Podcast: Play in new window | Download
How To Write a Logline
This week we’re going to be answering a really great question: how do you write a logline?
But before we start talking about how to write a logline, I think it’s pretty important to define what it actually is.
Sure, we all technically know what a logline is. It’s a short sentence that tells what a movie is about. We see crappy ones all the time on Netflix and Amazon. They’re not usually very descriptive. They don’t usually make you really feel anything. So is that the kind of logline you want to write?
If you browse the internet, there are 50,000 different formulas where people tell you this is how to write a logline, as if there was a simple rule that you simply had to follow that would make a one-size-fits-all logline that would work for any story.
You’re probably not surprised that I disagree with this idea.
If you want to learn how to write a logline, you first have to truly understand what a logline is, and that begins with understanding what a logline does.
First, a quick bit of history, where do loglines come from?
Back in the days before we had Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and DVRs and all this fancy stuff that we have now, we had this crazy thing called television. In order to figure out what was happening on television, there was basically one resource: a magazine called TV Guide. People would pick up TV Guide, “let’s see what’s on at eight o’clock tonight on CBS.” They would look it up and voila! There’s the name of some movie that had been in the theater a long time ago.
But having just a title wasn’t enough. After all, this movie was in the theater a long time ago. You might have completely forgotten what it was. So underneath the title, there would be a short description called a logline. It was called that because the studios would send the line to be logged at TV Guide.
So, it’s important to understand that loglines started as a marketing tool, not as a writing tool. They’re often now marketed the opposite way.
So many screenwriters are taught that they must start with a logline and that only once they have their loglines perfected can they actually start to write the script. As if the movie should be created to fit the marketing materials, instead of the other way around.
But real screenwriting isn’t so simple.
If you happen to have a great logline from the very start, there’s nothing wrong with using it. If the screenwriting gods are kind… let’s say you’re in the shower rub a-dub-dubbing, and the heavens open up and suddenly the perfect logline comes down to you, please accept it! “Thank you, screenwriting gods. I will take this beautiful logline and I will do my best to execute it.”
However, a great screenplay doesn’t always come so linearly, in a nice little one-sentence logline all wrapped up in a bow.
Sometimes figuring out how to write the perfect logline can be elusive, especially at the beginning.
Sometimes that great idea for a screenplay doesn’t instantly materialize as a perfect logline. Sometimes it comes as a character you can’t stop thinking about. Sometimes it comes as a world you want to explore. Sometimes it comes in a line of dialogue. Sometimes it comes as a question that you don’t know the answer to. Sometimes it comes as a reaction to watching something else.
So, if the screenwriting gods are not kind enough to give you a perfect one, it’s important to remember that no great higher power came down and decreed, “You must have a logline before you write a screenplay.”
In fact, this is a marketing tool that used to get done after the movie was already completed, after it was done and over, after it had already been made. It was a marketing technique to be logged with TV Guide.
Okay, so now that we know the facts, it’s important not to confuse this marketing trick with the writing trick. However, times change and now a logline has become a vital sales tool. But that’s important to remember. It’s not a writing tool, it’s a sales tool.
Which brings us to that vital question: What is the logline really there for?
What’s the point? Why is there such a thing as a logline? Why do we even need it?
There’s only one purpose to a logline. The purpose is for someone to read it and say, “Oh yeah! I’d like to watch that. Oh yeah! I’d like to read that.”
That’s the only purpose. If your logline makes somebody say, “Oh yeah! I’d like to read that,” then it is successful. That’s true whether you follow one of the trillions of formulas out there or whether you make up your own unique logline that’s just perfect for your script.
So what’s more likely to get somebody to say, “Oh, I want to watch this. I want to read this…” Is it a logline that follows the same formula that everybody else is following?
If you put it into that cliché formula, then most likely people are going to think, “Oh, this is a cliché movie. This is a cliché show. It sounds cliché. It sounds like every other frickin’ show.”
If you want to learn how to write a great logline, instead of thinking about a logline as a formula, think of it as a little poem about your screenplay.
A logline is a little poem about your screenplay that captures the answer to one really important question. It’s a question that you’re quite familiar with because literally any time anybody has ever recommended a show or a movie to you, this is the question that you’ve asked.
Let’s say somebody says, “You know, you should really watch Mare of Easttown.” If you’ve never seen Mare of Easttown, what question are you going to ask in order to decide whether or not you should take that person’s advice and check out the show?
You know the answer: “What’s it about?”
When you ask “what’s it about?” you’re not asking them to give you all of the plot of Mare of Easttown and to tell you every single thing that ever happens in the show. You know that would be ridiculous. And even if they could do it effectively, it would ruin the show for you.
You’re asking, “Hey, am I actually going to like this?” You’re asking, “What makes it cool?” You’re not asking, “What are all the details?”
If your logline captured all the details, then it would be a screenplay. So learning how to write a logline begins with learning how to distill down the essence of your screenplay.
When we’re deciding how to write a logline, what we’re really trying to do is capture the essence of what makes this script, this movie, this TV show, this play, this comic book cool? What makes it slightly cooler than other shows, movies, plays, scripts, novels or short stories of this type?
That’s all anybody’s asking when they decide whether they want to watch a movie or a show, or when a producer, agent or manager tries to figure out if they want to read your screenplay.
Really, all they want to know is whether they are going to like it. And if they’re a producer, agent or manager, if they can they sell it to other people.
A logline is really just that simple answer to “What’s it about?”
While there’s no one formula for how to write a logline perfectly, there are a few concepts that you can keep in mind.
If you hit these few ideas, then there’s a good chance that your logline is going to work.
If you don’t hit these ideas, then there’s a good chance that it will not.
Here are the three things to keep in mind.
How To Write a Logline: Concept #1: Your logline should feel like your screenplay.
People are buying a feeling. That’s what they’re searching for when they click on your show on Netflix, that’s what they’re searching for when they read your script, and that’s what they’re searching for when they read your logline.
Let’s say I’m pitching you Curb Your Enthusiasm and I say “Curb Your Enthusiasm is a neurotic man’s quest to overcome the limitations of his own neurosis before he destroys every relationship in his life.”
Well, that’s technically true about Curb Your Enthusiasm, but you’re probably not going to watch it. A logline about Curb Your Enthusiasm better make you laugh. If it doesn’t make you laugh in a kind of silly way, then it’s not a logline.
Let’s say you’re pitching another comedy show that I love, BoJack Horseman. If you’re pitching BoJack Horseman, then it better make you laugh, but it better not make you laugh in the same way that Curb Your Enthusiasm makes you laugh.
If you’re wondering how to write a logline for BoJack Horseman, it should probably have 575,000 different puns in it. It should probably be silly. It should probably pluck your heartstrings in some way and make you almost want to cry and kind of wonder how they made you feel that.
It needs to feel like the show, not like every detail of the show, but like the main thrust of the show.
If you’re wondering how to write a logline for Hereditary or A Quiet Place, it should feel really dark and complicated and scary. It should feel terrifying, but with the feeling of the love of family underneath it.
Whereas if you’re wondering how to write a logline for Parasite, it should be super dark but also a little bit funny. It should feel like your show or should feel like your movie. That’s number one.
How To Write a Logline: Concept #2: How is your script slightly different from others in the genre?
Feeling, the way we’re discussing it, is really just another way of saying genre.
Genre is what people buy when they watch movies and shows, but they’re not buying genre in the way that you think they are. They’re not buying action movies. They’re not even buying “Critically acclaimed action movies popular in Williamsburg” which is something like what you’ll see if you look at your Netflix feed.
What they’re actually buying is a very complicated combination of feelings and kinds of story elements and worlds that they’re interested in. It’s a very complicated puzzle.
In fact, part of the reason Netflix is so successful is that they figure this out behind the scenes. They have something like 270,000 different tags that they combine together to create genre. So, when you talk about genre, you’re not talking romantic comedy, you’re not talking drama, you’re not talking anything that simple. You’re talking about an ecosystem of feeling within a type of movie.
The first thing you want your logline to do is to capture the overall feeling. The second thing you want it to capture is how your script is slightly different from others in the genre. Okay, not completely different. Not unless you’re writing Synecdoche, New York. It doesn’t have to be completely different from everything else in the genre, but how is it slightly different?
A producer, agent, manager, or audience member who is thinking about reading your script or watching your movie or show is already looking for movies or shows in that genre. They like these kinds of movies. They like these kinds of shows. They just don’t just want to watch the same show they already watched.
Let’s say I’m watching The Avengers. I love The Avengers. It’s awesome, but I don’t want to just watch exactly the same movie each time. I want to understand why this Avengers story is slightly different from another Avengers story and how that Avengers story is different from the show WandaVision which takes place in The Avengers world, but we can all agree it is quite different.
So, the second element of a successful logline is capturing how your screenplay slightly differs from others in this genre. What’s the little twist?
Let me give you an example. Here’s a movie we all know: Jaws. It’s one of the greatest movies and titles of all time. With Jaws, the title feels like the movie.
Let’s assume that you’re the producer buying Jaws. Well, most likely, you’re into the idea of a scary shark movie. Sure, you’ve got Peter Benchley and his book is awesome, but he’s not the first person to ever think about writing a movie about sharks. We’re all terrified of sharks…most people at least. We all have that fear that we’re going to be swimming alone one day on vacation. We’re all sunburned. We’re wearing our goofy hat or goofy Hawaiian shirt or whatever. We’re flopping around with our family and suddenly… Attack!! We all have that fear.
Peter Benchley is probably not the first person to write a wonderful novel about a killer shark. This is probably not the only killer shark script that the producer who wants to make a movie like Jaws has read. So, we want to know what’s slightly different about this script.
We might start with a logline like “A killer shark terrorizes a sleepy beach town in the height of tourist season.”
Well, that’s true. That’s Jaws and it feels pretty scary. I feel scared about that idea of this shark terrorizing this sleepy little beach community with all these tourists around. It’s the genre of Jaws and it’s clear.
But you know what? I might not buy it. I might not even read it, because I might think it sounds like every other shark movie.
So I might give it a twist like this: “A killer shark terrorizes a sleepy little beach community in the height of tourist season, and a corrupt mayor refuses to shut down the beach because he doesn’t want to lose the tourist money.”
When I give it that one little twist, now you start to realize why Jaws is different from every other shark movie. It’s about corruption. It’s not just about the scary shark. This is not Sharknado. It’s about corruption underneath all of that. It’s about politics. It’s about the corrupted influence of money. It’s about choosing between commerce and life. It’s about the things we know and the things we don’t know lurking under the surface.
You probably started to picture it as a cooler movie just when I added that little twist.
Now, that particular twist is a socio-political kind of twist. It doesn’t have to be that. It could be a twist on the character’s journey. It could be a twist on the genre.
For an example of a twist on the genre, think of a movie like Get Out.
Get Out is a horror movie, where the source of the horror is the idea of being black in a white suburban community. It’s a little twist on the genre. Whereas Scream is also a twist on the genre. It’s a horror movie that goes through all the horror tropes, but the little twist is that it’s a comedy that’s also a horror movie.
While we’re on horror movies,- Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a twist on the genre. It’s a horror movie from the point of view of two innocent hicks who live in the woods. They don’t mean to be scary. They’re actually lovely, but the kids are so scared of them, they’re so scared of all these horror clichés that the kids actually keep on killing themselves accidentally trying to get away from these two people that they imagine must be killers.
This is a twist on the genre. It could be a character twist. It could be a genre twist. It could be a journey twist. It could be a world twist. It could be some kind of ironic twist, anything that makes your script slightly cooler, slightly deeper, slightly more alarming than the others in the genre.
Here’s what’s interesting. Most likely, this already exists for you. If you’ve really done your job and you’ve really written a great screenplay, then your script is full of twists.
For example, let’s say I wasn’t interested in the political twist in Jaws. I could still pitch a twist on the genre: Here’s the cool thing about Jaws… it’s a shark movie where we don’t see the shark, we only see the fin. In this shark movie, it’s about the fear of the fin underneath the water. It’s about the fear of when the monster is still in the closet and you can only grasp a glimpse of it. That’s a different way of pitching a twist on the genre for Jaws.
If you think about A Quiet Place, there’s another twist on the genre, which is the silence. You’re watching a horror movie where you can’t scream, where you can’t even rustle a feather. There’s that obvious twist, but you could also pitch a much deeper twist which is this family twist, which is about the silence between families and how that silence cuts us off from each other.
There are many, many, many ways to pitch.
What we’re really trying to do when we write a logline is not to sell-out. We’re trying to sell-in, by capturing what is already great about the script.
We’re really trying to capture the fun twists that made this script so exciting for you to write. What was the thing that drew you to it? What was the thing that made you go, “Holy crap! I thought I was writing this, but it turned out to be so much more interesting.”
So… Step one is to make your logline feel like the movie or TV show. Step two is to make sure you’ve got that little twist in there, that thing that differentiates you within the genre.
The third element is optional. You don’t have to do it, but it’s something that I always try to do.
I have this very strong belief that, even though I’m a pretty creative guy and I like to think thoughts that maybe other people don’t think, it’s a big world out there and the chances are that even on my most unique and original idea, there’s probably somebody else who’s already thought of it.
Maybe their execution isn’t as good. Maybe they don’t take it to the same place. Maybe it’s not ultimately as interesting as my script. Maybe it’s even more interesting. Who knows? But somebody has probably already come up with my idea. And you know what? Somebody has probably even come up with my twist.
I see this all the time as a screenwriting teacher. So many of my students come to me thinking, “I have an idea that literally no one else has ever seen before. No one’s thought of this. I should just be able to sell the idea because it’s so unique. Literally no one’s ever thought of this before. I can’t believe no one’s ever thought of it, but no one’s ever thought of it.”
They’ll come to me so excited about their completely original idea. I have to break the truth to them, which is not only has somebody thought of this before, but I’ve seen this before. Not only have I seen it before, I’ve probably seen it multiple times before.
That doesn’t mean that they have a bad idea. They might have a great idea. As you develop your idea, your original idea usually has some degree of cliché in it. It’s not that fully developed yet. You just started out. It’s like you’re on a first date with your idea.
If you really learn how to do the work of structure, (finding your structure organically, not the crazy crap you planned, but the incredible stuff that bubbles up from your subconscious mind as you do this work that you harness and you structure) then your script is going to be filled with additional surprises. These surprises are surprising to your main character and are surprising to you.
So, it’s my belief that any idea can be made great. If you don’t believe me, then watch Swiss Army Man where they actually made a list of all the ideas that they hated in scripts, all the clichés that they hated the most, and then they did a movie that did all of those things. And it is frickin’ brilliant.
Any idea can be made good. If you’ve really done the creative work, your script is going to have more levels of twist, the things that you found along the way as you wrote.
So, the last element that I like to think about for my loglines is that now I’ve written this great thing that’s like a poem. It answers the question, “What’s this about?” It feels like the script, the movie, the TV show. It has a clear sense of the genre, but also the twist on the genre or what’s unique.
How To Write a Logline: Concept #3: One Deeper Twist
The last thing I tried to include in my logline is a taste of one deeper twist, one more thing that maybe you didn’t see coming when you first set out to write it. You’ve already captured what’s cool about it within the genre, but here’s the added card up your sleeve that nobody would expect.
If I demonstrate this with Jaws, the basic genre is the killer shark, terrorizing this sleepy little tourist town. The twist is that the corrupt Mayor won’t shut down the beach. Here’s the element that maybe you didn’t see coming… now a sheriff who is afraid of the water has to stop this shark before more people die.
And you can see this is a character twist. The sheriff who’s afraid of the water just adds one more level of “Oh, wow! I see why this is so cool.” All the features of the script are now in that logline. They’re all there.
You’ve got the main character, his dominant trait, the ironic twist for a guy with that dominant trait. He’s got to stop the shark. You’ve got the political pressure on him, and you can feel that pressure between the Mayor that wants to make money and the Sheriff who wants to stop the shark.
You can feel the general genre feeling of horror of all these unsuspecting tourists who don’t even know what lurks below the surface.
That’s how I would construct a logline for Jaws.
Part of knowing how to find that deeper twist in your logline is knowing what already exists in the genre, the movies or shows everyone is going to think about when they read your logline.
Another movie that came out several years ago was Brokeback Mountain. Now, at the time Brokeback Mountain came out, this was really the first mainstream movie about this subject. Sure, there had been lots of movies about gay romances inside the LGBTQ community. Of course, there had been a lot of independent films about it and niche films, but this was the first mainstream, Ang Lee directed, major release.
And what’s it about? It’s about gay cowboys. And pretty much all you need to say is “gay cowboys” and we get it.
For a formal logline, you could say something like, “Two cowboys try to navigate the complications of their love for each other.”
You get it, even though you don’t know exactly who the cowboys are. I didn’t do a dominant trait yet. I didn’t do all that stuff. I could keep on developing that logline, but with gay cowboys, instantly I already can feel the genre is romance, but there’s a twist on it that’s like a Western romance. Then there’s a second twist which is that the romance is a gay romance.
I already have all my elements in this logline, because Brokeback Mountain was paving the way in this genre.
But after the release and success of Brokeback Mountain, a logline this simple is no longer going to cut it. New films in this genre now need to stand out from Brokeback Mountain.
So you’ve got to do your research. What other movies or shows or novels or plays are out there that people are going to think about when they read your logline. You particularly want to know the ones that did well, but you also want to know the ones that did badly so that when producers ask, you can say “Let me tell you why mine is different.”
A few years after Brokeback Mountain, a movie called The Kids Are All Right came out. The Kids Are All Right is another movie about “gay cowboys.” Except these cowboys are gay suburban cowboys and instead of men, they’re women. And they have kids. So, there’s the twist on the genre. And that’s cool and that’s alarming, watching two women with children navigate life as a lesbian couple in the suburbs sure sounds challenging and interesting… if Brokeback Mountain hadn’t come out.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure if that alone outdoes Brokeback Mountain.
You can feel the difference in the genre, of course. One feels more like a romance and one feels more like a romantic comedy. One feels more drama and one feels more comedy. But there’s still another little twist that you need for The Kids are All Right to really land as a logline…
…which is that one of the women falls in love with the sperm donor father of her children.
You can see that things got really complicated! This is why The Kids are All Right, coming out post Brokeback Mountain is slightly more alarming, slightly more concerning, slightly different. It’s not just Brokeback Mountain in the suburbs with kids. It’s got this little extra twist.
This is one of the cool places where art and commerce actually meet.
So often in screenwriting, art and commerce are basically duking it out. But this is one of the wonderful places where art and commerce overlap.
When you’re writing a script, there’s a good chance you’re going to start out and then suddenly be unpleasantly surprised when you find out a movie like this has already been made. “Holy crap, these ideas are not that new. Holy crap, my characters are acting a little cliché. Holy crap, my original idea didn’t feel as surprising when I wrote it. Holy crap, a movie just came out that’s just like it or too similar.”
That’s not a problem. These are just ideas. All that really means is that this is an opportunity to push your script deeper, to actually get under the surface and find out what lies there.
What surprises you? What’s exciting to you? What’s the thing that you didn’t see coming? What’s the choice that you didn’t expect to make? What are the given circumstances of the early parts of the film that you can mine in order to create these wonderful surprises that will later lead to your pitch?
One last thought with loglines before we move on… how do you actually write one?
Now, I don’t want to oversimplify this. Writing a logline is hard. It’s like writing a poem. In my Write Your TV Series class, we spend a whole day just focusing on how to write loglines. It’s that challenging because each one is truly unique for that particular script.
In my Master Class, we spend even more time on how to write a logline, because as you get more professional in your writing, as you are pitching and selling screenplays, your need to write a great logline grows, and your need to understand how loglines and scripts actually work together grows.
This is a very complicated topic that I don’t want to oversimplify in a short podcast. That said, there are a couple of techniques that have worked for me that I would like to share with you.
The first is that there are certain elements that always exist in loglines. Not all of them exist in all loglines, but certain elements are likely to exist. Some loglines are mostly about world. Some are mostly about a twist on the genre. Some are mostly about a character with a dominant trait that makes it ironically challenging for them to accomplish something or to overcome something, with a little twist in their journey that leads them in a direction that you didn’t expect.
You’ve got journey loglines, you’ve got character loglines, you’ve got twists on the genre loglines, you’ve got world loglines and you’ve got threat loglines.
You may notice that these are the elements of great scripts: want, obstacle, need, how, completion. These are the same elements that we talk about all the time. So, of course, these are the things that we’re going to build our loglines around, because this is what films are built around. This is what TV shows are built around.
The final thing to think about is that to write a logline, you don’t focus on the logline. What you focus on is the essence of your script.
What are the elements that matter most? Start with whatever feels like the most important one to you. Remember that your logline is not selling out. It is not trying to force your crazy indie script into some commercial ice cube form and put it in the freezer and hope it takes that shape. No. If you did that, even if you did that successfully, someone’s going to read your logline, want to read the screenplay, and then feel baited and switched when you send the script. Alternatively, they’re going to read your logline and go, “What a bunch of Hollywood crap,” when they would have actually loved your crazy little indie script.
The important thing to remember is that a logline is an answer to “What’s it about?” Write a bunch of different loglines. What’s it about if I was mostly pitching the world? What’s it about if I was mostly pitching the political importance? What’s it about if I was mostly pitching the character? What’s it about if I was mostly pitching the journey? What’s it about if I was mostly pitching the threat? What’s it about if I was mostly pitching the way it was shot? What is it about (if it’s a TV show) if I was primarily pitching the engine? What is that big thing that it’s about?
Play, have fun and write a bunch of these. Really play with the tone. Remember, most of it’s about feeling, so be writerly. You’re writing a poem, so have some fun. Don’t squeeze it down yet. If it’s too long, then that’s okay. Just try to get it out in the pithiest way you can.
What you’re going to do then is to look for what are the elements that you find most cool and most alarming in all of the loglines you’ve written.
Now, one thing to be said: in general, if your script is really ready to go, then as you try to write your logline you should be able to follow the script. You should be able to say “this is who my character is,” just by thinking about how you introduce them in your screenplay, what happens that leads to this crazy choice, that then leads to this wonderful twist.
If your script is working, it should be really easy to answer “what it’s about” in a logline in a super exciting way with a couple of cool twists that make it feel really special, just by following the structure you’ve created.
If you try to pitch your script exactly the way you wrote it, and it’s not pitching right, that’s actually a good sign, but it’s a warning sign.
What that means is your script isn’t really done. Your focus shouldn’t be writing a logline to help open the door to somebody saying “Yes.” If you’re going to work a logline, then work it to help you understand how to rewrite.
For example, let’s say you’re on a super early draft of The Kids Are All Right and you’ve written this beautiful story about this family, a suburban family, and all these complications happen. Then on page 80, there is an affair. By the time they get to page 100, it’s resolved. You’re like, “I did it! The Kids Are All Right, what a wonderful romantic comedy about what it’s like to be suburban moms and all the complications of those relationships.”
Then you find yourself trying to pitch the script, and all that suburban mom stuff just doesn’t seem that interesting when you pitch it, until you learn that by leading with the affair, people get really interested really fast, especially by telling them the affair is with the sperm donor father.
Well, that’s actually a sign that you need a rewrite.
That’s actually a sign that you might have just discovered your hook too late.
If your logline is hard to write, it might be time to re-examine your script and really make sure structurally, things are unfolding in a wonderful, exciting and surprising way.
So, follow the script. You’re going to have a bunch of different loglines. Then what you’re going to do is to look at probably about three elements, maybe four, that’s probably what you can fit into a logline. What are the most important ones? You’re going to try to kind of connect them together into one logline.
The way I imagine this is I almost imagine I’m writing a haiku.
As I redraft my logline, I give each idea its own line to make sure there’s no redundancy. (I’ll smush all those lines back together later when it’s time, but for now I want to read it as if it were actually a poem). There simply cannot be redundancy. You don’t have time. So breaking it down, idea by idea like this, helps me make sure every word is really working for me.
What I’m going to do then is to try to kind of boil down the simplest, essential elements in writing the script that are the heart of the script for me. I’m going to try to understand how, in the most pithy, economical way, connect those ideas together. Usually, I’m going to then end up with a really wonderful logline that’s way too frickin’ long.
This brings me to the last question. How long should your logline be?
The logline should be as short as it frickin’ can be without losing something that is vital to get somebody to say “Yes.”
If you feel like leaving this element out is going to keep someone from saying “Yes,” then you might need to find a way to work it in a pithy way.
If the line is just additionally interesting, if it is just not really the essence of the script but something that you kind of like about it, then that’s great, but that doesn’t go in your logline.
You’re going to take those three or four elements that are the essence for you. What is the essential cool thing from which we can start to imagine the other kinds of cool things? What’s that feeling? What’s that twist in the genre? What’s that second little twist that makes your script really special at its core? You’re going to capture that into a logline.
You’re going to break it down with each idea on its own line. Then you’re going to slowly start to excise things. You’re going to slowly start to get out your scalpel and just start cutting things out.
What you’ll see is eventually you reach the point where you cut it down and it starts to get worse. You actually want to cut to that point. You want to actually even cut past that point because sometimes what happens is you find a really great logline that doesn’t have one element that you love in it, but that’s actually stronger than the one that has all the elements for its shortness.
Ultimately, the best logline is the shortest one that is strong enough to open the door.
It’s a process of playing with what it might be, expanding and then contracting, and getting it to where it seems like it can’t get shorter. You’re going to cut a little further than what you’re comfortable with to see if you can get a better logline for being shorter.
Here’s the most important thing to remember. Yes, you want it to be short. Yes, you want it to have the elements that I talked about. Yes, you want it to feel like your script.
But the most important thing to remember is that every logline is different because a logline serves only one purpose. The purpose is to make someone decide that they are interested.
The purpose is to make a person say, “Yes, I’d like to read that. Yes, I’m curious. Yes, this feels unique, special and connected. Yes, this is what I’m looking for.”
It’s important to know that if everybody loves your logline, then you probably don’t have a great logline.
Just like you and your partner fight about what Netflix show to watch tonight, people fight about genre preferences. There could be a really great logline that makes you say “Oh, I get with this is about. I get what this is going to feel like. I get who this character is. I get what these twists are. I imagine how that’s going to work.” It’s going to make one person say “Yes, I desperately want to watch this” and it’s going to make another person say “You know what? This isn’t for me.”
It’s so important to remember that when someone reads your logline and says “This isn’t for me” that’s equally good feedback as when somebody says “I love it.”
However, if someone reads your logline and thinks “Oh, that’s fine” or “Oh, it sounds like this movie,” then that’s a problem. If someone reads it and they think “Oh, well, isn’t that a little bit like this?” That means that you haven’t done that differentiation yet. You haven’t captured that feeling in those twists that are going to make somebody extrapolate how cool your screenplay actually is.
It’s very easy to test your logline. Just post it somewhere.
Don’t worry about people stealing your stuff. If someone can write a better script than you just from your logline, then honestly you are in the wrong business. If someone can outwrite your script just based on your logline, then they deserve whatever wonderful success they have.
Post your logline where people can read it (we have a great alumni group on Facebook where you can do so for free).
Don’t take all their feedback about how to change your logline. There are a handful of professional writers who are great at writing loglines. Most people are not. And most amateurs just don’t have the experience to even know what a good one looks like.
Don’t take their advice about how to change it, how to fix it, what to add to it. No, get that advice from a professional.
You can take their advice about what they think it is going to feel like as they watch or what they think the genre is.
Ask them: “Who do they think the character is? What do you think their journey is going to be like? What movies or shows does it remind you of? What did you imagine happening once you read the logline? What were the kinds of things that you were able to imagine?”
If they’re able to imagine really cool things (even if they’re wrong) that feel like the kind of things that could happen in your movie or in your show, then you know that your logline is working.
If they aren’t able to imagine really cool things or say it verbally to you in a really cool way that sounds like “Oh, that sounds pretty cool. Yeah, that sounds like my show and something I’d want to watch,” then it means your logline isn’t doing its primary job yet.
So remember: Loglines are hard. They take time. You’re not going to learn everything you need in a half-hour podcast, but this is a really wonderful place to start learning how to build that incredible muscle for yourself so that you can start opening those doors when you’ve got a great script.
I hope that you enjoyed this podcast. If you would like to study further with me or my faculty, we have wonderful online foundation classes and master classes, as well as a unique Protrack mentorship program that pairs you one-on-one with a professional writer. Want to check out more, join me for free, every Thursday night for Thursday Night Writes, a free online writing class hosted by me and my faculty. We discuss all kinds of screenwriting concepts, share writing exercises and connect as a community. So come join us!
*Edited for length and clarity