Writing the perfect logline is a meticulous pursuit. Equal parts creative inspiration and fastidious editing, the logline, along with the title, poster and trailer, is one of the four key marketing elements of your film. Your logline is both sizzle and steak, so you better make sure it whets the appetite of your intended audience.
The best loglines clearly define the conflict, introduce the main character, and make the audience want to know more (i.e. watch your film). Follow these three rules and you’ll give your film the best chance at success in the marketplace, especially if you don’t have a recognizable star to namecheck or a multi-million dollar franchise upon which to rely.
You have one chance to grab your audience’s attention. In a marketplace crowded with studio tentpoles and pedigreed “indies,” the following rules will help make sure you have a fighting chance.
1. Know Your Audience
In order to appeal to a specific viewer, you need to have a good idea of who that viewer is. Once you can envision them, you can begin to craft a logline that you think might appeal to them. Create a persona that represents your ideal viewer, then write your logline for this person. If you made a horror film, make sure your logline appeals to horror fans. Your logline is not where you want to establish a subtle sense of place. It’s where you want to sell your film. And if you don’t know who your audience is, you can’t sell your film to them.
2. Be the Ball
Once you know your audience, put yourself in their shoes. It’s the best way to create marketing collateral for one big reason: you are not your audience. What appeals to you about your film might not be the same thing that will draw an audience to it. Imagine yourself as someone browsing Amazon. What’s going to catch your eye? What’s going to convince you to give this small indie film a shot? Once you inhabit the mind of your ideal audience member, you’ll have a fresh perspective that will help you present your film in the best possible way.
3. Keep it Short
If your film’s logline needs an ellipsis because it doesn’t fit into the space allocated for it on the first screen of your listing, it’s too long. For Amazon Video’s interface, the max length is 400 characters. Or, about one and a half tweets if that’s easier to visualize. Economy of language is vitally important for your logline. Lose your adjectives and adverbs. Eliminate the use of passive verb phrases. What lies at the heart of your film? This is the seed of your perfect logline. Figure it out and it will almost write itself. But, not really. You still have to write it.
4. Leave the Audience Wanting More
Without completely underselling your film, your logline should leave your audience wanting more. Find the right balance between sizzle and steak. You have 400 characters, so use them wisely. If you can nail your logline in one sentence, great. If it takes two short sentences, no problem. Use the first to set the stage; the second to stick the landing. Try to keep each sentence declarative. I would recommend not incorporating questions into your logline. There’s no room for backstory here. Boil your film down to its essence and you’ll have your logline.
5. More “Buts,” Fewer “And Thens”
There’s a great, short clip featuring South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone in which they explain this in a highly accessible way. In a nutshell, don’t just recite the plot; describe your conflict. Conflict drives narrative. Conflict keeps an audience engaged. Conflict sells.
With these rules in mind, let’s look at a practical example:
Logline as it appears on Amazon Video:
“Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins deliver sensational, Oscar-winning performances in this ‘shockingly powerful thriller’ (New York). ‘Stunning’ (Los Angeles Times) and ‘spellbinding’ (The Hollywood Reporter), this terrifying masterpiece garnered five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. A…”
“FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) must enter the mind of an elegant psychopath (Anthony Hopkins) in order to catch a brutal serial killer before he kills again.”
Logline as it appears on Amazon Video:
“Based on the wildly popular J.K. Rowling’s book about a young boy who on his eleventh birthday discovers, he is the orphaned boy of two powerful wizards and has unique magical powers.”
“A young wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) adjusts to a new school while simultaneously attempting to keep a legendary artifact out of the hands of the malevolent Lord Voldemort with the help of his new friends. Based on the popular J.K. Rowling series.
It’s easy to miss the mark with your logline by making assumptions about your audience. Like any writing assignment, it’s much more difficult to write a short, succinct logline than it is to write a paragraph-length synopsis. Workshop the hell out of your logline, run it by folks you respect (and maybe a few strangers), and don’t settle for good enough. Your logline is key to selling your film. Take the time to make it great.