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The Logline

What it is and how to write it effectively

by Fermín P. Pina

What is the logline? What information does it need to contain? How can I write the logline to my story and make it into something useful? In this article, we will tackle all these issues, so that the logline you have in mind achieves its main objective: to sell your script.

After Filmarket Hub’s logline contest last year, in which we received a very high number of participants, we also realized a lot of participants didn’t have a clear idea of the concept of the logline, and so we decided to write this article to clarify it once and for all.

We will try to give as most a simple and clear explanation of its meaning, content, and structure, as possible. Through theory, but also with practical examples that will help us visualize and understand the concept better.

What is the logline and what information should it contain?

A good starting point is to look at the more academic definition. The logline is a brief text that contains the most relevant information of the script of a film, TV series or show and offers an attractive dramatic premise. Simple, isn’t it? Nevertheless, it is very easy to not hit upon the correct way to write it, so, let’s divide the definition and go step by step.

A brief text. Yes, reasonably brief. A clear, concise and with the precise amount of information logline, will rarely require more than two sentences. With around 40 words it should be enough to convey all that information, not leaving out anything relevant or including anything that isn’t, initially, interesting.

But, why so brief? Basically, because the readers of your logline, in other words, the producers, don’t have the time to read more. In fact, they don’t have time for almost anything. So, your presentation card for your work has to be able to strike their attention in a question of seconds. In a tenth of a second, even. If the first thing that the readers of your project come upon is a two page 1200 words essay, it will most likely end up in a drawer full of dust. Or in the bin.

Plus, knowing to condense the most relevant information of your work in a few words demonstrates that you dominate the theme, the content, and the techniques and basic structures of fiction writing. But, careful! Don’t overdo it on its briefness. Four or five words aren’t the logline, but the tagline. Does it ring a bell? It’s the punch line of the film. It’s easy to identify: it usually appears on the poster and marketing campaign of any given film: “Whoever wins, we lose” (Alien vs Predator, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2004), “One man’s struggle to take it easy” (Ferry’s Bueller’s Day Off, John Hughes, 1986) or also “The Story of a Lifetime” (The Truman Show, Peter Weir, 1994) are some examples of taglines.

“The most relevant information of the script”. What do I have to include in my logline? What do I leave out? In this respect, you need to be sufficiently concise to tell the essence of your script. Ok, but…what information is that exactly? These are the elements that do need to be in your logline:

  • Genre. It shouldn’t appear in an explicit way (“It’s a horror film that…”), but the reader should be able to glimpse it through in a clear way. Take into account that, on many occasions, production and distribution companies look for concrete genres. For instance, the last two years police thrillers have worked really well for them, so, they look for a piece that will maintain that good streak. Or the other way round, after two flops at the box office with comedies, they prefer to change the genre. Either way, it’s also possible that the most striking thing about your script is the theme it talks about. For example, the love between two people that belong in different worlds. Through the logline, however, you can make a statement about how different your film is from other projects. As in, it isn’t the same that the story happens on a cruise ship about to crash into an iceberg, than another one about a famous movie star and an eccentric bookseller in a chic London neighborhood. Same theme, different genres, totally different films.
  • Main character. Of course, your main character must be an active subject of your logline. And better than using his or her name (except we’re talking about a biopic or the adaptation of a popular literary character) is to use an adjectival reference. “A shy millionaire”, “A daring adventurer” or “The valiant crew of a spaceship” are references that already suggest an important feature of the character. The characters are the motor of a good story, so they should also be of good loglines. If the main character draws our attention from the beginning, you will have started on a good note.
  • Some context. As well as with genre, you don’t need to indicate the exact date and exact place where the action develops, but it is necessary that it’s at least sense. It isn’t the same a family drama set in 1950s Spain than set in the beginning of the XVIII century in the United States.
  • The conflict. Stories in general, and especially fiction, are, in essence, conflict. Someone who is confronting something. And it is precisely that challenge and that battle what makes the story so enticing. The objective of the main character and the obstacles he has to confront and overcome must be in the logline. Because there isn’t conflict without…(keep reading!)
  • The Antagonist. For many (I include myself) the element which will truly magnify the story. A well written antagonistic force which prevents the main character’s reach of his objective gives meaning to the film, raises the stakes of conflict and provokes that the satisfactory resolution (if there’s one) be more dramatic. Ok, it is true that not always the antagonist has razor sharp fangs and a menacing face. It’s not always a clear and obvious personification. Sometimes, the antagonist reflects the inner fears of the protagonist, a social factor or a collective way of thinking. But a good logline must contain in a clear way, who or what will make things difficult for our hero.
“It” (2017)

So, the content of the logline is now clear, right? But, what about the rest? Isn’t it important? Doesn’t it nourish my story? It certainly does, but let’s now see what shouldn’t be in your logline:

  • The conflict resolution. NEVER. Can you imagine the producers of The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, 1998) reading in those first lines the final plot twist with Bruce Willis’ character? Or that the logline gave away the final fate of the battered civil servants forcefully turned into filmmakers in Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)? The essence of your logline is to leave the reader with a desire to read more, forgive the redundancy. And that is one of the dramatic premises about which we talked earlier, which help you to reach that.
  • Supporting characters. Unless any of your supporting characters have a vital weight in the plot, leave them out of the logline.
  • Subplots. They nurture the story and probably one of them will determine the main plot or its characters, but they aren’t relevant for the logline.
  • Technical or film references. The logline isn’t a space to talk about camera pans, travelings or zoom-ins. It isn’t also a place to specify flashbacks, time ellipsis or fourth wall breaks.

(almost magic) Tricks

Seems like the theory is clear by now, isn’t it? But before we dive into some practical examples, let’s see some tricks that might help you.

  • Always write in the third person and in the present tense. Your story is happening to someone, here and now. Even if it’s a WWI film or about the first human being who will set foot on Mars.
  • Don’t formulate rhetorical questions nor refer to the reader/spectator.
  • Use words that suggest action and conflict. “He/she faces”, “advances”, “competes”, “challenges”…
  • Write several, different loglines about your script and give them to people from your circle to read. Check their reactions and comments. In what way the sense of your film is best understood or felt? Which text has enticed people to want to read more?
  • Read, read and read. Finding loglines of other movies is pretty simple (Do not confuse them with the synopsis nor with the publicity texts on DVD covers!). I recommend you read the book “Loglines: The Long and the Short on Writing a Strong Logline” by Douglas King and “Loglines: A Workbook of Story Ideas for Writers” by Carlos Pérez, if you want to go deep on this concept.

Yeah, alright, but I want to see examples…

Let’s get to it! Here are some examples of loglines from famous films and TV series. Do you recognize them?

In the midst of the Spanish Transition from Franco’s dictatorship, two rough policemen with opposing mindsets are sent to a remote village in the swamps of the Guadalquivir river to investigate the disappearance of two teenagers.

The Spanish crime thriller “Marshland” (Alberto Rodríguez, 2014)

A young peasant with a hidden, inner strength is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to fight against the evil Galactic Empire, rescue a young princess and reinstall peace in the galaxy.

Star Wars Trilogy (George Lucas, 1977)

The toys of a boy are afraid to be substituted by the arrival of a more modern and awesome toy, but their fears become friendship when they are lost in the big city, where they must unite forces to come back home.

A staple of 90’s animation films, “Toy Story” (John Lasseter, 1995).

An introverted forensic doctor mitigates his homicidal instincts by hunting down criminals by night. The arrival of a serial killer who follows his same pattern initiates a ruthless chase.

The TV Series “Dexter” (James Manos Jr., 2006).

A father fights to maintain his son alive in a nazi concentration camp, making him believe that the terrible situation they’re in is only a game.

The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film in 1998 “Life is Beautiful”.

A group of elitist friends organize a weekly dinner as a ways of wagering: the winner will be the one who brings the biggest idiot to dinner. Their way of understanding life will change when an endearing clumsy man arrives to dinner.

The french classic comedy, “Le dîner de Cons” (Francis Veber, 1998).

A boy disappears without leaving any trace in a small mountain village. His adventurous friends, his family and the local sheriff will try to find clues that will lead them back to him, having to face paranormal phenomenons and mysterious forces.

Netflix phenomenon “Stranger Things” (The Duffer Brothers, 2016).

To wrap it up

As a starting point, I hope that this article will help you understand a bit more in an in-depth fashion, what is for and how to write better loglines. Don’t forget: THE LOGLINE HAS TO HELP YOU SELL YOUR SCRIPT. With that idea in mind and understanding how the film industry works, I’m sure your writing of it will, little by little, take a more definite form and will become an efficient tool for your work.

And also, remember that you have Filmarket Hub to submit your projects (including a logline) and make them part of one of the most alive and dynamic film markets online there is!

Good luck with your writing!

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