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Crafting the Logline

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on May 11, 2017

Loglines are tough. You’re distilling 100+ pages of story down to a two-sentence description. It’s like cutting a trailer for a film when you’re the director or editor. When you’re close to the story, it’s really hard to condense it down. But crafting the logline is crucial to any film.

And guess what? Technically, you should have a logline BEFORE writing the script. Not all writers will agree, but at Theater Eleven Pictures we begin a script by figuring out the theme and the logline. Why? Because if the logline has a problem, the script will have a problem.

Example: let’s say you’re in the kitchen, and you have an idea for a desert. Cinnamon and apples together in some shape or form. You can start combining ingredients, and you might get lucky or you might end up with something nobody wants to eat. However, if you start with a “logline” and decide that you want to make an apple pie, then every choice you make in the kitchen is guided by this decision. It keeps you focused. When you’re tempted to add black berries in because they’re just so good (and they are!), you remember your logline. Apple pie. Not fruit pie.

Side Industry Tip: We mentioned trailer cutting above. Editors and directors do not cut trailers. A trailer house cuts the trailer for a film based on input from producers. Producers typically have a primary focus: making money. Have you ever seen a trailer that was nothing like the film? Or had all of the best parts? Now you know what happened.

blog-alien-ridley-scott

A Logline’s Other Purpose

Hollywood execs are too busy to read scripts. Sometimes they just want to hear the logline for a story. If it captures their attention, they’ll read the one-page synopsis. If the logline is lacking, your script goes into the circular file cabinet. Crazy, right? When you’re trying to get a script produced (or even read), all of your work can sometimes hinge on one or two sentences.

What Makes A Good One?

A logline consists of these basic elements:

[protagonist]…[verb]…[antagonist]…[goal]…[stakes]

A logline shouldn’t be confused with the tag line of a film. For example, the original tag line for Ridley Scott’s Alien was:

In Space Nobody Can Hear You Scream.

Just brilliant. That makes anyone want to watch the movie. But a tagline doesn’t include enough information to let a studio or investor know if they’re interested.

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I don’t have the original logline for Alien, but Danny Stack gives an example of what it could have been:

A modest space crew going home with their cargo stop to respond to a distress signal, but are forced to confront a deadly alien who stows aboard their ship, leaving only one of the female members of the crew to fend for herself.

I’m sure Ridley Scott had a different logline, but you get the idea.

Another logline tip, straight from the wisdom of the late Blake Synder (Save The Cat): It should have irony. Think about your favorite films? Die Hard… the entire premise is ironic. How to Lose A Guy In 10 Days. Yeah, keep going. Irony is good.

Our 2017 Production’s Logline

So what’s the logline for our upcoming 2017 feature film?

A Kauai forest ranger who quit the LAPD to escape the violence of the city, must now find and destroy a creature with an appetite for people, before an ancient curse is fulfilled that will destroy all intruders on the island.

Is it the best logline in the world? Probably not. But does it have irony? You bet. And does it do a decent job of letting someone know what the story is about? We think so.

And it means our script doesn’t have any initial structure problems.

As always, thanks for reading!

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