You’ve done the impossible: you’ve typed the famous FADE OUT, hit save, and completed your cinematic masterpiece. Congratulations! Now comes the fun part of convincing people to read your screenplay. Getting someone to read your script could become the hardest thing you’ve ever done. No joke. Reading scripts is like a first date – you need to psych yourself up in hopes that this one won’t be as bad as the last. Like a killer dating profile, you need something to draw the reader in and get them excited to read your script. Behold the most powerful tool in your arsenal – the logline!
Less is more when it comes to loglines.
A logline should be short, sweet, and to the point. You probably already know what a logline is and have tried your hand at crafting one for each of your projects, but we want your logline to be the best it can be. So let’s skip the basics and get down to the nitty-gritty. A good logline can sell your project, but a poorly written one might be an indication that your script is poorly written, too. If you’re preparing your project profile for Coverfly’s Free Pitch Week or Live Reads, then this blog post is an excellent place to start.
One, maybe two sentences.
Oftentimes loglines should be only one sentence, but don’t be afraid to stretch it out to two. Sometimes it’s hard to jam everything in and, to help build out the hook, you’ll need space to move. Getting into three to four sentences, however, can be too much information.
It’s this meets that.
If you’re finding yourself able to express the story, but not capture the tone, then consider adding comparables. More often than not, when someone says it’s “this meets that,” we can start to get a visual image. If we hear, “It’s Hot Tub Time Machine meets Little House on the Prairie,” we start to see a fish-out-of-water story about someone who accidentally goes back in time to prairie life in the 1800s. The two concepts in tandem can change the outlook on a script.
The three logline essentials.
There are three core elements you’ll want to incorporate within your logline: character, plot, and tone. In addition, you’ll want to use an active voice and aim to avoid character names (unless they’re well-known figures). It helps to give enough information to whet the appetite, but not enough to give away too much. While these are guidelines, rules can bend and break. Don’t get wrapped up in all the details; we’re selling a story here. Remember, the goal is to entice them to read this script, so hook them with the main elements. Otherwise, you can just write a summary and watch eyes glaze over.
Find the hook.
The easiest, utmost basic template you can follow is this: A character is THIS, but when THAT happens, he NOW must do this.
Essentially, it’s just the first act, break into act two, and a teaser as to what the second and third act will be. The “but” is critical because that is where the hook lives. You can usually turn to the act two break to find your hook. The hard part here is each story is unique, so you need to figure out what distinguishes your story from all others. Making clear what’s relatable and original about your story will further hook your reader.
Use loglines from existing movies in the same genre to guide you.
Here are three loglines from notable movies:
1. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a young farmer dreams to escape his mundane life. When he begins tinkering with a few broken-down robots, he discovers a fateful message that sends him on the adventure of a lifetime.
Obviously, this is from Star Wars, and it gets to the core of the story.
2. When a 23-year-old slacker musician falls head-over-heels in love with a beautiful young woman, he’s shocked to discover he must battle her seven evil ex-boyfriends to be with her.
From Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, we learn it’s an action-filled romance distinguished by the battle between a slouch and his love-interest’s seven evil ex-boyfriends.
3. Desperately wanting to be accepted by the cool kids, two nerdy teenagers agree to supply beer for a party. But when they learn that their friend’s fake ID is a bust, they must go to the ends of the earth to get the booze or confirm they are the losers everyone thinks they are.
This logline from Superbad makes the story very relatable because everyone has a memory of wanting to fit in.
While these are not the official studio loglines, they include the primary story beats and just enough context to pique interest.
Streamline your loglines.
Once you start to get the essentials of the narrative, start to figure out how to make it exciting.
Try different variations of your logline, ranging from completely different sentences to just a few words changed throughout; it all comes down to a single word sometimes.
For instance: A theme park suffers a major power outage that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok, forcing paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant to risk his own life to protect two young children.
Jurassic Park’s logline gives you everything you’re getting in the story and every word is essential to convey this. What if it was adjusted?
During a preview tour of cloned dinosaurs, a theme park suffers a major power outage that allows its exhibits to run amok.
It still works because… well dinosaurs. But it doesn’t have the emotional impact of the first one. In thinking of previous rules about character, plot, and tone, this specific one lacks our protagonist, Dr. Alan Grant. It shows sometimes rules can be broken and that dinosaurs can outsell people.
Another strong example: Three groomsmen lose their about-to-be-wed buddy during a night of drunken escapades in Las Vegas, forcing them retrace their steps to find him.
The Hangover is a story that many of us can relate to, whether or not you’ve been to a bachelor(ette) party or Las Vegas which hooks us in. It answers the who, what, where and why of the story while sneaking tone in by using specific words like “buddy.”
When you start to tear down loglines, keep in mind the type of story you are trying to tell. I can’t stress this enough. Very often, a logline promises a story that the script doesn’t deliver. Imagine thinking you’re getting Jurassic Park, but then read Schindler’s List. While both are great (and Spielberg films coincidentally), you don’t want to disappoint the reader.
Loglines help focus your story.
A logline is a great tool to help develop your script further. If you’re having difficulty getting the story down to a sentence or two, or you’re struggling to find the hook/other elements you need to convey, you may want to evaluate your narrative as a whole as there might be some underlying story problems you weren’t aware of. It’s a great way to start to find the story within the story and zero in on what you want to tell.
Practice makes perfect.
A logline is a tool to learn about your story as much as it is a sales pitch. Make it exciting, eye-catching, and draw in the right audience. Don’t forget what type of story you’re telling and stick to it. Stretch the logline out if you need to and go for two sentences. Use comparables. Lose the micro-details that, while may be essential to the narrative, aren’t necessary to get the read. Stick to the overarching concept that makes your story seem fresh and will be like nothing a producer or director has ever read.
More helpful tools.
Once you have your killer logline, be sure to include it in your writer profile, here on Coverfly. We’re the industry’s largest database of screenwriting competition entries, searchable by industry pros who are looking for good screenplays. The best part of Coverfly is that you can add your profile and screenplay for FREE. A tip: when creating your profile, include your demographic information, including awards and placements for discoverable projects, links to social media, agent and manager representation and a profile pic. Providing this data helps producers who are looking for writers with specific traits that will make stories feel more authentic and true to a certain voice being expressed.
Ready to pitch your ideas to agents and managers?
The deadline for applying to Coverfly’s next Pitch Week is December 1. After reviewing applications, 20 to 50 writers will be selected and matched for virtual video conference meetings and phone calls with Hollywood literary agents and managers. It’s free to apply and free to participate. Sign up here.
ShaneeEdwards graduated from UCLA Film School with an MFA in Screenwriting and is currently the film critic for SheKnows.com. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her pilot, Ada and the Machine, is currently in development with America Ferrera’s Take Fountain Productions. You can follow her on Twitter: @ShaneeEdwards