(Note from the Founder of Screenwriting Staffing, Jacob N. Stuart) Douglas King is a Premium Member @ Screenwriting Staffing. He just authored a fantastic book called The Long and Short on Writing Strong Loglines. If you are a member at Screenwriting Staffing, you know that every company/producer expects you to send them a logline for consideration. ANY real producer will not request a script until they are SOLD on your logline. Douglas gives us some very valuable thoughts and insight in this interview.
Be sure to upload your logline at Screenwriting Staffing: Logline Submissions
Short Bio: Douglas King has been writing professionally for 25 years. His work has been published in consumer and trade publications worldwide, and he has co-authored and authored three books. Two of his television scripts were optioned and developed and he has written and produced two series for the digital platform. He has been hired to write feature screenplays by independent producers.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What is a logline?
Douglas King: A logline is defined as one sentence that provides enough information about a film’s protagonist, antagonist, setting, genre, and story that a reader can fully grasp what the film will be. A logline should get across a film’s structure, hook, genre, tone, dilemma, major conflict, climax, and character arc.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Is the logline the most important part in pitching your script? And if so, why?
Douglas King: I believe it is. Most producers and production companies will not accept unsolicited screenplays, but through services such as Screenwriting Staffing and others, writers have an opportunity to reach these very same producers. Read almost any post on Screenwriting Staffing and you will find that almost 100% of the producers ask to only see a logline and maybe a synopsis before they decide on reading a full screenplay.
The reason for this is simple: it is easier to read one sentence to determine if they want to read more, than to commit to reading a 90 – 110 page script, especially when they are receiving hundreds of submissions.
That means writers have 35 – 40 words to make a great first impression! That is why learning to write a compelling logline is so important. It literally could be the difference between having a producer read your script or having it languish on your computer’s hard drive.
It should also be noted that most major screenplay competitions require a logline to be submitted with the script.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: How long should a logline be, and why?
Douglas King: A logline is only 35 – 45 words. It should be only one sentence. The reason for the constraint is both practical: they are easy and fast to read by those who must cull through hundreds of script ideas daily, as well as they fit into the description areas for sites like Netflix, TV Guide, RedBox, etc.
More importantly, if a writer cannot communicate, in one sentence, the basic theme and story for a film, then it is most likely not well conceived by the writer yet and distilled down to its most fundamental elements. The ability for a writer to be able to portray their film in the simplest terms is an essential skill to be successful in pitching films.
A logline should be thought of as the elevator pitch, the two-minute drill, of film making. It is the spine of the screenwriting process. A writer needs to be able to tell someone in 35 words the basic premise of their story in such a way that the listener (reader) is left with only one response: “I want to know more!” With that, you may be on your way to a sale.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What’s the difference between a “tagline,” a “logline,“ and a “synopsis”?
Douglas King: Great question and one that many writers get confused.
A tag line is a short (three to ten words) and can be multiple sentences. It is used as a sales tool on posters and advertisements. For example, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” ~ Aliens. Or, “One ring to rule them all“ ~ The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Or, “There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They’re looking for one” ~ Finding Nemo. It is imperative that writers know the difference and not send a tag line when asked for a logline. This is a huge fuax pas.
We defined a logline and this is used mostly as an industry device between writers and producers. The general public may only read a logline on IMDb, TV Guide and similar services.
A synopsis can be anywhere from a few sentences to multiple short paragraphs and describes in greater detail the story and character arcs for a screenplay. It is within a synopsis that a writer can begin describing specific characters and traits, and story beats.
Of course, if a synopsis goes over a page, detailing every act and story beat, then it becomes a treatment.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What’s the #1 mistake you see writers make when writing a logline?
Douglas King: The number one mistake of writers writing loglines would have to be their attempt to describe, what they consider, to be every important detail of a film. Ultimately this results in a multiple sentence, rambling description of a story instead of a concise summary of the main theme, character and conflict.
Writers get excited to describe their story and so they go on and on about all the “cool” story elements and forget to tell just the simple story that makes the film compelling enough to first, want to read, and second, want to see.
I read far too many loglines, that are two and three sentences, which describe in excruciating detail a character’s features, back-story and inner thoughts because the writer believes all of this is important, and it is to the film, just not the logline.
A logline should be just the basics, told in a dramatic and interesting manner to cause the reader to want to know more. That is the logline’s fundamental purpose: tell the story in as few a words possible to cause the reader to want more.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What do the best loglines include? i.e., protagonist, ending, adjectives, etc.?
Douglas King: A logline tells the reader the setting, genre, protagonist and antagonist, major conflict, jeopardy, and what the character must do to succeed. Never use rhetorical questions in a logline, such as, “What if you had all the powers of God?”
Instead write, “When one man, struggling with life, complains once too often about God, he is given almighty powers, and must learn to use them properly while discovering how difficult it is to run the world.” (34 words. Bruce Almighty)
In that one sentence, we know who the main character of the film is, the inciting incident, the conflict, and are given a hint and what the jeopardy is. (i.e. If he doesn’t figure out how to use the powers properly the world will be in chaos.)
Never give away your ending, especially if you have a great twist. You want to leave the reader wanting more.
Always use descriptive and action words to make the logline compelling and exciting. Use verbs such as “battle,” “grapples,” “jousts,” “duels,” “spars,” “scraps,” “clashes,” in place of “fights,” “opposes,” and “contends with.”
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: If a writer can’t write a compelling logline, would you suggest having another writer give it a try (an outsider’s perspective?
Douglas King: Absolutely! I provide this service for writers, and my book, “Loglines: The Long and Short on Writing Strong Loglines” (https://www.createspace.com/4973061) provides writers with detailed information about the importance of loglines for feature films and how to write them. Over 250 examples of classic and original loglines are provided for writers to study, be inspired by, and even use to develop into script.
But, all writers should ultimately learn to write their own loglines. I cannot stress enough how important it is. Writing a logline will cause you to focus on the utmost specifics of your film without all the miscellaneous details. Writing a good logline will cause you to purely define the heart of your story and will help you in understanding what your theme and primary story is when you actually sit down to write the screenplay.
I personally make writing the logline one of the first steps in outlining and preparing to write a script.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Final thoughts, advice, suggestions?
DOUGLAS KING: Being able to write an outstanding logline is not only an art, but a sign of a true wordsmith. It shows potential buyers that you understand your story as well as the craft of screenwriting and can ply your trade professionally.
Being able to write a concise description of your story while providing all of the necessary information for a reader or producer to make a decision, is integral to any screenwriter’s success.
While I wish everyone would buy a copy of my book to learn this skill, even if they don’t, I highly recommend that writers study the craft of writing a great logline. It could be the difference between a sale or remaining unread.
The Long and Short on Writing Strong Loglines
Authored by Douglas King
A Logline is the spine, the cornerstone, of a screenplay. In 35 – 45 words a writer must be able to distill down the very essence of a film story, including protagonist, antagonist, setting, inciting incident, conflict, and jeopardy. (These two sentences describing a logline took 39 words.)
After publishing more than 200 loglines via his blog and social media, King decided to collect the best and publish them along with instructions on how to write a logline that will gain attention. This quick reference guide can be used to learn the art and craft of writing the all-important logline, as well as an inspirational tool for writers or producers searching for their next blockbuster.