Hard As A Log(Line) / by Sandra Leviton

Author : Sandra Leviton

Loglines: the bane of existence for a creative. It seems like the only people who care about them are agents and studios, right? Right?!

Loglines are tools used by everyone – even the average filmgoer and TV viewer. Yes, they are how executives and representatives know and judge the material they are about to read, but they are also used for the following:

-Pitches

-TV Guide/ TV listing websites

-DVDs/ Streaming

-Financing plans

-Movie sites – like Fandango, IMDB, RunPee, and even Google

-Marketing

-PR

-Ad Sales

-Trailers/ Promos

-Query letters

The list of uses are endless. So…how does one craft a great logline??

Let’s start with the definition of “Logline.” According to Wikipedia, “A logline is a brief summary of a television show, film, or any motion picture often providing both a synopsis of the program’s plot, and an emotional “hook” to stimulate interest.”

At some point I’m sure you’ve heard something like “It’s like Die Hard meets Bridesmaids!” either jokingly or seriously.  There are times when executives do want to hear what other films or TV shows your project resembles. But, be aware, while many Hollywood parodies may use these descriptions, they are not loglines. They are just that: descriptions.  Can they be useful? Sure. But when you submit your work for coverage, for a pitch, or prior to distribution – executives cannot use this description. They need something informative and exciting.

 This.

This.

 This.

This.

 This.

This.

TV loglines can be a more complicated puzzle. Instead of one episode, you have 13-22 loglines to construct for the season. Think about it… how many times have you read the descriptions for an episode on your DVR and realized they have spoiled the plot before it has even aired? I recently watched an episode of Pretty Little Liars (don’t hate – it is an extremely well written show), and this was part of the logline “Ashley is involved in a hit-and-run accident.”  A little bit of context: Ashley is the mother of one of the leads, Hannah. The hit and run incident involves a local cop, and it ends up being a major plotline for Hannah in the following episodes, even though Ashley is a secondary character. It was meant to be a shocking moment in the episode, and the shock was lost when the viewer read that logline. They either should’ve left the detail out or worded it differently (i.e. “A run in with the law leaves Ashley worried.”). This minor adjustment would allow the scene to have its full impact – and still get the message across.

Let’s do an exercise:

Which is the best logline to pitch the film “The Lion King”?

a)    The young lion cub prince, Simba, flees the kingdom after his uncle Scar kills his father. He meets Timon and Pumbaa, and they help keep him in a state of perpetual childhood, until one day, Nala shows up, and brings him back to reclaim his throne.

b)   Hamlet, but with lions.

c)    Tricked into thinking he killed his father, a guilt ridden lion cub flees into exile and abandons his identity as the future King.

The answer is C.

It explains what the story is, who its about, and what the conflict is without giving away key plot points or spoilers.

Soooooooo how do we craft a logline?!

Think about crafting a logline like performing a burlesque show.  

It’s all about the tease.

Keep it simple: If you’re busy fiddling around with complicated clips and clasps, it will hinder the show. It all needs to come off nice and easy.

 This will take hours to get off.

This will take hours to get off.

Don’t bare all: Keep it vague, or the audience won’t want or need to see any more.

 Not yet...

Not yet...

But let them see some side boob: The audience still needs to get excited. Leave it too vague, and the audience won’t care.

 Just a peek.

Just a peek.

Tease your audience: Use your props to get them excited so they return for the next show.

 I see you but I can’t touch you.

I see you but I can’t touch you.

Be mindful of upcoming events: Don’t spoil the next performance.

 I was supposed to be the surprise finish!

I was supposed to be the surprise finish!

Be prepared, and have your loglines ready to go; the last thing you want is to have someone else write them for you (and they will). Not only will preparing loglines strengthen your writing skills, but it can also really help you discover the essence of your story when you’re struggling to find it.

For more references on writing loglines, we recommend the following articles:

http://www.crackingyarns.com.au/2010/03/25/the-most-important-27-words-a-screenwriter-will-ever-write/

http://www.crackingyarns.com.au/2011/01/11/how-to-write-better-loglines/

http://indiemoviemaking.com/how-to-write-the-perfect-logline/

http://goodinaroom.com/blog/the-most-popular-pitching-formula-in-hollywood-and-why-you-shouldnt-use-it/