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.

SENTENCE #1

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.

SENTENCE #2

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.

SENTENCE #3

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 inktip.com, 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 ;)

5 comments:

Usiquidy said...

oh, gee... i'd better go look at mine again...

Anonymous said...

I can write better loglines. I just choose not to.

Anonymous said...

hUH hUH. hE SAID "LOG."

Jenius said...

Very helpful, thank you.

Any suggestions on how you would adjust that for an ensemble comedy? I can narrow it down to three characters, although none of them turn out to be the hero in the end. They also comprise a bit of a love triangle...So many layers, so few sentences!

Jim Cirile said...

Jenius, there's likely one who's more the lead than the other two, so I'd focus on him (or her.) If it really is a true 3-way enselmble comedy, Then describe all three as briefly, like this: Three friends--a neurotic architect, a voluptuous salsa dance teacher and a stoner dude with Tourette's--head for the Hamptons for the weekend.

Then you just take it from there.