Logline: Importance and Creation

The vocab of the industry is something that is largely known by those, that’s right, who are apart of the industry.  It is no surprise to me that, seeing as how the majority of filmmakers today have never stepped foot into a film production classroom, these talented individuals do not know the basic liturgies and lexicon of film production and marketing.  This tiny detail, in all reality, means nothing in comparison to the talents and capability of said artists.  However, knowing your jargon is an instrumental step to making communication easier with those around you.  It is one of the myriad unspoken “pre-requisites” of being a flimmaker.  If you were a comicphile, exactly how much respect would you give someone who also claimed a love for comics but didn’t even know what Wolverine’s actual name was or that Superman actually died once?

A Logline is different from a tagline.  Many individuals know what a tagline is simply because it has become standard knowledge.  Hell, we hear it every time we see a trailer.  But a logline is far different, both in form and function.  Loglines, while they generate emotions as a tagline does, they are the backbone and focus of your project.  And most importantly, they are what sell projects.

In definition, a Logline is a single sentence summary of the project at hand.  If you have ever cracked a TV guide, the tiny details you read after each movie scheduled to play is a logline.  This is the line meant to catch your attention and get you to watch.  It is also the line utilized to sell the project to an agent, manager, studio, or anyone else who wanted to buy into the finished product.  It is both a beginning and an ending for your project.

If you were standing in front of an agent or producer and he asked you to tell him about your project.  His stern features, $3,000 suit, huge cigar, and bay windows overlooking the city are probably very intimidating.  The thirty other prospects that came before you and the thirty more that wait in the receptionists office are also, extremely overwhelming.  So, you’ve been asked the ultimate question.  Size up your film.  And remember, this is a busy man, so you’d better make an impression.  Do you:

A) Bust out with an intense look into your film, detailing the characters, plots, twists and turns, the explosions, romance, comedy, and the huge twist ending no one would suspect all from the front of his desk, leaving yourself panting and sweating and hoping that this man with 100,000 things to do hung on every word?

or

B) Do you lay him flat and whet his appetite for more, leaving him drooling for the next slice, with a single, well-structured sentence about your film and why it is the next contender for Best Picture?

The choice, as they say, is clear.  But how to create one remains the hardest part.

Your project has been firmly rooted in your mind for years.  You know every detail inside and out.  You’ve established every frame in your mind’s eye and every emotion of every character is locked in place and the entire film plays through your head with utter perfections and grace.  With so many aspects and plot-lines and characters and conflicts, the question remains: How can I sum up a 120 page script full of Hitchcockian-twists and Ridleyesque visuals into one single sentence that captures the entire subject properly?  It would be an understatement to say this is a daunting task.  And this is just one sentence.

Generally, when you submit a project for review, the producers, studio heads, agents, or others who might get their hands on it don’t ever read past the logline.  Is it because they’re a bunch of money-hungry, disrespectful, cruel-minded, filthy bastards?  No, absolutely not.  Some execs and people in power do fit this grotesque description that would better fit a Star Wars villian, make no mistake about that.  But the majority of the time, these people, who are the instrumental gears in this business, simply do not have the time to read any morethan that.  With 1000 scripts sitting on a desk and three hours to pull 10 of them to possibly consider for actual production and fill the coming year, there is literally no time to waste.  Every minute wasted is literally thousands of dollars being thrown out the window.  Those minutes add up and can break a studio in a heartbeat, no matter how big they appear to be.  Some of the best studios in history have fallen flat due to poor business decisions alone and not bad products.  With the average script weighing in at an hour and a half, you’re looking at 90 pages of dialogue and descriptions…times 1000.  That’s 90,000 pages of hopes and dreams and sweat and tears.  Why only use the logline to define a script?  Several reasons:

1) INTEREST: Reading a logline gives the person submitted to a brief glimpse of the power of the script and they can pull the script for later consideration if the logline is strong enough and original enough to encourage this.

2) SKILL: Judiciously, a logline will tell the person reading it if the writer has any ability whatsoever.  Basic deduction can tell you that if a logline has a typo, chances are there are 90 pages of typos behind it.  Best move on and let that one justify the blue can in the office.

3) TIME: We’ve stated that just reading loglines saves time.  And if you didn’t know or actually believe that in this industry time is money, perhaps film school would be the next best choice for you.

4) ORIGINALITY: This is the kicker right here.  A logline forces the writer to create a basic synopsis of the film in one sentence.  Hence, it will, by default, be very simplistic in its design, despite how much research or time you spent on the script.  If the reader has already read that logline before (or similar ones) then it’s doomed for the blue can.

5) INSPIRATION: This one is usually only available to the people most experienced in dealing with writing submissions.  Through the simplistic design of the logline, the inspiration behind the film can easily be seen if you know what you’re looking for.  Is the writer in it for the money?  Is this a real idea that pushes boundaries?  Is the writer scared of his own work?  Does he even care if it gets picked up?  Has he lost hope or is he fighting tooth an nail to simply justify his own desire to write?  All these can be answered…in the logline.

It is vitally important that you structure your logline to convey what your film is about, but is is more important still that you yourself are happy with the logline.  It’s always best to walk in the shoes of those you’re submitting to.  If you were an executive with little time on your hands and now suddenly had to grab from 1000 scripts and find 10 suitable for pursuing and worth the millions it would take to create it, what would grab your attention?  Remember, the exec will most likely not read your project or even look into it at first.  Most likely they will read the logline and if it catches, they will pull the script for later appreciation.  It’s that moment that your logline will do its job: to keep the project out of the blue can and back on the desk.

Focus on these aspects for your logline:

1) Am I happy with this?  Check everything.  Structure, flow, timing, descriptions, nouns, verbs, everything.  Rewrite if needed.  Check it again.  And again.

2) Is the subject of the film conveyed easily?  Have you blathered on about the big explosion in scene 24 or have you actually told them what you intend to create?

3) Who will be reading this?  Know your audience and write to them.  Cameron likes drama, adjust accordingly.  Bruckheimer likes boom!  Adjust accordingly.

4) How does it sound?  Speak the logline aloud.  Does it sound retarded?  Probably, but is it Oscar-winning Forrest Gump retarded or Tropic Thunder Simple Jack retarded?

5) Ensure the follow-up.  Don’t end with the logline.  If your logline is awesome but your project is crappy, you definitely will piss someone off and then you won’t even get the logline written.  Your own name will be destined for the blue can.

Good luck with your writing and above all else, be happy with what you create.  It is yours and should never be taken away.  Just remember, that this industry is made up of teams and teams have egos.  Play to them and they’ll play back to yours.  Namely, by helping you make your film an actual reality!