How to write a logline
By Nick B & Pinaki Ghosh
You’ve written a killer script. It’s the next Godfather. It will pack more theaters than Avatar. But it’s difficult to get anyone to read a script. That’s what loglines are for.
What’s a logline, anyway?
A script logline is a short summary that excites interest in essence of the story. Loglines succinctly describe the psychological tension underlying the main characters as well as the setting. It tells people what the story is about. In this article we’ll review several logline examples. A logline for Romeo and Juliet might look like this:
– Romeo and Juliet logline: In medieval Italy a young man falls in love with the daughter of a sworn enemy. They elope with tragic consequences.
Notice that we only reveal the central arc of the story and hint at the conclusion. This logline tells us that forbidden love is the central theme of the script. Other movies have different themes. The movie E.T. plays on alienation to connect the main characters to the audience.
– E.T. logline: An alienated boy bonds with an extraterresstrial child who’s been stranded on earth; the boy defies the adults to help the alien contact his mothership so he can go home. (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
As you can see, loglines are short summaries of a screenplay that focus on the central story arc. They tell us the psychological tension of the main characters, the setting of the story and show us where the story goes without giving away the ending.
Why are loglines important?
When pitching a screenplay you’ll have 30 seconds to tell your story in a compelling way that grabs the listener’s attention. The logline is that 30-second summary. For this reason query letters to agents, producers and directors should contain a logline. Here’s the movie logline that Wes Anderson used to sell Rushmore:
– Rushmore logline: A precocious private high school student whose life revolves around his school competes with its most famous and successful alumnus for the affection of a first grade teacher. (Wes Anderson, 1998)
Some writers use loglines as a guidepost when editing screenplays to keep the script focused on the central story. Sergio Leone’s second spaghetti western classic continues the adventure of The Man with No Name.
– For a Few Dollars More logline: A man with no name and a man with a mission hunt a Mexican bandit for different reasons. (Sergio Leone, 1965)
Finally, loglines are used by TV Guide and program information stations. They are the production descriptions that tell an audience what the show or movie is about. Here’s what TV Guide would say about another 1960s classic:
– Midnight Cowboy logline: Naïve Joe Buck arrives in New York City to make his fortune as a hustler, but soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with the first scoundrel he falls prey to. (John Schlesinger, 1969)
When you write your logline remember that it has multiple uses: for a pitch, for a script editor and for an audience.
How to write a logline
Now that you know what a script logline is used for, try writing some. Be creative. Don’t be afraid of writing too much or writing the wrong thing. Most of the writing process is editing!
Start with a list of all the important elements of the script.
– Who are the main characters?
– What happens to them?
– What is the most important moment in the script?
– What do the main characters do to overcome adversity?
– How does the story end?
– What psychological change(s) takes place by the end?
When writing a logline remember that you want to focus on the central theme of the story. Answer the above questions and anything else unique about your script. Now write 2 – 3 sentences that capture as many of your answers as possible. Not all loglines are short! Consider this example from Rain Man.
– Rain Man logline: A self-centered hotshot returns home for his father’s funeral and learns the family inheritance goes to an autistic brother he never knew he had. The hotshot kidnaps this older brother and drives him cross-country hoping to gain his confidence and get control of the family money. The journey reveals an unusual dimension to the brother’s autism that sparks their relationship and unlocks a dramatic childhood secret that changes everything. (Barry Levinson, 1988)
Now it’s time to edit. Revisit the sentences you wrote. Try to cut out half of the words. Stay focused on plot! Look at how the movie logline for The Sweet Smell of Success reflects a lot of dramatic tension in a few short lines.
– The Sweet Smell of Success logline: 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. (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957)
Test your logline. Read it to everyone you know. Listen to people’s feedback! Return to your logline and edit some more.
Feeling stuck? Call the experts. We’re idea people. We’ll discuss your ideas with you in-depth to give you the sounding board you need to find your killer logline. Or send your script over for a thorough review. We’ll write a logline for you. Because no matter how good your script is, it’s the logline that sells it.
With writers to fit all budgets, we’ll find the writer who’s right for you!