Thursday, March 23, 2006

Does Your Logline Rock?

By Jim Cirile

I’ve been writing scripts for over a decade, but it wasn’t until I enrolled in the UCLA Professional Program that I learned there was actually a formula for writing loglines. I’d always thought that loglines should sum up your script in a sentence, and then for extra credit, you compare your script to two hit movies; for example, “HOMEBOYS ON THE RANGE--Three young hip-hop musicians inherit a busted-down ranch in Wyoming. It’s ‘City Slickers’ meets ‘House Party’!”

While that does convey the concept, what it does not do is get into the characterization of the protagonist or soul of the story. And those are key things people want to see, even in a two or three-line logline, and even when talking about a broad comedy.

A logline should be two to three snappy, concise sentences. You have to make every single word count. Don’t use extraneous verbiage. If a word can be cut without making the sentence ungrammatical or losing detail, then do it.

Also keep in mind that the tone and genre of your script should be immediately obvious from the logline. If we can’t tell it’s supposed to be a comedy from the logline and the title, go back and try again.

Now let’s break exactly what should be in each one of those sentences.


Briefly describe your protagonist and his dramatic flaw right up front. The dramatic flaw is of course the internal problem which is preventing the hero from attaining his goal (yep, we all have them.) During the course of the movie, the hero will become self-aware of this flaw and should eventually overcome it. Mythologically speaking, the hero cannot overcome the EXternal conflict (the plot) until he overcomes his INternal conflict (dramatic flaw.)

It’s up to you if you want to include your protagonist’s name and age.

In the second half of the first sentence, we need to explain the protagonist’s predicament. Here’s how we do it:

>> HILDY STEIN (28), neurotic drama queen, is shocked to learn her ever-popular sister has inherited the entire family fortune.

>> After a drunk driving arrest, a self-absorbed, ultra-capitalist politician is sentenced to 120 days community service at a downtown food bank.

>> LEON WELLS (30), good ol’ boy and ardent homophobe, gets hit by a low-flying plane and is reincarnated as a gay aerobics instructor.


Now that you’ve set up the predicament, you need to reveal what action the protagonist takes to rectify this problem. Let’s continue with the second sentence from each of the three examples above.

>> Determined to sabotage her sister, Hildy locks her sister away and, after a makeover, assumes her sister’s life.

>> Uncooperative to an extreme, he’s unprepared when he falls for a radical Marxist social worker out to change the world.

>> Barred from heaven until he changes his ways, Leon trains and provides counsel to his clients while fighting to keep his hostility in check.


You’re almost there! So now it should be obvious what we need in the third sentence, right? We have to set up the big dramatic crisis the character must overcome and hint at possible character transformation (the arc.) Now let’s complete our examples.

>> But when Hildy learns her sister has been blackmailed by their half-brother for years, she overcomes her insecurities to join forces with her sister to take the half-brother down.

>> When the food bank is defunded by a former political ally, he pulls out all the stops to keep the doors open... and win the social worker’s heart.

>> But when Leon discovers one of his clients, famous leader of a Gay/Lesbian organization, is an embezzler, he has a big choice to make.

That’s all there is to it! Whip those loglines into shape, folks—you’ll need ‘em. If you post on, send out queries, or place in the Writers on the Storm or AAA contests, those loglines will be what the industry judges you on. Nail the format and you will create a professional first impression. And that will help a LOT towards getting your script read.

By the way, I expect every one of you can writer better loglines than the ones I just did… sorry ;)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Open Thread

You may fire when ready! We're not afraid. Okay, maybe a little.

Writers on the Storm - The Blog!

We're hoping to roll out a significant increase in the Writers on the Storm prizes soon. We're adding some pretty neat new goodies. If you have any questions or comments, leave them here! Contest deadline is approaching fast -- April 15th.We're pretty encouraged so far. We're seeing some real good writing coming in. But of course there's still room for more!

Seriously, How the ^&*$!#$*^!(&*@ Do I Get an Agent?

Way back in October '04, I wrote this column for Creative Screenwriting. I think this one and its follow up, How Do I Get a Damn Manager? are solid pieces of advice. So check out what some of the top literary representatives in town have to say about this topic most near and dear to all of our hearts.


By Jim Cirile

Stop! Before you blast out another 150 e-mail queries, read this! Here at last is the comprehensive guide to finding yourself a rep, all in 1,500 words. Learn well as our esteemed panel of motion picture lit representatives lays out solid strategies for finding representation that actually work.


Richard Arlook
The Gersh Agency

Nicole Clemens
International Creative Management

Emile Gladstone
Broder, Webb, Chervin & Silbermann

Graham KayeCreative Management Group
Julien ThuanUnited Talent Agency

You don’t.

Okay, that’s the flip answer. We all know that finding representation is notoriously hard.
While there were, at last count, 42.6 billion screenwriters out there, there are only a small handful of agents. They’re generally hustling for their clients 10-12 hours a day and then have scripts to read at night. Generally, they just don’t have the bandwidth to even think about reading unsolicited scripts. And think about it—if you are lucky enough to be represented, would you want your agent spending his time reading any old script that comes in over the transom? Heck, you’d want them to be spending their time finding you work. So the next time you whine about how hard it is to get anyone at Boffo 3-Letter Agency to read your masterpiece, remember the reasons these barriers are in place.

Okay, ready to go hunt some agent? Hold on thar, kemosabe. Your mom may think your script is the shizzbombdiggity, but does anyone else? It is critically important that you develop your script to the point where it’s good enough to send out first. “You have to have a group of confidants,” says UTA’s Julien Thuan. “In a perfect world, (these) are people who are actually in the business, and people who will be honest with you.” Manager Graham Kaye agrees: “To grow as an artist, you need to be able to accept the bad feedback with the good. It takes years to become a good writer.” But when you start getting raves from your friends, writing group, classmates or a coverage service, then load the rifle, and let’s go.

Let’s start with our old friend the query. Most of our panelists agree: they simply don’t work. “Save a tree. Do not do unsolicited letters. Do not send out spam e-mails. They are irritating,” says ICM’s Nicole Clemens. BWCS’s Emile Gladstone seconds that. “We don’t accept query letters. I’ve never signed anyone off of that.” Thuan says that rarely does a query pique his interest. “I can’t say never, because I’ve responded to some before. Generally, if I respond, it’s because the idea is interesting, or I think that the quality of the writing in the letter is really compelling. Sometimes people tell a story about themselves that gets your attention.”
Of course, junior reps may be more receptive than established ones. Kaye tells us about how when he was first starting out at HWA Talent, a script came across his desk that no one else in town would bother with. He read it, loved it, signed the writer. Ten years later, the script is now called I, Robot. “My good friend John Davis—I was in a meeting with him, and I said, ‘John, I sold that script.’ He was eating a bowl of almonds, and he slid the almonds over and said, ‘You did? Boy, you made me a lot of money. Here, have an almond!’” Kaye laughs. But he’s a bit less receptive nowadays. “Not to be egomaniacal, but everybody who’s on this panel—it takes lot of time and effort to break new talent. We don’t necessarily have to do that anymore. It’s extremely hard work, and we work hard enough. Why shouldn’t we enjoy the success of the years of time and energy we’ve put into building our reputations?”

Where exactly does that leave a writer then? It’s all about the referral. Clemens advises writers to “spend your time taking advantage of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon in this town. Find someone who knows someone who knows someone—someone’s cousin who knows someone’s intern who knows someone’s assistant. Get everybody to read your script. Cream rises.” Clemens adds that if her assistant or intern recommends something, or a development executive or manager calls her about a script, it will make it to the top of her pile. “But if somebody cold-calls me, I’m not taking their script.”

Gladstone says, “The most helpful advice I can give to a writer is not to be so fixated on finding an agent, but let the town work for you. Find a producer or find a champion.” Instead of querying agents, he recommends buying the Hollywood Creative Directory ($59.95, IFILM Publishing.) “Be a student of the business and find the producer that makes (the same type of movie that you’ve written,) and makes a lot of them. Then find the most junior person, the bottom of the list. They WANT to read. And when they find something they like, they call me or people that work for me. We get calls from those people, and they go to the top of the pile.” As proof this works, Gladstone signed two baby writers this year “with no credits and no nothing,” Clayton Surratt and David Johnson. Surrat’s script 342 sold to 2929 Entertainment, and Gladstone sold a pitch of Johnson’s to Paramount. “Clayton Surratt came to me from a lawyer and manager, and David Johnson came to me from a manager,” says Gladstone.
Which brings us to another useful strategy: getting a manager to get an agent. “This town is just brimming over with managers,” says Clemens. “They live to fill this niche. Managers are way more likely to read unsolicited stuff. In fact, especially the young ones, they’re scrounging around looking for clients. If a manager calls me about a client, I’m going to read him, if I trust the manager’s taste.” A comprehensive list of managers and agents can be found in the Hollywood Representation Directory ($64.95, IFILM Publishing.)

Contests, pitch fests and festivals may be another way to get noticed by the industry—or not. While our panelists pay attention to Nicholl, many of the rest are also-rans. “At the end of the day, the people judging contests are not the people working at Warner Bros.,” says Gladstone. “I’m not just looking for talent. I’m looking talent that wants to work in the studio system.” Gladstone also says that while junior agents at BWCS sometimes attend pitch fests and festivals, “no one’s ever signed anyone off of that. They do it more as a service, giving a little back to the community, or sometimes a free trip. I’ve gone to Seattle and Hawaii on that kind of stuff, but you don’t really go there to sign. You go to Sundance to sign.” Thuan sometimes reads the winners of regional contests. “Not everyone who could be a great screenwriter lives in L.A. You feel like you can cover a little more ground that way.” But don’t expect your third place win at the Pig’s Knuckles, Iowa, Screenwriting Contest to garner you much industry attention.

One fellow who’s more accessible than most is agent David Freedman. A founding partner of Moviefone, Freedman studied screenwriting at UCLA, then later realized, “I was very good at getting people to read my screenplays. I just wasn’t very good at getting people to like my screenplays.” But he did enjoy the marketing aspect of it. Freedman trained with agent Sara Margoshes of SMA and mentored with a friend from Gersh, then applied for his state license. The WGA approved him as signatory, and he formally opened Hollywood View Agency.
Freedman has wasted no time making a name for himself, and the town is taking notice. “When you go out and shop screenplays, you have to have really, really great material, and you have to hit a home run,” says Freedman. “Even if it’s not what (the buyer is) looking for, the very least they should say is, ‘This is a well-written script by a very good writer.’ It’s simply establishing credibility—David doesn’t waste your time.”

Freedman has been aggressively signing contest winners and established writers, but he’s also looking for new talent. He demands that you have a killer logline. “If you have that, then I ask for a 1-pager. If you have a killer logline and killer 1-page synopsis, I’ll read your script.” But Freedman warns that your logline should not contain any of the following words: “CIA, FBI, cop, virus, epidemic, Indian burial ground, Mafia, serial killer and everybody’s favorite, vampire. But if you happen to have a logline that contains all those words, please send it to me.” To find out more about Freedman, visit

There you have it—queries generally don’t work, winning a contest may or may not amount to nothing, and you’re better off trying to get a manager or junior creative exec to read your script then let THEM get you an agent. In the meantime, keep rewriting! And, folks, please do not query any of the panelists in this column (except for Freedman.)