Screenwriting -- Writing the Logline
In one or two sentences, a screenwriter must create a screenplay logline that sells the story, because it will be the first thing read by a producer.
A screenplay's logline is a one or two sentence encapsulation of the story. It must immediately attract producer and agent attention, and therefore must be crafted carefully. The reason is simple: the logline will most likely be the first thing the producer or agent will read about your story. "The synopsis and logline are the keys that open the door to getting your script read. The same amount of care that a writer takes in writing a script should also be taken in writing the logline and synopsis." (Writing Loglines, Jerrol LeBaron, Inktip.com, "Retrieved on March 1, 2011")
The logline should contain three things (Steele, A. (Ed.). (2006). Writing Movies, Bloomsbury, New York, NY, page 327):
- A glimpse of the protagonist
- The basic story idea usually including the goal and major obstacle
- A sense of the genre
Although the logline is short and sweet in terms of total words, it requires numerous iterations by the screenwriter to craft successfully. Studying logline construction, therefore, is important. One of the best resources for crafted loglines is IMDB.com. Each movie has a logline.
The IMDB logline for The King's Speech – the Oscar's 2011 Best Motion Picture – is "The story of King George VI of Britain, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it." Studying the logline reveals that the protagonist is King George VI of Britain; his goal is the ascension to the throne of England; the obstacle (stuttering) is hinted at with the words "speech therapist" and "unsure"; and the film genre is a period genre.
Lebaron of Inktip.com further comments in Writing Loglines (Jerrol LeBaron, Inktip.com, "Retrieved on March 1, 2011), "A properly written logline is important because most producers do not use their own money to finance a film. They read your logline. If it sounds like it is something they can then pitch to their money guys and it is the type of script their money guys are interested in, they then take the next step with regards to your script." Inktip.com receives 1000's of scripts, synopses, and treatments every week.
When I sent a screenplay into Inktip titled Houseboat Blues - a high concept script - I received eighteen hits on it by six different producers. I eventually received an email (August 2009) from Joe Nasser of the Nasser Entertainment Group. He was attracted by my script's logline, and synopsis. He also read the script and my resume. But it all started with the logline. I wasn't successful in optioning the screenplay, but I attracted enough interest to do some more writing for Mr. Nasser.
Writing a Logline
I'm no different than 99% of screenwriters who want to write an Oscar winning script: I like writing stories. My screenwriting credentials are simple with three full length movie scripts written and countless hours struggling to better my craft.
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For some time I've had a high concept story concept bouncing around in my head. This story would include children, buses, a bomb, a police sergeant, and a deranged madman.
But I needed a logline. Here's how I proceeded to develop one.
Logline # 1
A bomb has been placed on one of sixteen buses used to transport special needs children to school. Ransom is being asked from the school board for one million dollars.
Clearly this is a very weak logline; but I had to start someplace. Besides I know I will rework this logline many times, and I wanted to get something on paper. At this point, the logline has no obvious protagonist, and therefore no protagonist's goal. The genre is an action-thriller and there is one big problem - a bomb on a bus.
But clearly, the logline must get much, much better.
A young boy works desperately to save his friends when a bomb is placed on one of sixteen buses used to transport special needs children to school.
Thank heavens, I now have a protagonist; but the passive sentence construction is very weak. In truth, this logline will never attract interest.
A young boy works desperately with police to save his friends when a bomb is placed by a deranged madman on one of sixteen buses taking special needs children to school.
The logline is getting a little stronger. I now have a glimpse of the antagonist (a deranged madman). But I'm still unhappy with the poor wording. Moreover, why sixteen buses?
A young teenager works desperately with police to save his friends when a deranged madman hides a bomb on a bus taking special needs children to school.My logline is getting better. I've made three more changes: The protagonist is a teenager; I have one bus instead of sixteen; plus the madman "hides" the bomb. In the back of my mind I still want multiple buses but I don't need this information in my logline. But something else is bothering me: Can a young teenager be the protagonist in a high concept action-thriller? Will a producer be able to sell this story concept to the studio which will bankroll the movie?
So I decided to make some big changes.
A police sergeant desperately works to save his son when a deranged madman seeking revenge and one million dollars hides a bomb on a bus taking special needs children to school.
I've made some key changes and I like this logline.
I realized if I want to write screenplay for a high concept movie, it probably should have an adult protagonist. The role of the police sergeant would to appeal to actors like George Clooney and Matt Damon. Plus, if I want drama, conflict and gut wrenching action, I should make the police sergeant the father of one of the special needs children. Now that's one idea I really like! Finally, the madman wants a million dollars and revenge. But why the revenge? A hook to read the script.
So there's my high concept logline. It has a protagonist, a goal, an obstacle, and a genre – the action-thriller.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR:
My first serious piece of writing was for my grade two class, and was titled "Peanut Butter and Jam". We staged it in front of the school to fabulous applause.
My passion has been writing fiction including three screenplays titled Death by Diamonds, Houseboat Blues, and Plum Artistic. But trying to make money pitching scripts is a real challenge.
So I thought I would try my hand a non-fiction. I'm loving it because I love doing research.