Written by Jacob N. Stuart. Jacob is an award-winning and produced screenwriter. He is the Founder of ScreenwritingStaffing.com and teaches screenwriting at HollywoodIFA.com. You can follow him @JacobNStuart
Let’s start with the basics!
What is a logline? A LOGLINE is a one to two sentence version of your 100+ page screenplay. Many experts describe it as the mini description in the TV Guide. Since the Guide is now dead, think of it as the blurb you find under the poster on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Redbox. Your logline should resonate and reverberate in every single page of your screenplay. Your logline is the answer when someone ask you that banal question: “What’s your script about?”
Why do we need a logline? Two reasons. 1) They help you, the writer, realize the true meaning and premise of your story in its simplest form. 2) It opens doors, plain and simple. Industry professionals can’t read through 100 screenplays a week, never finding the right script. But they can read 100 loglines, and narrow down their search, utilizing their limited amount of reading time before requesting to read a script.
What is the difference between a logline and tagline?
Taglines are typically under 10 words. They are used during advertisements, specifically on billboards, movie posters, and fan pages (social media). Loglines should be under 65 words, preferably under 45 (no more than 2 sentences) and contain all the elements for telling a compelling story. They are used as a pitching device when getting your script read, produced, and purchased.
JUNGLE BOOK (2016) (according to IMDb)
TAGLINE:“The legend will never be the same!”
LOGLINE:“The man-cub Mowgli flees the jungle after a threat from the tiger Shere Khan. Guided by Bagheera the panther and the bear Baloo, Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery, though he also meets creatures who don’t have his best interests at heart.”
What your logline should include:
— PROTAGONIST. This is your main character. The person we are cheering for. This should be established right off the bat.
— ANTAGONIST. The person standing in your protagonist’s way. The person we are supposed to loathe.
— GOAL. This is what your protagonist is trying to obtain, accomplish. This is the goal that drives the 2nd act, the meat of your story.
— OBSTACLE. This is where you list the central problem your character will face when trying to achieve their goal.
— WHAT’S AT STAKE. If your hero doesn’t overcome their obstacle, what’s on the line? Will the world be the same? Will your hero lose the love of his/her life?
— OTHER. Brilliant loglines also, while sometimes subtly, include GENRE, SETTING, THE HOOK, and CONFLICT.
EXAMPLES (courtesy of IMDb):
Note: not every logline will include EVERY bullet point above, but they should include a good portion of them.
THE BOSS (2016): A titan of industry [PROTAGONIST] is sent to prison [SETTING] after she’s caught insider trading [CONFLICT]. When she emerges ready to rebrand herself as America’s latest sweetheart [GOAL & GENRE], not everyone [ANTAGONISTS] she screwed over is so quick to forgive and forget [OBSTACLE & THE HOOK]. 36 words.
THE REVENANT (2015):A frontiersman [PROTAGONIST] on a fur trading expedition [GENRE] in the 1820s [SETTING] fights for survival [GOAL] after being mauled by a bear [CONFLICT] and left for dead [OBSTACLE] by members of his own hunting team [ANTAGONIST]. 30 words.
TITANIC (1997): A seventeen-year-old aristocrat [PROTAGONIST] falls in love [GENRE] with a kind, but poor artist aboard [CONFLICT] the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic [SETTING & THE HOOK]. 22 words.
MAN ON FIRE (2004):In Mexico City [SETTING], a former assassin [PROTAGONIST] swears vengeance [GENRE & GOAL] on those who committed an unspeakable act [ANTAGONISTS] against the family he was hired to protect [THE HOOK]. 25 words.
Think of loglines like applying for a job. Your logline is your resume that you e-mail to an employer after seeing an advert. If the industry pro is interested in your logline they will read your synopsis. Think of the synopsis as the phone interview. If you piqued the pro’s interest with the synopsis, they will request the script. Think of this as the employer calling you in for a one-on-one interview in person. Loglines set the groundwork (just like submitting your resume) and nothing happens until there is a logline in place. Unless you know Spielberg, Scorsese, or Michael Bay personally, you will have to submit a logline first. It’s not up for discussion or a conspiracy; it’s industry standard. Sites like ScreenwritingStaffing.com, InkTip.com, Blcklst.com, VirtualPitchfest.com, and Networkisa.org all require a logline (limited word count) to be submitted to the industry pro. This isn’t because the above sites want to hinder your creativity, but because the pro has requested to read a short pitch before deciding if it’s worth their while to read the entire script. This allows the producers/agents to browse quickly and efficiently through scores and scores of submissions.
Having a high-concept, marketable logline isn’t just important to you as the writer, but it’s important to the producer. Most producers you submit your logline to are not the ones financing your script. They have to present your script to investors. And most investors won’t read the entire script until they’ve read a logline and synopsis. A producer doesn’t want to compose a logline themselves (or pawn it off to their assistant) they want this completed beforehand, by you. So even if your producer-friend tells you to send your script (without even hearing your pitch) they will still need to acquire a logline at some point in time if they want to move forward with your project.
There are many risks that come with neglecting your logline. A poorly written logline is a reflection of your script. If you can’t write a compelling sentence, why would they think you can write 120 gripping pages? If your logline is vague and spacey, there’s a good chance your script is too, and the plot still needs some serious ironing out. Remember, Spielberg said he buys 95% of the scripts presented to him based on concept, not necessarily the script’s content. He has the money to pay any writer in the world to take a concept and flesh it into a feature-length script. But what Hollywood lacks are memorable concepts. So sell your script through your query letter (logline, synopsis) first, you never know where that could lead.
Here’s an example: I optioned a drama script back in 2012 for 6 months from a producer with VERY well-known credits. We signed the 6-month option agreement within 24 hours of him reading my query letter. He didn’t read the script until after the contract was signed. Why? Because he was sold on my logline alone. For the record, the script was never produced, but the point I’m making is, IT HAPPENS!
If you are submitting your logline blindly, using a site like IMDb Pro to collect e-mail and fax information, there is a good chance the industry pro is not currently searching for a script. Most likely they have a slate of scripts already in development. However, there is a good chance they are looking to bring on a few more writers to help re-write their slate of projects. That’s where your logline and synopsis come into play. Showing a pro right out of the gate that you understand the art and business side to screenwriting may land you a job; or, at the very least, a meeting/introduction.
Agents and Managers will require you to have a logline. Whether you are seeking representation or already have one, they must have this available to pitch to their prospects. So just because you have literary representation already doesn’t make you immune to writing a great logline. Yes, your agent will read your script regardless (maybe) since they represent you, but at the end of the day they still need to attach a logline (description) when submitting your scripts to producers and buyers.
Most writers think of loglines as something that’s only used in query letters. WRONG. Loglines are also used as elevator pitches. Loglines can be your best friend when verbally pitching your script to interested parties. When you only have 30 seconds with an A-lister in Hollywood, you have to be able to pitch your story promptly and effectively. You won’t be able to sell your script in 30 seconds, that’s obvious. But what you can do is sell the idea, premise of your story. Get the Hollywood Executive thinking, pondering over the story. Get his hamster going. Make them want to know more, and the only way they can learn more is by requesting your script.
Your logline is your opening pitch when you come face-to-face with a decision-maker. This can be virtually (skype, etc.), at a film festival, a private meeting, a screenwriting pitchfest, an introduction, or standing in line at a coffee shop. Every day these folks run into someone – this could be their friends, family, or even just someone at the store – who tells them, “I have this great idea for a film!” It’s just long-winded, unfocused cliches, that will NEVER sell. Stand out from the crowd. Pitch your story in 30 seconds or less, keeping it at 2 sentences max. Even if the concept doesn’t interest them, it at least shows them you are a professional.
A good logline may lead to another logline request. What do I mean? If you are blindly submitting your logline online to producers, chances are your script doesn’t fit their current needs. But it’s not to say they aren’t looking. If you present them with a professional, trim, and riveting logline, they may just ask you for another one. It happens all the time!
THINGS TO REMEMBER:
— The shorter the better. Keep your logline UNDER 65 words. If you can keep it UNDER 45, that’s even better!
— NEVER give away the ending. The point of the logline is to get them to request the script, that’s where they will discover the ending.
— Try not to use your characters names. The only time this is acceptable is if you are writing about a famous person. You introduce your main characters names in the synopsis.
— Always check for grammatical errors and typos. Your logline is like a cover for a book. It’s the first thing they see. You only have one chance to impress and woo them.
— Verbs are your friends. Stay away from cliche verbs when describing your hero’s journey and conflict. This is a huge red flag for producers. Show them you are a wordsmith.
— Just like you go through many re-writes with your actual script, the same applies when writing loglines. You need to write, and then re-write again. Write several different versions. See which ones pop.
— You should have one go-to logline. This is the one you submit 99 times out of 100. But it’s okay to tailor and edit your logline to fit a producer’s specific needs and request. So keep a couple backup loglines in your arsenal.
— Try writing your logline before you write the script. Most successful screenwriters in Hollywood never dive into a script until a logline is written.
— When e-mailing your logline to industry pros, don’t send it as an attachment. Industry pros don’t want to open attachments from people they don’t know. They also don’t want any more clutter on their computer. Put it in the body of the e-mail.
— Loglines are not just for writers. If you are a filmmaker submitting your film to festivals, Film Freeway and Withoutabox require you to input a logline. In the event your film is selected, the festival will want a logline to showcase on their site and all press releases.
— Most importantly, don’t get discouraged. Learning how to write a logline is its own art form, and takes time and practice, but the payoff is well-worth your time!
Want to improve your QUERY LETTER (logline, synopsis, bio)? Be sure to take my 4 week comprehensive class at the Hollywood International Film Academy: SELLING YOUR SCREENPLAY ONCE & FOR ALL (WHAT MOST FILM SCHOOLS DON’T TEACH YOU!)
Got a killer logline? Be sure to submit to our industry pros @ Screenwriting Staffing: www.screenwritingstaffing.com/screenwriting-jobs—script-searches
Get your logline read by decision-makers daily — reach hundreds weekly: www.screenwritingstaffing.com/logline-submissions
SCREENWRITING STAFFING has facilitated OVER 125 SCREENWRITING success stories in 3 years: www.screenwritingstaffing.com/real-success-stories