Debunking Screenwriting Myths, Part 3: The Logline
by Geno Scala
As a screenwriter who is actively involved in networking, I am a member of dozens of professional writer’s groups, forums, and networks that discuss a multitude of screenwriting topics. A day rarely goes by where someone doesn’t post a request for help with their logline.
This is when the fur begins to fly.
It would help if you were to start with the definition of what a logline is. The definition I use is “A logline is a one or two sentence description that captures the unique & conflicting elements of your screenplay” (by the way, “logline” and “log line” are acceptable).
Now that you’ve defined it, what exactly does it consist of? I try to include certain elements of my screenplay into the logline, then edit from there. I include the protagonist, the antagonist, the goal, the “inner conflict” (or personal issue for the protagonist to overcome), the “outer conflict” (or issues that threaten the antagonist), what’s at stake, the genre, and the “hook” (what separates my story from others in this genre). If I hit on all, or most of these elements, then I know I have a strong logline.
What is often the basis of the arguments is the amount of words that should be included in these loglines. There is documentation on just about every amount, but in most respects the following is considered Hollywood standard- “twenty five words or less, thirty at the most.” They may be in one or two, even three sentences, if necessary, but still within the 25-30 word mark. I’ve heard arguments for the standard changing towards 20 words or less, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the Twitter standard of 140 characters will be the rule. Some argue still that word count doesn’t matter, based on the fact that many a screenplay had been sold with a logline exceeding these standards. This is probably true, but since time is money, time efficiency is premium, so word efficiency should be as well. In this case, I believe “the shorter the better”, as long as it still contains the elements.
Obviously the key to the logline is making it the most accurate and effective logline you can. Keep in mind that the purpose of the logline is to attract enough interest from an industry professional that they’ll request to read your screenplay.
What a logline isn’t, is a tagline, and should NOT be confused with that which is often found on movie posters. “In space, no one can hear you scream” is not a logline, but a highly effective tagline for “Alien”. The tagline contains none of the aforementioned elements.
In 2003, I was the stage manager for the Saturn Awards, and found myself backstage with Steven Spielberg, who had come by personally to accept his award for the movie “Minority Report”. He had arrived a few minutes earlier, but waited in the limo until just before the announcement for his category. I had about forty seconds- a lifetime, actually- of quiet and uninterrupted seclusion with him as my captive audience- my filmmaking idol and “secret mentor”. I certainly had enough time to throw him one of my well-developed, thoroughly enticing, loglines and garner the meeting that would launch my screenwriting career!
The moment came, and…
…instead, I thanked him for appearing, congratulated him on the award, and proceeded to trip him as he walked up onto the stage from the rear curtain.
Opportunity lost, but it instilled an important rule that I follow to this day: Keep the logline short enough in case you’re stuck behind a curtain with the likes of a Steven Spielberg.
Geno Scala has been writing for over twenty years, and was one of the Executive Directors for the 1999-2000 Academy Awards presentation. He is an optioned screenwriter with nine screenplays to his credit, and is an alumnus of ScreenwritingU. He maintains a business in Hollywood, and resides in beautiful Huntsville, Alabama with his rocket-scientist wife, a daughter in grad school, another daughter in college in CA, and two teen-aged sons.