, and you have no film industry. All wise men are cynical. But when you're TOO cynical...

William Martell

A great logline just tells you the concept (and usually lead character) in the screenplay. The problem with most bad loglines: they accurately describe boring scripts. I've been on pitchpanels and at pitchfest and if a writer has a great idea with a great character at the center of it, no matter how much they fumble around, that's the winner. A couple of years ago on a pitch panel we heard a wonderfully performed pitch... for a boring story. It was not a winner. It's not the pitch or the logline, it's the material.

Jordan Kelly Montgomery

When I can't deliver a solid log line I know my story has issues. That might be the issue.

Craig D Griffiths

A logline is a required evil due to the volume of specs scripts produced. A way to find a needle in a stack of needles. Having said this, everyone will have a different take on what your logline should be. Go to www.logline.it for examples of this. People post loglines for review and assistance and get a hundred different answers. Some good some bad. My first jobs out of school were sales jobs. What I would say to one customer to make a sale would turn away the next customer. The same thing with your logline. You are attempting to write a sentence to please everyone, impossible. Think of the producer that will make your movie. Write it for them.

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

Loglines are always a popular topic. I suggest several things. First, keep them around thirty words or less, +/- five words. Think of your logline as a hit song. You have limited time to grab someone's attention. It’s the first step in a process. The second step is getting someone to read your synopsis. The third step is getting someone to read your screenplay. Without performing the first two steps correctly, the third will not happen. Think about it this way. If your logline is bland, why would anybody want to read your synopsis, let alone your screenplay? When you write your logline, try to include protagonist, antagonist, obstacles and challenges. Then summarize your story in a sentence or two. Look at this logline from the classic film “The Sweet Smell of Success” “A press agent, hungry to get ahead, is pushed by a ruthless columnist to do cruel and evil things, and is eventually caught in the web of lies that he has created.” This logline is 32 words, it identifies the press agent who is the damaged protagonist controlled by the antagonist, the ruthless columnist. The logline tells you the consequences of the protagonist’s actions. This is exactly what you may want to consider when writing your logline.

Jerry Doubles

Phillip, that was helpful. Thanks!

Jerry Doubles

Lisa, cool.

J G Blodgett

Thanks for posing this question, Jerry. This was very helpful for me.

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