“A logline conveys the dramatic story of a screenplay in the most abbreviated manner possible.”
The Construction of a Logline (Get this free PDF.)
“A good logline usually covers three bases. It gives us the main character, the main character’s goal, and the central conflict in the story (what’s preventing them from getting that goal).”
ScriptShadow Special – How To Craft A Damn Good Logline
Recently I was listening to Adam Levenberg’s podcast Official Screenwriting and he hit on the ever popular topic of writing loglines. Levenberg is the author of The Starter Screenplay and in the communications I’ve had with him he’s always come across as a guy who understands what makes movies and screenplays work. I recommend you give his podcast a listen.
“I really like this [logline] for JAWS:
‘A police chief, with a phobia for open water, battles a gigantic shark with an appetite for swimmers and boat captains, in spite of a greedy town council who demands that the beach stay open .’
I think this is the perfect logline, but it’s also for a nearly perfect movie. Look at how it does these things; A police chief, so we have our hero, we know whose eyes we’re seeing the movie from. And I think that’s key. You want to identify who’s our hero and tell the logline from their point of view just like you’re telling the movie from their point of view….The second thing, ‘with a phobia for open water.’ That’s great because we’re going to be putting him in the water. Why? Because he’s battling a gigantic shark….I like the way it identifies the goal—which is to stop the shark—it identifies the problem which is the shark. It identifies the opponent which is the shark. And it identifies the life and death stakes.”
Podcast Writing Great Loglines (Check out the full podcast as Levenberg goes on to talk about the importance of turning the main character’s world upside down.)
Who is your main character?
What are they trying to accomplish?
Who is trying to stop them?
What happens if they fail?
Levenberg doesn’t mention where he found that JAWS logline, but when I Googled it took me to the blog post Writing Good Log Lines written by Stanley D. Williams. (That article also references Schechter.) Williams is the author of the excellent book The Moral Premise.
One additional thing that the above JAWS logline has is irony. A police chief with a phobia for open water must go into the water to do battle.
“The loglines that read the best are the ones with some sort of irony in them, where the character and the situation are at odds with one another. A lawyer who can’t lie (Liar Liar). A king who can’t speak to his people (The King’s Speech). A Detroit cop investigating a case in Beverly Hills (Beverly Hills Cop). A time manager stuck on an island with all the time in the world (Cast Away). An alcoholic superhero (Hancock). These loglines will always catch a reader’s attention, so you’ll have a huge advantage if your concept contains irony.”
ScriptShadow Special —How To Craft A Damn Good Logline
A final tip on writing loglines comes from a post by Don Bledsoe on Script Nurse stating that the Three C’s of loglines are “Clear, Concise & Conflict.”
“Most story ideas fail at the level of concept. Sad, but true. I’ve learned this the hard way.”
Producer/Writer Erik Bork
Loglines and SAVE THE CAT
These days I’m a big fan of nailing down your concept and logline (they’re related, but not the same) before you invest six months, a year, two years or more writing your script. Before you jump into your next script read Article-GSU! by Carson Reeves (on the importance of goal, stakes, urgency), It’s the Concept, Stupid by Max Adams, and Christopher Lockhart’s I Wrote a 120 Page Script But Can’t Write a Logline: The Construction of a Logline.
The “A” List (Advice from someone who’s read 30,000 scripts. Yes, 30,000.)