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What Your Logline Says About Your Script

Anyone who hears or reads your logline is going to make snap judgements about it.


These could be bad or good! 😮

Actually, I'd say most of the snap judgements people (or at least I) tend to make about loglines are good ones ;)


Since, per word, writers typically spend the most amount of time crafting their logline as opposed to any other part of their story, they're almost always bound to be pretty damn good.





Writing a logline is TOUGH! And writing a good one takes a looooooot of time and effort. I mean, the fate of your script often relies on this one sentence alone!


If your logline isn't strong, clear, and brief, your script may never be read.


In other words, a logline's gotta be short but sweet, revealing just enough to get the audience hooked but not enough to give the whole plot away.


If you have a complex plot, or a sci-fi or fantasy script, it can be particularly challenging to simplify your story down to a single sentence.


If you're writing a character piece or pretty standard drama, you may find it difficult to include enough detail in your logline.


Let's take a look at some different types of loglines, and the snap judgements I make about them, to find out what your logline says about your script!



 

Immediately Intriguing


Some loglines make you instantly go "I NEED TO WATCH THAT!"


These are typically for films or shows that could be classified as high concept. Which is just a fancy way of saying that the concept alone is strong enough to sell the show/film, and audiences would be drawn to it even without star power attached.


When I see a logline like this and it piques my interest, I question if the novelty of the concept will wear off as the story goes on.


This happens more often than you'd think.


Some scripts have incredible concepts, but they simply can't be sustained beyond act 1 or the midpoint.


There are also several scripts out there where the hook described in the logline is actually the midpoint of the script.


Which is INSANITY! Why are you making me wait that long to get to the good stuff?!


Also, when people read your logline, they're coming into your movie or TV show knowing already what it's going to be about. If the premise you're describing in the logline only comes into play halfway into the story or later... Well, you've got your audience waiting around for a while before what they came to see actually happens. And that's IF they stay long enough to find out when it happens.



So, all this is to say, if I am immediately hooked when I read a logline, I am also immediately a little suspicious.





Here's a logline for the TV show MANIFEST that had me immediately intrigued:


"When a plane mysteriously lands years after takeoff, the people onboard return to a world that has moved on without them and face strange new realities."

The moment I got to the end of this logline, I clicked "play episode."


I wanted to find out the circumstances of the plane's disappearance, how and why it returned years later, and what the strange new realities of the passengers' world are!


But what started as excitement for this story quickly turned into:

"when are we gonna find out what really happened?!"

and:

"ugh! another cliffhanger?!"

and quickly into:

"why am i watching this???"


That's because the premise itself was not enough to sustain the series beyond a few episodes without drastically changing the core idea of the story.


The show reels you in with a huge mystery to solve, but as time goes on, it becomes more about the supernatural abilities the passengers now have.


And there's nothing wrong with the show being about that. But that's not the concept the logline sold the audience on.


If I were to revise this logline to more accurately reflect the tone and plot of the series, I would include that the characters discover they have supernatural abilities.


This, I believe, is what "strange new realities" is meant to describe, but that phrasing is just vague enough for the audience to make their own assumptions on what it means.


And as soon as your audience is assuming things, there's almost a 100% guarantee you'll lose some of them because of the disconnect between their perception of what the story was going to be based on the logline vs what it actually ends up being.




 

Very Vague


A vague logline tells me this is either going to be the best or worst thing I've ever read.

Because loglines can be vague for different reasons.


Sometimes a story covers so much ground, it's incredibly difficult to describe it in a single sentence.

Other times, so little happens, there's not enough to say about it. 🤷‍♀️


Here's a logline for THE MATRIX that, despite appearing detailed, I consider to be vague:


"A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers."

If you already know the story, this logline makes perfect sense. But imagine knowing nothing about it and reading this. You'd be pretty confused, and probably think it sounds generic (for a sci-fi at least).


This logline doesn't touch on who the rebels are, what the matrix is, and why Neo specifically is going on this journey.


It really doesn't even describe what the journey/plot is.


All it's definitively telling us is what Neo learns -- which is the result of a journey, not a journey itself.


If I were to rewrite this logline, I'd be more specific about the "true nature of his reality" and say straight up that Neo discovers the world he lives in is a computer simulation, or that the "controllers" are robots.


The rest can be a mystery, but the main selling point of this movie is being left out entirely in this logline as written.


The vibe of this logline is basically:




Let's take a look at another vague logline, for LEGALLY BLONDE:


"An airhead blonde goes to Harvard Law School."

Does this sell the premise? Heck yeah it does.


But does this logline properly explain the story? Heck no it does not.


If I read this logline, I would know I'm about to read a comedic, character-driven story.


And based on the vagueness of the logline, I'd be expecting more comedy than anything else. I definitely would not be expecting a strong storyline, because zero information about the character arc or plot specifics are given.


However, this movie isn't a straight comedy. It has a lot of heart to it! Which makes this logline ineffective.


If I were to revise it, I'd ensure the logline captures both the comedy of the premise and the strength of the theme.


I'd phrase it as something like:


"When an airhead blonde attends Harvard Law School solely in attempt to win back her boyfriend, she discovers her own intelligence as she excels in the field."


 

Densely Detailed


A detailed logline tells me: either you don't know how to write well, can't kill your darlings, don't trust the reader to understand you, or genuinely have a concept so complex it requires lengthy explanation.


The latter is almost never the case -- I mean, you saw the logline for The Matrix! Even with the detail I suggested adding, it's still pretty concise.


Regardless of why the it's so detailed, when I see a lengthy logline, I know I'm about to be very, very confused while reading.


Your logline is a representation of your story in its simplest terms. If it's already confusing or dense at this point......



I'm kidding; I'll still read it. But I'll wish I didn't have to ;)


Let's take a look at a logline for a movie that I believe has the right to be a little dense, ARGO:


"During the 1979 Iranian revolution, a CIA officer plans to help six American diplomats escape the country disguised as a Canadian film crew, but with the Revolutionary Guards closing in and no support from his superiors, he must move fast to avoid being caught and executed."

Now, come on, we all know this can be more concise.

Here's an example of a tighter one on IMDB:


"Acting under the cover of a Hollywood producer scouting a location for a science fiction film, a CIA agent launches a dangerous operation to rescue six Americans in Tehran during the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran in 1979."

It's better.

But, hey, you guys know me well enough at this point and probably already know what I'm gonna say about this.


It could still be tighter.


Here's my revised logline based on the above example, written two different ways:


"Posing as a film producer scouting a location in Tehan, a CIA agent launches a dangerous mission to rescue 6 hostages during the Iranian revolution." or "During the Iranian revolution, a CIA agent sets out to rescue 6 hostages by posing as a film producer scouting a location in Tehan."

I wrote this two ways to show you how the order of words in your logline also says a lot about your story.


Both of my revised loglines describe the exact same thing with almost the exact same wording, but one gives more weight to the time period and setting, and the other gives more weight to the plot, simply because of where the words describing these aspects of the story appear in the logline.


The first few words someone reads of your logline contribute greatly to their first impression of your story.


So when crafting your logline, ask yourself:

  • What is it you want your audience to know first?

  • What in your story happens first (what's the inciting incident)?

  • What makes your script unique?

  • What's most important about your story?


If I had to choose one of these revised loglines to describe ARGO, I would pick the first one, because the emphasis on the unique plot tells us exactly what it is that's so interesting about this film.

The time period and setting are certainly a huge part of that, but that's not the selling point.


The selling point is HOW the CIA agent is able to rescue 6 hostages, not WHEN and WHERE it happened.


That being said.....


Can you guess what I'm about to say?


I'd still condense this logline ;)


Here's a revised version that combines the conciseness of the second logline with the plot emphasis of the first:


"A CIA agent poses as a film producer scouting a location in Tehan in order to rescue 6 hostages during the Iranian Revolution."




 

Perfectly Phrased


You're probably wondering at this point what kind of logline makes a 100% GOOD impression?


For me, when I read a logline that clearly explains both the physical and emotional journey, I know I'm about to read an expertly crafted screenplay.


Here's an example of a logline for FINDING NEMO that achieves this:


"When his son is swept out to sea, an anxious clownfish embarks on a perilous journey across a treacherous ocean to bring him back."

The word "anxious" immediately tells me that the protagonist's fears are going to be tested as he embarks on the plot's physical journey, and in the end, he will learn how to control or overcome his anxiety.


This clarifies the emotional journey, and even touches on one of the themes of the film!


The rest of the logline clarifies the plot:


"When his son is swept out to sea" is the inciting incident.


"embarks on a perilous journey" summarizes the entirety of the plot.


"to bring him back" expresses what the protagonist WANTS.


Let's look at one more example that also achieves this (and is written in a pretty similar way), the logline for BREAKING BAD:


"A chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to manufacturing and selling methamphetamine with a former student in order to secure his family's future"

"Diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer" establishes the emotional journey. The protagonist knows he's going to die soon -- and throughout this show, he's going to be confronting that.


"turns to manufacturing and selling methamphetamine with a former student" summarizes the plot of the entire series.


"in order to secure his family's future" expresses what he WANTS. Or, at least, what he claims he wants. ;) For those who have seen the show, you know the line between what he wants and what he "has to do" becomes quite blurry.


See the similarities between these two loglines?


They're both formatted as:


([Inciting incident or 1st act break]/[Protagonist description]) + ([Protagonist description]/[Inciting Incident or 1st act break]) + [Plot Summary] + [Protagonist's want]


Here are these loglines color-coded to show this visually:


"When his son is swept out to sea, an anxious clownfish embarks on a perilous journey across a treacherous ocean to bring him back."

"A chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to manufacturing and selling methamphetamine with a former student in order to secure his family's future"

And for fun, let's look at all the other loglines with this color-coding, hehe :)


"A CIA agent poses as a film producer scouting a location in Tehan in order to rescue 6 hostages during the Iranian revolution."

"When an airhead blonde attends Harvard Law School solely in attempt to win back her boyfriend, she discovers her own intelligence as she excels in the field."

"A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers."

"When a plane mysteriously lands years after takeoff, the people onboard return to a world that has moved on without them and face strange new realities."

Looking at the loglines this way, can you see why some aren't as strong as others?




 

Here's a fun way to end this post...


Knowing what you know now, how would you rephrase this logline for SHREK 2 to more accurately represent what happens in the story?


"Shrek and Fiona travel to the Kingdom of Far Far Away, where Fiona's parents are King and Queen, to celebrate their marriage. When they arrive, they find they are not as welcome as they thought they would be."

Here's mine:


"When his marriage to a princess becomes rocky, an ogre enlists the help of a fairy godmother to fix it, only to find she's actively sabotaging him so her son can become king."

What's yours? Leave it in the comments below!




58 views5 comments

5 commentaires


Invité
16 juin

An ogre turns into a human to impress his in-laws but discovers they have more against him than his looks.



J'aime

Invité
16 juin

Surprised and disappointed you didn't pick a minion related logline at any point.

J'aime
Mic
Mic
16 juin
En réponse à

why didnt i think of this.........................................


WHYYYYYYYYYYYYY


J'aime

After the ogre's marriage to the princess hits the rocks, he enlists the help of a fairy godmother whose real motivation is only to help her son



become king.

J'aime

Invité
15 juin

My shrek 2 logline: An ogre married to a princess has a fairy turn him into a handsome man so her royal family will accept him, but when he discovers the fairy has ulterior motives for helping him, he teams up with a talking donkey and sword-fighting cat to stop her evil plans.

J'aime
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